Microsoft Word and the NBA

A few years ago I saw Mike Daisy perform Monopoly at the PICA TBA festival. He sat behind a desk and told a two-hour monologue that wove together Nikola Tesla’s battle against Thomas Edison over electricity, the history of the game of Monopoly, his own relationship with Wal-Mart and various anecdotes about Microsoft.

For whatever reason, the Microsoft parts are the parts I remember. He had a funny story about getting cast in an internal Microsoft video and realizing upon showing up that he was acting against Bill Gates. Sure enough Mr. Gates was a horrible actor, but no one felt empowered to let him know how stiff and wooden he was or offer up any kind of direction that would have made him less so.

But the story I remember most vividly and find myself sharing every few months was about a friend of Daisy’s who was hired by Microsoft and was asked to research what was wrong with Microsoft Word. The problem, he not so surprisingly discovered, was that new features and functions kept being added, but they never replaced or were combined with the old ones. So with every update the program became more confusing and unwieldy.

Daisy explained how his friend gave the presentation of his findings to rave reviews, all the way up to Bill Gates himself, who was so impressed he asked the guy to deliver the presentation to everyone who worked on Word. So he spent the next year and a half travelling the globe giving the presentation over and over again.

Finally, a manager of group in charge of one little function tucked inside one of the drop down menus took him aside afterwards and told him, we all know what’s wrong with Word. But I have 15 employees in my group. And if we don’t keep adding new functions and features every update, then what purpose does my group serve? If I followed your advice, and made my tiny slice of the pie simpler, the next thing I’d have to do is fire 14 people.

It seems to me the National Basketball Association has the rare chance to do what Microsoft Word can’t. Change their program in a fundamental way for the better.

Thanks to the strike, this year’s NBA season started Christmas day, rather then late October, and teams will play a dizzying 66 games in 124 days instead of 82 over the course of 170.

The result? So, far a much more exciting season. Granted, the Blazers marvelous start has something to do with it. But beyond that, each game means more this season, each win and loss that much more relevant to making or not making the playoffs. And the frequency of the games means that players are rewarded for being in shape. Sure there will be the occasional sloppy game, a few more injuries, and older players taking the last night of a back to back to back off. But that also means more opportunities for new stars to shine. I think this year will see the emergence of a half dozen of new superstars, and a slew of new household names.

Best of all, this season is going to actually keep fans attention. A normal NBA season is a bloated October to June. That means there are only 3 months out of the year without an NBA game. Christmas to June feels infinitely more manageable.

So why not keep it this way moving forward? Tighten it up?

I know, the business interests probably wouldn’t allow it. Too much money is at stake. And I’m not unaware that a 66 game season means 8 less home games for ushers, parking lot attendants, trainers, security guards, food vendors and the thousands of other people who don’t make millions but depend on the NBA to make their living.

But I can’t help wonder what Microsoft would do if Word somehow went on strike and they had the opportunity to remake the program with half as many features.



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