Why isn’t Microsoft ‘cool’?


Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

Is GE cool? Is Exxon-Mobil cool? Is Wal-mart cool? Is IBM cool? Public will say they are not, but does it matter?

Rovio/Angry Birds is cool and we all love it. But, the amount it earns in a whole year ($110 million) is what GE makes in 6 hours ($147 billion annually)! But, if a Martian were to read our media reports, he might believe the other way around.                   

Importance of coolness in an enterprise
When I asked the same question to one of the senior execs at Microsoft (when  I worked there after college) he remarked that "coolness often means not using the stuff your father uses". I found that profound. Think a bit about this.

Coolness often is a kind of a rebel statement. Coolness is associated with hip & youth. Coolness often means supporting an upcoming product that stands against a big corp (in a classic David vs. Goliath play). That means it is very, very hard for any big corp to be cool. That means to make its products cool, Microsoft has to often  underplay its name, in products like XBox and Halo.

Microsoft was cool in the nineties when it challenged The IBM. Apple was cool in the naughties when it challenged The Microsoft. People found the new leaders to be a welcome change from the older ones. Don't be Evil rallied the crowds, until the new leaders started resembling the older ones, like the animals in the Animal Farm.

Coolness means being a rebel and being a standout. For a consumer company that sells fashion and is trendy, this tag is awesome. For an enterprise company that means death. This is one reason why Apple & Google are finding it hard to crack the enterprise world, while uncool companies such as Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft and IBM rule them. In an enterprise, you don't stand out, you fit in.

Coolness and attention not correlated with importance
We live in a world where we pay more attention to an app that adds a fake nostalgia to our photos than the builders of the roads we travel, electricity we consume and food we eat.

We live in a world where a Lady Gaga gets as many media mentions in a day as all the Nobel laureates put together, in a year. That should alone disabuse you of the notion: "cool = valuable, cool=important or cool = good".

The way we perceive cool is biased against the old, big & expected. We have already taken granted our infrastructure. Now we are taking granted stuff such as quick/relevant information & smart mobile interfaces. Thus, even Apple & Google are seen a lot less cooler today than they were 10 years ago. 5 years ago, your iPhone would have generated an "Oh wow" reaction. Now, it is just "Oh". Public moves on really quickly. That means it is a losing game to chase the "cool".

For Microsoft, enterprise is its main revenue generator and its customers find the products valuable before writing their checks. That is the only thing that matters.

Coolness is also about a human story and a human connect. We often like companies that we can associate with a real human. For a long time, Microsoft meant Bill Gates. Apple is associated with Steve Jobs. When a company is personified by a leader we admire, we form bonds with the company. It is not a surprise that the public perceptions of both Microsoft and Apple were at their peak when the founders were going full steam. In both cases, they are grappling with the aftermath.
                    

Look at the top Fortune 500 companies. Are any of them cool?

What the public needs to know about Microsoft?
1. Microsoft is among the largest providers to charity – Microsoft Employees Raise $1 Billion For Charity. Its founder, Bill Gates runs the "coolest" charitable fund in the whole darn world – http://www.gatesfoundation.org/

2. Microsoft helped bring a big chunk of the world to computing. Majority of the world can neither afford Apple nor fiddle with Linux. Without Microsoft, computing would have been merely a first world thing.

I have my own disagreements how Microsoft's top management runs the company, but I believe it is a good company.

Why isn't Microsoft 'cool'?

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