Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul

The Timelines in this book form an interesting analogy and eulogy to the evolution of Personal Computing. 1992 marks the beginning of the Journey of Nadela in Microsoft. Nadela outlines his start with the statement “Microsoft authored the PC revolution, and our Success-rivalled only by IBM in a previous generation- is legendary”. This line perhaps in all means sums up the tonality of the book from here-on. It’s like a statement to the patrons and readers of this book .This is not a piece of literature which will downplay the scores to appear modest and impartial. This book is about Nadela and Microsoft. It will be pompous, in your face and maybe exaggerated a bit. There are no pulling stops on this roller coaster journey into the 2nd Journey of MICROSOFT. It will be as boisterous as its Company’s expansion drive to become the world’s most Profitable Company.

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Nadela goes straight without much ado to outline the chaos that superseded his entry. He catalogues the scenario.”Innovation was being replaced by bureaucracy. Teamwork was being replaced by Internal Politics. We were Falling Behind.” The tone of it is eerily similar to Journalists reporting War from the Battle lines. It sounded strangely disconnected and impartial. It sounded like the words of an Outsider.

However the next few lines, he establishes and reiterates what he is in the ranks of Microsoft. Outlining the works of a Cartoonist portraying the ranks of Microsoft in poor light, he reminisces, “As a 24 year veteran of Microsoft, as a consummate insider, the caricature really bothered me. But what upset me more was that our own people just accepted it.” There was about to be a Paradigm shift in the way the Company operated, its core values and it’s Culture. Under Nadela, Microsoft was about to get a Cultural Makeover.

The Culture Code

When Nadela took over as CEO in Feb 2014, renewing the company Culture became the Top Priority. In an address to his employees, he outlined how committed he was to ruthlessly removing barriers to Innovation. The Innovative Culture that the company began its journey with, could be renewed and re-established. He reminded his employees that they joined Microsoft to make a Difference to the world.

Merging Innovation with Diversity

There was a need to establish meaningful and deeper connect of personal philosophies to the jobs as Leaders in the Organisation. It was about Balance of Culture and Work in a working humane personal meaningful manner and objectives

Breaking the walls of Corporate bureaucracy

Nadela outlines how phones and device were put away and people sat in large circles facing each other.”There was no place to hide. I opened the meeting by asking everyone to suspend judgement and stay in the moment was hopeful, but was also somewhat anxious.”

Perhaps in this innocuous statement, Nadela outlined exactly the changing culture of technological innovation and interaction that was taking place in the world outside. There was no precedence to this new wave of Technological innovation.

Having an Extraordinary Individual Experience

Nadela recounts an interesting exercise in human behaviours and social construct outlined by The Seattle Seahawks Football Psychologist Dr. Michael Gervis. What was interesting to note was the way people used Technology and Devices as a facade to hide behind. Forget about technology and Innovation, The New Technocratic society has lost the inclination to even have Casual Human Interactions. Words like defeat humiliation and non- inclination seemed to dominate the human psyche. The fear of being Ridiculed, The fear of Failing, of not looking the smartest person in the room to an arrogant; “I am too important for such games”, “What a stupid question! “, started to diminish the natural inquisitiveness and innovative risk taking behaviour of individuals.

Nadela speaks of the lessons in personal emotions and how it is something he is grateful for even today. The nightmare of hospitals owing to his ailing child Zain, the ordeal that he faced with his wife Anu, taught Nadela a lot in the workings of faith and fragility of life, the importance of human emotions and most importantly the requirement to establish a meaning connect of human intellect, fuelled by emotions and want of companionship.

“My Passion is to put Empathy at the Centre of everything I pursue”

The world today is rapidly moving towards humanising the technological ecosystem and the way Machines  interact with Humans. Countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America is literarily “getting liberated” with equal opportunities through education and spirit of technology. Empowering Humans and those less-abled than normal human are also being heralded into the technology ecosystem through enhancements to their lifestyle. Today more than ever perhaps, Technology has become the main Leveller.

“This Book is about Transformation –One that is taking place today inside me and inside our company, driven by a sense of Empathy and a desire to empower others. but most important , it’s about a change coming in every life as we witness the most transformative wave of technology yet-one that will include artificial intelligence , mixed reality and Quantum Computing .It’s about how people, organisations and societies can and must transform –hit refresh- in their persistent quest for new energy, new ideas, relevance and Renewal.”

3 distinct Storylines

  • The first storyline is a Prologue which charts the journey from India to the Silicon Valley.
  • Second Storyline is about succeeding Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer as CEO.
  • 3rd act is about the innovation and change of Corporate Culture in Microsoft. It is about the 4th Industrial Revolution in which machines intelligence will rival That of Humans. In that part, Nadela raises some very valid pertinent questions about the role Humans will play in that evolution. He also raises questions on the involvement of the Governments around the world as well as the liability of Multinational Corporations in the equation as well as the role they and their leaders need to herald in this thought revolution.”How will we hot refresh as a Society?”

Culture as the seat of Intelligence Revolution

Nadela’s exposure to varied world cultures structured his thoughts and perspectives in a very unique manner. He confesses how flunking the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) as an Engineer, actually steered him towards becoming the CEO of Microsoft. His entry into the United States changed the course of his life and well of course Modern Technological History as we know it. Nadela’s life was strafe with failures and rejections. His unique perspective of being a student in America also paved way for empathy in his later life. His respect for America is very deep rooted in his psyche and he writes how grateful he is for being given opportunities in USA.

The incredible and incredulous journey of his marriage and ultimately on giving up his coveted GREEN CARD Status for ensuring his wife gets to be with him in USA is indeed very heart warming as is consistent with the Indian values which in this perspective really stood out as a strength in the changing times.

Learning to Lead- “Seeing the Cloud through our Windows”

Nadela uses Cricket and its comparison to Baseball, a cricket equivalent as a sport in USA as a touch point to identify and establish common congruence of technology in everyday lives of his consumers from the perspective of a Business.

The first Principle is to compete vigorously and with passion in the face of uncertainty and intimidation. Very similar to how a Batsman faces off an aggressive googly bowled by a competent bowler.

The Second Principle is simply the importance of putting your team first, ahead of your personal statistics and recognition. This quote seems to resonate with the same vibe as the one Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, made about taking care of his employees’ first and well .In turn the Employees would take care of the Customers and the Business in turn will take care of itself. Being an Empathetic Leader and having faith in your team leads to long term partnerships of loyalty and excellence.

The Third Principle is possibly most important as it is central to the Idea of Leadership. It’s about bringing in the best in everyone and keeping their hopes, success and confidence high. It’s about knowing when to intervene and when to build the confidence of an individual and Team.

Big Data and the small important implications it has on technology: the BIG IMPACT of date driven Technology

Cloud Technologies and Crowd Sourced Data is the new ushering of Thought and Intelligence Revolution. The more informed the technology is , the more specific its implementation can be to prevent disaster, improve quality of life and increase the longevity of the human spirit and well being of the populace. Nadela uses the platform of his book to present debate and dissect the modern day advent of human interfacing technologies. Medical breakthrough, data sharing, cloud computing are some cutting edge technologic interventions and possibilities he highlights n the pages.

The Importance and advent of Cloud Computing, the ushering of new platforms for accessibility and support and storage and backup is an interesting way in which technology is advancing and outdating conventional means of computing at such a breakneck pace. Floppy drives giving way to DVDs to servers to Cloud Computing – the evolution of interfacing technology is very beautifully showcased.

It is important to note here how Microsoft had initially been unsuccessful in riding the new age technology bandwagon – something which Apple and Google (android) were above to claim first mover’s advantage. Amazon Web Services gained tremendous traction and Dominance over rapidly growing Cloud Business. Microsoft had lost yet another opportunity to redeem and re-align itself. The Emergence of Cloud Services fundamentally shifted the economics of Computing .It standardised pooled computing resources and automated maintenance tasks that were once done manually.

4 Essential Skills to build an Online, Phone Cloud-Based Business

  • A vast array of Computing Power would enable delivery of instant, relevant results to the Consumer.
  • It is needed to become great at Consumer Product Design
  • There has to be a Great Understanding and Building of two sided Markets- the economics of new online Business
  • Finally, the company needed to be great at Applied Machine Learning (AML)     which is a very rich form of Data Analytics that is foundational to artificial Intelligence.

Entrepreneurial Design at Heart: Creating a Competitive collaborative Start-ups Community

Microsoft has always been the hot spot for a lot of technical talent and entrepreneurial Wiz Kids around the globe. Nadela mentions many such individuals who either moved on from Microsoft to establish successful start ups or have individuals who have experience in Successful Technological Innovation from other players in the market join the MS SLT to create innovation and make a difference in people’s Lives. He also speaks of creating a synchronised platform connecting IOS, ANDROID and WINDOWS.  He outlines “Complementing these world-class engineers was world class business planning and modelling”.

Up in the Cloud

Nadela begins the dialogue by complimenting Amazon for having first mover’s advantage in the Business of Cloud Computing and Cloud Based services with AWS (Amazon Web Services). However later on he reveals how Microsoft is on its course to chart out a $20 Billion Cloud Business. The strategy was to look beyond products and focus more on services and Integration.TheO365 which is the cloud version of MS OFFICE Suite is already changing the way companies and individuals look at Office Productivity suites. The days of Maintenance Patches, Setup Key, authenticity issues, DVD shipments and retail management is fast getting over. This model perhaps is the way forward with long term business relation with the primary subscriber.

Rediscovering the Soul of Microsoft

When Nadela took over as CEO, he asked himself a few pertinent questions that actually give an insight into the chaotic tension that was brewing in his mind. Finding a CEO for Microsoft has not been easy. The questions that arose required a lot of soul searching. He asks “What is my vision? What is the strategy to achieve it? What does Success look like and where to get it started? “

So when Nadela took over, he was not only taking over the reins of the company strafed with bureaucracy and non agility as presented. He was also taking over the mantle of goodwill or lack of it, from his predecessors. In many ways now , his actions would be judged, compared and or identified with the past laurels and mistakes. The water was choppy and a storm was brewing. As Captain, he would need to steer his slowly sinking ship to safer waters and greener pastures of success and stability. The world’s most profitable company now lay in the hands of an Indian with his sights set for the future. It was his job to bring around cultural integrity and Market trust- an unholy alliance of people culture and technology agility.

The Window was Broken

The Platform that once defined Microsoft was the very reason the company was suffering losses. With PCs becoming redundant and personal Computing moving onto smaller compact devices of tablet and Mobile phones, a new strategy needed to be devised. Agreed that there were still a huge number of Windows Users in the globe, but the windows platform was gaining notoriety owing to the blunders in creating a symbiotic synergy between computing platforms and hand held devices synchronicity. Windows 8 hadn’t been successful and there needed to be an upgrade from windows7.The resistance and challenges that Win 10 faced from the consumers was also testing the morale of Microsoft Loyalists and Employees.

Listening to the Voices

A leader listens to his people and also to those who don’t consider him an ally. He listens to the wisdom of his predecessors and listens to the winds of change. This is the part where focus shifts to the human perspective of Leadership. In the 40 yr history, there have been only 3 CEOs to Microsoft and it deemed quite a big shoe to fill . Ones that Nadela was determined to own.

Nadela chronicles the meticulous way he transformed, a bulky bureaucracy laced organisation, into an agile transparent effective and merit driven organisation. The base culture of creating a difference in the universe remained sacrosanct .What was built upon was excellent partnerships, thoughtful collaborations, employee recognition, a collaborative system of workings well as an open door policy of leadership. A Chief People Officer was appointed to integrate a people’s culture to the future oriented company. You cannot create a Company entrusted with heralding the Future by upholding few Mission objectives that have outlived its time, effectivity and relevance.

It starts with TRUST

He curated an organisation of Open dialogues, leading to one agreeable mind or Minds- not “Yes men or No People”. Hero worshiping was not on the agenda of culture any more. It was during this phase of newer mergers and travel, Nadela recounts how he deals with the loss of His Mother. Nadela pays a beautiful tribute to her by saying that she will always remain in his consciousness.  Through the reflections of the teachings of his Mom and the influence of her ideals on his upbringing, he decides to outline a new set of mission statements and culture alignments for his employees. There is a sense of movement, a sense of urgency and renewed enthusiasm. In many ways when one chapter of life ends, the other begins almost immediately. Life goes on and it goes on with a Bang.

This time around he focuses on TRUST. Both Intra and Inter-Organisational. He calls for a sales conference and is attended by over fifteen thousand customer facing employees of MS where he outlines his new mission to roll out a face change of MS work ethics and Principles. He begins with TRUST.

Secondly he outlines a blueprint to build an intelligent cloud platform that resonates with the first change – reinforcing the element of Trust.  Creating a more HUMANE version of Artificial Intelligence (AI) through usage of deep level machine learning, predictive analysis and advanced machine learning.

Interestingly a lot of these newer thinking, Nadela gives credit to challenges he faced at home. With a Daughter who have learning difference and is differently-abled, the need to create a community of trust and a culture of Inclusion was deep rooted a need and matter of need for him.

Cultural Renaissance – from Know it all to Learn it all

The corporate world is full of such stories of Misses and losses by organisations and mindset that refused to acknowledge reality and willingness to learn. Nadela identified this problem early on. He references Dr.Carol Dweck, author of the book “Mindset: The New psychology of success” where se coins the term CEO DISEASE. It is an affliction of business leaders who fail to have a growth mindset. In some ways he acknowledges that he disapproved of the way things were before he took over the mantle of CEO and yes the way forward is not competition but collaboration. The key is to create Learning, rather free learning culture where everyone can benefit from collective intelligence and benefit from the solutions rising out of collaborations and partnerships.

Choosing the Sacrifices to be made for Balancing Family and Work

As an Indian taking over the reins of an All American Technology Goliath, the press has often been intrusive and unforgiving as they are to most of the figures in Public. Yet what Nadela recounts is a peek into an extremely private part of his life. A picture of a Human being behind the corporate Honcho he is supposed to mould into . We get a peek into the numerous difficult sacrifices his family had to undergo and decided to do to support his ever rising needs of a Public figure in news.

Friends or Frenemies: Choosing your Confessions

Nadela Showcasing the Iphone-Pro during a Microsoft Meet drew a lot of Judgmental Disbeliefs till he showed why it’s important to him. The Iphone Pro features a lot of Microsoft applications as a part of a Trust Collaboration with Apple. This was not something that the Purists of brands would have ever imagined or dared to construe.

However that was what Nadela toiled for. Build Partnerships before you need them .Create Platforms to collaborate before your competition kills you or your consumers desert you for grounds of incompatibility. He also heralded a new outlook of appreciation and respect for Business.

He speaks of Steve Ballmer’s 3 C philosophy of Doing Business

  • Concepts
  • Capabilities
  • Culture.

Nadela took this to a new level of partnership .Build Capabilities. If you don’t have, collaborate. Create Culture of Collaboration that looks beyond superficial brand war and looks at prolonging the life of the brand and business.

The Mac version of Office 365 was exactly this thought process and it brought the exclusive world of Mac to the business solutions of Microsoft. Apple didn’t have a preferred Office Productivity Suit compatible with Non IOS Users. For a long time, Customers using the MAC platform would find it extremely difficult to collaborate with other businesses owing to severe compatibility issues. It was also Vice Versa as MS OFFICE was otherwise the most popular Office Productivity Suit. Compatibility patches and Open Source ware was trying to fill in the gap, but wasn’t very successful either. This crucial collaboration bolstered both the Organisations service offerings and strengthened Client relationships across platforms, all the while keeping the exclusivity intact wherever required. Business shouldn’t suffer and neither should Creative Productivity seem to be the common code of agreement.

Creating the Future: Trust, Accessibility, Security, Privacy and Free Speech

The Last part of the book deals with creating a Futuristic Utopia where technology meets reality. Some predictions and offerings might sound dystopian owing to the technology still being in drawing board or development stage. However Nadela outlines the possibilities keeping basic Human rights in mind. Over the last few decades, perhaps Centuries of Industrial revolution, a lot of these liberties and privileges have been revoked or violated –sometimes very blatantly. Privacy Free speech and Security has been the casualty of this technological Holocaust for success. In the end it has left the consumers with deep distrust and almost at times total boycott or legal judicial problem into how this violation was allowed. Companies have a strict civil code that they need to adhere. .Office and Organisations need to take that security and personal rights of consumers very seriously. Microsoft itself has been in midst of ANTI TRUST JUDICIAL hearings .Nadela hopes to be able to start on a clean slate. Collaboration with Apple seemed to be the first way of establishing Trust through transfer of technology.

Reacting to the Edward Snowden Whistle Blowing Scandal, he surmises “The Battle between Individual, timeless Liberties like Privacy and Freedom of speech and Public Demands for safety and Security was now at my door.”

Interestingly he  also states, “In the End, however Microsoft joined many of its fiercest competitors in Supporting Apple in its legal Battle. We did so out of shared concerns about the potential ramifications of the case for technology and for our customers.”

The Equation of Trust

Nadela uses his Engineering education to frame a very interesting equation to outline trust.

He says E+SV=SR=T/t (Empathy +Shared Values + Safety and Reliability=Trust over Time).

Trust is a Sacred Responsibility.

The rules of Life and Prediction of an Information Society – Towards an ETHICAL Framework for AI Design

Hinting at many dystopian Futuristic stories like The Matrix, Terminator, 2001: a Space Odyssey, , he outlines that care must be taken to develop AI on rules of Ethics and Ethical Framework of Conformity. Intelligent AI like Alexa, Cortana, Siri are already integrating themselves in our lives. Personalities like Cortana , Zo , XIAOICE developed by Microsoft are positioned to be Social Companions and are there for humans to reach out to, when they are lonely , in a bad mood or aching for Dialogue. At those times the algorithms aim to make the user find these social companions to be intelligent and sensitive. Digital Assistants are now more than ever, are being sought after, owing to the discussions being completely anonymous and non judgemental. The Social Companions are there to help.

He outlines another equation

Sigma (Education + Innovation) x Intensity of Tech Use= Economic Growth

Education plus Innovation, applied broadly across the economy and especially in sectors where the Country or region has comparative advantage, multiplied by the intense use of Technology, over time, produces economic Growth and Productivity

Afterword: Why do I exist?

The book ends with a beautifully written afterword, which hints more on a spiritual journey rather than the start atheism many technocrats seem to proudly show off. Questions like “why do I exist?”, “why does our Institution Exists?” “What is the role of a Multinational Corporation in our world?”.Looks like Microsoft has found its soul in the mind of a CEO whose Eastern Roots and Philosophy might just create and architect a new future of the world, in his journey to create a new Microsoft.

It’s time to Hit Refresh and call to action

What does it mean to Hit Refresh? I encourage you to answer it yourself. Start a Conversation in your Institution. Start the conversation in your Community. Start the conversation with those who can bring the change. Own the movement of Change. Usher in a Society of Shared Perspectives, Values and Ethics. This is a shared space of Trust and Trust is a Sacred Responsibility. Share your story with those you can inspire. And please share with us what you learn and I’ll continue to do the same.

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