I’m grateful for Steve Ballmer. He’s not exactly a charismatic leader, he’s not even the leader I’d want to be, but there’s no questioning his commitment to Microsoft is so deeply ingrained it’s part of his personality, his cellular structure. I suspect when Ballmer leaves Microsoft he won’t fade away, he’ll detonate. A mushroom cloud over Hunt’s Point will mark his retirement.
Ballmer is a man willing to make a fool of himself for his passion and his unmistakable passion is Microsoft. There’s never a suspicion he’ll throw the company under the bus for his own benefit.
If he has a vulnerability, it may be his commitment to competition. At the company meeting employees who were here during the launch of Windows 95 were asked to define the company with three words. Ballmer especially liked the brevity of one reply “competitive, competitive, competitive” but his favorite was “ultimate fighting machine.”
I’ve often wondered why we continue with stack ranking, a form of employee incentivisation comparable to The Fight Club, despite having been discredited by science, abandoned by most Fortune 500 companies, and disliked universally by employees and alumni. We continue with it because it encourages competition.
A man with a hammer sees only nails. In the current business environment boundaries are fluid, competitors become collaborators and some both at the same time. The risk is seeing only through the lens of competition. But if I were given a choice between Steve Jobs running Microsoft or Steve Ballmer, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Ballmer (and not just because Jobs is dead).
[Gratitude—or resentment—filter our perceptions. We see what we expect to see; we’re blind to everything else. Gratitude—or resentment—is self-reinforcing, creating the conditions that generate more of the same. Gratitude is an affirmation, a technique for influencing our own attitudes, for hacking ourselves. Resentment is the same but with darker effect. So I’m launching an experiment in self-hacking. I’m going to regularly express my gratitude in numbered posts. (It has to be public or it’s too deniable.) If I get to #47 I’ll call it success whatever the outcome.]