One of the big complaints about the Obama administration is that it is reactive and, as a result, is increasingly seemingly ineffective in keeping the nation's focus on the real problem (the economy, if anyone was guessing) and actually fixing anything. To my eye, the Obama administration is starting to remind me way too much of President Carter's administration, and this has more to do with management practice than ideology.
Sun employed a similar management style, focusing excessively on Microsoft and losing its way to such an extreme degree that it apparently is now facing being absorbed by a vastly better-run IBM. FLOSS, even down to the name "FLOSS," seems reactive by nature as well, and the result of a reactive management style is seldom a good thing.
Let's talk today about reactive management and why it can be a suicidal practice.
Primary Cause: Lack of Strategy
Reactive management styles typically suggest either bad strategic thinking or a complete lack of it. In its reponse to Netscape (bet you thought I was going to use another example), Microsoft had been clearly napping with regard to the importance of the browser and responded in force. But rather than focusing sharply on the problem, it focused an excessive amount of effort on putting Netscape, which was in the process of failing anyway, down, resulting in an adverse anti-trust ruling that has an incredibly long and expensive tail and still could eventually put Microsoft out of business.
When I did the post-mortem on IBM's crash in the late 80s, one of the major causes was its own consent decree coming out of a similar anti-trust action against it decades earlier. These things are company-killers because they have incredibly long tails and force massive amounts of inefficiency and bureaucracy into an otherwise well-run firm. This in turn focuses management on short-term tactics in order to show growth, and those tactics eventually create a strategic failure.
Had Microsoft thought strategically about where the market was going, rather than focus solidly on Netscape and where the market was, it might have fixed MSN sooner (which really had a massive strategic focus problem), saw search before Google did (though likely could have still missed advertising because that was non-linear thinking), and a platform like Azure could have arrived around five years earlier. This focus might have also prevented the decline of Internet Explorer's market share from a high of 91 percent in 2004 to around 67 percent today. Realize the company lost this market share to a product, Firefox, that is maintained largely by a bunch of hobbyists and volunteers.