Why Storytelling Matters – Satya Nadella’s Email

Named as the new CEO of Microsoft on Feb, 2014

Named as the new CEO of Microsoft on Feb, 2014
Photo via: http://www.microsoft.com/

On February 4, 2014, Satya Nadella was named Microsoft’s new CEO. (Read here)

He posted an email to all Microsoft employees the same day.

This is a brilliant display of storytelling and how it can communicate vision and mission.

The Message Should be Simple

There is a uniform theme to the email: don’t bank on the company’s past successes but innovate to survive.

“Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation.”

This is the vision Nadella sets for the entire company. Where Microsoft needs to be in the future is to innovate by following and leading the evolution of technology. The vision is to be established as a leader in mobile and cloud computing.

Through this email, Nadella clearly communicates the aim of all future products at Microsoft should “[empower] people to ‘do more.'” This singular, yet broad, mission is the compass for the company’s future direction, and it’s brilliantly simple.

All future decisions and plans of the company can be remarkably simple. All you have to do is ask two questions:

  • Will this product empower people to do more?
  • Does this help us in mobile and cloud computing?

Form and Function

The loosely chronological order and subheadings help get the message across quickly. In this case, form and function work splendidly together. By beginning with a recount of his background and why he chose to work at Microsoft, Nadella establishes rapport immediately and evokes an emotional response. The brief story creates a personal connection. At the same time, in a simple few sentences he answers why the vision is important and where it came from; also explaining how the mission is distilled from the vision.

Public Apology

In one of my tweets (above), I rushed to a conclusion saying a designer may serve better at the helms. After reading this email, I should apologize and retract that statement. Nadella’s ability to create and communicate a vision and mission is a strong indicator that he will be successful as the CEO of Microsoft.

I wish you all the best.

Are Super Bowl Ads Worth It?

Good to Be Bad - Jaguar

By Jaguar USA

How would you spend $4.5 million?

In an age of where a single tweet can engage millions overnight (think Oreo), how can a company justify dropping $4.5 million dollars on 30 seconds?

There are two reasons why Super Bowls are still worth their price tag.

The Fallout Effect

The effects of a nuclear bomb isn’t confined to its detonation and blast radius, there is nuclear fallout after the fact. Almost 27 years after the Chernobyl disaster, the area is still cordoned off because of the radiation. A Super Bowl ad will be talked about weeks and months into the future. Each year it may be revisited by the pundits. Adverts from previous years will become the measuring sticks for the current class. The value of an ad having such longevity can justify the high cost. If your spot is good enough to be immortalized among the Super Bowl Greats, then the $4.5 million initial expense seems almost insignificant. How can you price immortality?

Members Only

Running an advert in the Super Bowl is like joining a super exclusive country club. The membership fee is usually upwards of several million dollars. Oh, you’ll have to renew your membership once in a while because people may forget you were part of the club.
It used to be that any brands advertising on game day would be elevated into the Super Bowl advertising pantheon. However, there’s a game changer this year. A startup will be joining this upper echelon of brands. Named among the likes of Budweiser and Jaguar, GoldieBlox is ready for their spotlight.
It’ll be interesting to see whether they will cement their reputation among the Greats.

But in all honesty, the concept of the startup is great; with regards to execution, not so much. (Don’t tell them I said that.)

You all already should know about the draw power of the Super Bowl. So I won’t mention it. It’s actually a miracle in modern society that there is one moment in the year where almost an entire nation would stop and devote their attention to watch an event. All those malleable minds. Ripe for advertisers.

Beyond the Screen

The trend in the past two, three years is storytelling. Just look at the past two Budweiser campaigns. So, what’s next? Someone out there should create a Layar for commercials. Imagine the engagement, novelty and returns when you use visual/object recognition technology to create a live, interactive experience with the advert.
Actually, that’s a pretty damn good idea.

The Strike of Running Water

Should you and your opponent be equally matched… you must inflate both body and mind, let your sword follow your body and, quite slowly, strike with all the power of momentarily restrained water bursting forth from a running stream. – Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings (translated by William Scott Wilson)

The Strike of Running Water

The Strike of Running Water

Should you and your opponent be equally matched

What happens when you find your competition equally matched? In a tight industry, there will always be competition that is equally matched to you. There will always be different variables where they will be equal to that of yours. How do you pull ahead when you’re identical?

You must inflate both body and mind

It’s important to look at what resources are available to you and gather them. This audit also extends to analyzing the situation:

  • Where are you standing in relation to your competition?
  • How far away are they?
  • Are they in range to mount an offence?
  • What is the current rhythm of attack and defence? Are you in the defending portion of the cycle or attacking?
  • What differentiates you from your competition?
    • What do you do best?

Let your sword follow your body

Through gathering this information and resources, you can then make decisions.

Thoughts lead actions just as the sword follows the body.

Note that every movement is deliberate. Each muscle fibre is moved with clear intention of what is to follow. Likewise, how you use the information and resources should be a conscious decision.

The pinnacle of swordsmanship is when the sword becomes an extension of your body. This phrase can also be taken to mean that your strike with the sword is so fluid that it is now an extension of your arm. The differentiating factor you choose to use to pull ahead of the competition when you’re evenly matched should be a strong intrinsic factor. It should be something innate to your company. Not only will it be an authentic competitive advantage but it also makes the competitive advantage that much harder to copy, thus leading us back to square one of being equally matched.

Quite slowly

Previously I wrote about The Rhythm of All Things. In it, there is a point about imposing your own rhythm. All scenarios in which you are to overcome the competition are rooted in imposing your own rhythm instead of being strung along by your competition’s rhythm.

When you move slowly, not is it only deliberate (see the first point from “Let your sword follow your body”) but this also implies imposing your own rhythm while disrupting the opponent’s.

Strike with all the power of momentarily restrained water bursting forth from a running stream

Once you’ve determined your course of action you should strike with an explosion of power at the opportune time. Likewise, once you find your differentiating factor, you should audit available resources and gather them. Unleashing a strike to your competition in such a way that will cripple them. A pop-up store and sale. Redesign your website and launch party. Customer service meet and greet. The key is whatever actions you decide to take, make sure it is aligned with your differentiating factor and devote all your available resources to deal the blow.


Two Heavens in One

Two Heavens in One

In our country, it is the Way of the Warrior to wear them whether the reason is understood or not – Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings (translated by William Scott Wilson)

All samurai wore two swords. In fact the two swords are the symbol for the entire samurai social class. I’m sure there were many samurai that never questioned why there are two swords. Some may have questioned the purpose only to accept the conclusion that it has always been so. Then there is Miyamoto Musashi, the only samurai deserving of the title kensei, Japanese for sword saint.
He challenged tradition. He decided that both swords should be used. Instead of the traditional method of gripping one sword with both hands, he innovated by holding a sword in each hand. Thus allowing him to use both swords at a time.

When you put your life on the line, you want all your weapons to be of use. Your real intent should not be to die with weapons uselessly worn at your waist.  – Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings (translated by William Scott Wilson)

Don’t be like the other samurai who were blind to the fact that their greatest resource was at their tied at their waist. There is always untapped resources around you. Most often it’s the people.
Open your eyes. People are multifaceted. Everyone can offer insight drawn from different aspects of their life. Solutions to problems can often be found when someone on the team draws from their experience from the  rock climbing adventures over the weekend, the book they’ve been reading, or what they learned at the whiskey tasting event yesterday evening.
Be receptive to suggestions and breed an environment that doesn’t discourage risky ideas.

Unbridled enthusiasm for new, risky ideas is just as dangerous as a complacent attitude. Allow your workforce to pursue a variety of interests but also communicate extensively the purpose of this initiative. This will focus the combined processing power of your entire workforce and evoke inspiration in places you wouldn’t have imagined.

The Rhythm of All Things

The Way of the Sword

The Way of the Sword

There is a rhythm to everything, but particularly in the martial arts, if you do not train in its rhythm it is difficult to succeed. – Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings (translated by William Scott Wilson)

Rhythm in martial arts pertain to the flow of attacking and defending. There is a natural flow; you attack and your opponent attacks, then you defend, while your opponent is attacking. Give and receive. Advance and retreat. How do you get the upper hand though?
Study and observe the rhythm of your opponent. Do not react. Dictate.
Study how your opponent follows the rhythm of the duel. Then, purposefully give an opening to your opponent. Observe how they react to the change in rhythm. Then capitalize on their reaction.

It is the same in business. Study and learn what your competitor’s rhythm is. Study what their moves are in the past. Study what their reaction is to different stimuli. From this, you will learn what their pattern is; you will learn their rhythm. Take advantage of this knowledge. Either disrupt the rhythm or wait for the rhythm to be disrupted by an outside source. Preempt any reactions they will make according to their rhythm.

Into the Unknown

It’s the first year anniversary of Felix Baumgartner freefall his way into the history books.

I just finished watching the documentary of mission.

Felix Baumgartner making his historic jump

Picture of Felix Baumgartner. Taken from: http://www.universetoday.com/97972/

Watch it here: http://stratos.rdioexclusives.com/documentary

(Not sponsored by Red Bull, Rdio, or anyone for that matter.)


Red Bull made the loudest branding move by being quiet and in the background. Take out a pen and paper: people love good content; people hate having something shoved in their face. Watch the documentary again, watch the Q&A video again, and watch the media coverage again. You’ll find that Red Bull was hardly pushed to the forefront.


Disrupt, innovate, and revolutionize are overused words in the startup world. When you actually do something no one has done before, that’s innovation. If you looked at all the preparation and practice jumps, you’ll notice that there is a gradual progression in reaching the final jump. Another thing pointed out during the Q&A (http://stratos.rdioexclusives.com/landing) is that no one will likely break the records set by Felix. Basically, innovations are hard to come by. Luckily, innovations are overrated. Take their approach of gradually improving to reach a goal and apply it to any industry, product or service. Sometimes, to be a successful entrepreneur just means taking some existing thing and improving upon so much that you become an expert.

But then again, it doesn’t hurt to really land an innovation, doing something no one ever has.

Team culture

Through all the ups and downs of the Redbull Stratos team, what kept them together? What made the team trust in the figurehead of the project after Felix quit because of his anxieties in the suit?

Everyone on the team served a greater purpose. This was what motivated them to stay the 12 hour shifts. This greater purpose will also motivate employees through the tough, grueling days. Inspire them. Give them a grand vision.


These are great resources for any business people and, in particular, entrepreneurs.

Where Good Ideas Come From: the Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson

One can be conditioned to be more innovative. This made a strong case for why being a generalist in your undergraduate degree may be beneficial. Combining the lessons learned from this book with Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech has helped me realize the benefit of my education in biochemistry and business management.

The Book of Five Rings

Miyamoto Musashi, translated by William Scott Wilson

This is a deeply philosophical book. I plan to reread this once in a while to hopefully derive more insight into business, marketing and life. It’s a very enjoyable read. My favourite quote is, “from one thing know ten thousand things”.

Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech


I also revisit this speech periodically. Whenever I feel I’ve lost my way or things have gone awry, this speech helps me connect the dots (and of course, sometimes you can only connect the dots looking backwards).

Inc magazine/website


A cornucopia of interesting articles and topics for any business person (not just startups/entrepreneurs).

Coles Note Calculus

Calculus: Early Transcendentals by James Stewart

This Coles Note reminds me of my ability to overcome challenges because I taught myself Calculus using this ~100 pager during the early years of high school. Not only does it serve as a symbol of triumph and perseverance, but it also helps refresh my memory so I can do some practice questions in the textbook by Stewart. Redoing calculus problems helps me stay fresh and sharp with my problem solving skills. It’s actually pretty fun (sometimes).

Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management Through Customization

Susan Cantrell

Frankly, human resources is one of the weakest links in any startup. This book will help any entrepreneur or manager retain talent and build an amazing team. By focusing on what motivates the individual, you’ll be able to harness their full potential.

An analogy from my marketing professor.

Tarun Dewan

An idea is like a virus.

I’m actually going to write an article about this. Stay tuned.

Be a mathematician

“I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do.” – Frank Gehry


One of my pet peeves is a client confusing what they want to do with what they’re trying to do. Often times, the two are different. Well, this usually isn’t the problem. The problem becomes when they stop listening to your suggestions. They stop listening to the very person they hired (as and expert).

Marketers should always be presenting solutions to clients that achieve their marketing/communications objectives. We shouldn’t be tools for our clients and just blindly do what they tell us. However, I’ve come to learn that providing solutions just isn’t enough. To be really good, stop being a marketer and become a mathematician.

Mathematicians (the really good ones) don’t just present a proof for a solution, they often craft the proof into its most elegant form.

From the wikipedia entry on mathematical beauty, a proof is elegant when it has these characteristics:

  • A proof that uses a minimum of additional assumptions or previous results.
  • A proof that is unusually succinct.
  • A proof that derives a result in a surprising way (e.g., from an apparently unrelated theorem or collection of theorems.)
  • A proof that is based on new and original insights.
  • A method of proof that can be easily generalized to solve a family of similar problems.

I’ll use two of the characteristics to illustrate how thinking more like a mathematician will make you a better marketer.

Minimal Additional Assumptions

As solution providers, we should aim to present solutions that require the least number of outside resources and, of course, at the lowest cost. I was tasked to take a documentary film about entrepreneurs across Canada. Naturally, a project of this scale would require hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the solution I came up with involved university students being the main drivers for the event. This group of people has engaged interest in the entrepreneurial scene and are motivated to learn skills that will help them graduate with a job. Best of all, they often are willing to work for free. The way I envisioned this project coming to fruition is an small, core team of university students will liaise with me to coordinate the event.

Solutions should require the fewest resources and minimal investment.

Succinct Proofs

All the best solutions are often the simplest. A client of the firm I work for needed to know whether online traffic translated into offline traffic into the sales office. I identified that a segment of the audience isn’t willing to go into the sales office because there is no perceived value versus gathering information online. We then created a page specifically targeting this group to convince them visiting the sales office is an experience you won’t get from viewing a webpage. We put many tracked actions on the page to gage the visitors intent on visiting the sales office. Adding a simple page like that helped us better measure how effective our online advertising was. Ultimately, we were able to correlate online traffic with sales office traffic.

Keep solutions simple.

The Bernoulli’s Principle

Bernoulli's PrincipleAs fluids travel faster, their pressure decreases and vice versa.

When air, a fluid, travels over an airfoil (think airplane wing), the stream of air travelling over the wing has to travel faster than the stream going under it.
This creates a difference in pressure over the airfoil versus under it.
This, along with Newton’s second law, is what many consider to be the explanation to lift.
The difference in pressure causes lift and in turn, the difference in traveling speed of the two fluid streams causes pressure differential.
What does this have to do with entrepreneurship? Lots of things. It’s relatable to team dynamics and co-founder relations.

Team Dynamics

We often think everyone has to travel at the same pace to make progress. It doesn’t.
It’s okay for certain people/roles to move faster than others. Acknowledge and accept the fact that people move and learn at different paces. Communicate this fact with the rest of your team so they know as well avoiding needless frustrations.
New, more creative observations, and connections can be made when people come together and work, think and learn out of sync with each other.

Co-Founder Relations

The best partners I’ve had the pleasure of working with (also people whom I’ve learned the most from) are the ones that are opposite of me. The different perspective, mode of thinking and pace of taking action/learning helped me see problems and solutions in a different way. Working with someone too similar to myself would not have opened this perspective.
Yes, there were friction because of the different pace but over-communicating circumvents this. When we gain the other’s perspective we learn more and create a stronger bond.

Megaphone, CEO

I’ve been asked recently a few times what is the most important function of a CEO of a startup. From personal experience, the most important role is that of a broadcaster of the vision and mission of the company.

“Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”
Napoleon Hill

Figure out what your company is trying to do. Communicate that really, really well internally and externally. Your team will only succeed and survive in business if they are clear of what the company is trying to achieve. You will only attract clients that are a good fit if you communicate the vision and mission well.

Decisions of all magnitude and decisions made by all levels become that much easier when the vision and mission is known clearly internally.

Photo found on Flickr

Photo found on Flickr