Xbox Revisited: Develop Your Successful Game Plan

Develop Your Successful Game Plan

Robbie Bach’s book, Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal, uniquely shares the stories behind the creation of the Xbox, the business strategy blueprints for others to follow, and Robbie’s personal philosophy of civic renewal.

For twenty-two years, Robbie Bach worked at Microsoft in various marketing, management and leadership roles. As Chief Xbox Officer, Robbie led the launch of Xbox. He retired from Microsoft in 2010 and now serves on charitable boards while writing articles on various civic issues.

I recently asked Robbie to reflect back on his many years at Microsoft. What he learned provides lessons for us all.


“Without principles, a team has no central rudder to keep it on course.” -Robbie Bach


Hitting Rock Bottom

Robbie, the book is a wonderful read as both the inside story of the Xbox creation and then also about your personal goals in what you call your Act 2. As I reflect back on the entire book, though, one email you included in it sticks with me. It was your “rock bottom” email when you tried to resign from Xbox. Tell us more about that.

The period leading up to the Xbox launch was very challenging on many fronts. I certainly was struggling to provide the right type of leadership; the team was like the United Nations with many differing points of view on important topics, and the mountain in front of us was a difficult climb under any circumstances. Ultimately, however, none of that led to me submitting my resignation. The real issue was the impact work was having on my personal life and my inability to manage that situation. It was just another instance of me being unprepared for the challenges presented by the Xbox project, but this one was very personal and cut to the core of my beliefs. I’m a “family first” guy, and when I realized I wasn’t living up to that, I knew something needed to change.


The Importance of Accountability and Transparency

What strikes me about this email was this: no excuses, no blaming, just pure personal accountability. You outline what you think is needed and then what you don’t feel you can do. Would other executives be served by being this transparent or did it work uniquely within the Microsoft culture?

E3 XBox Press Briefing Robbie Bach 17 MS_05_2004I am a believer in transparency – it is very difficult to solve problems when you obfuscate the situation with a fog filled with excuses. So I think this is an important skill for all leaders – in business, non-profits, or government. With that said, how you approach transparency and full disclosure absolutely will (and should) vary depending on the situation, the organizational culture, and the personalities involved. I clearly trusted my boss, Rick Belluzzo, to manage this situation appropriately, and he was remarkably helpful during a difficult time. In other circumstances, I might have used a different approach to declare the issues, and I might have pursued the discussion through other channels. Bottom line: being honest with yourself and open to your manager and your team is an important skill to master. Done well, it can fundamentally change the dynamics and attitude of a team in a very positive way.


“If you don’t define your purpose, you don’t know what you’re doing or why.” -Robbie Bach


Developing a Strategic Framework

5 C’s to Help You Plan for Your Next “Big thing.”

The end of an era

Earlier today, OCLC said “goodbye” to a service that it had been performing since the early 1970’s: the printing of library catalog cards. Most of you are familiar, I’m sure, with those 3×5 cards and the drawers that housed them. There is a lot of nostalgia for those drawers among librarians—they’re beautiful pieces of furniture that can be put to many uses: as wine racks, jewelry and collectible cases, storage for tools, crafts and sewing supplies, etc.


Fact: At peak, @OCLC shipped 8 tons of cards weekly.


However, there is not as much nostalgia for the cards themselves.

You have to remember that, before the Internet, a catalog card was the closest thing to a hyperlink that most of us ever experienced. Like hyperlinks, catalog cards took us from a quick description of information to the full resource. They were, for more than a hundred years, the absolute height of information seeking technology. Those cards may seem quaint now. But the ability for patrons, on their own, to quickly identify and find one book in a building containing tens or hundreds of thousands is a remarkable testament to the genius and hard work of librarians.

But that work was tedious. Each book required, in many cases, multiple cards: one for subject, one for author, one for title. They had to be hand typed. Any small error required a complete redo.

OCLC's first catalog card; Used by Permission OCLC’s first catalog card; Used by Permission

“Your focus should be on the future not the features.”


An early example of crowdsourcing

Computerization helped, of course. That was OCLC’s original business: a centralized collection of records from which cards could be reproduced more efficiently. Rather than create the same card over-and-over at each library, members of the cooperative contributed to the shared database, which was then used to print cards for everyone. By some estimates, this process saved librarians about 90% of the time required to manually create new cards, a task that I’ve heard took around an hour.  OCLC has printed around 1.9 billion cards during the past 45 years, meaning cooperative cataloging has saved our industry about 195,000 years of administrative effort. Which is great! That’s time librarians were able to spend helping people reach their learning goals and get the information they need…

Instead of typing up billions of little cards by hand.

Which is why those cards hold so little nostalgia for many librarians. They were a necessary technology at the time. And a profoundly useful one. But the tool itself was never the point. In retrospect, that’s so much easier to see than when we’re looking at today’s newest technology.

Don’t get me wrong! I love the new stuff! It’s fun and it’s fast and it’s cool. And it’s important. But nowhere near as important as understanding the needs of the people our technology serves.

Skip Prichard with the last OCLC printed catalog card Skip Prichard with the last OCLC printed catalog card

What are your “5 C’s”?