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Could you turn into a Microsoft?

1:43 pm on Jul 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

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For a long time now there's been a lot of Microsoft bashing. There's some truth and some pure, blind emotion both involved.

I've been thinking a lot about how MSFT got to be who they are - the entrepeneurial spirit that Gates took from the garage to the top of the heap. Attitudes that may help the entrepeneur to grwo can have fatal flaws when they grow to large scale.

It's Just Business
This is the killer saying for me. It's something we hear all the time, as if the world were ONLY about dog eat dog and predator-prey activity. Sure, competition is a facet of reality, but it's only one facet. We are each part of the human race, and also part of the planet as a whole.

It's not just New Age clap-trap to say that, it's absolutely true. When an individual behaves as though he is the only one that counts, it causes some (but not usually too much) trouble for the rest of us. But if that self-centered attitude flourishes on a mega-scale, we get, well, Internet Explorer and Adware.

It's All About The Bottom Line
No, it's not. The money is a way of keeping score. But it's really all about what you do that serves others. If you only focus on your profit, rather than whether your daily work truly serves the world, you are a problem for the rest of us.

We're many centuries past the time when an individual could really be self-sufficient. We all depend on the overall group process for our survival, and our daily work is a way of serving this interdependent way of being in the world, not our own assumed independence.

I think there's a kind of self-destruction involved in splitting yourself off and being a planet unto your own self. Something about the process of existence will eventually do you in.

fixed typos

[edited by: tedster at 4:04 pm (utc) on July 14, 2004]

9:26 pm on July 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

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Such an idea is only possible in a world where people (absurdly) believe that it's possible to produce infinite quantities of goods or services

Actually, it is possible in a world in which people (not so absurdly) believe that it's possible to produce ever-increasing quantities of goods and services.

What is absurd is the belief that we can use ever-increasing quantities of resources. If we have a fixed amount of resources, we may still, through ever-increasing efficiency, be able to supply ever-increasing (but not infinite of course) quantities of goods and services. It's Buckminster Fuller's idea of a planet of a billion billionaires.

I think we more or less agree, and much of what Fuller has to say is applicable, but...

What do you get when you multiply an accelerating rate of production by an indefinite period of time? Infinity minus 1? Let's be clear; the proponents of this idea are not talking about slowing the rate of increase now, fifty years from now or five hundred years from now.

I've heard this kind of argument before, but I very much doubt that Fuller was talking about ever-growing quantities of stuff. Efficiency makes no difference; unless the produce of such a process is continually recycled into the process, then you eventually encounter a limited supply of something; if you start with a limited pool of resources (e.g. one planet - or perhaps if you want to go longer-term, one solar system, or even the energy output of a single star - think Dyson Spheres...), and some of it is not recycled, you eventually run out of something.

To give a simple example, you simply can not produce ever-increasing quantities of anything whose raw materials include anything (such as, e.g. elephant ivory or three-foot wide wooden boards) that has to grow for a long time.*

Even if we grant that Fuller is theoretically correct, it is not at all clear that we can or should simply continue the process when the efficiency of our energy use is so poor. The cost might be thought rather high.

Moreover, these ideas are based on the same contestable Cartesian idea you refer to: namely that continual, unceasing improvement is possible in every sphere of human activity. They might even be at odds with the second law of thermodynamics which is not going permit 100% efficiency (of course we would have to debate whether what we're discussing are closed systems or not...)

No one seriously thought anything like this prior to Descartes, and now, you can hardly find a person on a web forum that doesn't implicitly agree with him ;-D This is all the stranger given that the main proponents of the idea (which is to say corporations), occupy a cultural position nearly as dominant in the contemporary world as the Church did in the pre-enlightenment era. We ought not to simply trust this messenger - who says anyone even needs to live like a billionaire in the first place?

- which is, historically, a new idea.

Well, it depends on what you mean by new and what precise idea you're talking about...

You should have quoted the whole sentence ;-) I was talking about the idea that production of consumer goods and services can continue indefinitely. No serious form of this idea could really be said to predate the twentieth century and the rise of the actual capacity to turn stuff out as fast as raw materials can be extracted to build it with. Even if you (correctly) extend the general principle back to Descartes, then we're really only talking about the last twenty percent of western history. And it's only even that much if you just arbitrarily decide to start that history with Socrates and Plato...


*All of this without even pretending to consider the possible ethical implications of rasing an ever-increasing number of elephants or even trees... ;-)

11:02 pm on July 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

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> We're many centuries past the time when an individual could really be self-sufficient.

John Donne wrote in 1624: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

There is nothing new under the sun.

12:24 am on July 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

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troels: I can disagree with perfect truth based entirely on my own background situation, though I'm not going into detail because it's not particularly relevant.

In main Donne was not only correct IN THAT TIME-FRAME but is still correct today.

In fine, there are many many of us who actually do NOT fit that mold, not only in my country but in yours as well as in other parts of the world. We do our best to live within certain parameters - those which predicate best use of available resources while trying to obviate the currently-obtaining "disposable" technology as much as possible. (But what does computer use and/or dependance say of this? I don't know.... or I don't WANT to know....)

Logically though, a particular ecology is only as viable as is allowed by the outer bounds of its raw-materials resources. Most of the "user-economies" extant today fail entirely to take into account the finite limits of natural resources. Regardless the increasing body of science supporting the "finite resources" situation, the "modern world" refuses to admit that eventually resources will expire. At that point, anarchy will no doubt reign - until even the anarchists come to the unmistakeable conclusion that no matter the politics and rhetoric, THERE IS NO MORE. And at that point, night will fall....

You cannot get blood out of a stone, or make soup out of one either - fables notwithstanding. You cannot extend finite resources without massive outlays of other resources. Is there a solution?

12:32 am on July 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

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You know I was talking about this a month ago with a friend and will let you know if I become the next Microsoft, better yet I will have my secretary report to you guys. ;)
12:38 am on July 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

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rdb - how about you let us know on the sly when you've got an IPO in the offing?

I won't tell if you won't.... *laughing*

5:53 pm on Aug 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

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>I suppose that, given the right circumstances, anyone could turn into another MS. Perhaps more interesting is, given those same circumstances, who does turn into a MS, and why, or why not.

I don't think so. When I was a student I had to make the story of Microsoft for the school's journal so I learned about how Bill Gates started.

Just an anecdot which is funny and very significant of his vision capability:

When he entered Harvard (with first ranking) he wanted to become a mathematician but he found that another guy was better than him so he decided to choose a field where he was sure he would be the first because it was totally new: software engineering. His father, a lawyer didn't want to, so he had to give up the idea but he finally decided to jump in the wagon when he saw the birth of the first "personal computer" on the cover of a mag. He then make a call to his friend Paul Allen who was working at Honeywell to convince him that NOW was the OPPORTUNITY and if they let go this opportunity NEVER they will have it again.

Paul Allen give up his well paid job and Bill Gates quit Harvard without even finishing it that is to say without ANY DIPLOMA :D Can you tell me how many would be courageous enough to do that especially from a school like Harvard?

6:39 pm on Aug 6, 2004 (gmt 0)


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Well no, I can't give you an exact number of how many would do that ;-)

Here's some others who have, and I would say only Larry Ellison goes after oponents like Gates does:

Steve Jobs (Reed College)
Steve Wozniak
Larry Ellison
Michael Dell
Ted Turner (reportedly kicked out)
Barry Goldwater
F Scott Fitzgerald (Princeton)
William Faulkner
Woody Allen (expelled from NYU)

This of course doesn't include people who had Gate's courage and ended up on welfare or those who never went to college like Harry Truman. I read an interview with Billy Joel once where he said that his guidance counselor told him to shape up or he'd never get into college and he said "I'm not going to Columbia University, I'm going to Columbia Records".

Now if you want to get into high school dropouts, you have to include Jim Clark, at least seventeen other billionaires, 8 US presidents, 10 Nobel winners... but nobody who did something quite like MS

7:32 pm on Aug 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

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>Here's some others who have, and I would say only Larry Ellison goes after oponents like Gates does:

I like Ellison he has much humour - Bill Gates also in fact - but about school the difference is that Ellison was very bad and gave up Ithink as soon as college whereas Bill Gates was second at Harvard so the first had nothing to lose whereas ... Imagine that Bill Gates had continued Harvard until he got his diploma by getting out in First or Second Rank do you think he would be Mac Donald's employee? :D. He would be have been a CEO of maybe ... IBM.

The other difference is that Bill Gates was really an inventor at the beginning. Langage didn't exist at all, he didn't even have any personal computer - don't remember must check that it was too expensive for the two boys - so he simulated the whole processor to be able to craft the first basic. Larry Ellison is a pure businessman. And he recognised that Bill is a genious ;)

"Bill's a genius," Ellison told analysts gathered at Oracle's Silicon Valley headquarters for the company's twice-yearly analyst day.

"We don't need him working here. We just read what he says.... It's cheaper," he quipped.

Ellison's new product, called Oracle Collaboration Suite, targets Microsoft's Enterprise Core CAL infrastructure software.

[edited by: stuntdubl at 3:13 am (utc) on Aug. 7, 2004]
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