Visions of Platform Vendors
Sunday, December 4, 1994 by Dave Winer.
The vision thing came up again. This time the controversy is about Mike Spindler, CEO of Apple, and the forum was Wednesday's New York Times, and the henchman was John Markoff (who you have to totally admire for keeping Spindler on the record as he compared desktop computers to urinals.)
Spindler says that "vision" was highly over-rated in the past at Apple (how true!) and apparently Spindler's reaction to this situation is to not have a vision. Uh oh.
This calls us back to the early days of Lou Gerstner at IBM and an article that appeared in Fortune (I think, my memory is blurry) that took him apart for his proclamation that vision was unnecessary for the CEO of a high-tech company. I think he was actually trying to position himself against Bill Gates, he probably thought he was being clever, but he was wrong, the vision of a high-tech CEO is absolutely essential to the viability of the company he or she is CEO of.
How can you tell? Check out the piece in the current issue of Business Week (12/5/94, p 100) entitled "IBM Swings into the Fast Lane." The article could have been more accurately entitled "IBM is in Panic Mode Because Lou Gerstner Had No Idea Where the World Was Headed Two Years Ago and is Scrambling to Own a Piece of a Market He Should Have Dominated."
The article says that IBM has no coherent strategy for offering wide-area network services to users of personal computers. They are in reaction mode, again, and surprise, they're reacting to Bill Gates, the CEO of a high-tech company who bothers to have a vision.
The world is totally screwed up! It isn't that Microsoft is so damned smart, it's that everyone else is so damned stupid! Couldn't they see this coming? Why didn't they ask me? [Fortune *did* ask Bill Gates, back then, and he called it right -- he told the post-Akers IBM to focus on services and networking.]
Now let's swing forward to a few months ago, to a cover story in Fortune, written by Alan Deutschman, a subscriber, and a friend. It painted a very rosy picture of Mr. Gerstner as the electrifying and creative leader of IBM. How electrifying? When he was on a tour of some random IBM facility and asked a worker what he was working on, the answer was "platforms." Gerstner's response was something like "well, whatever a platform is, be sure you do a good job!"
I'm sorry I don't have the exact quote. But really, it was *that* inane.
Can you imagine the president of a high-tech company that isn't totally *immersed* in what a platform is all about? And how his or her platforms are doing? I cannot. Maybe I'm off the wall. Please tell me if you think I am.
Would you bet on an airline whose president didn't love to fly? A winery whose president didn't love wine? A book publisher that didn't read an awful lot of books? Why should anyone expect success from a platform vendor that doesn't bother to learn what makes a platform work? Or (bringing it back to Spindler) a high tech CEO that doesn't have a vision of the future?
It could be that Spindler is simply ineloquent. I'm hoping for the best, and that what he really means is that heli-cars, like Taligent and Newton (and on and on...) were harmful noise because they distracted people from the real stuff, and he's going to keep that kind of stuff quiet in his version of Apple, and focus on the businesses that pay the bills, like graphic production, productivity apps, multimedia titles, games and electronic mail and great hardware.
I like that vision -- a lot.
PS: The Best-Title-of-the-Day award goes to email@example.com, who entitled his reply to Esther as "I'll pay you $10 to read this." Another happy day for the NYC Salvation Army!
PPS: To Fortune, Business Week & The New York Times: Could we please have all your back-issues uploaded to web pages, so I could have done my research for this piece on-line, and have included pointers to the articles and relevent quotes? You *know* that someday you're all going to do this. Why wait?
PPPS: About replies that don't run as the message of the day, or don't get quoted -- please, please keep them coming! I'm saving them all, sorted out neatly in folders on my hard disk, and backing them up. When the chatnet goes on the air, they will *all* be accessible. Your replies are on the record, unless you specifically state otherwise, and hopefully soon, lots of other people will be able to read your comments and comment on them.
PPPPS: As always, if you aren't interested in this kind of stuff, send me email and I'll happily delete your name from the list. And it's OK to forward it or repost it anywhere you like. The list is expanding -- I'm always happy to add new names. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.