"Systems of Advantage"

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Brent Williams

I had that same discussion with Steve Ballmer in about 1994, when I was the Microsoft analyst at IDC. He claimed that Microsoft would never get big and slow-moving like IBM. In great part, he said that's because his people were smarter. But in fact, Microsoft did exactly that -- got bigger and dumber in some ways than IBM. Microsoft's continuing embarrassment in search engine capabilities are a key example.

I think that all organizations get increasingly complex and spend increasing amounts of time making decisions that don't directly affect the customer-facing part of the business. This is inevitable because brand value is usually directly correlated with consistency of execution in delivering the core product or service. There are many other externalities that distract management.

Over time, the definition of "customer obsession" changes, the speed of "high-velocity decision making" slows as so many more decisions have to be made and the consequence of bad decisions grows. And so forth.

I give them another 10 years, less if Bezos steps completely away from the business. The litmus test for when they're basically done is when you see more than a smattering of news articles in major business publications refer to them as "beleaguered internet retail giant Amazon.com" in the first paragraph...

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