Richard didn’t give me an engineering problem to solve on the whiteboard or a complex coding scenario to talk through. He didn’t grill me on my prior experiences or educational degree. He had one simple question.
“Imagine you see a baby laying in the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?” he asked.
“You call 911,” I replied without much forethought.
Richard walked me out of his office, put his arm around me, and said, “You need some empathy, man. If a baby is laying on a street crying, pick up the baby.”
From “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone” (HarperCollins, 2017, Page 7), by Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s third CEO, had an interesting problem when taking on the job: “Now what?” He had this problem because Microsoft’s mission as defined by Bill Gates and Paul Allen was to place a computer in every household, which was a pipe dream back when Microsoft was founded in 1975, and Microsoft and others pretty much fulfilled that mission by the time Satya became CEO in 2014. His book, “Hit Refresh”, gives readers insight into his desire to evolve Microsoft into a humbler, more empathic company.
Satya introduces this desire early on in his book, talking about his first interactions with empathy at Microsoft while interviewing with Richard Tait, and discussing in depth his son Zain, who suffered from utero asphyxiation and resultant cerebral palsy and needs constant care. By doing so, Satya conveys that empathy isn’t just a professional trait, but a highly personal one as well.
Microsoft isn’t a historically empathic company, as Satya diplomatically points out. Arrogance cost the company greatly in the 2000s, as the company suffered from antitrust suits and missed the boat on mobile in spectacular fashion. Satya moved to change that attitude by breaking down organizational barriers within Microsoft and bringing customers closer to senior leadership. By understanding customers and each other, Microsoft continues to build trust and confidence in its products, as customers increasingly believe that their recommendations and desires are heard and acted on, and employees believe that they work for each other, even across different organizations.
This book is a good starter on Microsoft’s new culture and the mindset of its CEO.