9 Powerful Success Lessons from Bill Gates

I recently came across an interesting article titled Microsoft’s Odd Couple. In the article, Paul Allen – the co-founder of Microsoft – told the story of how he and Bill Gates met and started Microsoft.

I find the article insightful. It contains many lessons on how to be successful at what you do.

Here are the lessons I learned, along with excerpts from the article:

1. Be competitive.

“You could tell three things about Bill Gates pretty quickly. He was really smart. He was really competitive; he wanted to show you how smart he was. And he was really, really persistent.”

One thing that was obvious about Bill Gates was his competitiveness. He had the drive to win. He wanted to get the best results possible.

I find this to be a common trait among successful people. Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, for instance, wrote this in his biography:

“Mother must have been a pretty special motivator, because I took her seriously when she told me I should always try to be the best I could at whatever I took on. So, I have always pursued everything I was interested in with a true passion—some would say obsession—to win. I’ve always held the bar pretty high for myself: I’ve set extremely high personal goals.”

Do you want to succeed? Then aim high and have the drive to get there.

2. Be persistent.

Another Gates’ trait mentioned above is persistence. How does it work? Here is a good description from another part of the article:

“Bill craved closure, and he would hammer away until he got there.”

That’s how persistence works: you have a goal in mind, and you fight your way to it. The process could be long and painful, but you still fight through.

3. Read a lot.

“His parents subscribed to Fortune, and Bill read it religiously.”

Another trait mentioned above is smart. For this, one thing you should do is read a lot. Gates has been an avid reader since he was young. Even today he often writes about the books he reads on his website.

Warren Buffett has the same advice. Reading a lot is how you can harness the power of knowledge.

4. Focus.

“Where I was curious to study everything in sight, Bill would focus on one task at a time with total discipline. You could see it when he programmed—he’d sit with a marker clenched in his mouth, tapping his feet and rocking, impervious to distraction.”

To get things done, you must have focus. You must learn to overcome distractions.

The fact is: important works are hard to do. They require your full concentration. If you don’t overcome distractions, you won’t get them done.

5. Pick your battles carefully.

“Bill’s reality checks stopped us from wasting time in areas where we had scant chance of success. So when the right opportunity surfaced, as it did that December, it got my full attention.”

Like it or not, your resources are limited, so be careful not to waste them. You should assess the opportunities that come your way and take only the best ones.

Reading a lot (lesson #3) is helpful here. It gives you the knowledge to assess an opportunity well.

6. Make the most of your opportunity.

“We had the energy and the skill, and we were hell-bent on seizing the opportunity.”

Once you decide to take on an opportunity, make the most of it. Spare no effort. If you let it pass, it might never come again.

7. Be efficient.

“We staged nightly competitions to squeeze a sub-routine—a small portion of code within a program that performs a specific task—into the fewest instructions.”

In reaching your goal, aim to be as efficient as possible. Don’t waste your resources. Instead, improve your processes and take the shortest path to your destination.

8. Be intense.

“Bill’s intensity was nonstop…”

There is power in intensity. Steve Jobs had it, and Bill Gates did too. The formula for building momentum requires you to be intense.

So put your heart and soul into what you do. This quote from the Lone Survivor movie is a good one: “Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing.”

9. Build a great team.

“Bill never wanted to lose talented people. ‘If this guy leaves,’ he’d say to me, ‘we’ll lose all our momentum.’”

You can’t succeed alone. You need others to be with you. So make it your goal to find great people and build a great team.


Applying these lessons can help you succeed, but there is one thing you must remember: keep your life balanced.

Don’t be so obsessed with your goals that you sacrifice other parts of your life. Stay in balance. You will then have true and lasting success.


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Life Optimizer

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