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Le.Monde.NY.Times.Edition.May.10.2008

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SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2008

Copyright © 2008 The New York Times

Une sélection hebdomadaire offerte par

When habits become so
ingrained that it’s difficult to
innovate, it’s time to

NEWS ANALYSIS

A Step Back
From the Future
For Microsoft

REWIRE

By STEVE LOHR

The center of gravity for computing
continues to move away from the personal
computer to the Internet, a change that
threatens Microsoft’s dominant position
and renders its future uncertain.
With its recent failed bid for Yahoo, Microsoft was taking a gamble, but at least it was
a big move, an attempt by the still powerful
company to change its habitual comfort
zone and adapt to a new world of computing.
Competitive zeal, persistence and patient
investment have been crucial to Microsoft’s
triumphs over the years, as it built businesses instead of buying them. The formula
worked again and again, in personal computer operating systems, applications like word
processors and spreadsheets, data center
software, and even video game systems.
Microsoft’s competitive behavior is more
restrained these days in the aftermath of its
earlier antitrust troubles, industry veterans and analysts say. That helps to explain
why Microsoft has struggled in this round
of competition, especially against Google,
which has leapt far ahead in markets like
Web advertising.
“Microsoft’s pursuit of Yahoo and its antitrust troubles have the same root,’’ said
Timothy F. Bresnahan, an economist at
Stanford University and a former Justice
Department antitrust official. “The future of
mass-market computing is not the personal
computer.’’
Microsoft’s antitrust problems stemmed

DAVID GUTTENFELDER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

For Creativity’s Sake, Leave the Comfort Zone
Habits are a funny thing. We reach for them
mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot
and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of
familiar routine. So it seems antithetical to
talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation.
But brain researchers have
discovered that when we consciously develop new habits,
JANET
we create parallel synaptic
RAE-DUPREE
paths, and even entirely new
brain cells, that can jump our
trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.
Rather than dismissing ourselves as
unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously
developing new habits. In fact, the more new
things we try — the more we step outside our
comfort zone — the more inherently creative

ESSAY

Continued on Page 4

we become, both in the w...
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REWIRE
NEWS ANALYSIS
A Step Back
From the Future
For Microsoft
For Creativitys Sake, Leave the Comfort Zone
A Growing Problem
The rising price and limited supply of chemical fertilizer is
hurting farmers worldwide. MONEY & BUSINESS 6
By SETH MYDANS
SINGAPORE—Itwaslikeacollege
social event, a classroom full of young
men and women seeking the secrets of
romance.
They had assembled for the first class
ofLoveRelationsforLife:AJourneyof
Romance, Love and Sexuality.
There was giggling and banter among
the students, but that was all part of the
courseastheirteacher,SukiTong,led
them into the basics of dating, falling in
love and staying together.
Thecourse,initssecondyearattwo
polytechnic institutes, is the latest of
many,mostlyfutile,campaignsbySin-
gapore’s government to get its citizens to
mateandmultiply.Itspopularitylastyear
has ledto talk of its expansion throughthe
higher education system.
Last year Singapore’s fertility rate fell
to a record low of 1.24 children per woman
of childbearing age, one ofthelowest in the
world. It was the 28th year in a row Singa-
pore had stayed below the rate of 2.5 chil-
dren needed to maintain the population.
Teachingouryouthinschoolhowtofall
in love” is a good solution, wrote Andy Ho,
aseniorwriteratTheStraitsTimes,agov-
ernment-friendly newspaper.
In1991,forexample,whenthegovern-
ment began offering cash bonuses to
coupleswithmorethantwochildren,the
newspaperprintedtipsforhavingsexin
the back seat of a car, including directions
to some of thedarkest, most secluded and
most romantic spots” for parking.
It suggested covering the windows with
newspapers for privacy.
Singaporeans quite seriously describe
theirsocietyasbeingdrivenbyalocal
concept called kiasu, a desire not so much
to get ahead as to not lose out. This single-
mindedness seems to leave little room for
romance or procreation.
Itisalottoaskofacollegecourseto
break attitudes like this. One 20-year-old
graduate of last year’s inaugural course
at Singapore Polytechnic still seemed im-
bued more with kiasu than romance.
Iamnotinterestednowinloverelations
becauseIwanttocontinuemystudies,
saidKamalPrakash,whohopestobea
lecturer in mathematics. “If I concentrate
on love relations,I won’t be able to concen-
trate on my studies.
By STEVE LOHR
The center of gravity for computing
continues to move away from the personal
computer to the Internet, a change that
threatens Microsoft’s dominant position
and renders its future
uncertain.
With its recent failed bid for Yahoo, Micro-
soft was taking a gamble, but at least it was
a big move, an attempt by the still powerful
company to change its
habitual comfort
zone and adapt to a new world of computing.
Competitive zeal, persistence and patient
investmenthave been crucial to Microsoft’s
triumphsovertheyears,asitbuiltbusi-
nessesinsteadofbuyingthem.Theformula
worked again and again,in personal comput-
er operatingsystems, applications likeword
processors and spreadsheets, data center
software,andevenvideogamesystems.
Microsoft’s competitive behavior is more
restrained these days in the aftermath of its
earlier antitrust troubles, industry veter-
ans and analysts say. That helps to explain
why Microsoft has struggled in this round
of competition, especially against Goo
gle,
which has leapt far ahead in markets like
Web advertising.
“Microsofts pursuit of Yahoo and its an-
titrust troubles have the same root,
said
Timothy F. Bresnahan, an economist at
Stanford University and a former Justice
Department antitrust official. “The future of
mass-market computing is not the personal
computer.’’
Microsoft’s antitrust problems stemmed
Habits are a funny thing. We reach for them
mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot
and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of
familiar routine. So it seems antithetical to
talk about habits in the same context as cre-
ativity and innovation.
But brain researchers have
discovered that when we con-
sciously develop new habits,
we create parallel synaptic
paths, and even entirely new
brain cells, that can jump our
trains of thought onto new, in-
novative tracks.
Rather than dismissing ourselves as
unchangeable creatures of habit, we can in-
stead direct our own change by consciously
developing new habits. In fact, the more new
things we try — the more we step outside our
comfort zone — the more inherently creative
we become, both in the workplace and in our
personal lives.
But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits;
once those ruts of procedure are worn into the
hippocampus, they’re there to stay.
“Not choice, but habit rules the unreflect-
ing herd,’ William Wordsworth said in the
19th century. In the ever-changing 21st
cen
-
tury, even the word “habit’’ carries a negative
connotation.
But the new habits we deliberately ingrain
into ourselves create parallel pathways that
can bypass those old roads.
“The first thing needed for innovation is
a fascination with wonder,’’ says Dawna
Markova, author of “The Open Mind’’ and
an executive change consultant for Profes-
sional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught
instead to ‘decide.” She adds, however, that
“to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one.
A good innovational thinker is always explor-
ing the many other possibilities.’’
Allofusworkthroughproblemsinwaysof
which we’re unaware, she says. Researchers
inthelate1960sdiscoveredthathumansare
born withthe capacity to approach challenges
in four primary ways: analytically,procedur-
ally, relationally (or collaboratively) and inno-
vatively.Atpuberty,however,thebrainshuts
down halfofthat capacity, preserving only
those modes of thought that have seemed most
valuable during the first decade or so of life.
The current emphasis on standardized
testing highlights analysis and procedure,
meaning that few of us inherently use our in-
novative and collaborative modes of thought.
“This breaks the major rule in the American
bel ief system that anyone can do any-
When habits become so
ingrained that it’s difficult to
innovate, its time to
Continued on Page 4 Continued on Page 4
DAVID GUTTENFELDER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Homework for Driven Singapore Students: Get a Date
Designing in the Sands of the Desert
A Chinese tycoon hires 100 architects to build 100 lavish
houses in Inner Mongolia. ARTS & STYLES 8
CHARLESPERTWEEFORTHEINTERNATIONALHERALDTRIBUNE
Singapore is urging young people,
like these at Singapore Polytechnic,
to get married and have children.
ESSAY
JANET
RAE-DUPREE
Une sélection hebdomadaire offerte par
S
ATURDAY, MAY 10, 2008
Copyright © 2008 The New York Times
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