Blog Post

Bill Gates on Collaboration and Continued Learning

No, that is not Alfred E. Neuman staring back at you. It’s Bill Gates, of course, who is the author of a new thought piece posted on BBC News titled “The Skills You Need to Succeed.” While Gates’ essay has several self-serving moments on how important software is to people, businesses and economies in the modern age, and he shows a marked predilection for paragraphs consisting of one sentence, he nevertheless makes a number of good points that get right to the very heart of what this blog is all about.

Among the better points he makes, Gates challenges the notion that creators of software work best as cave-dwelling coders, far from the madding crowds:

“Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.”

While creators of software are often lone coders, and a fair number of them aren’t the greatest communicators, I have to agree with Gates that collaboration can greatly help anyone working with software. That includes application users and web workers of all stripes. Web workers are constantly parked in front of a great medium for collaboration: the web itself. With the recent rise of social networks and free applications on the web that let you do everything from conducting online meetings to working as a team on web site prototypes, we can all benefit from being better collaborators.

There are a number of other good points in Gates’ piece. He points out that many of the innovations of the past decades came from the realms of science and engineering—areas where young students in the U.S. are doing steadily worse over time. I also agree with him that a good stance in life to take is to be a constant learner of new things:

“I also place a high value on having a passion for ongoing learning. When I was pretty young, I picked up the habit of reading lots of books.”

Collaboration, ongoing learning, and even book recommendations are all in favored territory on this blog. Since 2008 and the time for resolutions are coming quickly, what can you do to improve yourself, based on these themes?

First off, if you’re looking for book recommendations, Anne recently rounded up ten must-reads for web workers. While you’re reading those books, why not brush up on some good, free collaboration applications you can download? How about taking a look at nine free online meeting applications? Or, short of a full-blown meeting, why not get a free app for sharing your screen with a colleague, or a free app for sharing files with co-workers? You might also enjoy a free tool for creating web site prototypes with others. Or you could even think about marrying a whole suite of free collaboration and productivity tools for a complete online workplace.

Of course, working with others well calls for good tools and best efficiency practices. You can quickly get better at taking control of your day, working more efficiently or, if you’re in an offbeat mood, working more efficiently with index cards. If a new laptop might make you a better worker, brush up on how to shop for one. Or, you might make yourself a better worker by optimizing your home Wi-Fi network or even optimizing your USB thumb drive.

I’ve certainly never found Bill Gates to always be right. But the value of ongoing learning and collaboration with others can’t be overemphasized.

How will you become a better web worker in 2008?

8 Responses to “Bill Gates on Collaboration and Continued Learning”

  1. “Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.”

    This is an interesting statement which I read as a pointed barb at one weakness of part of the Free Software model and not really about innovation. Taken as a statement in its rightful context about business, it is true enough.

    Yet when commercial Free Software businesses — Red Hat, Novell, Canonical to name a few — start to bring the better code (composed with wider input) and start to engage enterprise software customers (for product feedback), this is the innovation & business threat Mr Gates would most like to avoid.

  2. The one-sentence paragraphs is not necessarily a Gatesism. Most BBC News articles are formatted into one-sentence paragraphs. Gates may have had to write in that way for the BBC, or it was subsequently edited like that. As for why the BBC do it, I do not know.