Hit Refresh

no title has been provided for this book
Publisher: Harper Business
Published: 11/15/2017
As told by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Hit Refresh is the story of corporate change and reinvention as well as the story of Nadella’s personal journey, one that is taking place today inside a storied technology company, and one that is coming in all of our lives as intelligent machines become more ambient and more ubiquitous.

Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, Greg Shaw, and Jill Tracie Nichols

Key Insights

When Satya Nadella took over Microsoft as its third CEO, Microsoft was lagging behind its competitors and in danger of becoming obsolete. To save the company, Nadella decided to “hit refresh” by locating the soul of Microsoft’s work and starting anew. In this book, he details how he restored a struggling Microsoft back into a thriving company with deep core values, a healthy company culture, and a mission to make the world a better place through cutting edge technological innovation. In the second half, he details Microsoft’s vision for the future.

Key Points

After 24 years at Microsoft, Satya Nadella climbed the ranks and became CEO in 2014.

When Satya Nadella was a boy, chances that he would become CEO of one of the most powerful technology companies in the world were small. He grew up in India, where his passion was playing cricket, but his parents pushed him to pursue computer science. Eventually, he earned an electrical engineer degree from the Manipal Institute of Technology and then headed to the States on a visa to enroll in a master’s program at the University of Wisconsin.

After graduating, he worked for a software vendor, and then on the technology staff for Sun Microsystems. Finally, he found himself at Microsoft as an operations system specialist in 1992. Slowly, he rose through the ranks and was pushed into leadership roles throughout the company including heading the Bing search engine team. In these roles, he became familiar with “the Cloud”, or software that runs on the internet rather than on a computer, eventually heading Cloud operations.

As he ascended in the company, he noticed that the company culture was replete with competition and that the company was forgetting its core values. Employees were unenthusiastic and the company’s stock valued had plateaued. Companies like Apple and Google were dominating the markets, coming up with technology that Microsoft couldn’t match. So when Steve Ballmer stepped down as CEO and offered him the position, Nadella knew it was time for a big change.

To discover Microsoft’s soul, Nadella was inspired by the adaptive technology used by his disabled son.

Steve Ballmer, when leaving his post, told Nadella to “become his own man”. Nadella wanted to understand his unique role as CEO and asked fundamental questions: why am I in this role and why does Microsoft exist? He wanted to understand the heart of the company and its core values. He called this the “search for Microsoft’s soul”.

To begin understanding Microsoft’s core, he started to gather ideas. He asked employees to give feedback about Microsoft’s future and spoke to partners, stakeholders, and customers looking for fresh ideas. He hosted retreats, inviting all the founders of companies Microsoft recently acquired. He created a new team of leaders called the Legion of Superheroes. He wanted everyone’s opinion on what made Microsoft great.

During the same time, Nadella was going through difficulties in his personal life— his young son had been born with disabilities and developed Cerebral Palsy. Nadella shuttled back and forth to the hospital from the Microsoft offices. In one hospital room, he noticed that many of the beeping machines used to treat his son were running on Microsoft cloud technology. This set off a lightbulb for Nadella.

He realized how important it was that the company keep promoting innovation like this. This sort of democratization of technology— which started in the PC revolution— was what Microsoft did best. The goal of the company, he concluded, was to “empower every person and organization on this planet to achieve more.”

But what would this look like? Nadella decided to start with the Cloud, expanding it into an intelligent platform that would allow new ways for people to use different devices and improve their productivity.

By the summer of 2015, Microsoft launched Windows 10 in far-reaching corners of the world like Kenya. It made Microsoft Office available across all devices. Soon enough, Office 365 added tens of millions of new subscribers.

A CEO must make values clear for their employees so that everyone can work towards the same end.

In this new chapter for Microsoft, Nadella wanted everyone in the company to be working towards the same goals. He realized that to do this, he had to empower individual employees to understand the company’s goal of empathy.

In the book, Nadella discusses an infamous interview in which he told women to have faith in the system when looking for a raise, disregarding the difficulty many women have in advocating for themselves. Nadella apologized and changed his company policy after realizing that this wasn’t resulting in equal pay. He asked his managers to provide opportunities to women and empower them to advocate for what they deserve.

Microsoft also started hosting hackathons to get the entire company working on helpful accessibility projects. For example, he hosted a hackathon to make the Office Suite useable for people with dyslexia.

Ultimately, Nadella created a company culture that promoted changes for the better of the employees. Whenever someone came to him and asked “why can’t we do this?” he’d respond “make it happen.”

Nadella knew that to better innovate, Microsoft had to partner with the competition.

Throughout the late 2000s and the 2010s, Microsoft had fallen behind its competitors in a lot of ways. Starting in 2008, Google and Apple created new and popular smartphones and tablets, and also pulled ahead in online advertising. Microsoft had to find a new technological inroad.

Nadella saw the potential of Cloud technology when he worked on Bing, Microsoft’s first cloud-based venture. He noticed that data collection on servers was becoming increasingly more costly and consuming and that Cloud technology offered an alternative. Still, Bing couldn’t compete with Google’s own mega-popular search engine.

Nadella knew that to keep up, he had to put aside old grudges and starting talking with his competitors. Instead of keeping a rigid boundary between rivals, he opened Microsoft up and went to meet them. He met with executives from Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, and Apple. Soon enough, he had coordinated the expansion of the Office suite to Apple and Android devices.

He also learned the importance of agility from these executives. He decided to dive into his vision for a Cloud-technology based future for Microsoft and invested in Azure. To make Azure more functional, he integrated machine learning and collaborated with Linux to create an open-source platform. Ultimately, he learned the importance of collaboration and the innovation that comes when working in partnership with competitors. Not only that, but it saved millions of dollars in legal fees, preventing future feuds over competition technologies. Don’t let the past interfere with your progress, said Nadella. To help the world, everyone needs to work together to maximize well-being.

Microsoft bet on three technologies for the future: mixed reality, AI, and quantum computing

Moving forward, Nadella wanted Microsoft to again be at the frontier of innovation, improving governments and societies through ambitious technologies. He predicted that three technologies would bring about this change: mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.

Mixed reality, argued Nadella, would turn the field of vision into a computing surface, blending the digital and physical worlds. To begin “making machines that perceive the real world”, Microsoft developed the HoloLens and Kinect.

AI would help magnify human capabilities and make experiences like mixed reality increasingly possible. Nadella promised that they will share their AI innovations with everyone: across platforms, and with other developers in order to accelerate the AI revolution. Nadella even envisions integrating Microsoft’s AI project Cortana with emotional intelligence.

Quantum computing would change computing entirely and help solve the most complex global problems. It would increase computing power by an exponential amount and would be necessary to drive AI’s development. Microsoft continues to work on this project at a base called Station Q.

The digital age needs a new Geneva Convention to protect citizens.

Nadella realized that big tech companies had important ethical standards they needed to uphold in order to best serve people. He proposed a new Geneva Convention— treatises that established standards of humanitarian treatment during the war— to standardized ethical practices. This is because, in the digital age, tech companies deal with specifically modern issues and may struggle to find the correct balance.

For example, companies should respect the privacy rights of individuals, but have to hand over data if a user commits a digital crime. Nadella wanted a new way to try and establish a trust under these conditions.

He developed an equation for trust: empathy plus shared values plus safety and reliability equals trust over time. In the digital age, where online abuse and exploitation is rampant, trust is more important than ever. Everyone should work to find a way to be transparent about their data usage and build contracts that protect each user.

AI and people can work together to solve global problems.

When imagining a future with AI, a lot of people picture a world where robots take over and destroy civilization. Nadella admits that this fear is valid, but building cooperative AI is part of his vision for creating a world that can augment our capabilities. To do this, engineers need to imbue AI with human values and social purpose.

Nadella also argues against skeptics who say AI could decimate the economy. He explains that machines could never replace certain human abilities like creativity, judgment, and empathy. Instead, AI could help staff industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and food processing where industries struggle to find young workers. Microsoft knows to be careful not to develop technology that would replace workers or reduce human economic choices.

Countries should adopt new technology to increase their GDP. This could be done by lowering trade barriers.

Nadella points out that around the world, increased technology innovation hasn’t raised GDP since the PC revolution. He argues that world leaders should consider adopting new technology earlier, to keep their economies adaptable and agile.

In order for this to happen, new technology has to spread around the world. He suggests policymakers reduce barriers towards accelerated development by not only adopting new technology but investing in their education systems. This way, different countries can develop broader uses for the tech.

Free trade would be essential for this sort of diffusion. He explains that any global corporation has to understand the needs of the specific communities and find ways to create opportunities for those people. By bringing technology to everyone, Nadella believes more and more people will have increased opportunities. Since his tenure, Microsoft has spent billions on every continent and hopes to continue to make products that in turn produce innovation worldwide. In the end, by refreshing his company, Nadella had a chance to create reinvent Microsoft as not only a place of empathy but a model for the larger world.

The Main Take-away

Satya Nadella changed Microsoft by trying to understand its force for good and revisiting its original values. He started by listening to the visions of employees, stakeholders, and competitors. He promoted positive company culture by encouraging collaboration and communication. Under his leadership, Microsoft products quickly became democratized through the creation of Cloud-based applications accessible from nearly every device. He also embraced the idea that technology could transform people’s lives and started to focus on high-potential tools. He emphasized that companies need to protect the rights of their users and that continuing to democratize technology could continue to improve lives around the world.

About the Author

Satya Nadella is the third CEO of Microsoft. Before, he served as the EVP of Microsoft’s Cloud and was responsible for building the company’s computing platforms. He holds a BA from Manipal Institute of Technology, an MS from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


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