What's the best way to nurture small ideas so they become big innovations? At Microsoft, one of the preferred channels has been the ThinkWeek process, instigated by Microsoft Founder and Chairman Bill Gates.
"ThinkWeek" referred to the twice-annual retreats by Gates, during which he read over research papers, articles, books and employee-contributed suggestions in isolation as part of his process for setting Microsoft's near- and long-term directions.
A recent posting on the anonymous blogger Mini-Microsoft's site -- claiming that Microsoft management finally has decided to pull the plug the Think Week information-gathering process -- has spurred more than a few tips and questions in my inbox as of late. Mini recently wrote:
"BillG is long gone. Within our leadership, there's no one left who wants to read your ThinkWeek paper, so they're killing that off."
Microsoft officials are denying (sort of) that Think Week is dead. I asked whether Microsoft was, in fact, doing away with the Think Week process and received this response from a spokesperson via e-mail:
"We remain committed to cultivating innovation throughout the company. As part of an overall review of internal processes we are evaluating how best to evolve ThinkWeek."
ThinkWeeks have been subtly morphing over time. Employee-contributed ThinkWeek papers used to be marked up by Gates; in more recent years, they've been shared and commented on by a variety of Microsoft managers. (For an example of what a ThinkWeek paper looks like, here's one on edge computing from 2006.)
In 2006, two years before Gates retired from his day-to-day duties at Microsoft, the company launched the idea of "Quests." Spearheaded by Chief Technical Officer David Vaskevitch, Quests are a long-term planning tool via which Microsoft is attempting to collect ideas about more than 70 topic areas the company brass believe are key to the company's future.
When Ray Ozzie took over as Chief Software Architect from Gates, it was inevitable he'd put his own spin on the ThinkWeek concept. But it sounds like Ozzie prefers to do his "thinking" more on his own than as part of an employee-fueled process.
I've talked to more than a few Microsoft employees over the years who wore Gates comments on one of their ThinkWeek papers as a true badge of honor.
If and when Microsoft officially closes the books on ThinkWeek, do you agree -- as one reader wrote me, proof that "BillG's company really is gone"? What would the end of ThinkWeek mean for Microsoft, in your opinion?