What price genius?

First it was Scott Forstall, who ran software development for the iPad and iPhone at Apple.  Now Steve Sinofsky, head of Microsoft’s Windows division and the person responsible for turning the disaster that was Vista into Windows 7 and now Windows 8.  Both considered brilliant.  Both delivered high-profile products that are critical to their employers’ success.  Both fired.

Why fired?  Many versions of the truth (and even more theories) flying around, but there are two interesting similarities.  First, both men, by all accounts, are total shits – they don’t play nicely with others, and not many people want to work with or for them.  Second, both companies did the kumbaya thing in their respective press releases, talking about how the changes will lead to greater “collaboration” (in Forstall’s case) and “integration” (in Sinofsky’s case) across divisions.

Putting aside the differences in Apple’s and Microsoft’s respective businesses, there is the generic question:  what price genius?  I fundamentally believe no one is irreplaceable, but is creating harmony always in a company’s best interest?  Can the natural tension that arises from combining a bunch of Type A’s and alpha males/females lead to better results?  Or is it best to get rid of that one bad apple (no pun intended), no matter how shiny, to make sure the rest of the tree survives and flourishes?  No easy answers here – so much depends on things like a company’s business, its culture, its operating environment, its competitive position, etc.  But there will be lessons to be learned – we’ll have to wait and see what happens to both companies without the man thought most likely to carry on the legacy of Steve Jobs and the guy who was going to return the luster to a tarnished Microsoft.

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R.I.P. RIM

First, my apologies to my very small but growing group of loyalists – if you’d had a month like the one I just had, blogging would have been at the bottom of your list of priorities too.  Thankfully, bones are knitting, surgical scars are healing, and life is returning to something that resembles normal.

One quick post before everyone scatters for the holiday weekend.  I have been a Blackberry loyalist for about a decade, and after much resistance, have recently come to terms with the very sad truth that the company’s products are going the way of the Motorola StarTac.  (Hmmm, since tech superstar Justin Timberlake is otherwise engaged in reviving one moribund former digital darling, maybe his The Social Network co-star  Jesse Eisenberg can help RIM out – I mean, they have similar credentials, right?  Just a thought.)  Not only have they consistently failed to innovate over the last few years, but their products don’t even keep pace with iOS and Android features.   Adding insult to injury, the developer community has abandoned them in droves – the death knell in the era of the smart phone and the iPad.  (Btw, can we all agree to abandon, at least for now, the generic “tablet?”  The only tablet of consequence is the iPad.)  Finally, the enterprise market, which RIM has long dominated by a substantial margin, is migrating in increasing numbers to the iPhone as employees demand the cooler, sleeker and (gulp) just plain better device.

One brave high level RIM employee has published an anonymous open letter to co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis (well-respected tech site BGR has verified the employee’s identity) that gives a straight up account of all that is wrong with the company and some smart, clear cut moves that need to be made quickly to restore the company to its former glory.  Kudos to Mr./Ms. Whistleblower – after all, any schmuck can tell you it’s raining, but not everyone has the ability or good sense to give you an umbrella.

You can read the letter here and RIM’s unsurprisingly lame response here.

Happy 4th!