Who tells our story – we do, providing we aten’t dead.

I sometimes tell the following Joke

"When people ask me what I do for a living, I say 'I work-to-bring-about-the-Kingdom-of-the-anti-christ-on-earth' and they say 'Pardon !' and I say 'I work for Microsoft' and they say 'I thought for a moment you said you worked to bring about the kingdom of the anti-christ', and I say 'Yes that people often think that when I say I work for Microsoft"

OK. with material like that I'm not going to get many bookings on the Comedy circuit. But there is a truth about it. King Charles I said "Never make a defence or an apology until you are accused." Hmmm..

Today in "Why am I working for Microsoft" Hugh MacLeod highlighted a comment from a reader. "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)?"

I responded to the  "Microsoft is dead" meme on Sunday, Mary Jo Foley linked to it, saying 'Make no mistake: Microsoft is still The Evil Empire. And if my arguments don't convince you, check out Softie James O'Neill's list of the "Top 10 things people thought would kill Microsoft and haven't." ' She called me the Blog Police before. A chap could get a complex about this...  

Hugh also furnished me with a link to this story. Here's a quote.

Who has the right to tell the Microsoft story? Is it the Steve Claytons and the Robert Scobles? Is it Gates and Ballmer? Is it we, the users? Is it all of the above? And what happens when the story diverges? It seems to me that Gates and Ballmer tell one story — that of Microsoft domination at all costs. Clayton and Scoble tell another story — that of an emerging openness and a thirst for innovation. And the users tell a range of other stories, from “Microsoft is still #1″ to “Microsoft is dead.”

To me, the answer is that everyone tells the story, but at the end of the day it’s the story told by the top leadership that will matter

The last point is obvious. What Messers Gates, Ballmer et al say has more weight than an O'Neill, Clayton or Scoble. (A Scoble could be a unit of influence. Not to be confused with the Scoville, unless the poster is very fiery. I probably rate in the 10s of milliScobles. The impact of a Gates or Ballmer would put them in the KiloScoble range.) 

"Who has the right to speak for Microsoft ?" is a tougher question (so are "Where does it stem from ?" and "What duties come with it ?"). Employees have been given the right to tell the story, by management from Bill Gates downwards, with only one duty: Blog Smart. And as Steve points out there 4500+ other bloggers exercising that right. My father believes PR shouldn't allow ordinary employees to speak for the company. Hugh's reader , Richard Stacy has a follow-up post to the "Microsoft is dead" one called PR is dead. It is as my father's generation knew it. We are all in PR now.
I don't see that "divergence" I've never heard Gates and Ballmer calling for anything "at all costs", though I was stunned by what I called "the streets will run with the blood of our enemies" rhetoric at my first big Microsoft conference in 2000 . One senior Microsoft exec taunted us "Do you want to be the ones who put the fuel in Larry [Ellison]'s Jet ?". Ballmer used the story of Muhammad Ali and the Rumble in the jungle and the "rope-a-dope" - Ali spent most of the fight on the ropes soaking up punches before coming back with a decisive punch. A great story, until we got the bit about the fight audience chanting "Ali bomaye!", which means "Ali, kill him!" I can stile remember Ballmer yelling "Microsoft boom-aye-ay " and Microsoft people yelling it back. (Shouting Kill him ? KILL ?? )  But I haven't heard it in 5 years and that pleases me. Gates never spoke like that: Ballmer's fire has not gone out, but he was the one who started this change in tone, these days his metaphors are of building not killing.

Rights and duties aside, other people do tell the story.  Some are neutral, others biased (not always against us), some call us the evil empire. Who's comfortable being called Evil ? We're engineers and marketeers, not mass murderers. Our business isn't based around polluting industrial processes, we don't make landmines or use child labor. People expect us to take it (cushioned no doubt by what they imagine we're paid).  to laugh it off . We "always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes" ?  To get an idea of how we feel, think of Steve Martin in Roxanne doing 20 Jokes about his nose (sorry I don't know if that scene was in Cyrano De Bergerac). "Hi... yeah... SO ... I a work for a Microsoft, you know , the evil empire, We will add your technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile. Ha ha etc" - <hand wring><awkward laugh>. "Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google?"  Try calling them Evil for 10 or 15 years and see.

Microsoft isn't staffed by saints and there are things we should apologise for; the fact that we aten't dead isn't one Here's an additional 
6 things for which we shouldn't make a defence or an apology

  • Our products
  • The talent outside the company developing on our platforms
  • Our market share
  • The Money we have to invest developing new products.
  • The talent inside the company to develop new products and bring them to market
  • The passion we have to keep doing it

And yes those form a cycle. And yes if squander the advantages that the Talent, the market share, and the Money give us or lose the passion to Change the world, we may as well go home. Which is where the blue monster came in.

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Comments (6)
  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve told the story before about introducing myself with the words ‘I work-to-bring-about-the-Kingdom-of-the-anti-christ-on-earth’

  2. Anonymous says:


    I’ve been reading your blog and comments ‘defending’ Microsoft and the fact you work for them!  I think Bill bashing is now ‘old hat’ and MS are no more or less ‘evil’ than Google, Yahoo, Cisco or any other global IT company.  

    Personally, I’d be more than happy to work for the company and not because I think Lamborghini’s are issued as staff cars.  I noted you had been recruiting for your team of ‘evangelists’.  I’d love to send you my cv if you’d care to receive it?  



  3. Anonymous says:

    PR may be dead, and you’re right that we’re all in PR but it’s now private relations, the collective voice softly spoken in many conversations of any company is worth any number of vainglorious press releases.

    Microsoft have suffered in the past because the view has long been held that it’s a monolith, the  Gormenghast of the tech world decaying and visiting it’s pronouncements on the tech populace. Blogging really has changed this perception amongst a good deal of the tech community. some of us even like you now 😉

    a good proportion of the detractors are using arguements that may have stood up in the days of windows 95 but are long invalidated, in some ways the product set is too good as people are still reluctant to move away from good old XP (yes they call it good old XP) on the desktop.

    I think we should set the o’Neill as the base unit (btw  tens of milliscobles are actually centiscobles) I could cope with being a milliO’neill  but never a nanoscoble

  4. James ONeill says:

    Steve. We’d be glad to have a CV. You can send it through me (My mail alias is the same as the blog address, just add @microsoft.com.) or you can look at http://www.microsoft.com/uk/jobs for more information.

  5. James ONeill says:

    Alasdair, good points, although my sister is known in the family as Milli – so I think the MilliO’Neill is aready taken 🙂 Anyhow I suspect it’s to small to be viable unit.

  6. Guy Adams says:

    I actually think the constant attacks on Microsoft and Microsoft’s blogging employees are very tiring. Perhaps these people should have all Microsoft products removed from their lives and see how much better they can continue with their work or play without. I am pretty sure within a day or so they would need a function or tool which they couldn’t get free off the internet or even if they could it wouldn’t encapsulate the full functionality needed to complete said task.

    The obvious reasons for attacking Microsoft is the size, it’s an easy target, especially if you want to gain some attention. This unfortunately means you as a Microsoft employee are a target too. There are many examples; here is just one of them: (http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=289)

    I like to think of these types of people now as sheep, they all follow each other whether they agree or not. I think it stands to reason now that by trying to gain attention by attacking Microsoft you are only actually following suite.

    I commend you Microsoft bloggers, you have to have your opinions and blogs viciously scrutinised by not only Microsoft (blog smart) but by its critics too.

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