Kathy posts ‘Death by risk aversion’

You ever been on a team where something starts out as a fantastic idea but then gets worse and worse over time?

I’ve seen this happen and talked with Kathy Sierra about it last week at Search Champs (she used to work at Sun Microsystems and saw the same thing happen).

Out popped this fantastic post: Death by risk aversion.

I present to a lot of corporations. Everywhere I go I smell the fear. People are scared to do something different.

In big companies taking risks really isn’t appreciated. Oh, yes, I know I’ll get 50,000 examples emailed to me in an hour, but come on.

Here’s an example that someone I know (who doesn’t work at Microsoft) told me. He was looking at changing groups at his company. But doing so would need building up a reputation with a new group of people, would mean working harder, taking on new responsibilities, for no increase in salary (and a very real chance that he’d fail in his new job since it was something he hadn’t tried yet).

But, if he left his company to try something new, he’d have the same risks, albeit with a higher salary and with more upside if the company succeeded.

Three years ago I took risk after risk after risk and it paid off. I now have a great job that I love, a book that looks like it’ll be successful, and lots of great friends who are interesting (and lots of great readers who tell me off when I write something stupid, which is often).

But, am I taking enough risks? Well, I’m gonna speak in front of an audience I never thought I would be speaking in front of, and then I’m gonna go skiing in the Swiss Alps this weekend. That’s enough risk for this week.

Are you taking enough risks?

Gay rights bill passes

Remember that gay rights bill that got a local church here in Washington all up in arms and got them to threaten to boycott Microsoft? Well, the church followed through on their threat last week (is now boycotting Microsoft even though many of its parisioners are members of Microsoft) and the bill just passed after eight years of attempting to get it through.

Robert Fripp on business

Robert Fripp is a famous guitarist. He’s in the audience aggregation business. Same business that Google, MSN, Yahoo, and many companies that appear on TechCrunch are in, by the way. He has a lengthy post on why he chose to do business with Microsoft. It’s a must read for businesspeople, particularly with all this venture capital talk that’s been going around lately. Here’s a key line:

“In business, personal connections are not everything; just, nearly everything.”

Oh, I grok that. It’s why my cell phone number is always going to be on the home page of my blog. You can call me anytime (if I’m sleeping I may not answer, particularly if Maryam is throwing my phone against the wall. Heheh). At Microsoft you always have a personal connection (or you can build one).

I’d go even deeper than Robert Fripp. I do business with people I know and can read and can find in search engines. If you can’t be found in Yahoo, Google, or MSN’s engine, well, how about fixing that particular bug?

I’m pushing for more transparency, here’s why

You only need to watch the PR (by Nathan Weinberg on the Inside Microsoft blog) that Microsoft received over the past week to understand that more transparency would be a good thing. Danny Sullivan, over on Search Engine Watch made the same point several times.

As I flew across the United States yesterday this story was at the top of page one on every newspaper I saw.

Note to Microsoft employees: if you aren’t transparent about when you deal with governments you will hand your competitors a huge advantage. If it were up to me I’d blog whenever governmental requests come in. One area that isn’t possible is when there are crimes involved, though. Companies regularly turn data over under subpoena.

One last thought on this story. It’s real easy to trash customer trust and very hard to earn it back. Transparency is the way here.

I’ll be at the Search Champs meeting with MSN too and will make these points again there.

How would you handle it if you were running a search engine or blog service and a government asked you to do something, even something with great ends? How would you have handled this case?

Another guy who says there’s lots of bad business books

Bob Pritchet, founder of Logos Research Systems, wrote me tonight and said he agrees with me that there are lots of bad business books. Proceeded to tell me about his new book: Fire Someone Today.

I was being inspired by his blog and found this entry that talked about a store that closed early, pissing off customers. Oh, that brought be back to the 1980s. My boss would usually open the store back up if there was a customer in the parking lot (we delivered refrigerators together after the store closed in evenings). He told me “someday you might wish you had that customer back.”

Do you fight for every customer? It’s hard to do.

I’m looking forward to reading Bob’s book. Oh, and Bob’s company? Has $9 million in sales, hundreds of employees, and hundreds of thousands of customers. Well done!

A conversation with Windows Vista Kernel Team

This is Channel 9’s Christmas Present to geeks everywhere. A candid conversation with the team that’s building Windows Vista’s kernel. I even ask if they wish the registry had never been invented. But, Charles Torre did most of the interviewing. Being in a room with these guys for an hour makes my brain hurt.

They give a lot of details about how they are rearchitecting Windows to make it easier to ship new, higher-quality, versions of the OS.

I don’t remember any conference where these four people get together and just have a simple conversation. In 2006 I’m going to push for even more corporate transparency into why we do the things we do. Since much of the world has bet on our products, shouldn’t the world have better conversations with the folks who build those products?

Think about the impact on the world these four people have. If there are going to be hundreds of millions of people using Windows Vista (and that’s if it’s a market failure), and these four people find a way to increase computer speeds even a few seconds a day (or do something similarly impressive to increase productivity), imagine the economic impact of that.

Happy Holidays from building 18 on Microsoft’s headquarters! Hope you have a good one!

Update, I wish I were back in Belgium with this Nine Guy.