Seeing the Ball

Seeing the Ball

The last thing the world needs is another cheesy sports analogy. Please forgive this aging has been sports jock, and bear with me… and it does have technical relevance… eventually.

But please be warned. This post is in dire need of edit and is more of a rambling bar discussion than a well crafted missive.

I blogged yesterday about how certain individuals seem to be able to coalesce seemingly random and non-deterministic events into a coherent whole, and how this relates to professionals of different ilks being able to work “out of band” to make sense from chaos, because they can digest their experience in order to “slow down the game.”

A corollary to “slowing the game down” is being able to “see the ball.” In baseball, basketball (name your favorite ball sport) what this means is that the game is no longer difficult, you see what is happening in any given moment of the game, and no what to do for best effect (know when to drive, know when to shoot, see the slider, know when the runner is stealing second, see the open man for the pass).

In the tech world (see – I told you I would get to the tech angle) there are many companies that have lost their ability to “see the ball.” In fact, I daresay that MOST technology companies have lost their ability to “see the ball.”

“What?!? You’re crazy!”

Let’s take several case studies.

Take Microsoft – please. Microsoft is hugely successful, highly profitable, and is sitting on tons of cash. Companies dream (or at least used to dream before Google) of being the next Microsoft.

However, they have lost their ability to “see the ball.” They are no longer the visionary company they were in the eighties when they snookered IBM. They couldn’t find the Social Web if it were firmly glued to their backsides and you helped them place their hands where they sit. They missed the Internet (if someone says “but what about IE?” – I reiterate – they MISSED the Internet). Why was that? Because they no longer valued vision over pure profit. Their focus was on the mundane (and lucrative) rather than the sublime and visionary.

Consider next Dell. When Michael Dell began selling clone PCs out of his dorm room at the University of Texas in the mid-eighties, there was nothing like it. He was the trailblazer – a bug to be squashed on IBM’s windshield (seeing a pattern here?). Now, low these twenty years later, Dell is a power house and IBM is no longer really in the PC business (not really, guys).

Yet, Dell can no longer “see the ball.” They arguably have the worst customer service reputations in the market. Disclaimer: I am writing this post from a Dell laptop. They have languished in this state for quite some time now, and are really only staying on top because no one has really challenged them (except for one company, which I will get to below) to punish them for losing their original vision.

Let’s get a little more current now: what about Google? “Google! Are you NUTS!?!”

Yes – I contend that Google has lost its ability “to see the ball.” How so?

Google is the 8 jillion pound gorilla in the room. The occupy the tech Olympian Heights once scalable by the IBMs and Microsofts. They are a money making powerhouse. They do no evil (cough, cough).

They are the king of search, and this gives the chimera of being all answers to all data problems and challenges on the web. They are not.

They have failed at social networking (Orkut? Are you FREAKIN’ kidding me? This is the BEST they can do?), Open Social (c’mon guys – it sucks), social people search (crickets chirping), photo and video search meta data search, offline office apps, etc. etc. etc.

Nobody ever calls them on this, because they are Google, and if you piss them off, they won’t buy your flip-the-world-buy-my-house-in-Cali dream. Instead, everyone chants “monetize”, “eyeballs”, and “CPM” as if they can wish themselves into a fraction of the cast off prosperity coming from the Googleplex.

Why has Google lost its ability to “see the ball?” Because they falsely believe that because they are kings of search they are expert at all else. They are not.

If you have stuck with me this far, bear with me a little further kind soul.

Being able to “see the ball” means that you are still in the game, you are in the zone, you are at one with all that is going on around you. You are plugged in, you feel the game in your DNA, the game is an extension of your central nervous system.

The common thread that runs throughout all of the entities listed above is that have all become disconnected from the game (development, hardware, search) that made them the companies they are.

Yes – all of these companies are financially swimming in the dough. All of them are leaders in their market. But they are Michael Jordan. They are Roger Clemmens. They are Arnold Palmer. Great in their day. Well known today. Not the best today.

To retain one’s ability to “see the ball”, the game has to be played and engaged to its fullest each day.

If you’re not engaged, you need to grab some pine and let someone who wants to play get in the game.

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