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Thursday, May 05, 2005

The "Smart" People at Microsoft

One of the most striking things about the people at Microsoft is that they are incredibly nice. My most recent encounter with Robert Scoble's boss, Jeff Sandquist deepens my conviction. Former Slate editor-in-chief Michael Kinsley pointed this out a few years ago:

The shock of adjustment that New Yorkers report undergoing will be familiar to anyone who has moved from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest. People here really are nicer in the mundane interactions of life.

But instead of playing the nice card, Microsoft often leads with the smart card. Doc Searls recently discussed this in a must-read essay, Getting Flat - Part 2 on Thomas Friedman's new book:

A friend who worked at Microsoft once told me he could describe his employer in two words: more school. ... My friend noted that Microsoft executives "can't go two paragraphs without using the word 'smart'." He asked, "Are there any other companies that want to know your SAT scores? Your GPA? Or that grade you on a curve?"

But as Doc astutely points out:

I can save Microsoft a pile of time and money by reporting a fact no school wants to admit, one that will flatten the world far more than any other factor: pretty much everybody is smart. What's more, they're all smart in their own ways.

As others have pointed out, Microsoft has IQ, but is often lacking in EI, emotional intelligence which is rooted in the insight that applied intelligence is much more valuable than raw intelligence.

In my mind Doc Searls is the perfect example of beautifully applied intelligence. By his own admission there may be others with greater raw intelligence in his Cluetrain circle, but nobody comes close to him in the number of wise observations he makes - month after month.

Part of it comes from Doc's strict adherence to the Talmudic principle: "Who is wise? He who learns from every man."

So Microsoft's high IQ actually works against them in that they don't really listen. They may meet with many customers, but their
"smartness" prevents them from learning. In fact East Coast managers I have talked with often regard Microsofters as a little clueless. When Microsoft drops the "We're so smart" mantra, and really listens to learn, the company and the industry will benefit from a better customer relationship.

Next: Microsoft's Confusion of Management Versus Leadership