How Not to Run a Business


By Samuel Greengard

At most companies, innovation takes a fairly predictable trajectory. Businesses start out with bold ideas and entrepreneurial thinking, but many eventually sink into a stodgy and protectionist mentality.

Today's poster child: Microsoft. A couple of decades ago, the company won the office and word processing wars over AmiPro and WordPerfect. That's when the innovation curve tumbled like a waterfall.

Microsoft hasn't been able to take its Office applications into the digital age. Yes, it has introduced Office 365, a cloud-based service that makes documents available in the cloud. It's a start but, alas, it falls way short of what's needed in today's document-centric, text-centric, social media-focused mobile era.

There is still no iPad app. Features that other programs offered years ago are MIA. For example, you can't create tabs for multiple open files within a single onscreen view—à la tabs on a browser—so you can go back and forth between documents or spreadsheet files. Instead, you must endure a constant exercise of maximizing and minimizing windows to and from the system tray or dock.

Worse, there are no effective meta-search capabilities in Office. File tags? Missing. The ability to select blocks of text within files and tag them so it's possible to search across documents or files? Nonexistent.

Instead, we're stuck with an anemic keyword system that didn't work well 20 years ago and is a disaster in today's digital environment. Social media integration? Invisible. I could go on and on.

Apparently, Microsoft has somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 engineers churning out updates and service packs for its Office application. Redmond releases a new version of Office every 2 ½ to three years, but that doesn't hack it in an era of rapid delivery models.

For instance, Google updates its Chrome browser constantly, and many applications, such as Evernote, are undergoing cosmetic and functional changes on a regular basis. Let's not even get into how fast things move in the mobile space.

Of course, Microsoft isn't the only culprit. Plenty of other companies are at fault too. The message for business and IT executives is that it's critical to stay entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial. Whether the task is application development, managing internal IT functions or maximizing customer-facing technology, operating a freight train in an era of supersonic spacecraft isn't a recipe for maximum returns.