Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 131
Here are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone," by Satya Nadella:
He knew more than anyone that the company had to change, and he selflessly stepped out of his role as CEO to ensure the change happened in a deep way. As a consummate insider, I was being told to start anew, to refresh the browser and load a new page—the next page in Microsoft’s history. And so, my memo to the board called for a “renewal of Microsoft.” It would require embracing more ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence. This means humans will interact with experiences that span a multitude of devices and senses. All these experiences will be powered by intelligence in the cloud and also at the edge where data is being generated and interactions with people are taking place. But this renewal would only happen, I wrote, if we prioritized the organization’s culture and built confidence both inside and outside the company. It would be only too easy to continue to live off our past successes. We had been like kings, albeit now in a threatened kingdom. There were ways to cash-cow this business and drive short-term return, but I believed we could build long-term value by being true to our identity and innovating.
Steve kicked things off with a moving and encouraging speech. Bill spoke next, his dry sense of humor immediately present. Surveying the room, he feigned surprise at what a large market share Windows Phone enjoyed in this room. Then he got down to business. Bill succinctly captured the challenge and the opportunity that lay ahead. “Microsoft was founded based on a belief in the magic of software, and I’d say that opportunity today is stronger than it’s ever been. The magic of what we can do for people at work and at home with our software is totally in front of us. We’ve got some amazing strengths with the Windows platform, the things we’re doing in the cloud, with Office. And we’ve got some challenges. There are a lot of people out there on the cloud doing interesting things. There’s a lot of mobile activity, which we’ve got a slice of, but not as big a slice as we need to have.” Then he called me forward.
When the applause subsided, I wasted no time in calling my colleagues and teammates to action. “Our industry does not respect tradition. What it respects is innovation. It’s our collective challenge to make Microsoft thrive in a mobile-first and a cloud-first world.” If there was any one theme I wanted to emphasize that day, it was that we must discover what would be lost in the world if Microsoft just disappeared. We had to answer for ourselves, what is the company about? Why do we exist? I told them it was time for us to rediscover our soul—what makes us unique.
One of my favorite books is Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine about another tech company, Data General, in the 1970s. In it, Kidder teaches us that technology is nothing more than the collective soul of those who build it. The technology is fascinating, but even more fascinating is the profound obsession of its designers. And so what is soul in this context of a company? I don’t mean soul in a religious sense. It is the thing that comes most naturally. It is the inner voice. It’s what motivates and provides inner direction to apply your capability. What is the unique sensibility that we as a company have? For Microsoft that soul is about empowering people, and not just individuals, but also the institutions they build—enterprises like schools, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.
Because I’ve made culture change at Microsoft such a high priority, people often ask how it’s going. Well, I suppose my response is very Eastern: We’re making great progress, but we should never be done. It’s not a program with a start and end date. It’s a way of being. Frankly, I am wired that way. When I learn about a shortcoming, it’s a thrilling moment. The person who points it out has given me the gift of insight. It’s about questioning ourselves each day: Where are all the places today that I had a fixed mindset? Where did I have a growth mindset?
The son of an economist and as a business leader, I am hardwired to obsess about these problems. Are we growing economically? No. Are we growing equality? No. Do we need new technological breakthroughs to achieve these goals? Yes. Will new technologies create job displacement? Yes. And so how can we, therefore, solve for more inclusive growth? Finding the answer to this last question is perhaps the most pressing need of our times.