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Satya Nadella’s focus on growth mindset explored in "Hit Refresh"

  • Posted on November 24, 2017
  • Estimated reading time 3 mins minutes
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Ostensibly, Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh is not a book for casual readers, designed instead to be consumed by those in the Microsoft ecosystem, its employees, partners and customers. And while much of the book could be construed as Microsoft marketing, a deeper reading reveals surprising insights into a business management and leadership style that is a reflection of Nadella’s own worldview.

Satya Nadella has been an advocate of the growth mindset for a while, often referencing the work of Carol Dweck and her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has long been writing about what a growth mindset is and how individuals and companies can benefit. In her terminology, a “fixed mindset” applies to those who view talent as a given quality, something they either have or lack, whereas a “growth mindset” refers to those who enjoy challenges, seek to learn, and always see potential to develop new skills. She even wrote about the work Nadella was doing at Microsoft a year before Hit Refresh was published.

Reading how Nadella adapted and effectively implemented these research-oriented data-driven insights is fascinating. Especially when we remember that Microsoft had a different reputation in its recent past.

Nadella mentions the famous org chart comic that happened on the Internet in June of 2011, showing Microsoft as warring groups pointing guns at each other. He remarks, “The humorist’s message was impossible to ignore. As a twenty-four-year veteran of Microsoft, a consummate insider, the caricature really bothered me. But what upset me more was that our own people just accepted it.”

This desire for positive change and acknowledgement of mistakes is repeated throughout the book. One of the tenants of a Growth Mindset is to view failure not as a negative outcome, but rather an opportunity to learning.

An example of this was his response to the Grace Hopper debacle. In October of 2014, he was speaking at the world’s largest gathering of women technologists when a question was posed regarding women seeking raises who are not comfortable asking. His response was, it’s not about asking for a raise but rather trusting the system will give the right raises.

In the book he says, “if you want to see what flapping around looks like, do a search for me and karma.” Adding that the social media criticism was “deserved and biting,” he explains all the ways he was wrong and everything he learned and has done since. He owned his mistake in an internal email to Microsoft employees where he encourages them to watch the video and says, “I answered that completely wrong.”

This is not just an example of a Growth Mindset but also of empathy, the unique human quality he considers invaluable. For Nadella, empathy was a quality learned through a life of self-discovery and has allowed him to make successful pivots to Microsoft.

Much of the book discusses these pivots with interesting detail and anecdotes including the acquisitions of Minecraft, LinkedIn and new partnerships with Google, Apple, Linux and Salesforce. Hit Refresh was written during Nadella’s time as CEO, an interesting choice as it allows him to also speculate on the future. Nadella tackles the big social and political questions that face technology: What is the responsibility of global companies in society? Can technology restore economic growth for everyone? Big picture questions that don’t have easy answers.

He’s very open on missed opportunities and the challenges of pursuing multiple trends simultaneously. As CEO, he says he will continue to invest in new technologies and new markets, but only if they meet “our three C’s - do we have an exciting concept, do we have the capabilities necessary to succeed, and a culture that welcomes these new ideas and approaches.” In this context, he explains the three frontiers of innovation that Microsoft is focused on: mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing, and how quantum computing will power more immersive MR and more intelligent AI.

Throughout, Nadella’s confidence that empathy and continuous learning are a platform for innovation and success comes through. It’s his optimism that makes the book’s subtitle, “The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone” feel honest and not just marketing. 

You can order a copy of Hit Refresh on Amazon.com.

Nitin Shukla

Interesting viewpoint.

January 6, 2018

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