I'll tell you a legend that (I promise) bears on this.
In 1980, Alberto Salazar ran his first NYC marathon and won it with the second fastest US marathon time ever. He won two successive NYC marathons, breaking a twelve year old world record in 1981. He was on his way to being the greatest long distance runner ever. Then came Boston in 1982, and the Duel in the Sun with Dick Beardsley. Beardsley was a great runner of course, but he didn't have Salazar's physical gifts. Salazar had intense pride and incredible mental toughness, but Beardsley was smart and used Salazar's pride as a weapon against him. He did his best to make it look like taking on the world record holder was a walk in the park, which irked Salazar. It was almost disrespectful.
The day was warm and sunny but there was a cooling headwind. On a day like that, drinking was critical, and Beardsley drank quite a bit, and when he noticed this seemed to bother Salazar, he made a big production out of it. Salazar in his annoyance began to refuse water, doggedly stalked Beardsley mile after mile. At the final mile mark Beardsley looked back and saw that after running over 133 thousand feet, Salazar was only fifteen
feet behind him. With delicate brutality, Salazar began to put on speed. Not too much, because in the past dueling lead pairs had broken down and dropped into second and third place.
With a mere 1800 feet to go out of the total 138,435 ft, Beardsley was bumped by a press vehicle. It wasn't much, but Salazar used this to make his move. He crossed the finish line eleven steps ahead of Beardsley, with a finish time of 2:08:52 to Beardley's 2:08:54 -- a quarter of a tenth of percent difference.
Salazar was champion and record holder. He was also a broken man.
Salazar would never run like that again. He went into a physical decline, so that a few years later he could barely jog a mile. In part this was due to the development of asthma, in part it may have been that that final brutal mile, in which Salzar was running six liters
low on water, did something to his brain. A decade later, Salazar began to run again with the aid of Prozac.
The relevance of this story is this: running a marathon is different from running a sprint. And Microsoft is a sprinter. When the new technology land office opens up new vistas, you want to get out there fast
and stake your claim. People remark on how agile Microsoft was when it decided to adapt to the Internet. But that kind of reaction is what Microsoft does
. They look for an opportunity which they pour resources into so they can quickly pull ahead of the competition so they can establish an unassailable position.
Running a mature business is different. It's not about running the race for two hours and some change. It's about running forever
; it's about the tortoises beginning to overtake the hare. That's when giving it your all isn't enough, you have to husband your resources wisely. Eefficiency steps up and takes an equal place with determination.
Unless Microsoft can get in on the starting line of something big and new, Microsoft is going to find itself playing hare to an army of tortoises. That means a huge cultural change. Almost certainly, it means new blood in the leadership.