Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Microsoft, Public Education And "The Wire"

Good Slate piece comparing Microsoft to The Wire to explian why Bill Gates' company is failing:

And it had a lot to do with bad management. There’s too much personnel turnover in the drug trade for managerial rot to really set in—for the Microsoft analogy on The Wire, you’d look not just to Avon Barksdale’s intransigence but to his nemeses in the Baltimore police department, with its toxic strains of authoritarianism, politics-playing, bean-counting, and pure sloth. Consider Windows Vista, the much-maligned follow-up to the genuinely decent Windows XP. It took five years to produce something that was far worse than its predecessor. Three years into it, in mid-2004, they threw out all the code and started over. There was a big reorg then, too, just like now. Reorgs are the product of endless turf wars between executives and keep managers occupied with PowerPoint charts. Reorgs keep peons nervous about where the axe will fall, as does the brutal zero-sum stack rank review system that dictates that every good performance review in a group must be balanced by a bad one—and thus that you can only excel if your peers fall behind.

 What reorgs don’t result in is a stronger product. They result in slow, clunky, buggy, yet long-in-the-making junk like Microsoft Surface, or Vista, or Kin. Why did it take two years to realize that Vista wouldn’t work? And how did Kin, Microsoft’s iPhone competitor, even get released? It landed in May 2010, it was universally loathed, and then it vanished. A contributor to the infamous Minimsft blog—ground zero for disgruntled employees—put it this way: “We all knew that Kin was a lackluster device, lacked the features the market wanted and was buggy with performance problems ... But when our best ideas were knocked down over and over and it began to dawn on us that we were not going to have any real affect [sic] on the product, we gave up.” Or, as the Baltimore police department’s deputy commissioner Rawls once said to a frustrated underling, “What part of ‘Bend over’ didn’t you understand?”

And of course the genius who developed this system at Microsoft now has brought the same one to public education systems around the country - the brutal zero-sum stack rank system that dictates every good performance review must be balanced by a bad one so a teacher can only excel if her/his peers fall behind, the awful policies that they're going to promote and go with no matter how buggy, ill-conceived or faulty they are.

It's worked so well for Microsoft, you can bet it's going to work well for public schools too.

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