hit refresh

cover of hit refresh by satya nadella

I’m fascinated by Satya Nadella and his transformation of Microsoft. While there were moments where his personality came through, this is mostly a bland piece of corporate hagiography, and you should look elsewhere for insights into that work.

The first part of the book is the most valuable. It’s a first person account of Nadella’s upbringing, education, and entry into the tech field. It captured how much pride he has in being both his father’s son and his mother’s son, as well as his clear love for his wife and family and his love for the cosmopolitan and ambitious India he grew up in. 

The next part is about his rise to CEO, and the undoing work he accomplished to change the corporate culture at Microsoft. There are a lot of corporate credits (our great work growing our cloud business was accomplished by such visionary leaders as blah blah blah) and a lot of telling but not showing (over the course of several meetings, we reached a consensus about how to move forward…). 

As with all transformational stories, details matter. If you zoom out far enough, all transformational narratives are the same: I was doing it one way, I wanted to change, I finally let go of what was holding me back from change, I tried a different way, and that turned out way better.

There’s not much more than that here. There are references to Microsoft losing its way and employee unhappiness, but a reluctance to call out specific mistakes. There is almost no specificity about the personnel changes that he made to signal that more changes were coming down the line. There is a little more detail about Nadella’s “new way,” including: moving away from the mindset of corporate friends and enemies and toward thinking about all other corporations as potential partnerships, breaking down the inefficient communication and empty status symbols of 20th century blue-chip corporate hierarchy, and stoking a real hunger for learning about use cases and developing sales channel for every sector of the market. 

If there’s any value in this book, it’s in this section.

The final section is Nadella’s prognostication of the future. It seems completely ghostwritten and is structured around Nadella visiting various Microsoft R&D initiatives and marveling with wet eyes about what he finds. Skip it. Skip the whole book*.

*I am aware that most people probably never even considered reading the book, that a book by a major corporate CEO was guaranteed to be bland and impersonal. What can I say? I’m an optimist.    

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