Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella loves lists.
The executive’s 2017 memoir, Hit Refresh, is essentially a 287-page list of lists, with a list every 22 pages of the book.
Quartz counted 13 of them—outlining Nadella’s thinking on everything from management principles to tech regulation—and they’re often more than a page long. We’ve distilled and collated these nuggets of wisdom into a more digestible format, but we’ve also learned something about Nadella’s overriding approach to communication.
In Hit Refresh, Nadella stresses clarity of vision and communication with those you work with. (That’s the first point in one of his lists, naturally.) The list is Nadella’s way of making his priorities clear and his points separate. And it’s not just in his book. His email to all Microsoft staff announcing the reorganization of the company includes two lists. Another email about the 2017 violence in Charlottesville is basically just a short list.
The list seems to be Nadella’s way of getting his most important information across in a concise way. Here are those he included in his book.
Nadella’s first list is a blueprint for all his other lists.
First, as prologue, I’ll share my own transformation moving from India to my new home in America with stops in the heartland, in Silicon Valley, and at a Microsoft then in its ascendancy. Part two focuses on hitting refresh at Microsoft as the unlikely CEO who succeeded Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Microsoft’s transformation under my leadership is not complete, but I am proud of our progress. In the third and final act, I’ll take up the argument that a Fourth Industrial Revolution lies ahead, one in which machine intelligence will rival that of humans. We’ll explore some heady questions. What will the role of humans become? Will inequality resolve or worsen? How can governments help? What is the role of multinational corporations and their leaders? How will we hit refresh as a society?
This is the first list of business or leadership principles in Hit Refresh, and the most typical of a historic Microsoft executive in its focus on competition and winning.
There are three stories from my all-too-brief cricketing past that speak very directly to business and leadership principles I use even today as a CEO.
The first principle is to compete vigorously and with passion in the face of uncertainty and intimidation.
On reflection, a second principle is simply the importance of putting your team first, ahead of your personal statistics and recognition.
There are of course many lessons and principles one can take from cricket, but for me a third is the central importance of leadership.
Nadella’s lists are rarely longer than four bullets.
Very quickly I realized we would need four essential skills to build an online, cloud-based business that would be accessed primarily from mobile phones rather than desktop computers.
First, I thought I knew a lot about distributed computing systems, but suddenly I realized I had to completely relearn these systems because of the cloud.
Second, we had to become great at consumer product design. We knew we needed great technology, but we also understood we needed a great experience, one you want to engage with time and again.
Third, we had to be great at understanding and building two-sided markets—the economics of a new online business. On one side are the consumers who go online for search results, and on the other side are the advertisers who want their businesses to be found.
Finally, we needed to be great at applied machine learning (ML). ML is a very rich form of data analytics that is foundational to artificial intelligence.
Here’s a rare double-list: First Satya asks the questions, then he gives some of the answers, both in list form.
There were two questions I was still trying to answer. The first, why are we here? Answering this question would be central to defining the company for years to come. The second question was, what do we do next?
Communicate clearly and regularly our sense of mission, worldview, and business and innovation ambitions.
Drive cultural change from top to bottom, and get the right team in the right place.
Build new and surprising partnerships in which we can grow the pie and delight customers.
Be ready to catch the next wave of innovation and platform shifts. Reframe our opportunity for a mobile- and cloud-first world, and drive our execution with urgency.
Stand for timeless values, and restore productivity and economic growth for everyone.
This list does not suggest a formula for success since even today Microsoft is still very much in the midst of change. We will not know the lasting impact of our approach for some time.
A run-of-the mill list.
That’s the essence of our mission, but our employees and our business partners, ranging from Accenture to Best Buy, Hewlett Packard to Dell, wanted to hear more. They wanted to know our business priorities. To deliver on this promise of empowerment, I said that we must galvanize all of our resources around three interconnected ambitions.
First, we must reinvent productivity and business processes. We needed to evolve beyond simply building individual productivity tools and start designing an intelligent fabric for computing based on four principles—collaboration, mobility, intelligence, and trust.
Second, we will build the intelligent cloud platform, an ambition closely linked with the first ambition. Every organization today needs new cloud-based infrastructure and applications that can convert vast amounts of data into predictive and analytical power through the use of advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI.
Third, we needed to move people from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows by creating more personal computing.
Typically Nadella’s lists on management in this book are reflective of personal goals and leadership, rather than what he wanted to do at Microsoft. This list is an exception.
The culture change I wanted was actually rooted in the Microsoft I originally joined. It was centered on exercising a growth mindset every day in three distinct ways.
First, we needed to obsess about our customers. At the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs with great technology.
Second, we are at our best when we actively seek diversity and inclusion.
Finally, we are one company, one Microsoft—not a confederation of fiefdoms.
Very simple and to the point. Who needs an MBA when they can read this list?
Companies are focused on ensuring that they stay relevant and competitive by embracing this transformation. And we want Microsoft to be their partner. To do so, there are four initiatives every company must make a priority.
The first is engaging their customer base by leveraging data to improve the customer experience.
Second, they must empower their own employees by enabling greater and more mobile productivity and collaboration in the new digital world of work.
Third, they must optimize operations, automating and simplifying business processes across sales, operations, and finance. Fourth, they must transform their products, services, and business models.
Barely a list, but we’ll still count it.
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 three growth horizons: first, grow today’s core businesses and technologies; second, incubate new ideas and products for the future; and third, invest in long-term breakthroughs.
This one sans Cricket metaphors.
Every organization will say it differently, but for me there are three expectations—three leadership principles—for anyone leading others at Microsoft.
The first is to bring clarity to those you work with.
Second, leaders generate energy, not only on their own teams but across the company.
Third, and finally, they find a way to deliver success, to make things happen.
A rare Nadella bulleted list. He seems to prefer these lists to breeze over talking points that don’t need much explanation.
That’s the same trajectory we need for AI. To get there we have to be inclusive, democratic. And so our vision is to build tools that have true artificial intelligence infused across agents, applications, services, and infrastructure:
We’re harnessing artificial intelligence to fundamentally change how people interact with agents like Cortana, which will become more and more common in our lives.
Applications like Office 365 and Dynamics 365 will have AI baked-in so that they can help us focus on things that matter the most and get more out of every moment.
We’ll make the underlying intelligence capabilities of our own services—the pattern recognition, perception, and cognitive capabilities—available to every application developer in the world.
And, lastly, we’re building the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer and making that infrastructure available to anyone.
And now that the list gets more complex, Nadella’s reverts back to paragraph-style lists.
As we search, I’d like to offer my suggestions for six ways lawmakers can shape a framework for building increased societal trust in this era of digital transformation.
First, we need a more efficient system for appropriate, carefully controlled access to data by law enforcement.
Second, we need stronger privacy protections so that the security of user data is not eroded in the name of efficiency.
Third, we need to develop a modern framework for the collection of digital evidence that respects international borders while recognizing the global nature of today’s information technology.
Fourth, we in the technology industry need to design for transparency.
Fifth, we must modernize our laws to reflect the ways in which uses of technology have evolved over time.
Sixth, we must promote trust through security.
You guessed it: three points.
At our developer conferences, I explain Microsoft’s approach to AI as based on three core principles.
First, we want to build intelligence that augments human abilities and experiences.
Second, we also have to build trust directly into our technology.
And third, all of the technology we build must be inclusive and respectful to everyone, serving humans across barriers of culture, race, nationality, economic status, age, gender, physical and mental ability, and more.
There is no topic too big for a list.
While there is no clear road map for what lies ahead, in previous industrial revolutions we’ve seen society transition, not always smoothly, through a series of phases.
First, we invent and design the technologies of transformation, which is where we are today.
Second, we retrofit for the future. We’ll be entering this phase shortly. For example, drone pilots will need training; conversion of traditional cars into autonomous vehicles will require redesign and rebuilding.
Third, we navigate distortion, dissonance, and dislocation.