The new face of Microsoft is also going to be a voice, apparently. Unlike his predecessor Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella talked to Wall Street analysts on the quarterly earnings call last week. His mission? To come clean, to convince, to promise and mostly to get moving–that is, to get mobile. Coming clean, Nadella admitted that Microsoft has missed some rather big boats: “Our industry does not respect tradition…only innovation,” he told the Wall Street crowd (who already knew). And it looks from the outside as if Microsoft has been about as innovative as the Rolling Stones lately. Both still make plenty of money with their old hits–Microsoft with its sticky OS and entrenched programs, the Stones with stadiums and Satisfaction–but people aren’t real excited about the new stuff. But at least as far as Microsoft goes, the inside looks more exciting. Unlike the Stones, Microsoft may be getting younger–in a sense.
On the call, Nadella promised he’d run a company that is “pivoting toward the future.” That sounds great, of course, if you know what the future holds. Otherwise you end up playing virtual Twister. And Microsoft hasn’t been top dog at predicting what’s next (though its resident scholar, Jaron Lanier, has an oracle’s touch). Products like Bing lag, by most measures, behind competitors like Google. And if mobile makes the PC a dinosaur as quickly as trends indicate, Microsoft will have to pivot a lot harder and bigger than it has so far. We’re talking about a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-size pivot. But Nadella comes from the cloud side of the business–high-growth, high hopes and future-centric–and Microsoft has the resources to follow Nadella’s ideas anywhere he wants to go. In fact Microsoft is powerful enough not to have to guess at the future, but to play a role in selecting it. The cloud is the key to the Internet of Things and what Nadella calls the data culture. In that future those current also-rans like Bing could turn out to be investments that underpin a new data ecology that everyone uses, servicing everything from your refrigerator’s desires to a better use of natural language. As to the latter Microsoft has already embraced a new start: at least Nadella is talking.