About two years ago I set out to tell the story of Microsoft’s quest to rediscover its soul and imagine a better future for everyone. Today, the first copies of the book arrived — neatly boxed and orderly. I laughed to myself because the process to get to this perfectly packed box was messy at times, and the story itself was not always orderly. In fact, that was half the fun, and it’s why I wanted to write about it in the midst of experiencing it.
Here’s how I describe the impetus for “Hit Refresh”:
“The most compelling argument was to write for my colleagues—Microsoft’s employees—and for our millions of customers and partners. After all, on that cold February day in 2014 when Microsoft’s board of directors announced that I would become CEO, I put the company’s culture at the top of our agenda. I said that we needed to rediscover the soul of Microsoft, our reason for being. I have come to understand that my primary job is to curate our culture so that one hundred thousand inspired minds—Microsoft’s employees—can better shape our future. Books are so often written by leaders looking back on their tenures, not while they’re in the fog of war. What if we could share the journey together, the meditations of a sitting CEO in the midst of a massive transformation?”
“Hit Refresh” isn’t a victory lap or a how-to manual. That would be premature. It’s a set of reflections, ideas and principles on transformation. It explores the renaissance of a storied company and the implications of the coming wave of technology — artificial intelligence, mixed reality and quantum computing — which will soon disrupt the status quo impacting our lives, communities and economies. It’s also a set of questions for anybody searching for improvement — for themselves as leaders, for their institutions and for society.
In December 2015, on a cold, drizzly day in Redmond, Washington, my co-authors and I gathered in my office for one of our working sessions. We had sketched out some ideas over the previous months, and now it was time to get serious. We sat around a coffee table piled with books, articles, transcripts and the like. In this early meeting, we made two decisions that shaped the project.
The first, a title. When you “hit refresh” in your web browser by clicking the little arrow, or hitting “function+F5,” it updates. It doesn’t wipe everything away and start new, as Bill Gates writes in his Foreword for the book — it actually keeps some things and replaces others. Hitting refresh is required for any person and organization looking to make a sustained impact over a long period of time from athletes, leaders and artists to cities, corporations and societies. Some people and organizations have one major hit refresh moment and others hit refresh often. We believed hit refresh was the perfect metaphor for all three storylines of the book — my personal journey so far, the company’s ongoing transformation, and the coming wave of technological and economic change.
Secondly, we arrived at the answer to an important question I had been mulling over — what do we hope a reader will take away from all of this at the end? The answer: the power of taking everyday action driven by empathy. My hope is that “Hit Refresh” inspires people to discover more empathy in their own lives. It’s a quality my wife, Anu, helped me begin to learn when our son was born with severe disabilities 21 years ago. It’s a quality that shapes our mission of empowerment at Microsoft and our quest to meet unmet and unarticulated needs of customers. And it’s the quality that helps us as a society move forward in creating new opportunity for all.
It’s been an incredible learning opportunity to work on this project. My hope is that it’ll start important conversations and spark new ideas, and that others will share their own hit refresh moments.