If you spend time with Satya Nadella—as I did on several occasions this year while researching our new cover story on the dramatic impact he’s had on Microsoft since being named CEO in February 2014–you quickly learn how much books matter to him. He reads them, recommends them, and turns to the lessons he’s learned from them again and again as he explains his approach to running one of the largest companies on the planet. As he put it to me: “Without books, I can’t live.”
Nadella, whose own first book, the memoir/vision for the future Hit Refresh, is being published in late September, says that he’s drawn particular inspiration from these seven works on history, economics, technology, and management strategy:
The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi: “My father recommended this book long ago,” says Nadella of the 1944 classic by a Hungarian-American writer who chronicles the development of England’s market economy and argues that society should drive economic change.
Deep Learning, Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio, and Aaron Courville: Elon Musk and Facebook AI chief Yann LeCun have praised this textbook on one of software’s most promising frontiers. After its publication, Microsoft signed up coauthor Bengio, a pioneer in machine learning, as an adviser.
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown: Nadella calls this tale with a local Seattle connection—it involves an underdog University of Washington crew team and the 1936 Berlin Olympics—”A wonderful illustration of the importance of teamwork, which was a core part of my focus out of the gate as CEO.”
The Great Convergence, Richard Baldwin: In this look at how telepresence and telerobotics will increasingly let people cross international borders from the comfort of their own homes, Nadella sees analogies to Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, especially as the technology matures and its cost comes down.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck:
Written by a Stanford psychology professor, this book offers advice on retaining an appreciation for the things you don’t yet know and first resonated with Nadella as a father. As Microsoft’s new CEO, he aspired to steer the company toward “a culture that allowed us to constantly refresh and renew,” and incorporated Dweck’s perspective into his blueprint for change. “Now three years into it, I recognize its power a lot more than I did,” he says.
Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg:
Upon becoming CEO, Nadella confronted Microsoft’s legendarily combative culture by urging his new reports to read this book, which preaches the power of empathy, self-awareness, and authenticity in collaboration in the workplace, at home, and beyond. Like many of his favorites, it was first recommended to him by his wife, Anu: “I’m heavily influenced by the books she reads more than the books I read.”
The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Robert J. Gordon: Covering everything from the combustion engine to the flush toilet—and judging recent breakthroughs with a skeptical eye—this work of economic history “concludes that innovation is the ultimate source of dramatic improvements in the human condition,” says Nadella.