5 books that inspired Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2021


On a quiet weekend afternoon, I stopped to reread the diary my late mother left to remember her and what she meant to me. Mom was a Sanskrit teacher, and among all of her reflections on her daily life and the challenges of being an academic, wife, and mother, there were observations of a more transcendent nature, on topics ranging from nuances of ancient Sanskrit drama to her reflections. on Eastern and Western philosophers.

A passage from his diary caught my attention. She invokes the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: The goal of reflection is to achieve immediacy. It seemed to me to be the core of leadership. We are living in unprecedented times. We need to learn from the past and be inspired by what is possible in the future. Yet what we need to do now is act when inaction might be easier.

These are the types of ideas that I find while reading. The following five books, which I read over the past year, shed light on my current thinking about leadership, technology, and the future.

Philosopher of the Heart: The Troubled Life of Søren Kierkegaard, Claire Carlisle

I remembered my mother’s diary while reading the biography of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle. In his book, we feel the poetry of Kierkegaard’s thought. Her writing explores the human experience, especially love and suffering. Considered the father of existentialism, Kierkegaard picks up where Socrates left off in wondering how to be a human being in the world. How do we live ethically? Carlisle observes that Kierkegaard didn’t find life linear: “We go back in memory and run forward in hope and fear and plans.

It’s an insightful way of grasping what leadership is: creating clarity, generating energy, and fostering success. These Kierkegaardian management attributes will continue to be valuable and valued.

Utopia or oblivion: the perspectives of humanity, R. Buckminster Fuller

The man remembered for his lattice shell structures, including the geodesic dome, was no philosopher, but his architectural and systemic theories were no less full of the Kierkegaardian heart. In the introduction to Fuller’s Utopia or Oblivion, his grandson remembers that even on a brief drive to the airport, “Bucky”, as he was nicknamed by his family, put every priority on the table. moment to focus on making the world work for 100% of humanity.

A few years ago, Fast business reported that Fuller’s ideas, focused on issues ranging from global conflicts to global climate change, are more important than ever. These ideas spurred a design revolution. In an accelerating world, how can economic and technological capabilities be harnessed by all, by design? Fuller writes that the physical resources of the earth can support an entire humanity that is multiplying to a higher standard of living than anyone has ever known or dreamed of.

In a world where we work to overcome constraints to solve complex problems, Fuller shows us how the science of design helps us do more with less. Published in 1969, Utopia or oblivion remains a well-argued and logical statement about our collective future.

The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values, Brian Christian

Artificial intelligence is the most important priority of technology, and I am encouraged and optimistic about how it is applied to empower people. For example, Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an app that turns the visual world into an audible experience for people who are blind or visually impaired. And tools like Immersive Reader help improve reading and writing for learners of all skill levels.

In The alignment problem, Christian offers a clear and compelling description of the promising and dangerous field of unsupervised learning within AI and machine learning. Courthouses, hospitals, and schools have relied on data-driven machine learning models to increase accuracy and predictive power, but what happens when the data, the model, or both contain biases? Machines that learn on their own are becoming increasingly autonomous and potentially unethical.

In his previous book with Tom Griffiths, Algorithms to follow, Christian is studying the computer science of human decisions. In his latest post, he writes that we want machine learning models that capture norms and values, but what norms and values? How to align the human training of machine models with moral considerations? How to ensure that ethical values ​​are rewarded and valued?

The book is organized into three parts: identifying how today’s systems conflict with our best intentions; create incentives for value-based reinforcement learning; and a research tour of the author’s favorite ideas for aligning complex autonomous systems with highly nuanced norms and values.

The storytelling here takes us from theory to practice while trying to answer one of our industry’s most pressing questions: How do we teach machines, and what should we teach them?

The difference: how the power of diversity creates better groups, businesses, schools and societies, Scott E. Page

When I became CEO of Microsoft, mission and culture were the most important pillars in building the future of our business. Our mission has become to empower every person and organization on the planet to do more. To be successful, we had to represent the world itself, which is why diversity and inclusion are a priority.

In The difference, Page moves the conversation forward by clearly defining diversity in terms of the differences in the way people see, categorize, understand and improve the world. As a leader and reader, I am on a journey of lifelong learning. The author offers us tools to achieve the best results for all. These tools include various perspectives, heuristics, interpretations and predictive models.

Known for his groundbreaking book and online course, The model thinker, Page has built a library of titles about diversity and complexity that are of vital importance to business and society.

Power of creative destruction, Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel

The authors, three French researchers in economics, argue that the socio-economic problems revealed during the global pandemic – well-being, health, inequalities and many others – will not be solved by abolishing capitalism but rather by inventing a better one. capitalism through the power of creative destruction, which they define as innovations that disrupt and uplift societies.

Their approach is hardly Pollyanna. They begin with a fascinating examination of creative destruction in economic history with a focus on how we measure nation wealth, GDP, Gini coefficients, and productivity, which the authors find useful but insufficient in. today’s world of technology and data. Instead, they write, innovation and knowledge diffusion should be at the heart of growth processes and measures. Innovation is based on incentives and protections.

From where I am sitting, it must focus on inclusive economic opportunities for everyone. We need to equip everyone with the skills, the technology and the opportunities to fill the jobs in demand of a changing economy.

Creative destruction is a constant conflict between the old and the new, the old and the insurgent. Philosophical advice, yes, but also practical. It is the daily life of our industry.


Satya Nadella is the executive chairman and CEO of Microsoft. His recommendations from previous books can be read here.


Comments are closed.