Microsoft Envision: Microsoft’s Second Mountain

Driving to a second mountain, from

Life, for some organizations and some people, can follow a two-mountain shape, according to author David Brooks. Many people never get off one mountain; they tick boxes, and they are satisfied with having ticked life’s boxes. They complete education, they start a career, start a family, and they begin climbing the first mountain towards these successes. Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. 

Then, something happens. It can be a ‘night of the soul’, or perhaps it can be due to a personal tragedy. In organizations, this can be due to misaligned parts which are not in equilibrium. At this point, the person, or organization, start to climb their second mountain to reach a bigger vision. On the second mountain, life moves from self-centred to other-centred. The connections become more profound and more vibrant, and they think more deeply about their environments with a focus on interdependence, not independence. Not everyone finds their second mountain, and their life will occupy the first mountain. 

From the Envision event today, it’s clear that Microsoft is climbing their second mountain. Today, we attended Microsoft’s flagship event for senior executives in London, called Microsoft Envision. Along with Cindy Rose, CEO of Microsoft UK, we also heard from Julia White, CVP of Microsoft Azure and Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Commercial Business (WCB), which drives commercial business strategy for the enterprise.

Initially, we heard from Cindy Rose, who set the scene to clarify some of the themes that will resonate throughout the data; data democratization and considering our levels of technology adoption to accelerate progress, and empowering every person on the planet with Microsoft technologies. Is that just a tagline, however? If the future is AI, isn’t that going to lose jobs which disempowers people?

Judson Althoff addressed this issue broadly, first by relating the history of Microsoft, and how they have been on their journey of learning. Customers viewed Microsoft as turning up once a year, counting servers and licenses, and then trying to charge more for the same thing; many companies are familiar with this experience from ten years or so ago. At that time, Microsoft forgot about adding customer value. Thus, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft went through a process of aggressive listening. As a result, Microsoft has pivoted to focus back on innovation and potential, and their approach can be summarized under four headings: Vision & Strategy, Culture, Unique Potential, Capabilities

Vision & Strategy

Microsoft mobilized around one idea: Customers want to have a great Microsoft experience, regardless of the device that they use. Empowering everyone to achieve more is the motto that is core to the vision. Microsoft had to think about the customer first. Microsoft team members had to start to understand where they needed to be so that customers could trust Microsoft as an innovation partner.


Culture is what people do when they are unsupervised. Culture fuels the lifeblood of the organization. Microsoft had to change its corporate culture to develop humility, and this entailed developing an aggressive focus on their customers. A key focus is on the ‘growth mindset’ develops and nurtures all potential. If Microsoft intends to ’empower every person on the planet’, then this includes their team members too. 

Unique Potential

Microsoft team members are incentivized and measured by how they have helped others, and how they have built on the work of others; how they give and take. The growth mindset is essential, but to do that, people need to have a ‘discovery mindset’. This mindset requires skills that humans do not always develop: humility and a willingness to be challenged. It also involves action: introspection and discovery on the unique potential of yourself as well as other people.

Value Generation

Combining these components elicit value and innovation in solutions. It does not mean that every idea is a good idea, but it is often the start of a good idea. One focus is to ask ‘so what’ when you get a new idea. Will it add value to the customer? Will the data become more valuable than the business itself?

What about people’s jobs? Won’t AI disempower people?

The strategy sounds all very well, but how can we say that we are empowering people if AI will get rid of people’s jobs? Will AI get rid of posts? When the computer became prevalent, people thought that the computer would remove job roles. The opposite happened; jobs changed, but we did not see the job losses that were feared. Similarly, AI will bring changes to employment and training. The sign of a successful technology is that it ‘disappears’, and we predict that Artificial Narrow Intelligence will similarly ‘disappear’ as the technology gets absorbed into processes. Jobs will change, markets will grow and develop, and organizations that adopt AI are 56% more likely to be successful than organizations that do not (quote from Cindy Rose, CEO of Microsoft UK).

Climbing the Second Mountain

Leadership will always mean empathy and taking a wise step back. Ultimately, it is all about people. Technology is just a tool that we use, although it has a huge impact. It has to deliver a sound long-term effect and value to have longevity. It’s great to be at Envision and think about being on the second mountain with technology. 

For your organization to have success with technology, it is essential to look at the progress that Microsoft is having on their second mountain. 

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