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Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admits he's not a man of courage

Does this explain anything about Microsoft? You decide.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Not daring?

Screenshot by ZDNet

He screams, but he can't shoot a three so well.

He dances, but he can't dribble.

He's been very successful, but what are the characteristics that made Steve Ballmer the, um, popular CEO that he became?

You've likely asked yourself that many times, as you've battled with one version of Windows or another.

Thankfully, I'm finally prepared to offer you something of an answer, one that may make you sleep better at night.

You see, I've run headlong into a surprising Ballmerian confession.

The former Microsoft CEO was interviewed by one of his former Los Angeles Clippers players -- Serge Ibaka -- on a show called How Hungry Are You?

I'd always imagined Ballmer tended toward the ravenous end of the spectrum. Relentless, driven and always hungry to exploit client companies worldwide.

Yet here he was confessing that he isn't exactly garlanded with a characteristic so lauded in many of his peers.

Ibaka asked Ballmer whether he had ambitions to go into space.

It's the thing, after all, when you've made a lot of money. It's the thing that says you're a real boss, an intrepid adventurer -- with enormous, sudden muscles -- into life's furthest domains.

"Jeff Bezos went to space. When are you going to space?" asked Ibaka.

Ballmer was touchingly succinct: "Never."

"Why?" asked Ibaka.

"I'm a chicken," confessed Ballmer.

Of course, he was referring to physical chickenness rather than any other kind, but one couldn't help wondering whether this had greater psychological depths. (One is like that.)

Ballmer said he was surprised that Bezos had embraced space. One or two people may be surprised that Ballmer embraces chickenhood. Three or four people may not.

They might sniff that Microsoft was, for so many years, an inherently conservative organization that used its market power to muscle customers into submission but rarely had the courage to inspire human beings toward rapture. The way, some might say, Steve Jobs, did.

Their view might be enhanced by Ballmer admitting that "the craziest thing I've done like that" -- that is, like going into space -- was buying the Los Angeles Clippers.

Should you not be familiar with this team, they're at the mediocre end of the upper echelons, with a tendency toward failing to make the big step. You know, like noticing cellphones might become a big thing. (Disclosure: Golden State Warriors fan.)

But please, there are great riches to be had from being conservative, not taking too many risks and acting with a paucity of imagination.

Why, Ballmer reminded Ibaka how rich he really is. He revealed that Bezos is moving into his neighborhood.

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