In college, St. Patrick’s Day was always one of my favorite days of the year. There was something about green beer and the random excuse to drink it always made that a festive day. I particularly remember the one in 1994, but not so much for the green beer or revelry. It was a day I now appreciate as the basis for a lesson I would learn 10 years later.
As usual, the drinking started early and I partied hard as any Indian-American would on an Irish holiday. Having had had my fill of green beer and lost my friends somewhere along the way, I headed home a little early around midnight. Still enjoying the warm buzz provided by the beer, I braved the freezing cold and arrived at the apartment I shared with three friends. I found myself alone and I did what I always do in that situation—I turned on the TV. I flipped over to MTV and there was this talk show with this relatively unknown host that used somewhat low-brow, but definitely entertaining, humor. The guy was from the same town that I went to high school at, so I certainly related to his
The “epilog” to my St. Patrick’s Day story is where the really lesson lies for me. The MTV show was the “John Stewart Show” and the band was Green Day. And 10 years later, I am a Daily Show nut and one of Bill O’Reilly’s “stoned slackers”. I remember when they brought Stewart in to replace Craig Kilborn and my response was ”Stewart is good, but this was Kilborn’s show and there’s no way he’ll do it justice because he is just another Kilborn and straight clones never work”. Well, Stewart turned it into something relevant by exposing and mocking the politics of the world. Not only do I find it funny, but also insightful and thought-provoking. Now, don’t get me wrong—he still gets the low-brow humor in there. But his topics are far more relevant and they are the topics that I have become more interested in as I have gotten older. He has broadened his world and brought me with him for the ride.
As for Green Day, I’ve picked up many more albums by them since 1994’s “Dookie” and they were increasingly mature. But this year's album “American Idiot” shocked me. It is a brilliant anthem for anyone who positions themselves as being against the war, but it’s less an indictment of the current administration as much as an introspective look into the world of a dissenter and the personal politics associated with being part of a nation divided. Written as a “punk opera”, it is a song-by-song allegory that captures the confusion of patriotism vs. moral beliefs. Gone are the fun “does she like me because I like her?” lyrics of ten years ago. In their place are the realities of war and how they can tear apart a country-even the one that isn’t "hosting" the battles. Whether you support or are against the war, listening to the lyrics are wonderful window into the clear opinions as seen by one man. It isn’t Michael Moore, but in some ways, I find it far more revealing and far more damning. But what amazes me is that it came from Green Day, the guys that wrote "Dookie". How is that possible? Well, like John Stewart and even me, they grew up.
I think Microsoft needs to be like John Stewart or Green Day. In some cases, it hurts the business. 10 years ago, no one really took them seriously for enterprise computing. Fortunately, they've come a long way. However, I constantly run into customers who believe the Microsoft from 1994 is the same one as today. I met one customer who claimed his boss still held a grudge about IIS 2.0 (we’re on IIS 6.0, for the record). Another one had a bad experience with one of the first versions of SQL Server. I think it’s time people see Microsoft as a new company, something completely different from the Windows 95 company. People need to think of us as the mature, solid company that they can depend on. But to do that, Microsoft needs to be willing to accept that we are older and wiser. I want to be GE. I am willing to admit that we’re not as cool as Google or Apple, but that’s not such a bad thing. There’s something nice about being the elder statesman in the industry and I’d rather be the trusted mature company than the renegades (as long as there is money in it and I do believe there is). I loved John Stewart and Green Day 10 years ago, but now they are helping inform me and shape my opinions. They grew up and, while I miss their antics of 10 years ago, I am so grateful that they made the switch and let me make it with them. The move isn't necessarily popular with everyone. Some of Stewart's old school Jersey fans probably hate seeing him in a tie and guest starring on Crossfire or 60 Minutes. Punk fans probably think Green Day sold out by abandoning 2-minute formulaic songs in favor of something The Who would do. But honestly, if they stayed the same, I probably would have dumped them years ago. The lesson for Microsoft—don’t be afraid to grow up and lose some of that coolness. You made find out you were capable of something you never knew you had in you and your impact may be even greater than you imagined…