People clearly think Gates is weird, has Asperger's syndrome, or whatever -- and are somewhat gleeful when they find apparent proof. But I suspect the world looks different from behind his eyeballs -- because, let's face it, he's smarter than the vast majority of us.
His recent ThinkWeek retreat was interrupted by a visit from Wall Street Journal reporter Robert A Guth, who documented his habit of reading prodigious quantities of stuff over long days, sustained only by grilled cheese sandwiches and Orange Crush. And people thought it looked pretty geeky. In fact, Google wanted to know: did I actually want to search for ThinkGeek, not ThinkWeek.
The problem here is this: ThinkWeek is about resource allocation not creativity. Doubtful that Bill made this error -- I think the rest of us did. (We didn't hear about "InnovateWeek", where he goes to the same cottage, but spends his days walking on the beach, reading poetry, and dabbling in watercolors to inspire creativity.) This is really a problem of labelling.
I thought there were some things worth emulating about Mr. Gates as described in the story:
He knows the power of the executive nod
He recognizes that his least raised eyebrow will cause people to start hopping, and he takes that responsibility seriously:
Mr. Gates is well aware of the potential impact of his comments and doesn't take writing them lightly. "If I write a comment that says, 'We should do this,' things will be re-orged, engineers will move," he says. "It's not like I can just read this paper and say, 'Hey, cool, looks good.' They'll assign 20 people to it then."
He looks at everybody's best ideas personally
Here's another interesting thing: if you have a great idea, you can get it past the analysts in strategic planning or wherever, and actually put your best thinking in front of the best brain.
I love that part. And so would anyone who couldn't get past the gatekeepers in a big company.
(Been there, done that) But at Microsoft, it seems that you get a chance to be heard by the top guy. if you took your best shot and he hated it -- well, you had your chance, didn't you? Not like you could say "he just didn't get it." Here's what one of the employees thought:
It's the world's coolest suggestion box
He reads things that have details
Here's another thing: he's actually prepared to read something in depth. By way of contrast, a buddy of mine tells a story of the other extreme. Getting ready for a big presentation of results to a visiting senior exec of a major food-products company, she had condensed a huge research project to a 50 slide deck. Then the exec says to her, 'I'm in a hurry, can you show me your two best slides?'
Yes, we've been there too -- asked to reduce months of thought to a sound bite, otherwise forget it. Isn't it nice to know there are some deep thinkers out there?
Yes, I have had my beefs with Microsoft, who hasn't? But Bill's still a hottie in the head department.