Another management book? Not just a management book, but the story of Satya Nadella. Who? The son of a marxist economist and a drama professor but mostly known as Microsoft’s less famous, less rich, but current CEO. A brief review.
Nadella’s book ‘Hit Refresh’ is a triptych. The first part outlines the author’s life, his love for cricket, his parents, arriving in the United States, his children, etc. The second part gives an overview of all the decisions an initiatives Nadella undertook to steer Microsoft in a new direction. The final part paints a picture of the future with a promising role for technology and AI specifically.
The reason I bought ‘Hit Refresh’ is because it is clear that since a couple of years, Microsoft is headed in a new direction; I wanted to find out how this was achieved. I automatically assumed that Nadella was the driving force behind this. Apparently he coined the phrase that “you don’t join Microsoft to be cool, but to make others look cool.” Microsoft’s third CEO concluded that cloud infrastructure (a huge digital toolbox named Azure) was the way forward. He identified convincing unique selling propositions (USPs) and he got all the noses in the same direction. This book explains how he got there.
However, after the facts it is easy to craft a compelling story. There were many meetings, talks with end-users and customers and decisions were taken. But were they truly purposeful? Was Nadella aware of the potential impact? It’s a recurring concern with many management books: survivorship bias. Aren’t their numerous companies where the same decisions were taken and things didn’t turn out so well? What would have happened if somebody else was selected as CEO? I guess we will never know. But with a little bit of good will and fantasy, Microsoft’s story of the past five years is memorable.
One paragraph stuck with me, because I think it is the number one driving factor that helped Nadella understand his true mission at Microsoft.
“Over the next couple of years we learned more about the damage caused by utero asphyxiation, and how Zain would require a wheelchair and be reliant on us because of severe cerebral palsy. […] Believe me, I know what this technology will mean […] for my son at home.”Satya Nadella about his son Zain’s condition and about the role of technology
The book is almost 250 pages, but it can be finished in a couple of hours. The content is light-hearted and you do not have to be a technologist to understand what Nadella is talking about.
Towards the end the book gets a bit platitudinous when it describes the potential of AI and how policy-makers need to deal with it. I don’t know about you, but for me that was a broken record on repeat. Furthermore, Nadella has a tendency to overestimate Microsoft’s market position and overpromises on some of its products that are, in hindsight, nowhere near Google’s accomplishments — think voice assistance. Finally, many of the meetings described in the book feel like a brief thank you to managers and rank-and-file engineers. A carefully constructed ‘thank you’ by naming that person in the book might be a nice gesture, but it doesn’t add much value to the story.
All around a very interesting book that gives the reader a glimpse behind the curtains in Microsoft-land.