The “star” syndrome

December 12, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Business | 2 Comments
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Twice in my coaching career I had to deal with the “star syndrome”. The player that is so good that you find yourself looking the other way when it comes to his negatives, even if sometimes it means a bit of a double standard. That is a hard one for me, as it is for most coaches. There comes a point when you’ve got to make a call on these kids for the good of the team. The decision is agonizing.

I saw this recently not with sports, but with MySQL creator, Monty Widenius, when he publicly went on a rant about a recent decision to release a product. This was not his first action of this sort. Fact is, we find these people in all walks of life, both personally and professionally. They are extremely talented, passionate, brilliant, and often mean well, but their negatives can greatly bring down the infrastructure of a team or organization, especially depending on the maturity of the organization.

Jack Welch in his book Straight from the Gut talks about a quadrant approach he used to help clarify his thinking on this issue. (disclaimer: I listened to the audio book, but from what I heard, it looks pretty close to this:)

welch-diagram

In his years of experience, he talked about how even though the decision can be extremely painful in the short-term because of their results, he has rarely seen it end well when someone just doesn’t fit the corporate culture. The erosion happens in slow, subtle ways that are very difficult to recover from in the end.

I believe the tolerance for the “star syndrome” is directly related to the size and maturity of the organization. Complete speculation here, but I’m guessing Monty’s passion and style were a fantastic, if not utterly necessary, fit in the early days of MySQL. But over time, their mission changed and I’m talking even well before the Sun acquisition. They needed to make money, pure and simple, and that objective was somewhat at odds with their early mission statement and goals. Things changed as they grew but it appears Monty didn’t want to change.

Should Monty go? I don’t know. That’s up to him and his team. But I do know this: organizations are in constant change. Sometimes it’s evolution, sometimes it’s regression, but if you’re trying to build a true team, then cultural cohesion is paramount every step of the way. The problem is often that those who benefit from the star’s brilliance don’t ever see the wake of problems that others must deal with. Monty’s developers may love him passionately because of his talent, but can you imagine the trail of carnage left by this particular action and how it affects so many facets of the company? And this was just one we saw. I know of many others they’ve dealt with internally. That makes for a culture that absolutely undermines the building of a strong, long-term team.

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should oracle have bought mysql?

July 4, 2008 at 9:30 am | Posted in Business, Technology Trends | 7 Comments
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I’ve talked a bit about MySQL and a commenter on that thread agreed that they are really well positioned to be a cloud player. Before Sun acquired them, it was public knowledge that Oracle had made a bid for MySQL. Marten Mickos, MySQL’s CEO, got pretty aggressive in the media against the bid saying they didn’t want to be acquired, but rather wanted to grow to be a strong, independent company. Then they were bought by Sun. I think Marten would make the argument that they ARE still a strong, independent *database* company, even though they are inside of Sun. And that does have some merit.

But that said, MySQL was accountable to their investors and if Oracle had bid high enough, the deal would have happened. I was asked on a call the other day if Oracle screwed up by not making that deal happen. In the short-term, I don’t think so. But in the long term… I think they have a real threat on their hands.

Cloud computing represents the biggest disruptive technology the industry has seen in a long time. Today, the cloud databases are not anywhere nearly as capable as their traditional counterparts. How much do they need to be? You can pretty much do everything you need in the app layer. It’s harder, but does have it’s benefits. But of all the “traditional” databases, MySQL is best positioned (I think) to move to the cloud effectively.

We shall see, but I think it would have been wise for Oracle to pony up now and have them under their umbrella. Then again, Larry [Ellison, Oracle CEO) seems to have done OK thus far without any advice from me. 😉

can you innovate a commodity?

June 24, 2008 at 9:05 am | Posted in Business, Technology Trends | 4 Comments
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Yesterday I talked about Seth Godin’s comments regarding that you are only a commodity by choice.

Tony then had a nice comment, where he ended with this question:

Can you have a successful product strategy in which you don’t innovate but instead just force the commoditization of your competitor’s products? Probably, but who wants to be there?

I think the answer is that a lot of companies want to be there. In fact, I think MySQL has exactly one billion reasons to be happy about being there! 😉 Which brings me to this post.

If you talked to MySQL, they would argue that they are, in fact, an innovation company. They would say that their pluggable table engines and their MySQL cluster are just a few of the ways they have innovated the RDBMS landscape. But, I don’t agree. Would they be where they are if they charged for their database from the outset? Doubtful.

So the question is…. was the fact that they carved out a commodity niche in the ancient (by technology standards) RBDMS market, in and of itself, an “innovative” approach? Did they engineer things differently to allow that model to work? Why didn’t PostgreSQL (who was there first, and was free, and was open source, and had more features) win that battle? Did MySQL do some “innovation” of the entire process (not just the technology) that allowed them to succeed after coming a bit late to the game with less features?

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