It’s safe to assume that Microsoft isn’t going anywhere. And I mean that both ways. As sure as we all are that this superpower software giant will be a fixture of our technology landscape for decades to come, we can also count on the fact that they will consistently botch every new product launch, and play follow the leader without ever having the strength of conviction to step out, try something earth shatteringly new, and then stand behind it when the going gets tough.
By now, you are no doubt awash in the news of Windows 8.1 as a peace offering to a world of terminally unsatisfied Windows users. This, of course, includes the new Start button, as if the point of user’s ire was the absence of the little circle on the bottom-left screen, not the functionality it once represented.
This is just another symptom of an insulated command-structure, deaf to the needs and desires of a technology populace begging to be heard. And, as history repeats itself, it is lulled into a sense of complacency, awash in mediocrity through sub-par products like the much derided Vista; the mealy-mouthed Windows Phone 7; the not-quite-Wii, not-quite-PS3 Xbox 360, and the also-ran Bing.
But here’s the thing: Microsoft can afford to keep doing this. Their install-base is staggeringly large, their cash reserves are ample and their stock price, while hardly exciting, is as regular as a 70 year old Steve Ballmer with a lifetime supply of Metamucil. Your business, on the other hand, might still be subject to the whims of supply and demand. If that is indeed the case, your best bet is to stand up and walk in the opposite direction of the business practices made famous by this oddly successful behemoth.
When it comes down to it, the answer is very simple. If you hope to engender the kind of world-famous brand value enjoyed by giants like Apple, Google and Amazon, you need only take a page out of their playbook and learn to dazzle, not disappoint your loyal customers.
The trick is the same here as with most things in life: listen, learn, think and commit.
Listen to the customers, the press, the pundits, the naysayers and your most trusted advisers. Seek out, collect and analyze all the reliable information you can get your hands on.
Learn what you can from the data. Don’t just find out what people are thinking, find out why. Take in the 10,000 foot view of the global zeitgeist, and mix it with the ten foot view of your friends and neighbors. Strive to understand the humanity of the situation, not just the technical specifications.
Think your way through to a great product release. Like a chess master, look objectively at the board and theorize all the possible outcomes and ramifications. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments based on new data while you’re in the planning stages. Create something truly helpful and exciting.
Commit to your best effort and support your release. Help users understand how to get the most out of it and, while you’re collecting valuable feedback, remember that most people fear change, even when it’s good for them.
Yes, there are times when you’ll need to pivot creatively to avoid disaster. But they will be fewer and further between if you can muster the confidence to believe in yourself and create an amazing solution that pushes the boundaries and takes a harmonious stand amidst a cacophony of mediocrity.