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Over the past 25 years, from being written off every five years by tech gurus to facing enormous challenges on the home-front, Microsoft has been through a lot of upheavals. Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella, who is in India promoting his book ‘Hit Refresh’, speaks to Karan Choudhury about how his company is working towards the next generation of technology. “It is not all about binary codes and algorithms,” Nadella says, adding the ‘E’ in his designation stands for empathy, a core part of the company’s work culture. Your and Elon Musk’s stand on artificial intelligence (AI) is quite different. What are the real-life examples of the real-life usage of AI? It is best to be clear-eyed about both the opportunities and the challenges. I do not take what Musk says lightly but at the same time, I feel that if we overstate the challenges, we will not be able to grab the opportunity. You have talked about empathy being part of the core DNA of any company. How does it work? How is it different from what Steve Jobs had once said: Customers do not know what they want? It is not possible to switch on empathy overnight. It has to be part of your DNA. Our job is to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers. That’s where innovation comes from. There’s no way we can innovate without having a deeper sense of empathy. I have this simple metric while recruiting: If the candidate thinks he is cool, Microsoft is not the place for him. He has to have the urge to make others cool. It’s critical to dig deep, identify your unique emotional connection with the product or service, and share your passion with others. Microsoft connects personal passion to a broader purpose. Ultimately, even Microsoft’s business model is dependent on others achieving success with our products. You have praised Aadhaar in your book. However, there are concerns in India. I am not an expert on all the challenges but any digital system of identity that can help in solving or bringing down transaction cost or improve it — whether it is bank credit or help outcomes – is welcome. India as a society can go from being infrastructure poor to infrastructure rich, from a digital technology perspective.
However, privacy concerns are important and we have to strike a balance.How would you describe the journey of Microsoft compared to competition? If you take Microsoft, we are in existence for 43 years. I have been associated with the company for 25 years now and every five years, we face an existential threat. But we are still here. That means we are doing something right to stay at that level, to continue to question status quo. But I must say it has been hard, not easy. You have referred to Microsoft as a ‘tool company’. How do you keep such a model relevant? We are a tool company that creates technology so that others can create more technology. It’s thus important for companies to think about the surplus we create around us. Until we measure ourselves with the outcomes outside of our own balance sheet, there’s no long-term success in business. That’s what we do every day at Microsoft. What’s your leadership mantra — the key to your success? The leadership values I learnt while playing cricket in India helped me compete vigorously in the face of uncertainty — putting the team first and bringing out the best in everybody. I liked Saurav Ganguly’s style of leadership. Your individual abilities are important, but the ability to bring out the best in others is more important. The best thing about Indian cricket over the past few years has been democratisation of the process. You don’t have to be a Nawab or a Nawab’s cousin to find a place in the national team. How do you see the future of technology going forward? There are three key technologies that will lead to massive shifts in the economy and society —mixed reality, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. These currently independent threads will ultimately converge in the future in which quantum computing will make artificial intelligence more intelligent and mixed reality an even more immersive experience.