Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “Know where the world is going. You have to bet right, long before it’s conventional”

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Satya Nadella has been CEO of Microsoft since February 2014. Prior to that, he held leadership roles across Microsoft and at Sun Microsystems. He holds a Masters in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from Booth. Nadella has been named among the best CEOs of US companies, and has been credited for revitalizing the company in the last five years.

According to Statista, the company’s stock price has tripled under Nadella’s leadership.

Infographic: Microsoft's Share Price Tripled Under Satya Nadella | Statista

Last week, Nadella spoke at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas. He was interviewed on stage by Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

Empathy at the core of all innovation

Innovation means meeting unmet, unarticulated needs — and this comes from having a deep sense of empathy.

What’s a prime example of this empathetic innovation in action?

The adaptive controller for video games, made by Microsoft-owned Xbox 

This adaptive controller came about from a group of people on Microsoft’s Xbox team who got close to a community of gamers. “It wasn’t even a sanctioned product. It was just people who made it at a hackathon.”

“You have to get a lot of things right. Know where the world is going. You have to bet right, long before it’s conventional.”

Culture and sense of purpose

In the 90’s, Microsoft’s mission was to get a PC in every home, on every desk.

“And we more or less did that, at least in the developed world. So then we wondered, “what else?”

Now, they’re moving from “know it all’s” to “learn it all’s.” Honing in on the importance of intellectual curiosity.

What does business transformation look like at Microsoft?

  1. First, you need to have a first class worldview of where the world is going.
  2. Second, you need to adjust to the harsh reality of business model shifts.
  3. Third, you need to be able to get those two things right long before people and conventional wisdom tell you to get there.

The Open Data Initiative (ODI)

“The most important asset everyone in this room has is data.”

In the fall of 2018, Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP together announced a partnership to unlock and enrich customers’ data.

Basically, for businesses who happen to use two or more of those enterprise software platforms, they would be able to connect their own data across the platforms.

So not openly sharing private information, rather “democratizing” access to data that companies already have.

Unilever, for example, is already using and benefiting from the ODI initiative.

“When your data is not locked up, you can think about your sustainability from supply chain to customer experience. That’s where the next step is.”

Nadella tweeted last week about the ODI.

What does Microsoft’s CEO have top of mind for next tech trends?

  1. More computing not less. “We want to be able to stream Xbox games on a 5g network.” 
  2. Breakthroughs in language. “Not just in perception, but in core language models. It’s stunning.”

He gave the example of their product, HoloLens. (HoloLens 2 was introduced in late February 2019, which you can view in this product intro.)

When it comes to computing for language, first we had innovation in text and speech.

Then we had gestures and gazes.

But now we’re seeing breakthroughs around instincts, and how those can inform instinctual user experiences — how people want to interact.

What message would he give to summit attendees? 

“One of the hardest things to do is predict what consumers will want in the future. Their expectations of what you create will keep changing. So you need to ask, “how do we build the long term systems?” 

Or another way he phrased this was, “How quickly are people rewarded for disproving their hypotheses? That’s as much culture as it is systems.”

You need to build an environment where you can rapidly experiment.

“And increasingly,” he said, “the CIO and CMO are working together to make that happen.”





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