Saturday, September 30, 2017

Three things that I liked about (first 85 pages of) the book “Hit Refresh”

It’s not often that a continuing CEO writes a book about his or her experiences. Memoirs are usually written after the end of one’s tenure and are more often as a reflection of what has gone by. Well, Satya Nadella, like he has done in his career, chose to do the unconventional. At the outset, it is fair to say that Nadella’s “Hit Refresh” is not a memoir. While some portions of the book talk about his evolution, but this book (atleast till the point I have read) seem more about an ongoing story of transformation, it is about Nadella’s passion to put empathy at the center of everything he considers meaningful.

While I am not yet done reading the book, the writer in me just couldn’t stop but sharing some reflections I had from the book so far. And here they go.

#1 Honesty of endeavor:

If there is one thing that stands out for me so far in this book is the honestly and frankness with which Satya has shared his experiences. He goes beyond his comfort zone and responsibly touches even some of the controversial topics. The fact that he chose to show his vulnerable side makes this book even more trustworthy.

The pre-Nadella era of Microsoft was notorious for some things. One of which was the constant in-fighting between the business units. One of the cartoonists reflected the infighting at Microsoft in this popular cartoon. Nadella didn’t shy from acknowledging this aspect in his book and made a mention about this-

“As a twenty-four-year veteran of Microsoft, a consummate insider, the caricature really bothered me. But what upset me more was that our own people just accepted it.”

At one point in the book he discussed Microsoft’s decision to acquire Nokia. He was a part of Steve Ballmer’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and when Ballmer asked his team to vote openly about the decision to acquire Nokia- Nadella had said No and was against the acquisition. The reason he says was that he couldn’t understand why the world would need a third ecosystem in phones when Apple and Google were already so dominant.

#2 The Guy next door impersonating as a CEO:

Ever since Satya Nadella was elevated as a Microsoft’s CEO, one of the things that was most striking (for me) was the sheer simplicity of the man. And I don’t mean simplicity of appearance but more about him coming across as just an approachable neighbour who grew up with you, had similar education and background and suddenly you discover him to be doing wonders in life.
He narrates his aspirations while growing up and these were no different than the average Indian guy-

1. He wanted to be a Cricket player, even played at school level.
2. He wanted to attend a small college, work for a bank.
3. He had a mom who just wanted him to be content and happy while father was ambitious.
4. He appeared for IIT exam and flunked.
5. He so wanted to pursue full time MBA but Microsoft offer really made him change his mind and he pursued it part-time.
6. While at University of Wisconsin, he admitted that he was not a proficient coder.

Just check out some of these quotes-
“By twelfth grade if you had asked me about my dream it was to attend a small college, play cricket for Hyderabad, and eventually work for a bank. That was it. Being an engineer and going to the West never occurred to me. My mom was happy with those plans. But my dad really forced the issue.

“I flunked the Indian institute of technology (IIT) entrance exam, the holy grail of all things academic for middle class kids growing up in India at that time. My father, who never met an entrance test he did not pass, was more amused than annoyed.

“I’d written a little bit of code but I was not a proficient coder by any stretch.” [While at University of Wisconsin]

“What I really wanted to do was go to business school. I knew that management would complement my engineering training, and I had been thinking about a switch to investment banking.”

He probably went through each of the dilemmas an average student or a professional goes through but despite that his ascent has been mind-boggling. To be only the third CEO in the history of Microsoft is an extraordinary feat.
One can attribute a lot of factors like hard-work, luck, sincerity, determination etc. to his rise but to me he is an epitome of what Carol Dweck calls as “Growth mindset”. In her ground breaking book- Mindset, she distinguishes between a fixed mindset and growth mindset as follows-
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

In the book, Satya Nadella has often referred to his quest for learning and Intellectual curiosity as something that drives him and in the end I believe, that is the key factor that differentiates him with the ones he would have grown up with.

#3 Permanence is a myth and Impermanence is the reality:

One concept he shared that resonated deeply with me was that of impermanence. One of his quests of learning made Nadella read about Gautama Buddha and through some of his teachings he writes-

“I learned that only through living life’s ups and downs can you develop empathy; that in order to not suffer, or at least not to suffer so much, one must become comfortable with impermanence.”

I call the concept of impermanence profound because in today’s fast changing world, I have seen a lot
of professionals seek the comfort of permanence i.e. they don’t want the professional situations to change much. And when they do change, you see the anxiety levels rising and with it the mistakes. I personally starting believing in impermanence (though honestly, I didn’t have this word in my vocabulary till now) after the sad demise of my mother few years back. And it was moving for me to see it being called out in the book.

As Nadella further says
“If you understand impermanence deeply, you would develop more equanimity. You would not get too excited about either the ups or downs of life.”

And this fact was reflected in below quote that refers to his mindset when he was being considered for the role of a CEO. Having detached himself from the eventual outcome (which was impermanent), he set himself him for any possibility with a legendary poise.

“My attitude was that the board would select the best person. It would be great if it were me. But I would also be equally happy working for someone the board had confidence in. In fact, as part of the interview process one of the board members suggested that if I wanted to be CEO, I needed to be clear that I was hungry for the job. I thought about this and even talked to Steve. He laughed and simply said, “Its too late to be different.” It just wouldn’t be me to display that kind of personal ambition.”

Watch out for more reflections from #HitRefresh in the coming days.

Images source:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three reasons why Google acquihired a part of HTC

Google recently entered a cooperation agreement with HTC according to which it is buying a team of HTC (working primarily on Pixel phones) for $1.1 billion. There are a few points that should be understood before we delve into the reasons of this agreement.

Firstly, it is a cooperation agreement and not an acquisition. This means that HTC will continue to function and retain its brand sans the division (called as “Powered by HTC”) and people that will move to Google.

Secondly, as a part of this agreement, Google also retains non-exclusive rights for some of HTC’s Intellectual property. To make it clearer, a Non-Exclusive Licence grants to the licensee the right to use the Intellectual Property (IP), but on a non-exclusive basis. That means that HTC can still exploit the same IP and it can also allow other licensees to exploit the same IP.

Thirdly, the meaning of term ‘acquihired’. As per Wikipedia, Acqui-hiring or Acq-hiring or a talent acquisition, is the process of acquiring a company to recruit its employees, without necessarily showing an interest in its current products and services—or their continued operation.

Lets look at some of the reasons now-
Reason#1: Google’s hardware ambitions:
Google wants to be increasingly seen as a hardware company. In Oct 2016 at the “Made by Google’ event, it announced various products including its Pixel smartphones, Google Home, Google Wifi etc. 
Google has traditionally (if I can be allowed to use the word “traditional” for company as trendy as Google is perceived to be) built a humongous software services business. Sundar Pichai,at the Google I/O event earlier this year, shared that Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Search, Google Play each has 1 billion plus users and Android device almost twice that scale.
But it brings us to a moot question- why does Google wants to foray into hardware after having built insanely successful empire of software services?
At the outset, I would like to answer this question by putting forward another question. What factors have made Apple as successful as it is now? Of course, it would be naive to just pinpoint one factor for Apple being close to Trillion dollar valuation. But for the sake of argument and the context of this post, that one factor potentially is- “hardware/software synergy.” Apple tightly controls the entire iOS ecosystem and by building hardware of its own it really doesn’t need to deal with complexities that Google has embraced by being a true open system.
Of course, this open-ness (on Google’s part) has got its great deal of benefits including the ones that led rapid proliferation of Android devices (remember 2 billion Android devices as against 700-800 million iOS ones) but in a long run Google apparently has realized the importance of owning the entire ecosystem.
This aspect is well summarized in a Verge article that says-

If Google were to leave the battle to forever be between the iPhone and Android, between an integrated piece of modern tech and a mere operating system, Apple’s device would always win. Apple’s not-so-secret advantage is in having tight control over every aspect of the iPhone user experience. Google can’t be out there filing down the sharp edges of the USB-C port on its hardware partners’ devices. But it can design its own, premium-tier device that can go right up against the iPhone. The HTC deal today makes sure of that.

If we connect the dots from 2016 till now- Google hired Rick Osterloh (former head of Motorola), now leading Google hardware division, introduced slew of hardware products and now the agreement with HTC- it clearly indicates Google’s ambitious plans to make it big in hardware space.
Reason#2:  Google owning entire mobile User Experience
By building its own hardware, Google is really taking its destiny in its own hands. Of course, its not doing bad at all by forging partnerships with the players such as Samsung, Mi etc. but such “broken” approach to dealing with entire ecosystem, doesn’t hold well for Google’s future. The reason for this can be summarized in one word- “User experience”. This narrative from Wired article sums it up well-

Tighter control over manufacturing affects more than just the bottom line. "Bringing that design capability in-house would likely allow Google to design exactly the phones it wants to, giving it both more freedom and a greater ability to optimize designs to get exactly what it wants and needs from the hardware," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. New technologies like augmented reality and virtual assistants, especially, require massive power and optimization. Apple's ARKit works so well in part because of Apple's new A11 Bionic processor, and its dedicated GPU and neural-processing chips. If Google wants Google Assistant and ARCore to work seamlessly, it needs to make sure the underlying hardware can support them. And even if its traditional Android hardware partners churn out workhorse devices, Google risks that Samsung and others (but mostly Samsung) will eventually want push everyone to Bixby and the Gear VR instead.

Reason# 3: People and IP
The third reason isn’t too difficult to understand. Even though Google paid in excess of $1 billion for this agreement, it probably is no big deal for Google. Given its lofty hardware ambitions and cut-throat competition, time is of utmost essence. If Google doesn’t do this agreement, it will take more than many years to build the experience and IP and will cause it to lose crucial ground in the market.