Looking forward

Last Updated 11 November 2017, 15:36 IST

When Satya Nadella was chosen as CEO to lead Microsoft in 2014, there was much buzz in India. He is the third person to lead Microsoft after Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Now three years later, he is out with his book Hit Refresh – The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone.

Right at the start of his book, author Nadella makes it clear that it is not a memoir. Having taken over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he still had a long way to go in his new role. The book, he says, is about transformation, one that is taking place inside people, companies and in every life - the most "transformative wave of technology that will include artificial intelligence, mixed reality and quantum computing."

The book, as Nadella explains, delves into three aspects of transformation - the author's own personal journey, Microsoft's transformation under his leadership, and the third aspect focusses on the argument that a fourth industrial revolution lies ahead, one in which machine intelligence will rival that of humans.

The narrative, interspersed with cricketing details, may interest the Indian reader. Hit Refresh is obviously not a book for the random reader but specifically aimed at Microsoft's employees and the company's customers and partners.

Among the many buzzwords in the book are some key ones such as empathy, culture, democratisation and transformation. Empathy, according to Nadella, will become more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will disrupt the status quo like never before.

At times, he comes across as a dreamer when he says that culture needs to be a microcosm of the world where builders, makers and creators achieve great things, and one where every individual can be their best self, where diversity of skin colour, gender, religion and sexual orientation is understood and celebrated.

In 2014, he was taking over as Microsoft's CEO at a time when the company was desperate for a change. At Microsoft, after decades of steady growth in worldwide PC shipments, sales had peaked and were now on the decline. While PC shipments were declining, smartphone shipments were rising, showcasing the rise of Android and Apple operating systems.

But Nadella realised that innovation was key. "In order to accelerate our innovation, we must rediscover our soul - our unique core… We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to do more and achieve more," he wrote to his employees.

Apart from building the right culture, Nadella also believed in working on healthy partnerships, and that was the need of the hour for Microsoft's turnaround. In that endeavour, he worked on building partnerships with rivals Apple and Google.

"In today's era of digital transformation, every organisation and every industry are potential partners," he says.

He spends some time focussing on the importance of partnerships in the transformation journey. He then makes a pitch for artificial intelligence. In the future, artificial intelligence will become a more frequent and necessary companion, helping to care for people, diagnose illness, teach and consult. "Imagine what's possible when humans and machines work together to solve society's greatest challenges - disease, ignorance and poverty."

In the final chapter, titled Restoring Economic Growth for Everyone, Nadella says the spread of technology and its impact on economic outcomes have always fascinated him. He quotes economist Diego Comin when he says that differences between rich and poor nations can largely be explained by the speed at which they adopted industrial technologies. Equally important is the intensity they employ in putting new technologies to work.

Another high-priority area is fostering human capital and next-generation skills development. "In the workplace, we need to invest in lifelong learning with a focus on programmes and investments that promote upskilling for the cloud and a more digital-ready workforce," he says.

Nadella confesses that existential questions about why do we exist or why do our institutions exist, and the role of a leader in digital technology prompted him to write this book. The book is the outcome of a project that involved the participation of Greg Show and Jill Tracie Nichols, his co-authors in this endeavour.

This is a book mostly for those keyed into Microsoft's future and those interested in the next wave of transformation in the technological world.

(Published 11 November 2017, 07:16 IST)

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