Microsoft snorefest: For crying out loud, Nadella – just channel Ballmer!

'Blah, blah, blah', as Uncle Fester once said

Future Decoded Once upon a time, around every November, Steve Ballmer visited the UK on an official, annual state visit.

Microsoft parked a giant metaphor DeLorean at the entrance to its Future Decoded conference in London

Microsoft’s ex-CEO took time out from meeting customers to meet selected national press or trades to whom he’d say controversial or strategic things for “the message” to be picked up and percolate.

Now it’s Satya Nadella’s job to press palms with the UK masses in November.

When he spoke at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event in East London on Monday, it seemed this would be the annual message delivery – only this time the platform was literally a stage.

Microsoft’s Future Decoded would see Nadella provide an ”insight” into Microsoft’s “journey” and... You knew where this was going.

Nadella surrounded himself with a circle of “visionaries” to chew on “the future”: Jeremy Paxman, Dame Stella Remington, Sir Martin Sorrell, Sir Bob Geldof...

Nadella has been Microsoft’s helmsman since February 2014, when he first started talking about the contradictory strategy of "mobile first, cloud first".

Nearly a year in, there’s no update or advance on the message. No detail... nothing extra.

The message is...

During a softball so-called Q&A, there was the by-now familiar talk of productivity, digital lifestyle and consumer work experiences.

“Blah, blah, blah,” (to quote a former Microsoft CEO).

This might have been moderately acceptable had little happened at Microsoft in the last nine months.

A LOT has happened during Nadella's reign and in the months leading up to it. We've seen the arrival of Office on competing, non-Windows mobile platforms. We've seen the purchase of mega game factory Minecraft. And everyone has noted the strangely dwindling market for Surface and Windows Phone.

It was as if the last nine months had happened to another CEO’s company.

I left from Nadella’s convivial message session with a headache, not because I had a head crammed full of thoughts, but because I’d been subject to an hour-and-a-half of the same word over and over again: “productivity.”

It was like I’d been beaten up by an assailant wielding a pillow. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for two issues.

The first problem revealed itself during the achingly predictable Q&A, when Nadella made a shocking admission – that productivity is boring.

“Productivity as a single word doesn’t have that emotional appeal, but look behind what one does - it’s the empowerment one needs to have, the freedom one needs to have,” he said.

Of course he didn’t say “boring”, he said “emotional appeal”, but he meant boring – in the same way things like iPhone, Facebook, Oculus Rift, Apple app store, Google search and Glass have “emotional appeal” and aren’t "boring".

OK, Satya, we’ll bite. Boring – but tell us how Microsoft can make them emotionally appealing?

There was something about software and tools, platform and developers, Windows Azure and Office 365 and a bit about startups being the lifeblood of the economy. That was it.

You can’t stop the chain reaction of a scripted Q&A and so it was in London on Monday that Nadella’s Q&A relentlessly ground to its inevitable end.

Walking away, it wasn’t just me or the rest of the press who were left scratching their heads about what had just been said.

Delegates appeared confused, too.

One partner confirmed my suspicion in their own words: Nadella had been boring. Where was the excitement and inspiration? And that’s the real problem. He’d given the masses nothing to hold on to, no reason “why” they should pick Microsoft.

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