Last week Microsoft sprang a cool $A35 billion for the professional networking site LinkedIn, leaving many to ask the big question, “Why would anyone do that?” Here, Mark Jones (pictured below), CEO at Sydney’s Filtered Media attempts to make sense of the whole thing…
Remember when former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer became a sweaty viral web celebrity?
Somewhere in the mid-2000s a video surfaced showing Steve stomping across a stage in a sweat-soaked shirt chanting “Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!” It’s compelling stuff, and the interwebs duly rewarded him with dance track remixes.
Then we had screaming, hyped-up Steve. The Monkey Boy dance is pure internet gold.
Bizarrely, those images came to mind last week while I sifted through news of Microsoft’s $US26.2 billion planned purchase of LinkedIn.
It struck me there’s very little chance you’ll see Microsoft’s present CEO Satya Nadella — or LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, for that matter — doing anything remotely as amusing as Steve Ballmer’s antics.
Where’s all that gone? Silicon Valley’s mashup world of tech/cloud/digital/disruption/productivity is at risk of being a bit too earnest these days. Everyone’s busy chasing the next billion users, solving global problems, saving the environment, and talking ad nauseam about Millennials.
All worthy causes, it must be said. But if there’s one thing Steve Ballmer taught us, it’s that a touch of crazy goes a long way and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. We might laugh or ridicule this stuff, but being remembered is every storyteller’s primary goal. It matters that when big news events like this tick around we inevitably tune in to leaders, to hear their stories and make sense of things.
Everything they say and do is lined up against the plumbline of integrity. Leaders like the CEOs at Microsoft and LinkedIn are hoping we remember their stories.
That dynamic is exactly what’s going on when you flick through the reams of coverage about the deal. Based on what we know about their mission, does the acquisition make sense?
Well, the best way to make that call in any situation like this is to compare the story being told by the CEOs to the mission statements of their organisations.
There’s arguably no better insight into a company’s purpose than its mission statement because these things are refined and debated to within an inch of their lives before going public.
I call this the integrity test.
The new story first.
So what are Microsoft and LinkedIn telling us about the deal?
The story goes that Microsoft’s been thinking about this for a long time. Then one day during acquisition negotiations Satya and Jeff get talking. They start imagining new things that could be done if they combined the two companies.
This video on Microsoft’s developer content portal, Channel 9, gives you a short summary.
“What is it that is most needed in today’s world?” Satya asks. “Productivity and communication tools.
“Think about taking that and connecting it with the professional network [LinkedIn] and really having that entirety of what is your professional life being enhanced, more empowered, where you are acquiring more skills, being more successful in your current job and finding a greater, bigger next job. That’s that vision.”
In other words, Office 365 integration with LinkedIn will make you more productive and successful in your current job, and help you get the next one.
I’m going to try to suspend judgement on whether that’s a good thing for a moment. Presumably you’ll be given the power to turn off any annoying notifications or intrusions, for example. Clippy, anyone?
Next, let’s look at the mission statements of both organisations.
Here’s Microsoft: “To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realise their full potential.”
LinkedIn’s mission statement echoes that of its new master: “to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
Pretty similar, right? Both companies want to help you do things at work. Preferably faster, better and with a greater sense of satisfaction (another way of talking about productivity). So on this score alone, it makes sense that Microsoft and LinkedIn would join forces. Their mission statements align and support Satya and Jeff’s story.
Has the story passed the integrity test? Check.
What, then, could we discover if we take a quick look at the other tech giants? After all, the pundits are saying that ulterior motives are at play. Microsoft wants to be like Facebook, or Google, or something.
Google’s mission is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Facebook’s mission is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
In contrast to Microsoft and LinkedIn, these two companies offer lofty, aspirational visions that speak to a higher order of things. They’re less concerned with getting stuff done, instead pointing to mysterious, almost other-worldly issues that transcend the pragmatic realities of sitting at a desk to earn a living.
Exactly how do you organise the world’s information, and what exactly does an open and connected world look like? I don’t know, but gee, I wouldn’t mind finding out.
So there we have it. Two pragmatic mission statements, and two mysterious visions of the future. Now you’re probably wondering which ones are are better.
Well, it isn’t that easy. Each one is unique and reflects the intent of that organisation. If Microsoft told us it was trying to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible, for example, we wouldn’t believe it. Bing is a decent search engine, but it’s far from a category leader — which I presume makes it harder to organise the world.
No, this is a story about being consistent and acting with integrity. Are your words consistent with your brand, your mission, and making a giant bet when you see an opportunity?
In the case of Microsoft and LinkedIn, the answer’s yes. Aside from the enormous price tag, the deal makes sense when we look at the underlying missions. Does that mean they should try and emulate Google or Facebook?
But I wouldn’t complain if they all gave us a bit more spark.
Steve’s crazy videos rounded out an entertaining era. Sun’s CEO Scott McNealy could get headlines with outrageous claims about the end of privacy as we know it, and Oracle boss CEO Larry Ellison was just plain scary.
Then we had the late great Steve Jobs. His presentations were entertainment personified.
Which, now that I think about it, could be part of Apple’s problem today. Without Jobs it lacks a compelling story about the future. Check out the mission statement: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store.”
A true, consistent and worthy statement. Also, quite boring. Not like the other Steve at Microsoft. Now there’s a story worth remembering.
This column originally appeared on B&T’s sister business site www.which-50.com