April 10, 2007

so why am i working for microsoft?

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Some people were surprised to find me suddenly on Microsoft's payroll. But I had my reasons for doing this:

1. The challenge. So far I had proved my marketing ideas to myself with two small companies, English Cut and Stormhoek. But would the ideas scale to a big company like Microsoft? Could the Hughtrain work on a macro level? I guess now is my chance to find out.

2. "Cultural Re-Invention" is a subject very dear to my heart. [See the cartoon above, drawn in 2004] It's very hard to run a company once it gets big. The grim reality of managing the politics and keeping the shareholders happy takes over from the reasons why the company was founded in the first place: to make great stuff. This explains why upper management gets paid so much- what they do is incredibly difficult. A few years ago I got the idea that if I could learn all about cultural re-invention, learn about getting one's corporate mojo back, and then apply what I knew to paying clients, it would be a pretty good business to be in. In the meantime, Microsoft seemed to have reached a crossroads, what with Bill Gates stepping down, competitors like Google etc appearing on the horizon in ever-greater strength and numbers, open-source becoming bigger and bigger, Web 2.0 becoming bigger and bigger etc. etc, so in terms of what I was doing, their situation genuinely interests me.

3. Robert Scoble changed my life. When I saw what Robert was doing with his blog, back when he was working at Microsoft, I had a big "A-Ha!" moment. THIS was how to tear at the membranes in the company culture that were holding things back. This was how to go about "Cultural Re-Invention". This, quite simply, was the future to me. Sadly [for me, at least, probably not so sadly for him] he flew the nest and went to go work in Startup-ville, for a great little company called Podtech. I felt a bit cheated, to be honest. It was like he had quit telling the story before we'd heard the ending. Of course, he had every right to do this, and his reasons for leaving were perfectly kosher, but still... I wasn't quite ready to see the experiment end. I suppose in the end, I decided the best way to keep the experiment going was to start my own version, myself.

4. This is just a natural extension to the conversations I was already having elsewhere. This whole thing, including the Blue Monster, all came about from an ongoing conversation Steve Clayton and I started when we first me at the London Girl Geek Dinner last autumn. This gig just seems like a natural continuation of it.

5. It's nice having something new to write about. Seriously. New adventures are always a good thing etc.

6. Who knows, maybe this will work. Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar company with offices all over the world. I'm just a guy with an internet connection, typing away from a basement flat in West London. I like the odds.

[Comment- Richard Stacey:]

One thing you should try and get Microsoft people to do is "STOP BEING SO APOLOGETIC". Whenever you put a Microsoft person on a platform - they always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes. Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google? Is this what the Blue Monster thing is about (could it become part of it)?


Posted by hugh macleod at April 10, 2007 10:12 AM | TrackBack
Comments

I think that post was needed for some of us. Thx Hugh.
The question I still have is the following: do you just plan to use the Hugh train ideas within MS or do you believe you would have to adapt them ? And if so which one. Because for example the whole Micro-Brand approach (from my understanding) was to develop a tiny/non existent brand on the internet and develop it at a global level through some great ideas you have formalized. That's obviously not the case for MS.
And the challenge of doing something with MS is huge, so you probably need to start somewhere, what is your plan ?
I am really very intrigued by this new direction that you are taking. Let us know a little more.

Posted by: tk at April 10, 2007 10:37 AM

'...THIS was how to tear at the membranes in the company culture that were holding things back...'
This, Macleod-en-Borg, is the goods I had in mind in The Payoff (http://thebestbrew.wordpress.com/2007/04/05/the-payoff/). Scoble was edgy and fun to read BECAUSE he was inside. I am looking forward to what You produce as an insider.

Posted by: Frank at April 10, 2007 10:56 AM

What is my plan, tk? You're watching it ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at April 10, 2007 11:08 AM

Hey Hugh,

Congratulations. That's a pretty big gig. I think part of the problem for MS is the prevailing received wisdom out there about them and quite often the RW is wrong (see Freakonomics.
I think you have to stick with the Hughtrain rather than go down the Smoozetrain track - and there is a danger that those sort of accusations will be made. Be true to yourself and I think you can turn around the RW about MS

Posted by: Ian Green at April 10, 2007 11:08 AM

I think Microsoft hired you to get a little "Scoble-juice" back and get some conversation going off-piste - but I could be wrong.

One thing you should try and get Microsoft people to do is "STOP BEING SO APOLOGETIC". Whenever you put a Microsoft person on a platform - they always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes. Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google? Is this what the Blue Monster thing is about (could it become part of it)?

Good luck.

Posted by: Richard Stacy at April 10, 2007 11:17 AM

I've been working as a consultant to Microsoft in the UK for six years now, specifically in relation to its UK PR. There's often a huge cultural inertia that's difficult to breakthrough, but I think that some of the company's best work is achieved when that cut-through takes place.

The biggest challenge for me though will be the potential disconnect between the gapingvoid Microsoft experience and the rest of the world Microsoft experience. Your work with gapingvoid itself and Stormhoek is powerful because you own the experience and can shape it (whether that's a cartoon or getting in a car and visiting every Tesco supermarket in the country!).

You won't be able to do that for Microsoft - but that's not to say you shouldn't try (I still am!). Best of luck - perhaps we'll meet down Reading way one day.

Posted by: Mark at April 10, 2007 11:22 AM

Richard - right on. We do need to stop being so damn apologetic and that's absolutely what Blue Monster is about for me. i talked about this in a fairly candid video I did to explain it a while back (on my blog if you're interested). As my quote on Hugh's sidebar says

"for too long, microsoft has allowed other people tell their story on their behalf- the media, their competition and their detractors, especially- instead of doing a better job of it themselves"

this is what it's all about. Microsoft, it's customers and it's partners telling the story about the good stuff we do together. the press love reporting bad news and whilst I'm not saying we deserve zero criticism, it's time to get some balance back.

Posted by: steve clayton at April 10, 2007 11:25 AM

When I worked for Microsoft and helped launch a certain Windows version, the head of the team gave me as a joke 'How to Win Friends and Influence People', as I'd pretty much been the liaison between all of the people who didn't know how to talk to customers and partners and all of the customers and partners themselves. I was a PR person facilitating communication. It's surprising how many people need to apologise within Microsoft for not knowing how to communicate effectively...and if you can help them re-connect and listen Hugh, this will help them no end.

Posted by: Justin at April 10, 2007 11:41 AM

Congrats on landing the gig Hugh - I'm delighted for you, although I don't envy you the task you have set yourself!

Posted by: Tom Raftery at April 10, 2007 12:05 PM

It would be interesting to see Microsoft pulled back into the world of humility. It's my opinion that a company's culture is ultimately set at the top whether it's a start-up or a multinational. I also find it highly amusing that Steve Jobs has often accused Microsoft as having no culture and no taste.

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed at April 10, 2007 1:09 PM

To me, the company is reminiscent of the Roman Empire. Bill "Shakespear" Gates is fortunate to have Hugh as his Mark Anthony.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears... You all did love him once, not without cause: What cause withholds you then to mourn for him? O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason…"

Posted by: RKR at April 10, 2007 1:50 PM

You know, Microsoft is lucky to have you.
I like them better all ready, on instinct.

Posted by: Katharine Newman at April 10, 2007 2:23 PM

I can't stop laughing actually... I can just see the gleam of mischief. Just hope they don't try and muzzle you too soon, though..

Posted by: Alex Grech at April 10, 2007 3:12 PM

love this thread and the enthsuiasm for what Hugh can bring to Microsoft. I'm busy holding back the muzzlers Alex :)

Microsoft and Shakespeare...who woulda thought it?

I can't tell you all how much I'm enjoying the conversation and watching it develop. I really wasn't sure where this would go but knew something would happen. I agree with Mark here that the challenge is the grassroots approach we have here vs a more top down approach. Maybe I'm too optimistic to think it can change this company and the way people perceive it but I'm going to keep trying to see how far we can take this ride. Being part of something many people say is impossible...it's the best challenge I've had in 10 years at Microsoft!

Posted by: steve clayton at April 12, 2007 10:33 PM

Good luck with the gig, Hugh, I'm sure you'll learn interesting things from it.

They seem like a pretty good company to me. And like another poster, I respect them more for hiring you.

By the way, let's not forget that, away from the cutting-edge of tech people / blogosphere etc, their products work pretty well and they have a, what, 95% market share. So they're doing ok.

Posted by: Scamp at April 12, 2007 11:21 PM

Mark: Regarding your comment about not being able to do that for Microsoft. Don't be surprised... Hugh is great at telling "the" story, not "our" story and that's the beauty of Hugh. He tells it like it is and we're listening. Steve Ballmer saw his work and smiled. Hugh is converting a culture. Today at Web 2.0 Expo, we met with around 500 people at our booth. Everyone gets the blue monster - we all nod. In our case, we all are stirred to make it happen.

[Your work with gapingvoid itself and Stormhoek is powerful because you own the experience and can shape it

You won't be able to do that for Microsoft - but that's not to say you shouldn't try (I still am!). Best of luck - perhaps we'll meet down Reading way one day.]

Posted by: Kris Fuehr at April 17, 2007 3:58 AM


And some more..
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Posted by: Anastasia_jd at June 13, 2007 3:25 PM


At last...
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Posted by: Cristian_fc at June 13, 2007 3:25 PM