Hit Refresh — Satya Nadella

reading notes

Hit Refresh employee edition was distributed to all Microsoft employees back in 2017. As cynical as “all these free books are for brainwash”, I didn’t read till a year later, and only read the first one or two chapters.

We had a company long weekend last week, so I decided to take the time off to read a book. One reason why I picked this book out of my pile of to-read books was because my dad recently went for a management learning & sharing session with Alibaba and the host recommended this book. When my dad asked me if I’d recommend this book and what is in the book, I was babbling: “Yeah, I read it. Refresh the culture to make Microsoft great again…”. Another reason was the soaring price of Microsoft stock, 2 or 3 years ago, it was just another tech stock, now it has almost 4x since 2016, so if this book has the sauce of success to turn Microsoft from a dull PC software shop to an innovative, open-“source”-minded and leading cloud provider, it worths a read.

It is surprising that I had a completely different reading experience and level of understanding this time compared with a few years ago, by when I thought all the annual vision → value statements from CEO are mostly mouthy bureaucratic words. This time, I was reinforced with the importance of mission, culture and values in an organization. In another way, when I look for a new job or interview incoming candidates for the future, I’d pay a lot of attention there.

This book could be grouped in 3 themes. The first chapter shared the stories of Satya from Hyderabad to Redmond, and his early age family philosophies. The following few chapters 2–5 are the most valuable content in my opinion about Satya’s leadership style and how he managed to refresh Microsoft’s culture. The last few chapters 6–9 are less about culture, more on the future technology direction(AI, quantum), business ethic (privacy, fairness, principles of building AI product) and stakeholder capitalism.

Interesting findings out of this book:

  • Many cultures and values in the “refreshed” Microsoft match LinkedIn’s value, that might explain why Jeff and Satya hit it off in 2016 and made the acquisition happen.
  • A lot of attention in transformation. Growth mindset and keep transforming with a purpose to serve members/customers better.
  • It’s important to create an Inclusive culture.
  • There has to be high quality agreement. Align on mission, strategy and culture, agree to disagree.
  • We are one company, not a federation of fiefdoms. Ownership is not owner of your team’s product, service, library, but acts as an owner of the company. Own a customer scenario, not the code.
  • Leadership principles: 1. Bring clarity to those you work with. 2. Leaders generate energy, in team and across company. 3. They find a way to deliver success, make things happen.
  • Openness is the best way to get things done and to ensure all parties feel terrific about the outcome.

It shares quite a few similar thoughts with “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” and my boss’s leadership philosophy.

For example:

  • Key to customer satisfaction is agility. We need to develop speed, nimbleness, and athleticism to get the consumer experience right, not just once but daily.
  • Obsessed with customers. Meeting with customers and learning from Both their articulated and unarticulated needs is key to any product innovation agenda.
  • Move fast and learn from failures. Not to infuse fear but foster the actions that fix the issue at hand and the learning from it.
  • It echoes a saying that: you should be surrounded by people you can learn from.
  • There is a big focus on partnership, doing new things with competitors that can accrue value back to one of the platforms.
  • A better world is better for business. In other words, Satya’s is believer of stakeholder capitalism.

P1 — P12

If you never have, try writing down your personal philosophy — what motivates you? What do you stand for?

Instead of thinking your work for Microsoft, think of how Microsoft can work for you.


I have come to understand that my primary job is to curate our culture so that one hundred thousand inspired minds — Microsoft’s employees — can better shape our culture.


Focus more clearly, move faster, and continue to transform our culture and business.

Reflect: why does Microsoft exist? Why do I exist in the new role? These are questions everyone in every organization should ask themselves


Do your thing, and at your pace. Pace comes when you do things. So long as you enjoy it, do it mindfully and well, and have an honest purpose behind it, life won’t fail you.


The first principle is to compete vigorously and with passion in the face of uncertainty and intimidation.

A second principle is simply the importance of putting your team first, ahead of your personal statistics and recognition.


That’s that leadership is about, it’s about bringing out the best in everyone.


The key was: agility, agility, agility.


Take jobs where you are around people you can learn from.


It’s critical that we have feedback loops from customers to engineer for all of our products and services.


We must always lean into the future.- in what we build and in what we sell.


The urgent needs to build shared context, trust and credibility with your team.


To me, meeting with customers and learning from both their articulated and unarticulated needs is key to any product innovation agenda. In my meetings with customers I would usually bring other leaders and engineers along so that we could learn together.


They key is not to have the top leaders infuse fear or panic but help foster the actions that fix the issue at hand and the learning from it.


What is the company about? Why do we exist? What makes us unique?


My approach is to lead with a sense of purpose and pride in what we do, not envy or combativeness.


I became convinced that the new CEO of Microsoft needed to do several things very well right away

  1. Communication clearly and regularly our sense of mission, world view, and business, and innovation ambitions.
  2. Drive cultural change from top to bottom, get right team at the right place.
  3. Build new and surprising partnership.
  4. Be ready to catch the next wave of innovation and platform shifts.
  5. Stand for timeless values, and restore productivity and economic growth for everyone.


It’s so important to create an environment where anybody can speak up and everyone can bring their best to work — an environment where diverse perspectives are valued and everyone has a voice.

There also has to be high quality agreement. We need everyone to view Senior Leadership Team as his or her first team, align on mission strategy and culture.


Culture is the values, customs, beliefs, and symbolic practices that mean and women live and breath everyday; how people interact with each other everyday.


Cultural renaissance

  1. We need to obsess about our customers. At core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated an unmet needs with great technology. There is no way to do that unless we absorb with deep insight an empath what they need. We learn about our customers and their business with a beginner’s mind and then bring them solutions that meet their needs.
  2. We are at our best when we actively seek diversity and inclusion. In every meeting, don’t just listen — make it possible for others to speak so that everyone’s ideas come through.
  3. We are one company, one Microsoft — not a confederation of fiefdoms. It’s not about doing what’s comfortable within our organization, it’s about getting outside that comfort zone, reaching out to do things that are most important for customers.

Own a customer scenario, not the code.


If you want to understand the culture inside a company, show up at a meeting, that includes engineers from different parts of the company. These are smart people BUT are they plugged into what customers need and want? Do they include diverse opinions and capabilities when writing code? Do they act like they’re on the same team, even if they work in different groups? Demonstrate a growth mindset, customer-centric. Diverse & inclusive. One company.


Constraints are real and will always be with us, but leaders are the champions of overcoming constraints. They make thing happen. Every org will say it differently, but for me, there are three expectations, three leadership principles — for everyone leading others:

  1. Bring clarify to those you work with.
  2. Leaders generate energy, not only on the own teams but across the company.
  3. They find a way to deliver success, to make things happen.


Over the years, we’ve developed the maturity to become more obsessed with customer needs, thereby learning to coexist and compete.


When done right, partnering grows the pie for everyone-for customers, yes, but also for each of the partners.

Partnership, particularly with competitors, have to be about strengthening a company’s core business, which ultimately centers on creating additional value for the customer. For a platform company, that means doing new things with competitors that can accrue value back to one of the platforms.


It’s the kind of thing that can happen to any great company. Success can cause people to unlearn the habits that made them successful in the first place.


I’ve found that openness is the best way to get things done and to ensure all parties feel terrific about the outcome. In a world where innovation is continuous and rapid, no ones has time to waste on unnecessary cycles of work and effort. Being straightforward with one another is the best way to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome in the fastest time possible.


I’ve used the following model to capture how I mange time: Employees. Customers. Products. Partners. Each element needs time, attention, and focus if I’m going to create the value for which I am ultimately accountable.

Creating new value with our partners for out shared customers as well as creating new value in the communities where we serve is critical.


… more focused way, in new technologies and new markets — but only if we could satisfactorily meet our three Cs — do we have an exciting concept, do we have the capabilities necessary to succeed, and a culture that welcomes these new ideas and approaches.

P 142

To avoid being trapped by the innovator’s dilemma — and to move from always focusing on the urgency of today to considering the important things for tomorrow — we decided to look at our investment strategy across 3 growth horizons:

1. Grow today’s core business and technologies.

2. incubate new ideas and products for the future.

3. invest in long-term breakthroughs.

Q: How to balance between these??

Chapter 6 is pretty much an introduction to AI and quantum computes; what is AI and how Microsoft is providing AI as a cornerstone service to empower customers to do more; how quantum compute will drive the next wave of technology breakthrough.


When you speak to customers and partners, it’s so important that you articulate not only the why and the what but the HOW.

Chapter 7 is more around how Microsoft deals with trust.

P 181

Empathy + Shared values + Safety and Reliability = Trust over time

Consistency over time is trust


Trust is more than a handshake. It’s the agreement, the bond, between users of digital services and the suppliers of those services that enables us to enjoy, be productive, learn, explore, express, create, be informed.


History shows that the tension between public safety and individual liberty is often heightened in moments of national crisis.


We do not believe that courts should seek


Alan Kay: Stop predicting what the future will be like; instead, create it in a principled way.


I have reflected on the principles and goals of AI design that we should discuss and debate as an industry and a society.

1. AI must be designed to assist humanity.

2. AI must be transparent. All of us, not just tech experts, should be aware of how the technology works and what its rules are.

3. AI must maximize efficiencies without destroying the dignity of people. It should preserve cultural commitments, empowering diversity.

4. AI must be designed for intelligent privacy.

5. AI must have algorithmic accountability.


Professor Comin agrees that differences between rich and poor nations can largely be explained by the speed at which they adopted industrial technologies. But equally important, he says, is the intensity they employ in putting new technologies to work.


A better world is better for business

hacker, lifetime learner