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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

February 12, 2009 at 2:21 PM

What fate for Bill Gates’ famous ‘Think Weeks’ at Microsoft?

First mentioned last week in Mini-Microsoft’s “pause” post, Microsoft is apparently rethinking the weeklong study sessions instituted by Bill Gates and later expanded to be a tool for percolating ideas up to the top from throughout the company. Mini wrote, “Within our leadership, there’s no one left who wants to read your Think Week paper, so they’re killing that off.”Mary Jo Foley followed up today, quoting a Microsoft spokesperson saying the company remains committed to innovation, and it is “evaluating how best to evolve Think Week.”

I addressed the present and future of the Microsoft Think Weeks in this August 2007 story, midway through Microsoft’s leadership transition. Here’s the bits on Think Week.

Microsoft had always taken an ad-hoc approach to charting the future of technology and its place in it, relying heavily on the insights of Bill Gates and his legendary “think weeks.”

With the twilight of Gates’ career at the company approaching and new technical and strategic leaders Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie preparing to fill his role, Microsoft executives decided to make this prognosticating more formal.

“This year we, for the first time, said, ‘Let’s not make this ad hoc,’ ” Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer told a small audience of tech-industry tastemakers in April.

So company leaders recorded their best guesses about “the things that are going to change technology over the next five to 10 years [and] what we can do to lead those trends,” Ballmer said. It was an attempt, he said, to do what Gates has done “in his head” and bring more people into the act.

Building a bank of collective wisdom is one part of the preparations going on at the highest levels as Microsoft prepares for a momentous shift to the post-Gates era.

For the past year, and really the better part of the past decade, Gates has been downloading the institutional knowledge of Microsoft and the software industry stored in his head to the leaders who will handle his responsibilities at the company he co-founded 32 years ago.

Gates’ “think weeks” — an annual event nearly as old as the company, in which he took time to read, develop strategies and think deeply about the best ideas submitted from throughout Microsoft — are now done by committee.

“‘Think week’ has been transitioning from a single ‘Bill thing’ to something where a broader audience gets the chance to comment on submitted papers. The tradition of think week is incredibly strong,” Ozzie, who replaced Gates as chief software architect, said in an interview … with the Wharton School’s online business journal.

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