>What’s Next For Microsoft, Google, And The Rest Of The IT Industry?

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Published in Government Technology

By Andy Blumenthal

We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” — Madonna



For some people, like Madonna, the “material world” represents a society where people must pay to get their way. To me it means the mortal world, where we are born, live, try to thrive and ultimately pass the baton to others. 



Mortality isn’t limited to human beings, but is also a property of organizations. Several articles have appeared about it lately in mainstream and IT publications. Industry analysts are looking to Microsoft and Google and wondering how they, like other technology organizations, will master the competency of, as Computerworld puts it, “Getting to next.”



A curious irony runs throughout these conversations. Microsoft and Google are seemingly on top of their respective games, dominating the market and earning tens of billions in revenue per year. Despite being at the pinnacle of the technology industry, various industry watchers have noticed, they appear unable to see what’s the next rung on their ladder. It’s almost like they’re dumbfounded that nobody has placed it in front of them.



Consider, for example, that Microsoft dominates desktop operating systems, with approximately a 90 percent share of the market, business productivity suites at 80 percent and browser software at 60 percent. Google similarly dominates Internet search at about 64 percent. 


Everyone is asking: Why can’t these companies find their next great act? Microsoft launched the Kin and dropped it after less than two months; Bing has a fraction of Google’s market share in search; and Windows Mobile never became a major player as an operating system. Further, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the Xbox video game system, though finally profitable, Microsoft will likely never recoup the initial investment in research and development.



Similarly Google gambled by acquiring the ad network DoubleClick in 2007 for $3.1 billion, YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion and the mobile ad platform AdMob in 2009 for $750 million. But so far, as Fortune noted, Google hasn’t seen significant benefit from these purchases in terms of diversifying its revenue stream. “The day is coming when … the activity known as ‘Googling’ no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what?” said The Wall Street Journal.



From the perspective of organizational behavior, there’s a natural law at work here that explains why these resource-rich companies, which have the brains and brawn to repeatedly reinvent themselves, are in apparent decline. All organizations, like all people and natural organisms, have a natural life cycle — birth, growth, maturity, decline and death. 



To stay competitive and on top of our game, we constantly must plan our strategy and tactics to move into the future. However, organizations, like people, are mortal. Some challenges are part of life’s natural ups and downs. Others tell us we are in a decline that cannot be reversed. At that point, the organization must make decisions that are consonant with the reality of its situation, salvage what it can and return to the shareholders what it can’t. 



In other words, eventually every organism will cease to exist in its current form. During its life cycle, it can reinvent itself like IBM did in the 1990s. And when reinvention is no longer an option, it goes the way of Polaroid. 



This is similar to technology itself. As a new technology emerges, time and effort is spent further developing it to full capacity. We optimize and integrate it into our lives and fix it when it’s broken. But there comes a time when horses and buggies are no longer needed, and it’s time to face the facts and move on to cars — and one day, who knows, space scooters?



Going back full circle to the human analogy: People can reinvent themselves by going back to school, changing careers, perhaps remarrying and so on. But eventually we all go gray. And that’s fine; that’s the way it should be. Let’s reinvent ourselves while we can. And when we can’t, let’s accept our mortality graciously and be joyful for the great things that we have done.

>The Coloring Book of Leadership

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In a leadership course this week, I was introduced to the “Insights Wheel of Color Energies,” a framework for understanding people’s personalities and leadership styles.

In the Color Energies framework, there are four types of personalities/styles:

  • “Fiery Red”—The Director—competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful, and driving— they seek to “do it NOW.”
  • “Cool Blue”—The Observer—cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal, and analytical—they seek to “do it right.”
  • “Sunshine Yellow”—The Inspirer—sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive, and expressive. They seek to “do it together.”
  • “Earth Green”—The Supporter—caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed, and amiable—they seek to “do it in a caring way.”

There is no one best type—each is simply a personal preference. And further, each of us is “incomplete and imperfect”.

  • The one who seeks to “do it right” may miss the point with their “analysis paralysis” when something needs to be done in a time-critical fashion.
  • Similarly, the leader that’s focused on “just getting it done now” may be insensitive to providing adequate support for their people, or collaboration with others in the organization.

We saw this clearly in the class. After each person was asked to self-identify which color they were most closely aligned to, it was clear that people were oriented toward one or maybe two types, and that they did have an individual preference.

While no framework is 100% accurate, I like this one as it seems to capture key distinctions between personalities and also helped to make me more self-aware. (I am Cool Blue and Fiery Red, in case you ever decide to “tangle” with me :-).

Combining Color Energies with other personality assessment frameworks, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), can help us to understand both ourselves and others.

With that knowledge we can work together more productively and more pleasantly, as we empathize with others rather than puzzling about why they act the way they do.

Once we start to identify the “color personalities” of others whom we know and work with, we can better leverage our combined strengths.

To me, therefore, leaders have to surround themselves with other excellent people, who can complement their personality and leadership styles so as to fill in the natural gaps that we each possess.