Friends & Friction: When the window of relevance closes

2014-11-27 15:00

Corpses are piling up in the mass grave of corporate failures, and employees are being tossed like plates after a Greek dinner.

Recently, Microsoft swallowed Nokia for a cool R72?billion, and it has been shedding staff ever since.

Money, they say, is like urine – the more it accumulates, the more you want to piss it away. Microsoft has been on an acquisitions binge for a while. Before buying Nokia, it tried to buy out Yahoo! for R530?billion, but the latter’s shareholders thought they would be better off alone.

Most managers seem to think if they merge their miseries, they will produce something magical that will tantalise their customers. Often they don’t. Most companies are idiot-proof, so corporate failures do not happen because of management idiocy, but because their “window of relevance” closes.

Microsoft brought us Windows 95 and changed personal computing forever. But as time passed, its window of relevance closed.

The computer moved from the desktop to the lap to the palm.

Years ago, rumours escaped out of Microsoft that the young lions wanted the company to move away from Windows and dominate internet-based software; but Bill Gates, the founder, was deeply in love with the tools he had created.

In a nutshell, Microsoft became a slave to its own tools. In reality, the company was never really innovative. It “stole” Windows from Apple (a legal dispute for years). Microsoft may have brought the internet to every desk, but it didn’t invent the browser. It just put it in its suite and killed Netscape, the leading browser at the time, in the process.

WordPerfect might have popularised the word processor, but it was Microsoft that bundled it in its Office Suite. When it comes to packaging and sales, few companies rival Microsoft.

Unsurprisingly, the world changed in unexpected ways, as it always does.

The internet became big, leaving Gates’ first love behind. By the time Microsoft got to the starting line, the race was over and Apple and Google were the winners.

Across the Atlantic, a cellphone giant, Nokia, was also faltering. Its window of relevance had also closed in its face, and Microsoft saw it as a means to catch up with Apple and Google. It was an odd marriage with unrealistic expectations – like two tortoises getting married and hoping to birth a hare. So it was bound to end up in tears.

Microsoft is firing Nokia employees and that is a grave mistake. It is one of those management conundrums: why pay billions for a company and then fire the people who made it worth those billions? Last month, Microsoft dropped a bombshell: Nokia Lumia will now be called Microsoft Lumia.

There seems to be confusion at the company. One day it announces it will drop the name Nokia, except in smaller brands, then the next it announces it will soon be launching Nokia tablets. It might well be that Microsoft’s window of relevance has been permanently sealed.

Have you thought about your own window of relevance in your career, or are you going to be another broken plate?

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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