3 Books That Influenced Satya Nadella

I just finished reading Satya Nadella’s HIT REFRESH- a book that covers his journey as a Microsoft employee, how he is building a new Microsoft and a then a peep into the future of technology, all in equal measure. It definitely is a recommended read. Being pathologically addicted to nonfiction books, I personally found it interesting that Nadella talks about at least 18 books that he was influenced by, as part of the narrative of HIT REFRESH. Let’s go through some of these books:


1. Young Men & Fire by Norman Maclean (4 hours 15 min to read): An extremely detailed account of the fire tragedy at Mann Gulch, that happened on 5th August 1949. The US Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, called The Smoke Jumpers, put together a crack team of 15 firefighters to control a forest fire. These Smoke Jumpers parachuted into the fire zone and only three of them survived the exercise after a 2 hours struggle with the fire. Nadella briefly mentions this epic book in context of how one of the three firefighters survived. Fireman Wagner Dodge survived by building an escape fire. Dodge survived this devastating fire by literally lighting his own fire within the larger one that he was engulfed in, and then hid within the ashes and embers of this escape fire within the larger fire. Could the other firemen have survived if they followed what Dodge did? Why did they not follow Dodge when they were all facing death? Nadella believes that Dodge did not build trust within the team. Because his team did not trust him, Dodge could not convince his team members to build their own escape fire, and they perished in the fire.

For Nadella, the counterintuitive escape fire equivalent in Microsoft was to shift the organisation from the servers business that brought most of the revenue, to focus on the cloud business that had negligible revenue. Like Dodge, he knew he had the right knowledge to save people (Microsoft) but unlike Dodge, Nadella wanted to ensure that Microsoft employees understood the context of the need to switch to cloud, and trusted their leader.



2. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough ( 4 hours 45 min to read, coming soon on bookbhook): In context of the role of Artificial Intelligence in our future, Satya Nadella talks about David McCullough’s extremely popular book- The Wright Brothers. David McCullough recounts the journey of the unschooled brothers from Dayton, Ohio, who worked as bicycle mechanics but nurtured a passion to get a machine flying and kept tinkering in their bicycle repair shop. Samuel Langley, also aiming for getting man to fly in a machine, unlike the Wright brothers, had funding from the richest men of the time, as well as the US army. Langley’s aerodrome could not complete its maiden flight attempt. The world assumed mechanical flight to be an impossible dream, given the resources that Langley had deployed behind his failed mission. The bicycle mechanic brothers, however, continued working on their dream and on December 17, 1903, a 12 seconds flight became an important milestone in history. The Wright brothers had achieved what Samuel Langley could not.

In Nadella’s HIT REFRESH, The Wright Brothers book is mentioned in context of the tough journey that Wilbur Wright undertook to get man flying, using a machine. If today, Nadella argues, we do not call a flight an ‘artificial flight’, will Artificial Intelligence soon get so deeply embedded in our lives that we will call it just ‘Intelligence’ ’?




3. Mindset by Carol Dweck (3 hours 50 min to read, available on bookbhook): In context of coping with learning differences of one of their daughters, Nadella’s wife gave him a copy of this book. Mindset unravels the secrets to the new psychology of success.This book is about discovering that one belief about yourself that defines your personality. Carol Dweck details out the role of growth mindset in lives of sports champions, business leaders, parents, teachers and coaches. In context of business leaders, the book highlights Lou Gerstner & Jack Welch as leaders with growth mindset, while Kenneth Lay & Jeff Skilling are described as talented leaders, but working with a fixed mindset.

In context of HIT REFRESH, Nadella quotes from the Mindset book about “CEO Disease”- a disease where business leaders fail to build a growth mindset. In fact, Nadella has gone on record saying this book provided him with the ‘intuition’ he needed to revamp Microsoft.




Apart from these three books, I found another 15 books that Nadella talks about in HIT REFRESH. Some of these include The Soul of a New Machine, Superintelligence, and The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Clearly, Satya Nadella believes in reading and renewing himself.

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