You’d think that I’d write here about Bill Gates on a regular basis. You’d be wrong. Oh sure, I’ve written about Microsoft and their evolution from a software company to one that invents battery technology, and I’ve told you about Gate’s buddy Warren Buffett needing a new television, but Mr. Microsoft just doesn’t get much attention here.
Last week, Malcolm Gladwell showed me why that is: Bill Gates the businessman just isn’t very interesting . . . or even very important. Bill Gates the philanthropist, on the other hand, will be a man in whose honor statues are erected.
In this appearance at the Toronto Public Library, Gladwell argues that business leaders, after a few decades have passed, are forgotten. Mr. Gladwell trains his sites not just on Bill Gates, but also on Steve Jobs.
Only business people who legitimately change the world are ever remembered say, 100 years later. Henry Ford created the assembly line. Eli Whitney created the cotton gin. Like that.
Riddle me this: who invented the radio? No, it isn’t Marconi.
Gates invented . . . nothing. He bought MS-DOS, and Windows was a copy of MacOS, which itself was a copy of work at Xerox Park. Jobs also created nothing.
Both were pretty darned great marketers (Gates gets a “were” because he’s stopped), and Jobs was an AMAZING one. But remembered in 100 years for being a great marketer? Oh, Please.
Gates’ philanthropic actions, on the other hand, have the potential (as yet mostly unrealized) to genuinely change the world. Of course, making change to “business as usual” is business change, so the distinction between Bill Gates the philanthropist and Bill Gates the titan of industry isn’t important—except to historians.
And, of course to commentators.
So, no, Bill Gates doesn’t follow me on Twitter, but if he did I’d hope it was Bill Gates the philanthropist who cared enough to do so. And Steve Jobs was smarter than your average fruit fly.
What about you? Are you making business change happen in ways that people will remember, or will you fade into oblivion by the time your grandchildren are gone?