Recently, I have been approached by more people concerned for the future of Autodesk than at any time I can recall. I remember no prior occasion where there was virtually unanimous belief among the people I count as key contributors throughout the company--in no way limited to the technical staff--that Autodesk is on the wrong course and that the destruction of all that we've worked for is simply a matter of time.
Further, I have never before encountered the resignation, frustration, and despair I see today. Before, when Autodesk seemed about to do something wrong, people would raise their voices in protest and, if necessary, throw their bodies in front of the wheels to save what they believed in. Problems were seen as opportunities, spurring action to fix them. No longer. Many of the people who did so much to make Autodesk what it is today believe now that they are ignored, dismissed out of hand, scorned, or not trusted. And I think they are correct.
To me, this is more frightening than any of the details of shortcomings in our products or missed opportunities to promote them. It indicates a breakdown of the flow of information in the company, from bottom to top and from top to bottom, which can set in motion the events that lead to disaster.
This reminds me of nothing so much as the report on the space shuttle Challenger accident of 1986. NASA seemed to have been sleepwalking its way to that tragedy in an environment where engineers in the ranks knew of problems and groused over being ignored when they raised them, where management heard of problems but was never made aware of their significance or the potential consequences of inaction, and where the pressure of a tight schedule and attempts to meet unyielding demands with inadequate resources caused everybody involved to lose their perspective and make judgements they would have immediately realised were flawed, if only there had been enough time to think about them.
Little or none of the industry background, the description of problems in the company, the worries about the state of our products, or the recommendations for addressing these matters originated with me. I have departed from my usual policy of attributing everything to its author both because many of the worries and recommendations are widely shared, and because I've decided to take all the heat personally for putting these issues on the agenda. I'm not a stalking horse for anybody, and I don't want anybody to suffer just because I happen to agree with them.
Autodesk is proud of its open door policy, and counts on it to bring the information before senior management that they need to set the course for the company. Such a policy can work only as long as people believe they are listened to, and that decisions are being made on grounds that make sense for the long-term health of the company. Rightly or wrongly, there is a widely-held belief which I'm articulating because I share it, that management isn't hearing or doesn't believe what deeply worries people throughout the company, and isn't communicating to them the reasons for the course it is setting. This is how bad decisions are made.
And that can lead to disaster.
Editor: John Walker