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What Windows 95 can teach us about leadership

One of my favourite pieces of trivia is that the start-up chime of Windows 95 was written by composer Brian Eno. It was arguably one of the most played short sounds the world heard until the Apple Macintosh gong entered our day to day lives, but if you can’t remember how it goes – feel free to it listen here.

Brian Eno is a pioneer in ambient music, he’s the one behind the dreamy atmospheric sounds in your favourite films and has released over 40 albums since he left glam-rock band Roxy Music in 1973.

This is Eno describing the brief he was given to create the music  –

‘We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,’ this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom, it said ‘and it must be 3.25 seconds long.’

Eno described the task as making a tiny little jewel and if you slow the music right down, you can see the why.

This 3.25 seconds worth of music took Eno breaking it down into over 84 pieces of separate sounds to create, he’s an experimental musician that has had a phenomenal career (he even has an asteroid named after him) and Microsoft approached him for this work because of that, they wanted something unique made by someone who pushes boundaries.

So why did they feel the need to overdo the brief with seemingly endless adjectives, rather than trusting that Eno would understand the need? He’s a creative expert after all and was always only going to put his name to something pretty magical.

If you’ve hired the right person for the job, then you have to have the confidence to allow them to do that job to the best of their ability with limited constraint. Steve Jobs recognised this when he said ‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do’ and if we exist in a time where the extraordinary has become the ordinary, then to make your business stand out; you’re going to need people that think a little differently.

If leaders don’t empower people to make decisions and express their unique creativity, then they simply aren’t going to inspire new ideas, produce the best work and certainly won’t attract or retain the best people. This applies to employees and, interestingly, suppliers too.

Oh, and the best part of all of this? ‘The Microsoft Sound’ was created using a Mac.