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What does Microsoft and State’s Bureau of International Information Programs have in common?

In today’s The New York Times, Dick Brass, a former Microsoft Vice President (1997-2004), describes a corporate paralysis that stifles the release of relevant and innovative products in his op-ed, Microsoft’s Creative Destruction.

As they marvel at Apple’s new iPad tablet computer, the technorati seem to be focusing on where this leaves Amazon’s popular e-book business. But the much more important question is why Microsoft, America’s most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future, whether it’s tablet computers like the iPad, e-books like Amazon’s Kindle, smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, search engines like Google, digital music systems like iPod and iTunes or popular Web services like Facebook and Twitter. …

Microsoft’s huge profits — $6.7 billion for the past quarter — come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like G.M. with its trucks and S.U.V.’s, Microsoft can’t count on these venerable products to sustain it forever. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest.

What happened? Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers. …

What does Microsoft’s “Creative Destruction” have in common with the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)? According to Pat Kushlis of the public diplomacy blog Whirled View, too much. Pat drew my attention to the Dick Brass op-ed and had these comments, published here with permission:

Read the last paragraphs in particular and just substitute the initials IIP because that’s precisely what happened to a forward thinking bureau when State took over.

If the [International Broadcasting Bureau, the administrative and marketing arm of the Broadcasting Board of Governors,] were functional, I think I would argue that IIP should be transferred out of State and put into a functional international broadcasting entity (like VOA) since the line between electronic media has changed so dramatically.  Unfortunately the IBB is dysfunctional too.

Is this a viable, even preferred, alternative to reconstituting the United States Information Agency?

Leader for State’s Bureau of International Information Programs to remain a "Coordinator"

For reasons that are beyond me, I heard a rumor that the leadership of State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) will remain a “Coordinator” and not be an Assistant Secretary. In 2008, then-Under Secretary Jim Glassman successfully created the new position, but as of yet, it has remained unoccupied. (Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy Mike Doran was nominated but never confirmed.) The move was to put IIP on equal footing with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and the geographic bureaus, all of which are headed by assistant secretaries.

Perhaps this decision will be explained in the yet-to-be-released public diplomacy strategy of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale.

Your thoughts?