How to think like Bill Gates

By Adam Blanch

What set Bill Gates apart and rocketed him to the top of the business world?

Bill Gates: chairman and co-founder of Microsoft, inventor, philanthropist and a regular inclusion at the top of the Forbes rich list. He is a sometimes controversial figure, but by anyone’s standards it is a success story paralleled by few. So what set Gates apart and rocketed him to the top of the world?


Bill Gates first got his hands on a computer in high school, before the personal computer had really emerged. Though he was one of a rare few who had this opportunity, Gates saw the potential of the personal computer to change the world. In his own words: "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."


His early success came not from inventing new products, but from recognising gaps in the market. Microsoft was born when he purchased the rights to QDOS and redeveloped the software for IBM as an operating system. Similarly, Windows was not an original idea but a redevelopment of pre-existing software.

Famously, it put him into competition with Apple, who already had an icon-based interface. However, where Apple tried to control the development of the downstream products that used their operating system, Microsoft made it available to anyone. This strategy would become the basis of his success. By allowing others to use his software and develop their own programs on it, he made Microsoft products the platform on which most of the world’s personal computer software was written and most PCs were operating.


Microsoft is almost as famous for its failed products and ventures into the mobile and music markets as for its successful ones. Its ongoing success comes from the willingness to make bold new moves and learn from mistakes. Gates put it like this: "It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."


In later years, Bill Gates has become better known as a philanthropist. Though this is seen by some as a change of heart, he has said that he was always driven not by money but by the chance to make a difference in the world. We will finish with his take on the work that defined not only his life, but the future of humanity:

"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."


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