Lessons Learned from Bill Gates
“Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.” – Bill Gates
Passion, intensity, and tenacity. That’s one way to describe Bill Gates.
When I think back to why I joined Microsoft, a very big reason was Bill Gates. Here was a guy with all the money in the world, yet he showed up every day to change the world. Rather than just retire and play with his money, he focuses his time, energy, and resources on making a better world.
He fights the good fight to leave the world a better place than he found it, and he’s a world-wide giver of epic proportions. In fact, he and Warren Buffet joined forces to drive a campaign to encourage the wealthiest people to give most of their money to philanthropic causes (see The Giving Pledge.)
It’s one thing to be smart. It’s another thing to be resourceful. It’s yet another thing to get results. Bill Gates is a visionary that makes things happen by creating systems bigger than himself and inspiring people to join him on epic adventures to change the world. He’s not a seeker of fame or a seeker of fortune, although he has both. He’s a maker of impact. Technology is his way, and reducing inequities in the world is his game.
Who better to learn some lessons for life, than from a master of the game of life? With that in mind, let’s see what lessons we can borrow from Bill Gates’ playbook.
25 Lessons Learned from Bill Gates
Bill is full of lessons and insights. Here are 25 plays we can take from the pages of his playbook:
1. Change the world, or go home.
There is a little sign on many doors at Microsoft. It features the blue monster and it reads: “Change the world, or go home.” Not only does that phrase capture the spirit of thousands of Softies … it speaks to the way Bill Gates drives his life. He lives to build a better world, whether it’s one version, one platform, one system, one idea, one cause, one innovation at a time. The beauty is, he knows how to scale and amplify his impact in powerful ways – he’s on top of his game.
2. Blaze the trail.
The path isn’t always there. Sometimes you have to make it. Sometimes people will think you’re crazy. Sometimes you are just ahead of the curve. it’s a dream for a reason, and sometimes making your dreams happen takes going out on a limb and giving your all for what you believe in. Bill Gates believed that the personal computer was the future and that there should be one on every desktop and in the living room and it would change the way we work and how we live in unimaginable ways.
3. Make an impact.
Drive from impact. Bill Gates makes choices based on impact. Whether it’s following his passion or investing in a cause, he drives from making impact. He doesn’t just do things because he can. He does things because they matter and he can make them scale.
4. Humanities greatest advances are the ones that level the playing field.
Bill Gates has a strong belief that “All lives have equal value.” Help those that can’t help themselves. Everybody deserves a chance at their best life. Lift the underdogs of the world up. In his speech at Harvard, Bill says, “Taking a look back, one big reqret is, I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world. The appalling disparities of health and wealth and opportunity that condemned millions of people to the lives of despair. I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas and economics, and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences. But humanities greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
5. A sense of urgency.
The world changes fast. The market changes faster. Bill says, “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.”
6. The market doesn’t always drive the right things.
In one of his powerful TED talks, Bill says, “There are some very important problems that don’t get worked on naturally. That is the market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the government to do the right things. And only by paying attention to these things, and having brilliant people who care and draw other people in, can we make as much progress as we need to.” Watch TED – Bill Gates on Mosquitos, Malaria, and Education.
7. Live your values.
When you let the world know what you’re about, you become a lightening rod and you attract people with the same values. At Microsoft, Bill Gates attracted people with a passion for changing the world and joining him on a journey to help create better lives through technology and innovation. On the philanthropy side, Gates connects with U2’s Bono beyond the music when it comes to sharing their global mission to end poverty, disease, and indifference. In 2005, TIME named Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates, “Persons of the Year” for their humanitarian work. On Bill Gate’s 54′th birthday, Bono had this to say before leading the crowd in Happy Birthday: “Without him, and without his business, we just wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s his birthday today. Bill Gates is in the house.” Watch Bono Wishes Bill Gates a Happy Birthday.
8. Your best gets better with the right people.
Don’t go it alone. You’re better when you’ve got the right people around you. Bill Gates built a culture of the best and brightest and was good at convincing his friends, such as Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer to join him on his adventures. By surrounding himself with smart people, Bill was able to scale. He also had a sounding board for ideas. More importantly, ideas could get better from the combined smarts and perspectives. Bill also knows how to complement his strengths by having the right people around that make up for his weaknesses.
9. Innovation is the heart and soul of a business.
It’s about bringing ideas to market and applying research. If you don’t innovate you die. The world keeps changing. To stay ahead of the game, or even to stay in the game, you have to keep innovating: innovate in your products, innovate in your process, innovate in the markets, etc. Bill Gates uses innovation as a way to drive impact whether it’s shaping software or saving the planet.
10. Be the platform.
Be the platform people can build on. See the role that you play in building something that let’s other people build on what you do best.
11. Build a better system.
Don’t just solve a one-off problem. Make the solution systematic and make it repeatable. Find, create, or leverage systems. There is always a system, whether it’s at the micro-level or the macro level. The system has inputs and outputs, cycles, and levers. Whether you’re creating the system or leveraging the system, you’re more effective when you realize that there is a system.
12. Build an ecosystem.
There are systems and ecosystems all around us. Bill says, “Personal computing today is a rich ecosystem encompassing massive PC-based data centers, notebook and Tablet PCs, handheld devices, and smart cell phones. It has expanded from the desktop and the data center to wherever people need it — at their desks, in a meeting, on the road or even in the air.” On creating partners for your ecosystem, Bill says, “Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning.”
13. Know how to turn the crank.
Take action. Execute. The problem isn’t a shortage of ideas, it’s execution. Lots of people have ideas. There is an overload of ideas. The real gap is bringing ideas to market in a way that matters. The secret sauce is ruthless prioritization of the ideas that make the most impact.
14. Take Care of Your People.
Bill Gates says, “Great organizations demand a high level of commitment by the people involved.” He set a powerful example of taking care of employees, from private offices for developers to creating a workplace of extreme empowerment, engagement, and passion.
15. Divide and conquer the problem.
There is always a way to chunk up the problem and prioritize more effectively. Whether it’s slicing the problem into versions over time, or simply taking the most meaningful or highest ROI (Return On Investment) pieces of the problem and tackling them first, you can make progress on the worst of problems or the best of opportunities. No problem withstands sustained, focused effort that learns and improves over time.
16. Improving your odds doesn’t guarantee success.
One of Bill’s stories during his speech at Harvard is how he learned this lesson: "Radcliff was a great place to live. There were more women up there and most of the guys were mad science types. The combination offered me the best odds if you know what I mean."
17. You don’t have to be first to win.
Bill says, “Microsoft has had its success by doing low-cost products and constantly improving those products and we’ve really redefined the IT industry to be something that’s about a tool for individuals.”
18. The toughest feedback to hear, is the feedback you need the most.
You get better by listening to your toughest critics. Your greatest source of growth can come from the people that will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. Bill says, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill also says, “You’ve got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the world-class people to tell you what you’re doing wrong.”
19. Business and technology go hand in hand.
Bill says, “Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other.” We’re truly living a knowledge worker world, where information technology is front and center. Bill says, “It’s pretty incredible to look back 30 years to when Microsoft was starting and realize how work has been transformed. We’re finally getting close to what I call the digital workstyle.”
20. Frame the problem.
Bill says, “I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act.” Framing a problem is simply how you look at a problem, just like how you frame a picture. It’s about choosing what to focus on, what’s in and what’s out. When you frame the problem, you bound it. Framing also helps you get a better perspective on the problem, as well as share the problem more effectively with others. Some questions to help frame a problem include: Who’s the customer? What are their needs and priorities? What’s happening in the market? What are competitors doing? What are our options for responding? How do we differentiate? How is technology changing and what possibilities does it offer our customers? What are the priorities for our business? See How To Think Like Bill Gates.
21. Celebrate success, but learn from failure.
Don’t repeat the same mistakes and don’t wallow in your wins. Bill says, ““It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
22. Technology is just a tool.
Don’t lose sight of the end in mind or the difference that makes the difference. Bill says, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
23. Don’t automate inefficiency.
Make sure something actually makes sense to automate, otherwise you compound the problem. Bill says, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
24. Empower people.
Put the right information into the hands of the people that can make the most of it. Bill says, ““The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”
25. Go digital.
Connect people, process, and technology. Create a digital landscape or a virtual world to reduce friction and to create new possibilities. Bill says, ““One of the wonderful things about the information highway is that virtual equity is far easier to achieve than real-world equity…We are all created equal in the virtual world and we can use this equality to help address some of the sociological problems that society has yet to solve in the physical world.”
Top 10 Bill Gates’ Quotes
Here are my top 10 favorite Bill Gates’ quotes:
- “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others."
- “If you give people tools, and they use their natural ability and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.”
- “If you show people the problems and you show people the solutions they will be moved to act.”
- “In terms of doing things I take a fairly scientific approach to why things happen and how they happen.”
- “Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.”
- “Often you have to rely on intuition.”
- “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”
- “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
- “You’ve got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the world-class people to tell you what you’re doing wrong.”
- “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Quotes by Bill Gates
Here is an extended list of useful or interesting quotes by Bill Gates:
- “Analytical software enables you to shift human resources from rote data collection to value-added customer service and support where the human touch makes a profound difference.”
- “At Microsoft there are lots of brilliant ideas but the image is that they all come from the top – I’m afraid that’s not quite right.”
- “Capitalism is this wonderful thing that motivates people, it causes wonderful inventions to be done. But in this area of diseases of the world at large, it’s really let us down.”
- “Every day we’re saying, ‘How can we keep this customer happy?’ How can we get ahead in innovation by doing this’, because if we don’t, somebody else will.”
- “Great organizations demand a high level of commitment by the people involved.”
- “I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act.”
- “I do think this next century, hopefully, will be about a more global view. Where you don’t just think, yes my country is doing well, but you think about the world at large.”
- “I like my job because it involves learning. I like being around smart people who are trying to figure out new things. I like the fact that if people really try they can figure out how to invent things that actually have an impact.”
- “I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot.”
- “I think it`s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we`ve ever created. They`re tools of communication, they`re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user.”
- “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1000 MPG.”
- “If I’d had some set idea of a finish line, don’t you think I would have crossed it years ago?”
- “If you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.”
- “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”
- “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.”
- “Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other.”
- “Instead of buying airplanes and playing around like some of our competitors, we’ve rolled almost everything back into the company.”
- “Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”
- “It’s pretty incredible to look back 30 years to when Microsoft was starting and realize how work has been transformed. We’re finally getting close to what I call the digital workstyle.”
- “Microsoft has had its success by doing low-cost products and constantly improving those products and we’ve really redefined the IT industry to be something that’s about a tool for individuals.“
- “Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.”
- “One of the wonderful things about the information highway is that virtual equity is far easier to achieve than real-world equity…We are all created equal in the virtual world and we can use this equality to help address some of the sociological problems that society has yet to solve in the physical world.”
- “Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning.”
- “Patience is a key element of success.”
- “Personal computing today is a rich ecosystem encompassing massive PC-based data centers, notebook and Tablet PCs, handheld devices, and smart cell phones. It has expanded from the desktop and the data center to wherever people need it — at their desks, in a meeting, on the road or even in the air.”
- “Software is a great combination between artistry and engineering. When you finally get done and get to appreciate what you have done it is like a part of yourself that you`ve put together. I think a lot of the people here feel that way.”
- “Smart is an elusive concept. There’s a certain sharpness, an ability to absorb new facts. To ask an insightful question. To relate to domains that may not seem connected at first. A certain creativity that allows people to be effective.”
- “Step back, build a better system, make sure that the government money gets to the people who deserve it.”
- “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
- “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
- “The great thing about a computer notebook is that no matter how much you stuff into it, it doesn`t get bigger or heavier.”
- “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”
- “The Internet will help achieve "friction free capitalism" by putting buyer and seller in direct contact and providing more information to both about each other.”
- “The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”
- “This is a fantastic time to be entering the business world, because business is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50.”
- “This is a very exciting time in the world of information. It`s not just that the personal computer has come along as a great tool. The whole pace of business is moving faster. Globalization is forcing companies to do things in new ways.”
- “Until we’re educating every kid in a fantastic way, until every inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do.”
- “Virtually every company will be going out and empowering their workers with a certain set of tools, and the big difference in how much value is received from that will be how much the company steps back and really thinks through their business processes … thinking through how their business can change, how their project management, their customer feedback, and their planning cycles can be quite different than they ever were before.”
- “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
- "We are always saying to ourself, ‘We have to innovate. We got to come up with that breakthrough.’ In fact, the way software works, so long as you are using your existing software, you don’t pay us anything at all. So we’re only paid for breakthroughs."
- “We don’t have the user centricity, until we understand context, which is way beyond presence. Presence is the most trivial notion, just, ‘am I on this device or not’ — it doesn’t say ‘am I meeting with something, am I focused on writing something.”
- “We’re only at the beginning of what we have to do here.”
- “When you want to do your homework, fill out your tax return, or see all the choices for a trip you want to take, you need a full-size screen.”
The Opportunity Bill Gave Us at Microsoft
On Bill Gates’ last day at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer reminded us of the opportunity Bill gave us:
“Every one of us has had an opportunity to realize our own potential: we’ve had a chance to contribute to society … we’ve had a chance to develop and grow as professionals … we’ve had a chance to work with the best and the brightest in the world … we’ve had a chance to prosper personally … we’ve been given an enormous, enormous opportunity … and Bill gave us that opportunity.”
Watch the video, Bill Gates’ Last Day at Microsoft.
You can learn a lot about someone or a company by their values. The values of a company reflect the leadership. Here are the values and guiding principles that can help you see a little more about Bill.
- Integrity and honesty.
- Passion for customers, partners, and technology.
- Open and respectful with others and dedicated to making them better.
- Willingness to take on big challenges and see them through.
- Self-critical, questioning, and committed to personal excellence and self-improvement.
- Accountable for commitments, results, and quality to customers, shareholders, partners, and employees.
Guiding Principles of the Gates Foundation
- Guiding Principle #1: This is a family foundation driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family.
- Guiding Principle #2: Philanthropy plays an important but limited role.
- Guiding Principle #3: Science and technology have great potential to improve lives around the world.
- Guiding Principle #4: We are funders and shapers—we rely on others to act and implement.
- Guiding Principle #5: Our focus is clear—and limited—and prioritizes some of the most neglected issues.
- Guiding Principle #6: We identify a specific point of intervention and apply our efforts against a theory of change.
- Guiding Principle #7: We take risks, make big bets, and move with urgency. We are in it for the long haul.
- Guiding Principle #8: We advocate—vigorously but responsibly—in our areas of focus.
- Guiding Principle #9: We must be humble and mindful in our actions and words. We seek and heed the counsel of outside voices.
- Guiding Principle #10: We treat our grantees as valued partners, and we treat the ultimate beneficiaries of our work with respect.
- Guiding Principle #11: Delivering results with the resources we have been given is of the utmost importance—and we seek and share information about those results.
- Guiding Principle #12: We demand ethical behavior of ourselves.
- Guiding Principle #13: We treat each other as valued colleagues.
- Guiding Principle #14: Meeting our mission—to increase opportunity and equity for those most in need—requires great stewardship of the money we have available.
- Guiding Principle #15: We leave room for growth and change.
Bill Gates 12 Rules
Bill Gates identified 12 rules for managers to master the digital universe:
- Insist that communication flow through e-mail
- Study sales data online to share insights easily
- Shift knowledge workers into high-level thinking
- Use digital tools to create virtual teams
- Convert every paper process to a digital process
- Use digital tools to eliminate single-task jobs
- Create a digital feedback loop
- Use digital systems to route customer complaints immediately
- Use digital communication to redefine boundaries
- Transform every business process into just-in-time delivery
- Use digital delivery to eliminate the middle man
- Use digital tools to help customers solve problems for themselves
You can read about each of these rules at Bill Gate’s New Rules (Time.com)
Bill Gates’ 11 Rules of Life
There is a list of rules for life that you don’t learn in school that often gets attributed to Bill Gates:
- Rule 1: Life is not fair
- Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem.
- Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school.
- Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
- Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.
- Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
- Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now.
- Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT.
- Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters.
- Rule 10: Television is NOT real life.
- Rule 11: Be nice to nerds.
I think it’s worth clearing up that this list of life rules is not actually by Bill Gates. The rules are actually a pared-down version from an article by Charles J. Sykes, that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune on September 19, 1996. You can read about this at Bill Gates’ 11 Rules of Life.
Bill Gates’ Resources at a Glance
Here is a quick reference table for more information on Bill Gates:
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Photo by Gobierno de Chile.