7 Smart Things Bill Gates Learned When He Was Still Young Enough for It to Matter
Plus, his big move 20 years ago this month. Then, a piece of a listicle from five years ago, and of course: 7 other things worth a click.
Funny thing. Bill Gates took to Twitter yesterday to tweet a list of his seven most favorite tweets.
The occasion is—and honestly, who commemorates this?—but it’s the 10th anniversary of when Gates jointed Twitter.
(That means that I joined Twitter 15 months earlier. Unlike Gates, we just held a quiet little dinner to celebrate.*)
I’m trying to put a finger on exactly why Gates’s tweet about tweets caught my attention.
Perhaps it’s because by all rights Microsoft should have been able to build Twitter long before Jack Dorsey and crew did.
Also, Gates is currently worth about $110 billion, and the entire market cap of Twitter is only about $26 billion.
Anyway, I took the bait, and I wrote for Inc.com this morning about the commonalities among the tweets Gates picked as his favorites. (In short, they have nothing to do with anything from the first half of his life; they’re all about either his relationships or his anti-poverty initiatives.)
There’s actually a much more momentous Gates anniversary going on right now, which is that this month is the 20th anniversary of when Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft.
Granted, he didn’t exactly go gently into the good night. Gates stayed on as chairman for another few years, and also became the head of software strategy. Of course, he also put his first $5 billion into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
I’m working on a slightly longer, thoughtful piece about how Gates has evolved (well, I think it’s thoughtful)—which will likely run over the weekend.
Since I’ve been writing this kind of thing for a long time, however, and since all past is prologue, I took a look back at what I wrote five years ago, when yes, I was covering the 15th anniversary of Gates’s decision to step down.
Five years ago was still the age of listicles, so I came up with seven “leadership lessons” from the early life of Bill Gates—things he learned when he was young, but that other people often take a lifetime to understand.
There are other keys to his success of course, but I still like these as takeaways:
1. Get in early--and learn.
Gates’s big head start was that in 1969, when he was in eighth grade, his school bought an early computer. He was excused from regular math classes to learn to program. His first successful project: a tic-tac-toe program.
2. Seek forgiveness, not permission.
There are so many examples we could turn to here, but: that computer in eighth grade? Gates (with his friend Paul Allen) exploited bugs to obtain free computer time. When they were caught, they traded their bug-finding ability for still more free computer time.
3. Get paid.
Gates never had a problem asking for money. At age 14, he was writing code for a corporate client; by age 17, he and Allen launched their first company. At 21, he became famous for writing an "Open Letter to Hobbyists" telling them to "pay up," after he realized that amateur programmers were pirating his software.
4. Learning matters more than school.
Gates’s SAT score was “nearly perfect,” and his family valued education. He enrolled at Harvard at 17, but of course, dropped out in his second year to start Microsoft with Allen—and begin his real education.
5. When you're in charge, take charge.
Gates was a difficult, extremely competitive boss at Microsoft. At least one employee described his criticism as "devastating." But, he took responsibility. During the first five years, he oversaw every line of code. If you're old enough to have used MS-DOS or the original version of Windows, you've used a product Gates helped code.
6. Be the guy who predicts the future.
Obviously easier said than done, but Gates saw the future first at several early key moments. One of them—and this is a classic story—came in 1980, when he negotiated a deal to license the DOS operating system to IBM for a low $50,000, but had the foresight not transfer the copyright.
7. Tackle a big enough mission.
In some ways this should be first on the list, but we’ll use it as the bridge to the present.
Following the examples of John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie (and the mentorship of Warren Buffett), Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, are now among America's most generous philanthropists. Their mission is about solving "big problems" that they believe governments are incapable of fixing.
I mean, it’s not as big a deal as 10 years on Twitter, of course, but it might have a little something to do with his ultimate legacy.
*We did not actually hold a quiet little dinner to celebrate.
I usually try not to beat myself up too much about little mistakes in Understandably, but I had to laugh at my error yesterday.
It’s Merriam-Webster, the dictionary, that defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”
To my knowledge, “Miriam Webster,” which is what I originally wrote yesterday by mistake—and who is apparently “an Australian Pentecostal worship leader and contemporary singer/songwriter”—does not define entrepreneur in this way.
7 other things worth a click
Can’t make this up: A man settled a racial discrimination case against his former employer, but when he went to deposit his check, the bank accused him of fraud. Now, he’s suing the bank for discrimination, too. (Detroit Free Press)
Nearly 40 percent of Americans say they couldn’t handle a $1,000 emergency without a loan. (Bankrate)
The CEO of Goldman Sachs says his firm won’t underwrite IPOs for companies that don’t have at least one “diverse board member” (with the focus mainly being on including women.) (LinkedIn)
The former CEO of Wells Fargo is banned from the banking industry and must pay a $17.5 million fine, as a results of scandals involving fake accounts. (CNBC)
Planters is apparently killing off Mr. Peanut. During the Super Bowl. For… ratings or publicity or something. (Inc.com)
A 76-year-old billionaire pharmaceutical executive was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison, in connection with the opioid epidemic. (NPR)
An Italian astronaut is the first to cook food in space from raw ingredients. The recipe: chocolate chip cookies, aboard the International Space Station. They had to bring them home for testing instead of eating them, though. (Associated Press)
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