Hit Refresh Book Review

Remember the biggest public stumble of Satya Nadella, The Microsoft CEO, on Grace Hopper, when he told the people about the celebration of women in computing and said that women shouldn’t ask for raises but should trust that the hard work along with the long-term efficiency of the system would eventually reward them? Well, Satya Nadella did talk about this in his new book, the Hit Refresh”. This book gives inside details about the interesting life of Satya Nadella, his humble beginning, his struggles and decisions and lot more.

I am quite fascinated with Satya Nadella, his career and the work he has done for Microsoft. I always look at his journey of, where he has come from, what he has achieved, and what his vision is. I thought why not write a review of his latest book and let the readers know about his book offers.

When I read the lines: “If you want to see what the flapping around looks like, do a search for me and karma,” from his book, I was hooked. It shows the depth of Nadella’s philosophy.

He goes on writing about all the ways he has been wrong and what he has learned and done since, which also includes the decision of linking a portion of executive compensation to diversity improvements inside Microsoft.

He goes on writing that in some ways, he is glad that he messed up in a public forum because it helped him to confront his unconscious bias that he didn’t know he had and it helped him to find a new sense of empathy towards the great women in his life and at his company.

Such candid moments are the prime highlights of Nadella’s first attempt at writing a book, “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone” which is published by HarperCollins.

At present, Nadella has been the CEO of Microsoft for more than three years and has been overseeing an increase of over $280 billion in market value at the Microsoft, which is now 42-years old. He is cautious about the fact that reinvention by the company has a long way to go, his story, as well as Microsoft’s new era, does deserve an in-depth look from the inside.

You will be quite wrong if you dismiss this 288 pages book which is thinly veiled by the Microsoft marketing and communications. This book certainly offers much more than anyone can expect. This book has so much to offer, and it works at so many levels.

In this book, Nadella speaks about his compelling life story which includes his journey from India to the US along with the influence of cricket on his life and its worthy advantages. He also talks about adversities, colleagues, family members as well as the experience which has played their part in shaping his worldview. He provides a window into the Modern Microsoft along with explaining its strategy. He also explains his view of the challenges faced by this company and the potential it has in this new era.

This book is a blueprint for present and future business leaders who seek to understand the management style of Nadella which also includes his innate focus on empathy as well as continuous learning. It offers a glimpse of the future of technology according to his perspective. It discusses his views on artificial intelligence, mixed reality as well as quantum computing. This book also reveals his notions about the ethics and policy issues related to these technologies.

The Inside Story of Microsoft

When it comes to experts of the tech industry, one of the most fascinating chapters will be “Friends or Frenemies.” In this chapter, Nadella describes the company’s complex and complicated relationships with some of its biggest competitors and partners which include big names like Google, Apple, and Samsung.

Needless to say, Nadella is careful about what he wrote. No doubt about that, after all, he is the sitting CEO of one of the most prestigious companies in the world. If it was a book of someone else, it might have the inside details of the fierce battle of Microsoft with its “frenemy” Marc Benioff and Salesforce over LinkedIn which Microsoft finally won for over $26 billion.

But when it comes to Nadella’s book, it provides behind-the-scenes which makes it a worthy read even for those who know the company very well. Along with this, he provides his insights and his interesting assessment of Grace Hopper performance he made.

Wouldn’t you like to know more about some details about Microsoft’s inner drama and internal struggles? I know I would.

Well, Nadella does put some light on some of the major issues of Microsoft. He talks about how some product-line leaders of Microsoft were not comfortable about working with its arch-rival Apple in order to optimize Office 365 for iPad Pro. He talks about how everyone got on board, and there was a consensus reached that there were benefits of the partnership which grossly weigh over competitive disadvantage for Microsoft.

Nadella also talks in detail about the internal drama that happened during the “Red Dog” project which turned out to be Microsoft Azure since the traditional executives of the company’s widely successful Server & Tools Division initially resisted the big push to the cloud. It was the mindset of those traditionalists that Nadella had to fight to overcome the obstacles.

Nadella goes on describing some of his unpopular decisions where he invited few lower-ranking leaders of the companies which had been acquired by the Microsoft to the annual retreat, which is generally reserved only for senior executives. However, things turned out well, but it did send some culture shock for some of the top leaders.

We all are anxious about knowing his side of the story of his selection as CEO of one of the biggest company in the world. Aren’t we?

Nadella was also surprised by this too, and he goes on talking about his conversation with the outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at that time. He writes that Ballmer encouraged him to be his own man. In other words, he told him not to try to please anyone, not even Bill Gates.

Nadella also writes about his relationship with the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates and recalls the walk across the campus with him after Nadella became CEO of the company. They talked exhaustively about a new product, and in Nadella’s own words, at one point Bill looked at him and said that it was good to be talking about software engineering.

Being the CEO of Microsoft

We all know that Satya Nadella became the CEO at GIX grand opening, back in 2014 when former CEO Steve Ballmer left.

Nadella goes on to point out that the transformation of the company is still a work in progress. He proudly writes that after three years of putting the focus on improving the culture of Microsoft, the internal surveys revealed that employees were quite happy with the direction of the company. They also liked the newfound sense of internal collaboration as well as purpose. However, he does write about the surprising revelation of the surveys that some middle managers were “a missing link” in the process of cultural transformation.

To be a leader in this company, your job is to find the rose petals in the field of shit,” Nadella told the top 150 executives of Microsoft at a meeting.

What a wonderful quote! Isn’t it?

However, he does concede that perhaps it wasn’t the best line of poetry, but he did want people to stop seeing the things which were hard and start looking things which were great and help others in seeing them too. He told them that constraints are reals and will always be there with them, but the leaders are the champions of overcoming constraints.

In his book, he has emphasized on making his clear distinction from Gates and Ballmer, as a leader.

Talking about company falling behind Apple and Google in smartphones, Nadella goes on explaining that Microsoft is quite known for rallying its troops with competitive fire. He goes on saying that press loves that, but he doesn’t. His approach is to lead with a sense of purpose along with pride in what they do, not envy or combativeness.

Interestingly, Nadella makes two passing references to President Donald Trump in a policy chapter called “Restoring Economic Growth for Everyone.”  Learning for Grace Hopper section, Nadella deftly alludes to complaints by the former presidential adviser, Steve Bannon, about the number of Asian CEOs in the tech industry.

He writes, “Even when some people in positions of power have remarked that there are too many Asian CEOs in technology, I’ve ignored their ignorance.” He explains his outlook by saying that as growing up as minorities in the US, he cannot help but think about how their experiences differ. He goes on mentioning that it infuriates him to think that people will hear and grapple with racial slurs as well as ignorance.

Nadella also writes about the disheartening process of shutting down a significant portion of the company’s smartphone hardware business and goes on confirming that he opposed the acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone business for whopping $7 billion when polled by then-CEO Steve Ballmer. However, he does draw a silver lining that this experience taught Microsoft about what it means to design, build and manufacture hardware.

In his book’s chapter on the direction of technology, named “Beyond the Cloud,” explains the potential of mixed reality along with artificial intelligence and quantum computing. In the chapter “The Future of Humans and Machines,” he addresses many concerns regarding artificial intelligence and speaks out to the industry as well as political leaders. He proposes a “global collaboration” when it comes to the advancement of the state of AI so that it addresses the worst fears of humanity.

He writes that he would argue that most productive debate people can have about AI isn’t about pitting good vs. evil, but it is more about one examining the values instilled in the people as well as institutions which are creating this technology.

Personal Side of Satya Nadella

Who wouldn’t want to know about the personal side of Nadella? Well, his story is fascinating.  In his books about his dad who was a civil servant who had a hanging poster of Karl Marx in his bedroom. His mother was a Sanskrit scholar with a poster of Indian Goddess of Wealth and Contentment, Lakshmi. He recalls that all he wanted was the poster of his cricketing hero, M.L Jaisimha who was famous for his boyish good looks and graceful style, both on and off the field.

Nadella got fascinated with programming computers at the mere age of 15 years when his dad bought him a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer.

Nadella writes that his son’s condition requires the same passion for ideas as well as empathy that he learned from his parents.

He came to the US as an electrical engineering student and then went on becoming a permanent resident. He then took the unusual step when he gave up his green card to get an H1B visa because of the vagaries of the immigration law which allowed his wife, Any, to join him in the US. It wouldn’t have been possible if he was a permanent resident.

Nadella also shares the personal side of his family. He mentions about his son, Zain who has cerebral palsy due to asphyxia in utero. He mentions the role of his wife in helping him to come to terms with his son’s condition and helped him to understand that it wasn’t a setback for him. She told him that it would expand his worldview.

So the people who are always exhilarated about Microsoft’s story over the years would find it interesting that which engineering and business leaders of Microsoft will Nadella highlight in his book which will define their influence inside the company.

Nadella doesn’t have a singular partner inside the company unlike Gates and Ballmer who leaner on each other. Nadella looks to a larger group, the senior leadership team of the Microsoft. He calls them the ‘Legion of Superheroes, with each leader coming to the table with a unique superpower to contribute for the common good.”

So, it will be surely a roller coaster ride for Nadella in the coming years with the emerging trends and technologies along with inside struggles within Microsoft. Will he prevail? Will he be able to instil empathy in the tech industry? How will the world face the emerging wave of AI and quantum computing? Well, to find out, you have to read this worthy book and find out yourself. It will surely leave you spell-bounded and in awe.

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