Four years ago Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft. Under his leadership, the value of the company has tripled. Some think it could be the first company worth a trillion dollars. The story of the culture and strategy refresh is told in a new book titled Hit Refresh. Satya’s co-authors were Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols. Both worked with the last three CEOs at Microsoft and have a great perspective on the ups and downs of the company.
In a recent conversation (listen to the podcast), Greg and Jill discuss the importance of the cultural refresh at Microsoft–one inspired by Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset. Like Angela Duckworth at Penn, Dweck discovered that human capability is not fixed at birth but malleable based on effort.
With this key insight, Nadella made lifelong learning a priority at Microsoft–it’s even highlighted on employee badges.The focus shifted from “Know it all to learn it all.”
Nadella puts out a video every month on what he’s learned. “He’s very thoughtful about how he reinforces key cultural elements,” said Jill.
In the new Microsoft culture, they talk about meeting the unmet, often unarticulated, needs of customers. Greg insists that this goes beyond just listening and involves a lot of active empathy.
When Nadella took over, Microsoft had big high margin business, but the world was shifting and a tech shift is easier than a business model shift. The company had framed success around particular products but Satya realized that going forward success would not be made by moving from hit to hit to hit, it would be about the batting average–and that’s a function of learning and culture.
Inspired in part by his special needs son, Nadella made accessibility a product priority. A set of integrated tools in Office 365, OneNote, and the Edge browser make it easy for struggling readers and their teachers to adjust size, spacing, and colors, to add voice and auto-scrolling with a ruler. Last month they added a visual dictionary.
Like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Satya is a technology optimist, he thinks it can boost productivity, increase inclusion, and solve problems.
But technology is also going to produce massive displacements. “That’s the big question facing mankind right now,” said Greg. “We’re transitioning to new industrial age, the next big transition is data everywhere where cognitive services and robots will do things faster and better than some humans.”
Hit Refresh is optimistic about ways that tech will augment humans, grow the number of mid-tech jobs, and lead to social surplus.
The Writing Backstory
Greg Shaw (@gregorymshaw) grew up a reader in rural Oklahoma, “Reading was my constant companion.” He started writing for his high school newspaper. His idol was Lou Grant, the tough news editor on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Greg would type out the first few dozen words from the regional newspaper to imprint the practices of good writers.
He graduated from Broken Arrow High and studied journalism at Northeastern State. Son of a wheat farmer in cotton country, Greg was the first in his family to graduate from college.
He edited the Cherokee newspaper before serving as a speechwriter in the Reagan administration. Greg managed public relations at Microsoft in the 90s. We worked together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the 2000s where he led local grantmaking and helped shape the foundation’s early childhood initiative.
Greg and I worked on Bill Gates’ speech to the February 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools. That speech helped me appreciate Bill’s advocacy platform. “Bill learned through his speeches, they were always an exercise in learning the content. He had a great sense of what he wanted to communicate and how to use his platform,” said Shaw.
Jill Tracie Nichols (@JillTracie) grew up in New Jersey. When bothered by a roller rink incident, Jill’s mother urged her to write a letter to the owner. It taught her that carefully expressed opinion mattered. After attending tiny Houghton College she worked in HR and change management in telecom and tech before leading communications for Steve Ballmer. After a quick four day transition, Jill became Satya Nadella’s chief of staff.
Initially disappointed in Ballmer’s retirement, Jill recalled that Steve said if he didn’t change, the company never would. (She’s on his left elbow in the featured image.)
“A lot goes into good writing that’s not writing,” said Greg. Of the research process, he said the key is “being as open and inquisitive as you can be, going as deep as you can within a deadline, and organizing and adding structure what you’ve learned.”
“Writing is hard,” said Shaw, “but the thing in which I take my greatest pleasure. I hate puzzles, but get pleasure out of writing in the same way that some people love problem solving.”
Jill took early inspiration from the Annie Dillard classic The Writing Life where Dillard urged, “Write as if you were dying,” and “assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients.”
Greg writes alone devoting four to six hours a day, seven days a week. Jill is happiest collaborating, brainstorming and bouncing ideas off collaborators. With different styles, it’s important to be clear about who’s got what role.
On editing, Jill said the key is to make sure every paragraph counts by asking, “What are we trying to achieve with this passage?”
On learning to write, Greg appreciates watching his own kids. “My daughter had a teacher that encouraged brave writing, she said don’t let rules and structures get in the way, go for it. Don’t second guess, pour it out and let it go, then go back and refine and edit.” Shaw added, “Everyone is a writer, everyone is an author.”
Echoing Annie Dillard, Jill said, “Don’t let facts get in the way of the truth, start and let it fly, get characters on the page, find out where can this go.” She finds that honest journaling is a great way to bring more voice into nonfiction writing.
You can find Jill at the Tracie Group. Learn more about Greg at Clyde Hill Publishing.
- Total Impact Leadership in Business and Education
- Getting Smart Podcast | Why Growth Mindset Matters
- How to Build a Growth Mindset into School Culture
This post was originally published on Forbes.
Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.