What Microsoft’s new CEO could learn about writing from Steve Jobs

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Outspoken ex-Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée has never been afraid to speak his mind, even when contradicting the most powerful Silicon Valley executives.

But even by Gassée’s usual standard, he doesn’t have kind words for Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella. Having read his recent “3,100 plodding word” essay sent out to 127,000 Microsoft employees to describe the Windows-maker’s new vision, Gassée calls Nadella a “repeat befuddler” who could learn a thing or two from Steve Jobs on how to express himself.

Observing that “whatever is well conceived is clearly said,” Gassée points out that Nadella’s email to the troops is a meandering hodge-podge of “bombastic and false platitudes” that convey almost nothing about Nadella’s vision for the company, except his own confusion on how to run things.

For example, consider this “toothless generalit[y]“, quoted by Gassée:

We have clarity in purpose to empower every individual and organization to do more and achieve more. We have the right capabilities to reinvent productivity and platforms for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. Now, we must build the right culture to take advantage of our huge opportunity. And culture change starts with one individual at a time.

Gassée gives some excellent advice to Nadella on how to write more effectively in the future. It’s good reading for anyone who would prefer to speak more clearly, but I was personally struck by the huge gulf between Nadella and Steve Jobs when it comes to competency in expressing ideas.

Steve Jobs was, of course, a master showman, but he was also a great writer. Consider his open letter, Thoughts on Flash, in which he so concisely and convincingly argued for killing off Adobe Flash that just four years later, the product is virtually dead.

It seems like every executive in Silicon Valley fancies themselves the next Steve Jobs. Maybe they should start by learning how to write, not just talk.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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