Hello Leader,

In his compelling interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella framed the ultimate game-changing question but left it unanswered.

The question Nadella asked is: "How do you create that self-organizing capability to drive innovation and be focused?"

Here is my answer to Nadella's captivating question.Please share this with family, friends and associates.


Aviv Shahar

My Answer to Achieving the Future that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Is Seeking

Nadella asked how do you self-organize to drive innovation, and articulated his leadership purpose. What Nadella did not do in this interview was to connect his purpose with his question and connecting these two is key.

The urgency behind this question arises from Nadella's burning desire to release the collective brilliance and intellectual capital of 130,000 Microsoft employees to innovate beyond the software giant's existing boundaries.

Innovating beyond boundaries requires self-organizing capabilities. Hence, the self-organizing innovation question is a good one, and one most senior leaders don't ask. Nadella seems to have an advantage among his peers in finding answers because the clarity of his inquiry is superior to that of leaders who settle for asking more superficial questions.

Every CEO whose company competes in a market undergoing transformation must search to unleash self-organizing innovation. How does an organization build self-organizing capability to innovate?

I've seen this question answered first-hand in some of the organizations I've had the good fortune to work with. How did they answer the question? They worked to build the self-organizing bridge. Let me explain.

Nadella's threefold purpose for his leadership team is: "to bring clarity, alignment and intensity. What is it that we want to get done? Are we aligned in order to be able to get it done? And are we pursuing that with intensity? That's really the job."

Nadella is quoted as saying, "The framing for me is all about getting people to commit and engage in an authentic way, and for us to feel that energy as a team."

His statement represents a part, perhaps one quarter, of the bridge to creating self-organizing innovation focus -- the intensity component. The intensity equation Nadella frames is: authenticity x commitment = intensity.

What Nadella does not address in the interview is how leaders create clarity and alignment. Neither does he suggest how leaders then leverage the clarity, alignment and intensity to build self-organizing innovation.

Let's reflect on these questions:

  • How do you create clarity?
  • How do catalyze alignment?
  • How do you build intensity?

The single answer to these three questions is one simple concept that describes a process you know but probably never paid enough attention to. You create clarity, catalyze alignment, and build intensity through conversation.

Conversation is the currency of work. And ultimately it is how you unleash self-organizing capability to drive innovation and be focused.

So why don't we see more innovation and focus?

The answer is simple. Most senior teams engage in ineffective, mediocre conversations. Actually it's worse. Too many teams waste time in toxic, debilitating discussions, blind to the fact that they are burning their precious currency.

When senior leaders truly understand the power of conversation to catalyze clarity, alignment and intensity, they become ten times more deliberate about their conversations. Such self-aware leaders are intensely reflective in and through every engagement. They ask questions such as, "What is the purpose of the conversation we are in? Is it the one we should be having, or is there another one we should be in instead?" True leaders create the conversations that open the door to new futures.

So the answer to Nadella's question, "How do you create that self-organizing capability to drive innovation and be focused?" is this: through a series of critical conversations! The self-organizing capability to drive innovation emerges out of a self-aware, emergent conversation.

Nadella's task is both profound and simple: to catalyze a new emergent conversation that unleashes Microsoft employees' capability to drive innovation. Time will tell whether he has the wisdom and capacity to do so.

© Aviv Shahar