On Evangelism and other Isms

I discovered the other day that James Plamandon had started a blog discussing the art of Platform Evangelism. James has achieved a modicum of infamy when some of his work came to light during the Iowa antitrust case against Microsoft.

As it happens, I know James from our days together at Apple. He is an exceptionally smart guy and quite the character. I remember reading his presentation at the time of the trial and marveling at it’s sarcasm, its cynicism, its far-reaching vision, and, most importantly, its lack of ethics. Given that I’d just spent two years at Adobe battling with Microsoft on a variety of issues, it was amazing to see how many of those tactics Microsoft were still a key part of Microsoft’s arsenal.

One of the more interesting posts on James’ new blog explains why he is coming forward now to write a new blog. In it, he says:

First, the global financial melt-down forced an epiphany. We at Microsoft always felt that we were on the side of free markets and unfettered capitalism—you know, the Good Guys. But so did the guys at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae, and all of the other failed financial institutions. Even Alan Greenspan, the High Priest of free markets, has had to concede that there’s “a flaw” in free market economics—a flaw that led directly to the current financial collapse.

My belief that I was one of the Good Guys was similarly flawed. This is now inescapable. I was wrong. Many of the TE practices that I developed, taught, and espoused were wrong. Anyone who continues to practice them is wrong. As a first step towards making amends for my past wrongdoing, I must make this clear, and widely known.

Its great to see that James has recognized the error in his ways, at least in part. But I found it telling that the global financial melt-down is what forced James to have an epiphany. You see, when I knew him, James was a die-hard libertarian1. The kind who would always drive 90 MPH on the freeway on principle. His reference to Alan Greenspan here is not just a comment on the economy – Greenspan was a member of Ayn Rand’s inner circle and as such is one of the heroes of the libertarian movement. I suspect he is one of James’ personal heroes as well.

But what both Greenspan and James fail to have done is to connect the dots: the “flaw” in free market economics is actually the fatal flaw that occurs whenever someone tries to apply a pure philosophy to the real world: people and organizations do not act consistently with philosophies. In the case of libertarianism, the flaw is that self-interest is rarely enlightened, and people can rationalize anything.

James’ strategy at Microsoft was a case in point: they rationalized that what they were doing was justified because the markets reward the strong. The irony, of course, was that they were not acting in an enlightened way: monopolizing the market did wonders for Microsoft’s revenues and share price in the short term, but the damage done to the overall market for computer software was immense. In the longer term, this will hurt Microsoft more than it ever helped it, and in fact you could argue that Microsoft’s stock price malaise the last several years was a direct result of the market ossification that occurred.

1 I use the term loosely, encompassing both libertarianism and objectivism. Wikipedia has lots of information on the many variants of libertarianism, objectivism, and the arguments between the two camps.

~ by Andrew Shebanow on 29Dec08.

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