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Global CIO: Microsoft's Suicidal Infighting: An Insider's Story

Microsoft is choking to death on its internal politics and corrosive infighting, says a former executive.

Late last year, I wrote about how Microsoft had lost its will to lead and had become a big but passive follower and imitator whose competitors regard it this way:

"They see Microsoft as drifting toward fat and complacent, prone to bold talk but tepid action, and increasingly satisfied with being a not-so-fast follower instead of the brash and aggressive embracer of high-risk strategies and approaches that enabled Microsoft to dominate markets by sheer dint of its unmatched will and its sometimes-brutal assault on any and all obstacles between it and the top spot." (From Global CIO: Steve Jobs is Bugs Bunny But Microsoft Is Elmer Fudd.)

I posed two questions for CIOs who do business with Microsoft: When was the last time Microsoft dazzled you with breakthrough thinking and agenda-setting innovation? And, what was the last Microsoft product you couldn't wait to get your hands on, that would make a huge impact on your enterprise?

Now comes an op-ed piece from former Microsoft executive Dick Brass, who was with the company from 1977-2004, during some of its years of spectacular growth when its extraordinary influence extended far beyond the tech business and reached every corner of the globe. And Brass, while enthusiastically praising many of Microsoft's achievements, puts forth the theory that Microsoft's biggest problem is its stifling, suffocating, and deadly political infighting.

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"The problem comes when the [internal] competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive," writes Brass in a New York Times column. "At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left."

Other than that, things in Redmond are just peachy: a great earnings report and fairly widespread indicators that Windows 7 is becoming a significant success.

But Brass argues that these surface-level successes mask deep-seated and dangerous flaws within the company's culture, product-development methodology, employee base, and market relevance:

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