Satya Nadella says Microsoft embraces failure

Speaking to Business Insider about Microsoft’s company culture and their approach to technology development, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that it was important to push boundaries, and accept that at times this can inevitably lead to failure.

If you are going to have a risk-taking culture, you can’t really look at every failure as a failure, you’ve got to be able to look at the failure as a learning opportunity.

He noted that this was part of the process of innovation.

Some people can call it rapid experimentation, but more importantly, we call it “hypothesis testing.” Instead of saying “I have an idea,” what if you said “I have a new hypothesis, let’s go test it, see if it’s valid, ask how quickly can we validate it.” And if it’s not valid, move on to the next one.

There’s no harm in claiming failure, if the hypothesis doesn’t work. To me being able to come up with the new ways of doing things, new ways of framing what is a failure and what is a success, how does one achieve success — it’s through a series of failures, a series of hypothesis testing. That’s in some sense the real pursuit.

Many of our readers will, of course, have the first-hand experience of Microsoft moving on from failure in the mobile phone market, and it is telling that smartphones are pointedly missing from Nadella’s vision of “the next big thing”:

What we are excited about is this new category of personal computing. Today we think that the form factor used by us most is the mobile device. It’s the case today, so was the PC for a long time. The question is: What happens next? What are the new categories?

We were excited to create the 2-in-1 category, which is the fastest-growing amongst PCs. We are very excited about Surface Studio and what it means to reimagine what the desktop computer is. We are also very excited about Surface Hub as a computer for meeting rooms, of course also about HoloLens and the whole mixed-reality world. So for me the new forms of computing is what we want to build for consumers. But it is important that, instead of thinking that each one of these works as an independent computer, we think they have to form a fabric of devices for you.

It’s about your mobility, your ability to get work done as an individual or as a team, when you have lots and lots of screens and computers around you. So when we talk about Windows 10, it’s not about a device operating system anymore, it’s an operating system for all of your devices. That’s how we’re trying to not only tackle the innovative challenge of bringing new things to life, but also deal with the social complexity of a lot of devices in your life.

We have expressed concern in the past that Microsoft is resting on its laurels when it comes to their HoloLens technology, but Nadella said that despite the need to push boundaries, it was important not to get too far ahead of the market.

It’s not about the next day, the next quarter, next year. It’s one of the fundamental challenges of leadership and you got to get it right: you can’t be too far ahead, you can’t be too far behind. To be able to yet see those corners is all it is about.

Microsoft has had to learn this delicate balance via hard experience, with Xbox One a recent example of Microsoft misjudging the readiness of the market for a disk-less future.

Given that Nadella has in this interview expressed willingness to test ideas in the market and move on rapidly when they fail, are our readers willing to be part of Microsoft’s next experiment? Let us know below.

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