If only they had VISION and not just SIGHT

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/01/11 07:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/01/11/10114118.aspx


For the record, the ideas I present here are ones I have discussed with various people around Microsoft including a few execs over the years and it has never made its way into a plan to implement or a business strategy, as far as I know (it almost became a Think Week paper but the guy from Finance I was working with left the company before it could all be put together and so it was never submitted. But I believe every word of it, and I believe with the right people to go in and do the work, this could have turned out quite well. I do know of at least one executive who actually had some eerily similar ideas who left Microsoft when it became clear that the resources needed would not ever be made available.

If I were younger I'd create a startup, get funding, go off and do it myself, but I'm old now and the days of that kind of hustle for me are firmly in the past. So there are something like over 100 million people being let down here, and to them I apologize.

Anyway, if you are an OEM or a startup or whatever and you go off and do any of this, I'm not going to ask for any royalties or a position on your board or whatever. But please don't fail to mention where you got the original inspiration from. And at least buy me a beer some day to say thank you.... :-)


For many years Microsoft worked under what some considered to be a really ridiculous notion:

A computer on every desk and in every home

and the reason it was considered ridiculous is that pretty much everyone thought it sounded stupid. Or crazy. Or both.

And this was not just because computers weren't as powerful, or as cheap, or as easy to use.

I mean, they weren't, and they weren't, and they weren't, sure.

But there was a bigger conceptual problem to deal with. i am referring to the fact that no one saw a point to having a computer.

There was no Internet, there was no video or means to get it. Sure there was email for a select few, but it hadn't even reached the "geeks and pedophiles" stage, let alone the stage where "everyone had it."

Perhaps people might have computer at work but not home -- and maybe they saw no real advantage to either one, whether they had one in either place or not.

A statement like

A computer on every desk and in every home

can be thought of as being truly visionary, in the meaningful sense.

VISION is best thought of as a "Moses on the mountain who comes down and tells everyone where the promised land is" because in its truest form, that's what vision is.

When I think about the last 100 "vision documents" and "vision statements" I have seen, I realize that those authors have really lost touch with that meaning.

A non-religious way to think of it would be:

If everyone can see it, then it's not vision; it's sight.

Examples there that Microsoft can be thought of as being guilty of (along with many others but I'm focusing on Microsoft here for a bit) abound -- include things like the Internet, and HTML, and the Cloud, just to name a few.

There is nothing there at the point in time that Microsoft was adopting and promoting these things that can be called vision when Microsoft started talking those things up and producing products using them.

They saw something and realized they could do something useful there, so they did it. They are doing it.

Now I can recall thinking back 15 years when someone like General Manager Craig Unger would write a vision doc for Microsoft Access that it would be how he envision ed the next version of the product and plenty of people had trouble seeing how the product would get there from here. While not as all-ecompassingly visionesque as "a computer on every desk and in every home", there was the flavor of vision in such documents because they were much more received truth than the stuff everyone could tell was in the cards anyway.

And I don't want to knock the complex documents created for the last few versions of Office and Windows. They are incredibly useful documents that provide real road maps to what was to be built. with heavy collaboration and participation at so many levels, there is coverage of issues and problems and opportunities at all levels of product, and as lot of what is great about these documents has been the basis for what is great about the eventual products released.

But they aren't Vision Documents.

Now computers today are largely looked as like any recognized commodity: no one in the world we think of today doesn't see the use in having lots and lots computers: in the home, at work, in the phone, etc.

The vision could be said to be in large part accomplished, because there really aren't people who see no use in having computers of some sort around.

Even in developing markets (think BRIC for a moment!), companies like Microsoft and Dell and HP have good estimates of the number of computers that will sold in each country, and they each work to get s big of a cut of that number as they can. They make many short term tactical and long term strategic moves to maximize their piece of the known pie, and clearly they do well there.

But that strategy? Those tactics? They are sight, not vision.

Now this actually leads to a rather interesting problem, though. Taking India for a moment, if you look at the parts of India that they expect the computers to be shipping to, we really aren't talking about an emerging market at all. We are talking about an emerged market. Perhaps not one as saturated as the US or Europe where what you are often relying on is the drive to upgrade as people feel behind the times without the latest hardware and latest software. But the people they are selling to don't need to be convinced that a computer  can be a good idea, by and large.

Thus estimating how many million computers will be in India and getting as big of a piece of that pie as possible is not vision.

I said there was a problem in all of this, but I haven't stated what it is yet, have I? :-)

The problem is that the target is that 7% of India that is English speaking and already using that wider world that needs computers, and they have no problem seeing the need.

For a long time I wondered why anyone bothered referring to India as an emerging market since they weren't selling to that developing piece that was emerging so much as the developed piece that has emerged and that wants computers.

And then we come to a choice bit of irony.

You see, if we ignore the 7% for a moment (it is handled and understood and people are taken care of there), and look at the remaining 93%, we have some interesting issues.

First, there is the fact that the majority of those 1.116 billion people in that 93% are living in poverty and can't even afford food, let alone computers. Trying to interest them in buying computers would (quite frankly) be retarded.

Note that Gates aims more toward that group these days with the Foundation.

But there is a more affluent edge to that 93% - maybe the top 1-5% of it that perhaps could afford a computer either out of money on hand or though saving for some time, if they saw a need.

The irony is that in many cases, they don't.

These people have much more in common with customers in the US than they do with their neighbors in the 7% bracket, because although they may be able to afford a computer within 0-6 months, they do not see a need. Even forgetting the language issue, the simple fact is that no one has sold them on the need to have a computer at all.

The irony? Microsoft lacks the "computer on every desk and in every home" vision to bring computers to them.

In other words, if Microsoft was willing to be wise enough to apply their original vision to that chunk of India, then they have a potential market of somewhere between 11.2 and 55.8 million customers -- over 1/6 the size of the total population of the US -- and the only limit to how many of them would be clamoring for computers would be based on how effective the marketing strategies were to apply that vision to this population.

And the actual number of PCs shipped for the next five years to India would completely blow way the current estimates that are being made.

And you can apply the same strategy with only minor modifications to other parts of the world - from the rest of Southeast Asia to China to Russia to Africa to South America,and so on.

When Julie Bennett was our General Manager, she used to stir us up and inspire us by talking about yet another legitimate vision, one of the next million customers. And I was stirred up, I was inspired.

But now I have presented a vision in this very blog you are reading right now that is squarely aimed at the next one hundred million customers around the world.

If only the higher-ups were even paying attention to finishing up with Microsoft's own original dreams and aspirations that they once had.

If only they had vision....


Marc Brooks on 11 Jan 2011 5:40 PM:

Honestly the problem with the "computer on every desk and in every home" vision for that top-of-93% folks is that they don't have desks (at work) and might not really have a home.  Even the top is still outrageously poor by our standards.

carlos on 13 Jan 2011 5:20 AM:

Slight nitpick: "received truth" is pretty much synonymous with "received wisdom".  Stuff that everyone knows to be true but with an implication (in modern use) that it's actually false.

That's true in Britain anyway.  I know you do things differently over there.

Michael S. Kaplan on 13 Jan 2011 7:00 AM:

in the context of this blog, it is about stuff that is true but the masses don't see it [yet]....


go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day