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Article #8 --- Aug 30, 1996 -- (C) 1996, John Martellaro

An Open Letter to CIOs

In your work over the years, you may not have been exposed to all the details of the Macintosh revolution. Some of your technical people may have told you that Microsoft's Windows 95 has caught up with the Macintosh, so you may think that the issue now is simply that of initial cost, platform homogeneity, and consistency for your maintenance people. The issue is very, very far from that simple, and here's why.

The PC evolution was based on the principle of bringing into the fold more people and lowering the common denominator. Bill Gates, being in a Henry Ford frame of mind, knew that 1) early adopters pay the brunt of the R&D costs and 2) selling 10 million copies of something at $99 each is a lot better than selling 10,000 copies for $5,000 each. Microsoft's core corporate policy is to learn from the research of the early adopters and implement it for the masses. You see this in SQL Server, derived from Sybase and Windows 95, derived from the Macintosh. By dumbing down the product and expanding it to the masses, Microsoft satisfies the business world's need to be mainstream. Solid, stable, economy minded business people don't ever want to be on the edge, be outcasts, or be criticized. That's why no one ever got fired for buying Microsoft software. This mind set is crucial to the argument here.

Macintosh users, in contrast, grew up in a climate of creativity, experimentalism and technical excellence. To put an affectionate and humorous bent on it, they live in terror of being ordinary. For this reason, Macintosh users have gained a reputation for being somewhat adamant in their love for and loyalty to Apple - to the vast irritation of the more sedate and middle of the road corporate users who will accept whatever you give them. You may also have wondered in the past why Apple's are popular in the educational, scientific, and artistic/graphics areas. The first two of those fields are not usually associated with abundant funding, and you may ask yourself why Apple concentrates there - to their financial disadvantage. In fact, it's the other way around. As the Macintosh evolved, those users who were the most creative, most independent, and most inclined to be a little more talented than their friends happened to be in those industries. Apple is embraced by those who want the best for themselves as they showcase their talents. This limits Apple's market share, but it's the character of that segment that you should keep in mind.

Remember your management classes in which you were told about diverse personality types and Myers-Briggs tests. Remember what they said about who people who hate to raise a fuss or stand out in a crowd versus those who are natural leaders. As you re-engineer, downsize, and otherwise re-invent your company, remember that your most important assets are the people who have a vision, who dream, who will take a stand and take risks. People who are loyal and good problem solvers.

In the course of your job, you may have run across a short and deceptive article about corporate cost savings with a single platform. Or one of your IS people may have suggested, without knowing any better, that a single platform may be easier (for them) to support. But remember this. Your scientists, your leaders, your independent people who aren't afraid to take a stand will make life miserable for you if you try to take away their Macintoshes. These are the creative ones. Some of these problem solvers, if you betray their loyalty, will leave in disgust and join your competition. Others will dream up creative ways to get rid of the problem - YOU!

Finally, remember that the whole principle behind Windows 95 is that you can make money with perceptions. Windows 95 appears on the surface to act like a Macintosh. It has a mouse, windows, and icons. For some people, this is sufficient evidence to technically conclude that Windows 95 is "just like a Mac." But you know better. You know that the life and death of your company depends on objective reality. When politics gets in the way of reality, Space Shuttles blow up, bridges collapse, or companies go out of business. Your Macintosh users know that Mother Nature can't be fooled and that performance beats vague perceptions. If you antagonize your troops who are most rooted in your corporate reality, you risk execution failure of the whole enterprise.

Again, you lose your job.

So, Mister CIO. Read this article again and reflect deeply on the consequences of eliminating your most valuable assets - your technical employees, grounded in reality, willing to be different, willing to lead your company into the next century. Standardizing on PCs could be the costliest, and last, mistake your company makes.


Note that the essay is a personal essay, not associated in any way with my employer or the U.S. Dept of Energy. You may reprint it with my permission so long as you include this line.

(C) 1996, John Martellaro