Monday night, January 29th 2007, Bill Gates appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Whoever in Microsoft PR advanced this appearance … uhh well not exactly what you wanted. The problem is that the Daily Show is testament to the fact that a whole generation is growing up to not trust its leaders, media and the information supplied by them let alone the set of wicked problems that are being left by that leadership for the coming generations to solve. How else could you have a Comedy News broadcast whose stock in trade is its ability to mock the hypocrisy and GropeThink of Fox News or the defiantly defended Incompetence of the Cheney-Bush regime (“Global Warming is an Al Gore Fairy tale, and we defeated Al so that tells you what.” Or more tellingly “you are an aider and abater of the terrorists and tantamount to being a trader … uhhh … traitor if you dare to debate or call into question any part of my latest installment of an Iraq strategy which has proved fruitless for longer than the 2nd World War and $600billion dollars later”). Truly this is low hanging fruit. But also true this stuff originates at the highest levels of government, media, and corporate structure. And given Microsofts dualspeak on a number of issues they are like a hand in Bills favorite card game, Bridge – Redmond is vulnerable.
Since the Daily Show has not been kind to Microsoft in the past – hence PR and Bill should and did appear to be on the alert to this. At the outset Bill seemed nervous and vulnerable … and appeared to squeak out quick but reasoned answers to Jons surprisingly lazy questions. In his turn, Jon could take two approaches – go for the laugh-lines or go for some serious insights into what makes Bill Gates tick and let the laughs fall where they may. I prefer the latter.
And at first things looked promising. Jon had reserved 8-10 minute for the interview(or was coerced??). But the first half was a case of kid glove and questions searching for laugh lines. But no go from Bill – these were Vulcan-logic responses of a Corporate Captain maneuvering a behemoth Monopoly Ship through the Straits of Schumpeterian Creative Destruction that is the limited lifecycle for hardware and software products in the IT World. So the first half was flat.
But maybe the second half of the interview would go better. And Jon opened with the possibility of pursuing what Bill is doing in the world of charity and helping to solve some of the Worlds wicked problems. And Bill notably picked up. But alas, that was just a head faint back to a laughline. Really too bad – a grand opportunity wasted.
Here are alternative approaches to get more richness out of Bill:
Jon: “Why did it take five years to do an upgrade of Windows to Vista, isnt this perilous in the highly competitive computer market?”
Bill: “Yes it took time but we did our homework, interviewing 800 families worldwide finding out how they used their computers… and from this we got over 500 major recommendations which all have been incorporated into Vista”
Jon: “So what you are saying is you almost need to be a monopoly to have the time to do the work to get things right…”
Bill: Let her rip! Bill and the “M” word – likely a programmed response.
Jon: “Obviously you re describing responsiveness to customers here; so why EULA ? First its denser than a Senate speech and filled like a Senate Bill with little gotchas like no publishing of Vista benchmarks allowed. Are these not contradictory with being customer driven ?”
Bill: “Our EULA is well considered and designed to cutoff frivolous ….”
Jon: “But from the broader view dont you want to be more customer facing like in your usability interviews or in the approach taken by Open Source vendors?”
Bill: Let her rip! It would be interesting to get the Redmond latest on Open Source from the Top.
Jon: “Your Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has garnered a reputation for attacking some of the most difficult problems on the Worlds agenda and having success. But there have been stumbling blocks like your efforts in behalf of schools and their curricula in America. Tell us about the foundation and some of its successes and why things can go awry given the money and talent that the foundation can bring to bear.”
Bill: Let her rip! Should be keen insights here.
Jon: “But in order to continue your charity work you will be giving up your Microsoft chairmanship – does this not concern you? How are Steve Ballmer and the rest of the Microsoft executive team standing up, to borrow a phrase? Do they need help ?”
Bill: Let her rip. Again expect a programmed response; but in the repartee some insights might slip out.
But no, this did not happen. And in the end both parties appeared miffed. Bill committed the capital crime of the Daily Show: walking out before Jon had been able to quickly chat confidentially about how the interview went. And so on Tuesday, Jon and the Daily Show had a spoof reel of Bill walking like a bull in a China Shop through the Daily Show backrooms sewing destruction as he searched for an exit.
So with that we had a huge missed opportunity and instead a bit of staged Kabuki theater – Jon fell into the trap of being what he mocks.