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.

  • Grunt_at_the_Point

    Can we please get beyond Steve Jobs. Why don’t we all proclaim Steve Jobs was the greatest and will always be the greatest. No human ever will match Jobs accomplishments. There you have it. End of story – move on.

    • Frank Malloy

      THANK YOU!

      Can we not have every single article mention and praise SJ? Yes, he founded Apple, yes he contributed (along with many engineers who are not mentioned) to some great products. Great! Let’s move forward.

    • philp222

      You are completely missing the point of this article.

  • abrahamvir

    Steve Jobs is dead, Period. Apple and Microsoft sell different things, different customers.

    • San Diego Dave

      Now that Microsoft is making Windows Phone and the Surface tablet (and Apple offers software and cloud services), that’s not really true anymore. They both sell the same things and they are competing for customers.

      • abrahamvir

        that’s only a small segment, Office, Office 365, XBOX, Azure, Windows Serve, SQL Server, Bing, Skype to name a few.

      • San Diego Dave

        Right, and Apple has iWork (and iWork for iCloud), they’re pushing their iCloud services, etc. That’s the same as Office and Azure. In some places there is overlap rather than competition (Bing and Skype). The only thing that’s completely different is Xbox. Either way, the point remains, Microsoft is trying to sell all of the same things as Apple (phone, tablet, apps, cloud services) so it’s simply wrong to say “different things, different customers.”

        Anyway, the comment just didn’t make sense as a response to this article. Even if it were true that Apple and Microsoft sold totally different products, the comparison between two CEOs of iconic tech companies would still make sense (even though I agree that people need to stop comparing everyone to Steve Jobs, it is getting old).

      • SethG911

        If you think that iCloud and Azure are even remotely the same, then you clearly have no idea what Azure is.

      • San Diego Dave

        Not identical at all, but it’s still cloud services. Obviously iCloud is far more limited and not currently aimed at the same business customers as Azure, but Apple is supposedly moving towards a bigger push into Enterprise. The rumored iPad pro, plus making iWork free and better adapted for mobile/online use, plus pushing iCloud storage and use with 3rd party apps suggests that Apple would certainly like to turn iCloud into more of a competitor.

        Either way, the nit picking about individual services doesn’t affect my original point that “different things, different customers” is mostly wrong (especially in terms of the long-term trajectory of each company). Nor does Microsoft selling Azure make the comparison of these two CEOs in terms of communication skills any less valid.

    • nmt1900

      Steve Jobs is dead, Flash is not. It is just not that simple…

  • Superalias

    To a couple of commenters: Yes, SJ is gone, and it’s true, he doesn’t need to be dragged in to every conversation…

    … unless he’s perfectly relevant to the topic. Which, in this case, he is. Referencing a famously effective communicator in a discussion of effective communication really doesn’t call for whining.

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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