Book Notes is a periodic blog feature where COPC Inc. employees share their notes on books, particularly those of interest to professionals working within the customer experience industry.
In this edition, COPC Inc. Vice President Judi Brenstein shares her thoughts on Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone.
I originally purchased Hit Refresh because it dealt with the topic of artificial intelligence (AI), and I have an interest in how Microsoft and other technology providers are succeeding in this area. What I discovered instead was a fairly personal account by Satya Nadella, the third CEO of Microsoft, following in the footsteps of, first, Bill Gates, then Steve Ballmer.
What I found refreshing about the book was the humility with which Mr. Nadella approached the topic of his success as well as the role Microsoft plays in the world. Mr. Nadella does not make excuses for how Microsoft began to lag in its leadership after years of dominance, nor does he appear particularly concerned that the domination of any single company should be the goal. Rather, he describes a more thoughtful, humankind-centered approach to innovation. All of this resonated with me.
Another key theme throughout the book is the notion of “coopetition” which is a blending of cooperation and competition. Coopetition takes place among many of today’s tech industry giants with a common belief that marshalling resources and knowledge in key areas can help ensure that all technology created is for the common good.
The book also explores the moral imperative to create technology that doesn’t displace jobs but, rather, replaces lower-paying jobs with higher-paying jobs. As a part of this exploration, the book delves into the partnership between tech firms and government entities. One of the products of this partnership has been the introduction of re-education and apprenticeship programs. These programs aim to retrain workers to perform jobs that may not even exist today. They are available regardless of whether workers hold a high school diploma, a college degree, or anywhere in-between. Good examples of this are the many coding schools and boot camps that have sprung up around the world. I personally know of three young people who have completed coding boot camps and have gone on to obtain six-figure jobs, leap-frogging where they were in their careers before their boot camp experience.
Turning back to the topic of artificial intelligence, the book touched on the notion of teaching empathy as a component of artificial intelligence. From what I read, teaching empathy to a machine is not an easy process. This gave me a chuckle. Having been in the customer experience industry for some time, I wanted to tell the book’s author, “Empathy is not something you can teach, especially to humans. They are either empathetic people or they aren’t.” But then I’d have to give Mr. Nadella my speech about how organizations in the customer experience industry aim to deliver “empathy” by requiring actions such as using a customer’s name or saying the phrase, “I do apologize.” And yet, the customer does not perceive such behavior as empathy, and rightly so. Of course, as a customer, my first choice would be to talk with a truly empathetic person. That said, I’d take AI empathy over fake human empathy any day of the week.
To sum it all up, if you like a book that is both personal yet talks about AI, technology and empathy (including the artificial kind), I’d highly recommend this book. It’s a lot to expect from one book, but Mr. Nadella delivers. The author also includes several book recommendations, including a couple that I intend to read. So, thank you, Mr. Nadella, both for the book recommendations and for providing context to the topic of artificial intelligence while at the same time sharing AI’s human side.