The Gates Riddle
Why was Bill Gates so successful?
In answering this question, different biographers have emphasized different traits.
Stephen Manes, in his excellent 1994 book, Gates, underscores the Microsoft founder’s fierce (sometimes bordering on sociopathic) competitive instincts.
In his 2008 bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points out the exceptional circumstances that provided teenage Gates near unlimited access to computers on which to hone programming skills on the eve of the personal computer revolution.
I was particularly struck, however, by a quintessential Gatesian trait highlighted in Walter Isaacson’s new book, The Innovators.
Here’s a quote from the chapter where Bill Gates and Paul Allen are working on the project (a BASIC interpreter for the Intel 8080) that will give rise to Microsoft:
One trait that differentiated [Gates and Allen] was focus. Allen’s mind would flit between many ideas and passions, but Gates was a serial obsessor.
“Where I was curious to study everything in sight, Bill would focus on one task at a time with total discipline,” said Allen. “You could see it when he programmed. He would sit with a marker clenched in his mouth, tapping his feet and rocking; impervious to distraction.” [emphasis mine]
(The above quote comes from minute 10 of Chapter 6 of Part 2 of the Audible audio version of The Innovators.)