Under new leadership, Microsoft is on a roll. Its stock has crushed that of other tech giants and the market. Microsoft’s late-start catch-up to Amazon in cloud services is remarkable.
Curious to know how CEO Satya Nadella has steered Microsoft from its recent near total reliance on Windows and Office to its new focus on mobility and the cloud, some Forbes colleagues and I sat down with him for nearly an hour in late June. The conversation was off the record, but Nadella did drop an intriguing nugget. He said that he subscribed to Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s mindset theories.
In 2006, Dweck wrote a book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine Books). She laid out a simple yet powerful idea: People with a fixed mindset stop improving, despite their talents; those with a growth mindset keep evolving. With its relentless focus on Windows and Office, coupled with its strong bias for having the highest-IQ employees, Microsoft created a fixed mindset about what kind of company it was and what its employees could achieve.
In her book, Dweck offers former tennis pro John McEnroe as an example of a talented person with a fixed mindset. McEnroe was highly gifted but hated to practice. He also hated the strength and flexibility training embraced by current stars like Roger Federer that might have extended his career. For McEnroe it was all about his talent. His identity was his talent. When someone of lesser talent beat him, McEnroe would explode in rage or find ways of blaming others, with officials often taking the brunt.
Growth, writes Dweck, is about curiosity, experimentation, hard work and learning. Repeat the cycle. Repeat again. Never stop repeating the cycle, or you’ll stop growing. Now that you know Microsoft’s Nadella is a big fan of Mindset, you might want to read it again.
Two recent books to also take along on your vacation: Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (Portfolio) and Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight (Scribner).
Ego Is the Enemy packs personal performance tips, insight and wisdom into a small book. Even more remarkable is the author. Holiday, 29, is a college dropout who became a Hollywood rock music agent and, by his early 20s, director of marketing for American Apparel. After burning out, Holiday became a writer, working at the corner of history, philosophy and human potential.
Holiday is a fan of Spartan stoicism, which is the spirit of Ego Is the Enemy. Like Dweck, Holiday offers a clear path to success and performance improvement: Make your life about your work, not about yourself. Don’t let your ego overrate your capabilities or blind you to criticism. In the same way Dweck lays into John McEnroe, Holiday lays into Howard Hughes, whose ballooning self-regard became detached from the necessity of hard work and honest assessment. The damage was done well before Hughes went insane.
Knight’s Shoe Dog is the best memoir I recall ever reading. As a business biography it ranks with such recent works as Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney and Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. But as a personal memoir, Shoe Dog reaches a depth of emotional honesty that even the best biographies haven’t touched.
Knight ran track at the University of Oregon. At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business he wrote a paper on how the Japanese might get into the US sporting goods market. After a stint in the US Army, Knight travelled to Japan and became a US distributor for Onitsuka Tiger (or Asics, as the shoe is known today). That was in 1962, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Knight started to make his own shoes under the Nike brand. Despite a growth rate that doubled annually, Nike was perpetually cash short, until its IPO in December 1980 (by coincidence, the same month that Apple IPOed). In Shoe Dog, Knight takes readers on the roller coaster of Nike’s big successes, gutting failures and near extinction.
These are my reading suggestions for your August vacation.
Rich Karlgaard is the publisher at Forbes