FF Insights #571: Satya Nadella on empathy

January 19, 2022: Indian cricket’s Kohli era; The beginner’s mind; The pandemic paradox

Founding Fuel

[From Pixabay]

Good morning,

In Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, a book that details how Satya Nadella transformed the hard engineering culture of Microsoft, making it more empathetic, Nadella shares this fascinating story from his younger years, when he had just applied to Microsoft.

“Looking back to my own interview process decades ago, I remember that after a full day of interviews with various engineering leaders who tested my fortitude and my intellectual chops, I met Richard Tait—an up-and-coming manager who went on to found Cranium games. 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 pedigree. 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.’

“Somehow, I got the job anyway, but Richard’s words have remained with me to this day.”

While these words might have remained with Nadella, what led to his own transformation was something far more personal—the birth of his son Zain who had to battle severe cerebral palsy. It's a deeply moving and inspiring story.

In this issue

  • Indian cricket’s Kohli era
  • The beginner’s mind
  • The pandemic paradox

Indian cricket’s Kohli era

In ESPN, Karthik Krishnaswamy reflects on the captaincy of Virat Kohli, his energy, aggression,  willingness to take risks, his big decisions, and his becoming, in some ways, a metaphor for our era. Towards the end, he writes, 

“The aura around Kohli's captaincy, in truth, was much larger than the actual scope of his role, and this was simply a reflection of how aggressively personality-driven cricket's marketing and packaging has become. Even Sachin Tendulkar didn't have a dedicated camera following his every movement to ensure that the producer could bring you every pump of his fist and every raise of his eyebrow. And as the camera sought Kohli out, Kohli played up to it, a symbiotic relationship that filled our screens with frenzied send-offs, fingers on lips to quieten the opposition's fans, and hands cupped around ears to raise the volume of India's fans.

“This, of course, is who Kohli is, even if it's a hyperreal version of him. Even if that on-field personality's contribution to India's results was negligible, it's the part of his captaincy that will be remembered most fondly—or, if you fall on that side of the divide, with the most distaste.”

Dig deeper

The beginner’s mind

One of the more interesting things we have read recently is the transcript of a keynote speech delivered by Dean Williams of Batterymarch Financial Management at the Financial Analysts Federation Seminar in August 1981. Santosh Nair, Executive Editor of CNBC-TV18, pointed us to this one.

Williams begins by telling the audience that “We probably are trying too hard at what we do. More than that, no matter how hard we try, we may not be as important to the results as we’d like to think we are.”

He goes on to talk about his learnings over the years and explains why simplicity matters over all else. 

“‘Beginner’s Mind’ is a Zen concept which says that, ‘It is not difficult to attain enlightenment, but it is difficult to keep a beginner’s mind. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert mind there are few.’ When we think about all that has been said over the years by experts and accepted by other experts, only to be proven wrong by events, beginner’s mind seems too important to be left to beginners.

“The reason for dwelling on the virtue of simple investment approaches is that complicated ones, which can’t be explained simply, may be disguising a more basic defect. They may not make any sense. Mastery often expresses itself in simplicity. Werner Heisenberg, the physicist we met when we were talking about nonsense, said, ‘Even for the physicist, the description in plain language will be a criterion of the degree of understanding that has been reached.’”

Read the full transcript

The pandemic paradox

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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