Wisdom//

Bill Gates Says He Attributes His Success to These 3 Things

On a return visit to his high school, the Microsoft founder opened up about what worked in his career, and what didn’t.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the future co-founders of Microsoft, first met, became friends, and began their collaboration as students at Lakeside School in Seattle. Fortune reports that Gates recently returned to Lakeside to speak to an audience of high schoolers about the mindsets that have driven his achievements. Among the advice he shared with them was to “prioritize sleep” — he said that Why We Sleep, a book written by neuroscientist Matthew Walker, has been particularly influential for him lately. 

Here are three additional skill-sets that Gates says are essential to building success. 

Exercising curiosity

The benefits of curiosity are well-supported by research, and Gates said his own sense of wonder has propelled him far. Gates is an avid reader, carrying a bag’s worth of books whenever he travels. When Gates wants to learn about something, “he’ll read five books about it, most of which are too dense for any mortal to read. He almost always knows more than the other person he talks to,” one friend said in the recent Netflix documentary Inside Bill’s Brain. Gates told the audience of high schoolers at his alma mater that there’s never been a better time to be an inquisitive person. “For the curious learner, these are the best of times, because your ability to constantly refresh your knowledge with either podcasts or [online] lectures is better than ever,” he said. 

Embodying optimism 

Gates said that the success of Microsoft, and later the Gates Foundation, was driven by a “very optimistic attitude.” Savoring past successes, and then remembering them during times of failure, is a way to drive future wins, he explained. “Inside Microsoft were all sorts of failures, like we didn’t ship Windows for two years after we announced it, but there were enough successes that it was really OK,” he said. 

Learning to delegate 

When Microsoft began to scale, Gates recalled struggling to let go of the reigns. He particularly didn’t want to give up the hands-on-work of coding. “Initially, I wrote most of the code, and if I didn’t, I read your code and edited it,” he said. Adjusting to the fact that he couldn’t — and shouldn’t — review all of it before it was delivered was “strange, like the quality was going to go down,” he said. But the company wound up excelling even without his meticulous oversight, and Gates found that he was able to divert his attention to other areas. 

Gates also said that effective delegation stems from recognizing your personal strengths and weaknesses. In his case, these skills were programming and people management, respectively. Recognizing that dealing with people would be part of the job, he delegated the task. “Bringing in Steve Ballmer, who really liked management and people, that was a huge benefit. I hired lots of very experienced people,” he said. 

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