Igniting an AI Revolution – Microsoft and the Renegade Archetype

Microsoft’s activation of the Renegade Archetype, along with investing billions in 2019, is bearing fruit. 

“Our ambitions are bold and so must be our desire to change and evolve our culture.” 

Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft 

We have worked with many global companies over the years and introduced them all to our Archetypes at Work ™ model.

What they told us about their ambitious goals led us to conclude that they needed to activate the Renegade Archetype to succeed, like Microsoft has recently demonstrated and potentially mastered, for now. The Renegade is the part of us inspired by innovation and disruption, that is willing to break old habits, norms, and rules to create something new.  

Satya Nadella recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary as CEO at Microsoft, a decade in which his personal leadership philosophy has gradually led them towards their recent peak, becoming the world’s most valuable company in January 2024. Near the beginning of his tenure, he saw what was holding the company back:  

“Innovation was being replaced by bureaucracy. Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind…”.   

As we pointed out to the leaders we worked with, these faults are common negative shadows of too much of the Strategist Archetype: on a good day order is created through logic and structure, but on a bad day innovation and risk taking is repressed. We reinforced in our experiential workshop events that one of the most effective antidotes to too much Strategist is a conscious activation of the Renegade. This is something that Nadella also recognised and then amplified in the culture:  

Alan Kay quips, ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it’  …  Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future.” 

My Observations: This was a clear call for the culture to embrace the key gifts of the Renegade Archetype and, from an archetypal perspective, heralded the beginning of Microsoft’s’ New Age.  Their recent endeavours clearly illustrate a trajectory towards innovation and self-disruption. For example, their assertive move into cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI). Microsoft Azure, their cloud computing program, has seen remarkable growth, now challenging the dominance of industry leader Amazon Web Services (AWS). Their huge investments, in what many would have seen as risky initiatives – but which manifested in products like Azure A! and Microsoft 365 AI – demonstrate an innovators commitment to staying ahead in a constantly and rapidly evolving field. 

Interesting to note too, is a differentiation from the older culture, which some long termers paraphrased to us as: “play safe enough and don’t put your head too far above the parapet”. This was reinforced with a sense of collective responsibility and accountability. Whereas Nadella affirmed recently:  

“The key to the culture change was individual empowerment.” 

This is another Renegade gift, in which the individual can feel their unique gifts are recognised, encouraged, and enabled, without simultaneously feeling part of and connected to the many. 

However, over the last 7 years we have worked with clients to activate the Archetypes that liberate their desired future culture, we have found that the key to sustaining success post culture change is not to keep pushing the new Archetype (in Microsoft’s case, the Renegade) but rather to find the right balance between this and one or more other Archetypes. Which other Archetypes/s create the best balance depends on the company in question – ours is not a one size fits all methodology.  

If this new synthesis is not embraced the danger is that the culture slips towards the Shadows of Too Much of the newly embedded Archetype. In the case of the Renegade, this can show up as uncaring and detached; addicted to the tech and not caring about its impact. On a bad day the revolutionary risk taker morphs into the stereotype of the geek IT nerd, living in their own creative world, disconnected both from their own humanity and from any empathy for the potential impact of their decisions and innovations on others.  

A classic case of this at CEO level was the infamous Tesla company post-pandemic tweet from Elon Musk; “let me put it this way, if you want to keep working from home, you can go and pretend to work for someone else”.  

One danger for Microsoft, therefore, having successfully activated the Renegade and achieved phenomenal results so far, is that they get addicted to it, and fail to find the archetypal balance that will best serve them, their supply chain AND their customers. One of the most effective remedies for Too Much Renegade is the Nurturer Archetype, whose key gifts are care, empathy, and a mindset of continuous development. Being a leader at the top of his game Nadella has recently embraced this as a, if not the, key balancing Archetype for Microsoft:  

“After all, how we experience the world is through communications and collaboration. If we are interested in machines that work with us, then we can’t ignore the humanistic approach.” 

The Nurturer is the part of us that knows how to collaborate and to bring out the best in others. Nadella has requested his people embrace classic Nurturer techniques: 

“The next time you are in a meeting, ask the quietest person what they think. 
Invite everyone into the conversation. If you are on a conference call, ask the people on the phone to share their thoughts first.” 

Another gift of the Nurturer, often absent in the cut and thrust of modern corporate culture, is the ability to take the long view, and to embrace a sense of what is truly important in life. Ask any carer who has nursed those close to death, and it is the people that are most relevant, not any success. As the old saying has it: “No one on their death bed ever yet raised their heads to speak their last few words and said: “I wish I had added more shareholder value!”. An effective combination of the Renegade and the Nurturer will allow us, Microsoft and others – to be moving into the future fast while looking after ourselves, one another, and the planet.  

Nadella again: 

“If you could understand impermanence deeply, you would develop more equanimity. You would not get too excited about either the ups or downs of life. And only then would you be ready to develop that deeper sense of empathy and compassion for everything around you.”

If you’d like to find out more about our Archetypes at Work ™ model and how it can benefit your organisation, get in touch for a free discovery call.

Olivier Mythodrama has been delivering innovative and thought provoking leadership training for over 20 years. The people and organisations we have worked with describe our training as life changing. We think they’re right. We already work with some of the world’s leading businesses. Are you ready to join them?

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