What Is Adaptive Leadership and How Did It Help You Develop Microsoft Office?

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I encountered a lot of resistance to the idea of Microsoft Office, people poo-pooed that idea, yet I was able to work with our team to tap into a lot of forces that were under way at the same time, all the way from the switch, from character user interface to graphic user interface, from MS DOS to the Macintosh and Windows.

Another thing that was going was the growth of personal computing inside corporations and the desire for the CIO to kind of take control of that, so the idea of an integrated package of software that could be licensed as a single product and without the packages. That was another factor so part of what you have to do is you have to understand what those forces are in the market place and figure out how to get those forces to work to your advantage.

I've recently been studying some of the work of Professor Ronald Heifetz around adaptive leadership and what I found is that his work gives me the words to articulate the kind of adaptive leadership problems that we were facing. I did a lot of work in college related to dynamic systems and what I've learned is that you don't really design or control complex systems.

What you have to do is understand the leverage points to move them. And that was the kind of work that we were doing instinctively to help create the success of Microsoft Office and that I'm now trying to, more clearly, label for all our employees to take on the complex challenges, the complex systems that we're working on here at the foundation.