Analysis of Satya Nadella’s first email: delayed-but still-here it is.


From: Satya Nadella
To: All Employees
Date: Feb. 4, 2014

Subject: RE: Satya Nadella – Microsoft’s New CEO (His note is  part of an email chain that probably announced him taking over- desire to put things in context- I am  writing this letter- because I’ve been appointed CEO- that’s the logic)

Today is a very humbling day for me. It reminds me of my very first day at Microsoft, 22 years ago. Like you, I had a choice about where to come to work. I came here because I believed Microsoft was the best company in the world. I saw then how clearly we empower people to do magical things with our creations and ultimately make the world a better place.  (departure from logic, he could be signalling here by using words like magic- that the logical approach that  got him till here, wont get him much farther-he is ready for a more imaginative approach)

I knew there was no better company to join if I wanted to make a difference. This is the very same inspiration that continues to drive me today.( at the core this is a  promise to employees- that if you continue at Microsoft, good things will happen to you and those whose lives you touch)

It is an incredible honor for me to lead and serve this great company of ours. Steve and Bill have taken it from an idea to one of the greatest and most universally admired companies in the world. I’ve been fortunate to work closely with both Bill and Steve in my different roles at Microsoft, and as I step in as CEO, I’ve asked Bill to devote additional time to the company, focused on technology and products. (humility, self-acceptance and complete understanding that all the decisions wont be his alone) I’m also looking forward to working with John Thompson as our new Chairman of the Board. (had to be said, a ‘no way out’ part of a  thank you speech)

While we have seen great success, we are hungry to do more. Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation. This is a critical time for the industry and for Microsoft. Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places — as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. (image-shift: innovation is not the key word associated with Microsoft as a company. That word belongs to Apple in the minds of the people of the world. Here, he’s making a strong statement for the future)

Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world .( soon after, facebook takes over whatsapp. Nadella probably sees that Microsoft has to be more ‘mobile’ in a mobile world- he seems to be open to accepting the areas in which Microsoft lags behind)

As we start a new phase of our journey together, I wanted to share some background on myself and what inspires and motivates me.

Who am I? (very very humble man)

I am 46. I’ve been married for 22 years and we have 3 kids. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experiences. Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me. ( this is a sincere attempt to connect with the young and restless engineers at Microsoft)

Why am I here?

I am here for the same reason I think most people join Microsoft — to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things. I know it can sound hyperbolic — and yet it’s true. We have done it, we’re doing it today, and we are the team that will do it again. 

(emphatic repetition is often indicative of doubt- could have been phrased much better)

I believe over the next decade computing will become even more ubiquitous and intelligence will become ambient. The coevolution of software and new hardware form factors will intermediate and digitize — many of the things we do and experience in business, life and our world.  This will be made possible by an ever-growing network of connected devices, incredible computing capacity from the cloud, insights from big data, and intelligence from machine learning. (summing up quite accurately that Microsoft is a part of a universe, as opposed to its position about a decade ago, when it was the quite the universe itself)

This is a software-powered world . It will better connect us to our friends and families and help us see, express, and share our world in ways never before possible. It will enable businesses to engage customers in more meaningful ways.  (Emphasis on co-created solutions, as opposed to an anarchist approach of take what is offered)

 I am here because we have unparalleled capability to make an impact. (the only non-functional, wholly unnecessary statement in the email)

Why are we here?

In our early history, our mission was about the PC on every desk and home, a goal we have mostly achieved in the developed world. Today we’re focused on a broader range of devices. While the deal is not yet complete, we will welcome to our family Nokia devices and services and the new mobile capabilities they bring us. (surprising lack of reverence in language here- the historical successes of Microsoft could’ve been summed up much better)

As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.

We are the only ones who can harness the power of software and deliver it through devices and services that truly empower every individual and every organization. We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity. (many may find this claim itself incorrect- since the tone is trying to inspire- he could’ve done much better to speak about engaging entrepreneurial and problem-solving energy of employees within the organisation to come up with nimble, exciting, opportunistic solutions)

 Qi Lu captured it well in a recent meeting when he said that Microsoft uniquely empowers people to “do more.” This doesn’t mean that we need to do more things, but that the work we do empowers the world to do more of what they care about — get stuff done, have fun, communicate and accomplish great things. This is the core of who we are, and driving this core value in all that we do — be it the cloud or device experiences — is why we are here. (the human angle is always compelling- an example of transforming a life would’ve been very relevant here)

What do we do next? (inclusive and positive)

To paraphrase a quote from Oscar Wilde — we need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable. (vague)

This starts with clarity of purpose and sense of mission that will lead us to imagine the impossible and deliver it. We need to prioritize innovation that is centered on our core value of empowering users and organizations to “do more.” We have picked a set of high-value activities as part of our One Microsoft strategy.  And with every service and device launch going forward we need to bring more innovation to bear around these scenarios. ( he is reiterating a very basic shift to innovation- which is something MS is not really known for- and this is the second instance- he has come back to it, so he means it)

Next, every one of us needs to do our best work, lead and help drive cultural change. We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward. We must change this. (he is talking about what slows his employees down- maybe hierarchy- and a need to change that  as an organisation)

 Finally, I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives. This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company.

Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources, and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance. And as the new CEO, I can’t ask for a better foundation. Let’s build on this foundation together. (he is buying time and room for himself to experiment here- since the environment is perfect, with talent resources and perseverance- the result of his experiments is not just his own responsibility, but that of everybody. This is a statement of collective ownership)


(Call me just that!)


Territory? Hunger? Basic reasons for the origin of semiotics.


pic: australopithecus

Territory? Hunger? Basic reasons for the origin of semiotics.

The need to communicate is very basic.


Australopithecus, one of the longest-lived and best-known early human species probably communicated by signs, in some way.


It is actually very simple to understand this. Say for instance, you are a member of a group, that is doing a task. Sooner, or later, you will ask someone in your group about something, or for something. If you have a common language, you will speak. Else you will gesture. As simple as that!


The most important reason to gesture would be, ‘this is my food’ or ‘this is my territory’. Hence, language is more than just speech.


This leads us to believe that the evolutionary reality of all language is a system of signs. In the beginning of time, meaning was not ‘transmitted’ – it was created actively according to an interplay of the environment and the message to be conveyed.


Compulsions such as hunger, territory and ownership are strong enough incentives, to compel the species to try and evolve a way to convey messages.


Becoming aware of such codes is both inherently fascinating and intellectually empowering.


Semiotics, a branch of science deals with this. It teaches us that we live in a world of signs and we have no way of understanding anything except through signs and the codes into which they are organized. The study of signs is the study of the construction and maintenance of reality. How did our ancestors do it?


Lucy, the representative specimen of Australopithecus, had a brain similar in size and structure to chimpanzees. Experiments with chimpanzees show that they are able to learn and understand simple sign language. This has been called ‘protolanguage’ because it lacks the syntax and grammar of modern language.


The next species, homo habilis could make tools and hence, new reasons to communicate were born. Eg; the use and storage of tools, collaborative hunting etc. With time, rudimentary messages like ownership and hunger evolved to much more evolved concepts such as rituals governing birth and death.


Hence, linguistics which is a part of semiotics, clearly emerged much later in evolution.


Signs take the form of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects. Echoing the legendary linguist Saussure, ‘semiology’ was ‘a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life’. This is a very important part of the evolution of anthroposemiotics, the field dedicated to understanding human communication.





Most of evolution is about consensus over available evidence.

Hence, to pin point when our species actually started talking, we have to find out where archaeologists  agree that we developed the necessary ‘ anatomic fixings’ for speech- such as a properly wired vocal tract (The vocal tract is the cavity in human beings where sound is produced and consists of the laryngeal cavity, the pharynx, the oral cavity, and the nasal cavity)

Many people believe that speech may have grown from ungrammatical, ‘natural’ gesturing. Communication expert Mike Beaken (1996) supports this claim by pointing out that two people who don’t share a common language “are forced to invent a visual system of communication for the exchange of essential messages.” He also points out that there are still things today which are better expressed with gesture than speech, for example size, shape, direction and nearby objects.

That granted, at some stage, maybe a group of homo habilis, who were doing tasks together, gestured to each other and started making some sounds. Highly probable.

However, in the evolution from Australopithecus to Homo Habilis to Homo Erectus and Home Sapien (and various classifications within these four genus), when did speech begin?

Christine Kenneally in her book The First Word, lies in the nature of the spoken word:

For all its power to wound and seduce, speech is our most ephemeral creation; it is little more than air. It exits the body as a series of puffs and dissipates quickly into the atmosphere. . . . There are no verbs preserved in amber, no ossified nouns, and no prehistorical shrieks forever spread-eagled in the lava that took them by surprise.

(The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language. Viking, 2007)

Here are a few notes compiled from the large amounts of literature available on the subject by some of the greatest archaeologists of our times;-

  1. All evolution is non-linear. There’s a lot of overlap.
  2. Because language cannot ‘fossilise’, scientists have to rely on purely circumstantial evidence when trying to determine the language and speech capabilities of our ancient ancestors. This has led to continued debates as to when language evolved. There are two main views – some scientists believe language appeared suddenly, and is limited to our own species. Others claim language evolved slowly over the last 2 million years and was not restricted to our own species.
  3. Australopithecus, best symbolized by the remains of  Lucy, dating  2.8 to 3.9 million years ago in Eastern Africa is commonly thought to have no language or speech abilities. It is likely however, that communication was circumstantially important and that they may have been as vocal as modern chimpanzees. The base of Lucy’s skull was ape-like in shape. This indicates that she, and others of her species Australopithecus afarensis, had an ape-like vocal tract. Chimpanzees, for instance, have a vocal tract with a high larynx and a short pharynx. This limits the range of sounds that they are able to produce. Lucy’s sound range would probably have been restricted in the same way.
  4. Homo ergaster (homo erectus) and its representative, The Turkana Boy, dating 1.5 -1.9 million years ago, also had limited speech and language ability. It was initially believed that the ‘Turkana Boy’, and members of his species, Homo ergaster, were capable of language. This was because the inside of the boy’s fossilised skull showed an impression from a part of the brain known as Broca’s Area. Possession of Broca’s Area was once considered to indicate the ability to speak. New technologies such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) have however shown that Broca’s Area does not always function during speech and cannot be used as evidence of speech in our ancestors.
  5. Homo neanderthalensis, dating back  300,000 – 28,000 years ago lived in Europe and the Middle East. This species had relatively advanced language abilities, but evidence
    suggests that they may have had a limited vocal range compared to modern humans. Neanderthal skull bases appear to be less arched than those of modern humans but more arched than those of modern apes. This suggests that the Neanderthals would have been capable of some speech but probably not the complete range of sounds that modern humans produce.
  6. The most conclusive evidence to pinpoint when language began is this- Researchers studying Neanderthal genes discovered that they shared the same version of a gene FOXP2 with modern humans. FOXP2 is the only gene known so far that plays a key role in language. When mutated, it primarily affects language without affecting other abilities. This gene appears in different forms in other vertebrates where it performs a slightly different function. This suggests the gene mutated not long before the split between the Neanderthals and modern human lines. However, there are plenty of genes involved in language so it takes more than the FOXP2 gene to conclusively prove language ability.
  7. Cro-Magnons (Homo sapiens) who lived 40,000 – 10,000 years ago in Europe
    were members of our own species, Homo sapiens. There is little reason to doubt that these people had the ability to talk and use symbolic language.
    Although Cro-Magnon people have left no evidence of written language, they produced symbolic art, performed long distance trade, held ritual burial ceremonies and planned and designed a technologically advanced tool kit. The physical features associated with spoken language, such as the vocal tract, the structure of the brain and the size of the spinal
    cord, are identical between Cro-Magnon people and humans living today. This means that Cro-Magnon people would have been capable of producing the same sounds we use in speech.


It is clear that the mental processes associated with such abstract concepts as spiritualism and religion can be associated only with the capability for modern language. The 90,000 year-old double burial from Jebel Qafzeh, Israel is one of the earliest that shows careful placement of the deceased. This means that there were some complex constructs around the ritual of burial that were communicated within a community in some way.

Burials of modern humans become increasingly complex over time, and Cro-Magnon burials usually include grave goods and other evidence of ritual activity. This pattern of behaviour is also seen at burial sites of other modern human cultures throughout the world.

Other archaeological evidence of behaviour that could be connected to language use appears only in the last 40,000 years and includes the manufacture of highly complex tools, the
production of symbolic art and the existence of widespread trade systems.

So, one can surmise that somewhere between 90000 years ago and 40000 years ago, speech made its first appearance. Modern language is a much more evolved phenomenon, while sound and sign language could date 4mn years ago.



As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the most unacknowledged; taken for granted wonders of the natural world. You and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other’s brains with remarkable precision. No occult designs  here….just access to language.  Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds.  Its one of the reasons you and I can relate to a Mickey Mouse or a Garfield; that lovely lasagna loving feline specimen. Imagine how liberating it is for that pot-bellied furry glutton of a cat to convey that he wants lasagna!

But real cats cant talk; Somewhere; along the course of evolution, our four-legged peers got left behind and therein lies the travesty. The human language is doubtless one of the most distinctive behavioral adaptations on the planet. A book, The Seeds of Speech, by Jean Aitchison speaks thus about the evolution of speech-

‘a deprived physical environment led to more meat-eating and, as a result, a bigger brain.  The enlarged brain led to the premature birth of humans, and in consequence a protracted childhood, during which mothers cooed and crooned to their offspring.  An upright stance altered the shape of the mouth and vocal tract, allowing a range of coherent sounds to be uttered.’

Some scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) as early as Homo habilis, while others place the development of primitive symbolic communication only with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) or Homo heidelbergensis (0.6 million years ago) and the development of language proper with Homo sapiens less than 100,000 years ago.

Aitchisons views find a resonance in Milton, who said “Without meat, it’s unlikely that proto humans could have secured enough energy and nutrition from the plants available in their African environment at that time to evolve into the active, sociable, intelligent creatures they became. Receding forests would have deprived them of the more nutritious leaves and fruits that forest-dwelling primates survive on, said Milton.”

On the flip side, if eating animals was a neccessary catalyst into homo sapien evolution (high-protein based diets were neccessary for us to develop large brains, and therefore great intellect), can you imagine what present day lions will evolve into? Scary thought.

Step-wise details on how we all started to wax eloquent; or rather move from “burr berr blah” to  exquisite poetry is not available (palaeontologists; pls note). Maybe; a better explanation is that the evolution of the human brain and speech is a one in a zillionevolutionary accident that’s rendered us Oscar Wilde, Chaucer, Shakespeare and even J K Rowling?

The mystery is such that in 1866 the Linguistic Society of Paris famously banned all discussion of the origin of language, deeming it to be an unanswerable problem. Was Phrygian the worlds first language; was it Hebrew? Will we ever know?

Languages evolved in only one species, in only one way, without precedent, except in the most general sense. Of about 7000 languages that exist in the world, it can be intelligently surmised that certain pervasive discoveries such as electricity, computers, refrigerator, internet and phones spread without linguistic assistance. So language assists but is not the only driver of successful communication!

This evolutionary accident has defined us and is evolving even more with each day. Theres more evolution coming our way!

Rahul Gandhis interview with Arnab-reposted

Rahul Gandhi’s interview will be remembered- because it took nothing away from him.

People switched on their television sets without expectation, and hence no one was disappointed.

Infact, the interview was laced with unintentional humour and surprising sincerity in equal measures- here’s deconstructing the interview into ten solid segments- of who all we saw in that one interview.

1.      I saw shades of his own father, reluctant but sincere.

2.      I saw shades of George W Bush, plenty of well, beating around the concept of empowering women, without data-references or  current incident references to education levels or inhuman khap panchayat diktats. In fact, Rahul Gandhi says I can give examples after examples after examples, without giving a single relevant one.

3.      I definitely saw Barney Simpson of “how I met your mother”- the indulgent smile when he thought he had given a good answer.

4.      I saw shades of Barack Obama, the word change was repeated as often as possible. I saw Benazir Bhutto, a beautiful politician wanting to change the system and often looking too frail to do it.

5.      I saw shades of Marilyn Monroe’s legendary oxymoronic innocence, because no politician asks “are you implying that”, and waits to get hurt. You already know what is being told and how much is be vested in every approach.

6.      I saw a lot of Arnab Goswami in Rahul Gandhi, diligently pursuing an agenda till it became the proven truth of the moment….he repeated his agenda- “the question is who selects the candidates and do we want an open government or a closed government where power is centred in the hands of a few.”

7.      I saw a whole lot of Abhishek Bachhan, a dynastic inheritance that’s so colossal, that being a superlative performer in your own right will never be good enough. You’re doomed to the manor, spoon and surname born.

8.      Curiously enough, I saw shades of Che Guevara- Rahul Gandhi says he cannot handle unfairness, tries to sound like a sincere revolutionary and just like Che- his academic degrees were under question.

9.      I saw lack of preparation on that chair, it’s the biggest interview of Rahul Gandhis life, and he is 4 months away from D-Day, and he comes grossly unprepared- before a master interrogator. Even the extensive aides and allies could have run him through a mock before “hauling him into opinion coals.” He’s either too naïve, or too nonchalant or worse, just the way he may be.

10.  How can we miss that we all saw our own self on that chair. A little unsure, a little scared, but somehow getting up every morning, bootstrapping and taking a local train  to work- with no clue how the day is going to unfold. But we got to do what we got to do.

Heres my message to Rahul Gandhi, as a citizen.

You are not expected to say you’re a very serious politician. We are counting on that. Your work will speak for you.

If you believe that power corrupts, power in fewer hands is harmful, RTI is great and transparency is the need of the hour, come forward more often. The perception of “ Rahul Gandhi as a reluctant man, escaping from the harsh issues” is directly connected to your few and far between straight talk on national television.

There’s no enlightenment beyond the common mans daily life. The voter will be with the leader who can promise  better daily living.


Each woman-Teach woman

Each woman-Teach woman

Indian women have a stellar intellectual and social legacy. Unmistakably so!

Tainted politicians seeking Lok Sabha tickets for their wives would have been much better off letting their wives play more active roles much earlier in their lifetime. They would’ve probably earned a public position by virtue of their capability and experience.

Long before social media made Miley Cyrus the most talked about woman in contemporary history, there was Kitturu Rani Chennamma, the queen of the princely state of Kittur in Karnataka. 33 years before the 1857 war of independence, she led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse (annexation of princely states).

A series of brave women folk, the most famous among whom is Rani Lakshmibai, followed the path of their own beliefs and fought for freedom.

We are a gutsy lot! Many of our leading ladies in Bollywood shimmy their stuff on stage more glamorously and confidently than Miley Cyrus for sure, and many of our women have been both gutsy and gorgeous!

The beauteous Begum Hazrat Mahal is known to have turned down numerous favours bestowed upon her, from men, who awestruck by her beauty, omitted to see her fortitude.

Closer on the clock, anyone who watched Mamata Banerjee respond with seasoned and purposeful answers to the very tough Arnab Goswami’s questions, would’ve felt very proud. She held her own.

Women’s day, in an ideal world should not be about gender- but about growing to one’s natural capability regardless of gender. Especially in urban settings, where corporate India is belting out deserving women MDs with gusto!

Usha Ananthasubramanian of Bharatiya Mahila Bank, Arundhati of State Bank of India Archana Bhargava of United Bank of India, Vijayalakshmi R. Iyer of Bank of India, Shubhalakshmi Panse of  Allahabad Bank and Usha Sangwan of LIC have broken glass ceilings and knocked straight on heaven’s door.

Yet, there’s an India which is educationally backward. That’s not on Facebook and Twitter. This India has role fixations about women. The girls living in this India need to go to school. The men in these families need to realise that peace and social progress require the active participation and equality of women- and khap panchayats that declare rape as punishment for disobedience should be sentenced to imprisonment for human rights violation.

Social justice is about equality of opportunities. The world has come a long way from subversive cultures.

According to a very touching story, Boudica, a queen of the Iceni people of Norfolk, led an uprising of the tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

Her husband, Prasutagus had left his Kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor when he died.

The Roman Empire allowed allied independence only for the lifetime of the current king, and inheritance though the male line only was permitted. As he had left his kingdom to his daughters, his will was ignored and his kingdom annexed as if it had been conquered. It is reported that Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. She fought long and hard for justice, and  was later chosen as the leader of her people and their neighbors in an uprising against the Romans. 

The lives of all women in socially backward societies don’t have to be so dramatic. Look at Rome today. Many societies world over are making transformational journeys. They need to be shown what’s possible. It’s reasonable to assume that Ada Lovelace, Amelia Earhart and Elizabeth Stanton were born in countries that are more marketing savvy about their heroes. The amount of print space that we, as a nation dedicate to Sucheta Kriplani, Cornelia Sorabjee and Tessy Thomas is limited.

For the uninitiated, Sucheta Kriplani was the first elected CM of Uttar Pradesh, Cornelia Sorabjee was the first female advocate from India, and Tessy Thomas (Agniputri), the Project Director of Agni IV and Agni V.

Herein lies the irony. Everyone could do with a dose of local inspiration. Women, as a community need to help each other. Women have to form support groups, build enabling environments and inspire the woman closest to them to start small good habits like saving, and big good habits like walking away from exploitative certainty, to temporary uncertainty that may be the longer path. This could start from the domestic help at home, to spending Saturday afternoons driving to the closest village and signing up for a once a month teaching session.

Women have to build enabling and supportive environments for the men who work for them too. Because it’s not about gender! It’s about capability.

Women have to stop imagining that men are different. Indeed, almost all human beings born in similar environments are practically the same. And most fathers play a very big role in inspiring their sons and daughters to lead and pursue their dreams.

It’s a pocket of societies that are under-educated and that place women in disadvantaged situations, that need to be made aware. Let us take the dialogue of women’s day where it’s relevant.