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.

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