Eight things I learned about Satya Nadella

The Microsoft CEO revealed a complex and distinctive personality at the London launch his book Hit Refresh

Lord’s Cricket Ground, a stroll from Sherlock Holmes’ old pad in Baker Street, London for out-of-towners, is headquarters of that most elegant of sports and, like the great detective, the epitome of the acceptable face of Englishness. Here, for over 100 years, batsmen, wicket-keepers and bowlers have plied their trade. But the game has gone through shocks in recent years as hit-and-hope variants of the game have become more popular and the multi-day original form of cricket has struggled. The local governing body that is the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has coped though, striking a balance between the needs of fans with a shorter attention span and those who admire the nuances of Test cricket where a match might last all of five days and still be called a draw.

It’s maybe not too far-fetched to suggest that Microsoft CEO and cricket nut Satya Nadella has a similar job to do in maintaining the geese that laid golden eggs in the forms of Windows and Office while restructuring to deal with a world that, like a good game, moves slowly and then quickly, in this case towards cloud and other non-Microsoft-controlled platforms, open source software, Big Data, the Internet of Things and other phenomena.

The man himself was at Lords recently to talk about his life and work and provided a refreshingly frank declaration. From his discussion with table-tennis player turned sport psychology pundit Matthew Syed I have pulled out the pick of his innings, ignoring the dot balls throughout.

 

He’s written a book. The centrepiece of the talk was Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imaging a Better Future for Everyone. Beginning his interview with the equivalent of a slow delivery wide of off-stump, Syed called this “a masterpiece of a book” and “the best manifesto about scaling up a growth mind-set and getting an adaptive, winning culture”.

I can’t say I completely concur. In fact the title is a bit misleading. I would have liked to hear more about the visceral situations by which Nadella got Microsoft back on track and weaned it away from the Gates/Ballmer insistence on the invincibility of its cash cows. But then, as Bill Gates sagely notes in his introduction to the book, when you hit refresh a lot of the page might stay the same. What we get are some interesting insights, a rather mild tone (blame the ghost-writers?), and a fascinating look at Nadella’s back story.

Another quibble: the blurb promises “more literary quotations than you might expect” – not unless you expect very few literary quotations.

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