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Mozilla's ex-CEO on 'Innovating Differently'

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I was with some Microsoft execs last night, at one of their Startup Accelerator events, where the conversation turned again to the many challenges of promoting innovation at companies large, and small. (You know how MSFT prefers to tackle this –cha ching!)

The innovation dilemma
will be your greatest challenge — once you get your business model to work. To wit, we highly recommend this Q&A that McKinsey did in January with Mitchell Baker, the Netscape and AOL veteran who served as CEO of Mozilla until January of this year.

Baker talks candidly about new models for managing innovation, especially “the power of the participatory, open-source model” that she used over the last decade at Mozilla to innovate cheaply, rapidly and effectively, namely by leveraging talent outside her company.

McKinsey writes that Baker deftly managed to leverage external talent “…not just for creative ideas, but also to develop products and make decisions. The result: Mozilla’s Firefox browser, with 150 million users, has become a rival of Microsoft’s market-leading Internet Explorer.” This is a model to follow: Firefox now has a 15% share of the browser market in the U.S., and higher elsewhere.

OK, so Mozilla is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation — which probably makes the company culture more conducive to “collaborative efforts” that if it were well, Microsoft. But in a business culture where IP, “rights, claims and infringement” are constantly contested for monetary gain, McKinsey asked Baker (a former lawyer for Netscape, to which Mozilla also traces its roots,) how she was able to make its unique process work so well for Mozilla for more than 10 years. Here’s she had to say:

A key point is for people to “own” what they are doing, not in a financial or legal sense but in an emotionally committed sense that gives them a chance to decide, “I’m excited about this. I want to do something. I want to write an extension. I want to go tell people how to do this.” And it also gives people the success and the relationships to go back out and do more.

Read the full McKinsey interview here. And more from Mitchell Baker on her blog.

4 Responses to “Mozilla's ex-CEO on 'Innovating Differently'”

  1. Do you guys think the lovefest over open source is getting overblown? I’ve like to publish a post from someone who has a contrarian view on open source– or at least one that is evenly critical. While I know lots of companies use open source now (they have to , or look lost) , I do find it rare to get a CEO to talk candidly about how s/he used other people’s work …

  2. One thing to consider, Microsoft won the browser war in dominating fashion. Then they decided making the internet better was bad for Windows, dismantled their team, and stopped competing. Only in this competition-free environment did Firefox succeed.

    I would also point out that, for my vantage point, Safari / Webkit is very quickly catching up to Firefox.