David Pogue stole the title of this post in this CBS News story on Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. During the analyst summit in Redmond a couple of weeks ago (see my write up here), I picked up a copy of his book, Hit Refresh and after reading just a few pages, I had decided on that title.
First, some of my thoughts on Microsoft. I have always found the company a bit of an enigma, at least when it comes to enterprise tech. I used to follow Great Plains at Gartner, liked Doug Burgum and his team, was excited when Microsoft acquired them. But then Microsoft acquired Navision and got mired in its Project Green project to rationalize these two and other ERP assets it had. For years it seemed. In The New Polymath in 2010, I excitedly wrote about Microsoft’s cloud data centers. It seemed to take an eternity before Microsoft’s O365, Azure and other cloud initiatives started to take off. I was excited to hear about One Microsoft in 2013 and how it could bring to bear products from its sprawling empire to the benefit of enterprise customers like Delta Airlines. At the recent analyst summit, I felt like I was prying details of that approach and whether Microsoft was committed to it.
So, let’s just say I opened the book with a bit of “not knowing which Microsoft” I would be reading about. You know right away it is not a typical business executive book about goals and results. The book’s press describes Satya “as much a humanist as engineer and executive.”
He shares lots of personal details about growing up in India, his continuing love for cricket, his wife Anu and the challenges getting her a visa (unbelievably he gave up his green card and get an H-1 visa to be able to accelerate her entry into the US) and their son Zain with special needs.
He has written
Becoming a father of a son with special needs was the turning point in my life that has shaped who I am today. It has helped me better understand the journey of people with disabilities. It has shaped my personal passion for and philosophy of connecting new ideas to empathy for others. And it is why I am deeply committed to pushing the bounds on what love and compassion combined with human ingenuity and passion to have impact can accomplish with my colleagues at Microsoft.
Empathy is a word business executives have learned to use, but it is often skin deep. So number of companies will talk about diversity in the workforce, but it is often just an intro to help them dive into a sales pitch how their capabilities can help measure workforce diversity. With Satya, the term is almost spiritual. When he talks about the soul of the company, when he says the C in his CEO stands for culture, or how he uses the digital assistant Cortana to help him remind of personal commitments he has made, he is believable. To his credit, he also talks about missteps like his faux pas early in his CEO role when he advised ladies to accept wage disparity and that karma would take care of them longer-term. He acknowledges in the book “any advice that advocates passivity in the face of bias is wrong”.
If the book had focused only on his personal background and beliefs it would not be that interesting. In fact some may still think it borders on preachy. The word “empathy” shows up early and often (I quit counting at 50).
There are three other dimensions to the book which make it highly readable
First are his perspectives as a technology visionary. As an innovation author, I particularly enjoyed a chapter titled Beyond Cloud which goes into Microsoft investments in Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. (BTW I recommended to my son he read at least this chapter, and I would offer the same advice to any young person)
As he says (and shows with number of examples)
Mixed reality will become an essential tool in medicine, education, and manufacturing. Al will help forecast crises like the Zika epidemic and help us focus our time and attention on things that matter most. Quantum computing will give us the computational power to cure cancer and effectively address global warming.
It’s not just about Microsoft. He is generous with examples about digital leaders – Amazon, GE, Uber among them - even if they are competitors or customers of other vendors.
Secondly, there are lots of details about the personal imprint he is putting on Microsoft including pushing for the Windows 10 launch in Kenya – such a contrast to the massive Rolling Stones Windows 95 launch in a previous generation. He is particularly impressive when he talks about his approach to partnerships and acquisitions – his outreach to Apple, Google and Salesforce among others. How he mended frayed relations with Samsung and Yahoo. How he recruited Peggy Johnson from Qualcomm to help make “Silicon Valley our best friend”. How he crafted acquisitions as diverse as LinkedIn and Minecraft.
How he has developed what he calls a “growth mindset” in his leadership team and discourages whining
“To be a leader in this company, your job is to find the rose petals in a field of shit.” Perhaps not my best line of poetry, but I wanted these people to stop seeing all the things that are hard and start seeing things that are great and helping others see them too. Constraints are real and will always be with us, but leaders are the champions of overcoming constraints. They make things happen.
To me the biggest impact he has made is get engineers excited about working at Microsoft again. During the summit couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to have dinner with two mid-level executives, Charles Lamanna and Steven Kaplan who had presented to us, and then engaged in email conversations with them. Driven, curious and polite – if they represent the talent Satya is able to groom, other vendors have definite reason to be concerned.
Finally, there are an incredible range of inspiring quotes throughout the book like
If you know to paint with math and science , you can make anything, and
If quantum mechanics has not profoundly shocked you, you have not understood it yet
Satya is very well-read (as are his co-authors, writers in the Microsoft family) and it shows in the text.
Every time I go to Microsoft buildings in the Seattle area, I am reminded of a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. You know you are going to the mother lode, but the place is bursting at the seams and you need a really good guide to help you around.
I heard a Microsoft exec once say
“We may not always be able to deliver, but I want customers to think of calling Microsoft first anytime they have an opportunity where technology can help”
After reading Hit Refresh I am even more convinced of that.