How did we get here?

What happened? How did it get from one of the best place to work to one perceived so negatively? That's the question that most often get asked by the outsiders, as have been asked recently by Business Week, Forbes, Financial Times and others. There are also the cynics who would say that the dirty deeds done by the Evil Empire has finally caught up to it. But that doesn't explain as much as assign it to karma.

The explanation to this question, as with explanation to most complex phenomenon, is multi layered. There is no single answer, and as such, no single cure. But I think we can identify many contributing factors, and perhaps it's through these discussion that some clue may emerge on how to fix the culture.

The easiest one to identify, I think, is size. The company has grown in size by leaps and bound. If you hold the view as I do that Microsoft once consisted of some of the smartest people in the industry, the crème of the crop in intelligence and in ambition, then the law of average dictates that no matter what you do, the growth in size are is going to dillute your advantage away. As the company grows bigger, the average performance of the employee pool is going to approach the industry workface average, because you simply can't hog the top 60,000 (or is it 70,000?) employees in a free market economy, like you can with the top 500. And even if you manage to do it, the 59,999-th employee is not nearly as good as the top performing employee of your company, and so the average/median is bound to go down.

Even in the most idealistic case, the "best" people in the company will sort themselves to the top, to be the executives, the architects, the visionaries, the strategists, and the least capable ones are the ones in positions that require the least intelligence or effectiveness.

If only that was the case.


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