When I read Steve Hamm's Businessweek article Negroponte Seeks a Laptop CEO, I was not surprised to hear that Nicholas Negroponte has finally realized that he's not implementing the One Laptop Per Child vision effectively:
He says the organization has been operating "almost like a terrorist group, doing almost impossible things" for three years. Now, he says, it needs to be managed "more like Microsoft."I saw that way back in 2006, hence the reason I started OLPC News. Today that's evident in the gaping difference between his vision of millions of laptops in children's hands worldwide in 2007, and the actual reality that OLPC has sold 500,000 laptops at most, manufactured half, but only deployed around 150,000 to date.
"I am not a CEO," says Negroponte. "Management, administration, and details are my weaknesses. I'm much better at the vision, big-picture side of the house."
What did surprise me is how Negroponte expects to rescue his grand dream from becoming the next Betamax - a great platform that lost out to nimbler, more responsive and collaborative competition. Nicholas Negroponte is looking for a new CEO for OLPC.
But instead of looking for an expert in primary education who can implement a strong global sales plan for the XO laptop, or even a technology expert, with deep ties to the Silicon Valley companies who can infuse OLPC with new purpose and partnerships, Negroponte is looking for a replica of himself:
Negroponte is looking for somebody with the leadership profile similar to that of Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the UN, who would "view the world as a mission, not a market."And what will be the results if Negroponte hires a MiniMe to be the OLPC CEO? Sadly, not much, as the current problems will persist. OLPC will still lack a credible sales pitch to Ministries of Education, it will still lack any semblance of a realistic implementation plan, and it will continue to sputter along on just enough geek goodwill and cute kid pictures to seem relevant.
More interestingly, I say that this is the first step in the departure of Nicholas Negroponte himself. No matter if Negroponte does find a Kofi-esque leader, or an actual CEO who can execute, both would need to radically change OLPC to make it relevant. And neither would play second fiddle to Negroponte's sizable ego. Or put up with his Negropontisms making them look the fool.
No, there can only be one head chief in the kitchen. So no matter if Negroponte intends for his CEO search to be his exit or not, if we want OLPC to rebound, it has to be. And without a MiniMe.