Why I Spent Last Week Decoding Bill Gates

For those who are not constantly updating their Netflix queues, in late September the platform released a three-part limited series called Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, each hour-long episode focuses on a global issue that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently fixated on. In between technical talk and global tragedies, the series tells the story of Bill Gates. From the fierce arguments between baby Bill and his mother, a very influential businesswoman in Seattle, to the slightly awkward but romantic beginnings of his relationship with Melinda Gates, the series does not shy away from touchy subjects. And to his credit, Bill answers every question and rarely shows any disgruntlement with their prodding. I won’t spoil the show or the hours of research I know each of you will be inspired to do after watching its (slightly surprising) conclusion. But, I will highlight a few of my favorite new points of information about Bill Gates.

BILL GATES’ BOOK BAG

Perhaps it is simply the bibliophile in me, but this particular habit of Bill Gates immediately stirred up the warm and fuzzies. Picture a rather large, beige tote bag with blue lining… and it’s filled to the brim with books. Gates carries this with him everywhere he goes, especially when he’s traveling and has more time to read. And the books themselves? They get replaced every week by his assistant after he devours them whole. 

These aren’t the "Top 15 Thrillers of the Week" either, but deep and dense texts about energy, pollution, sanitation, etc. Whatever Gates needs to know about, he’s reading dozens of books on the subject to get an in-depth understanding of it. I think it’s honorable, his dedication to fully understanding a problem before he begins to look for solutions. Especially in this era of immediate reactions, headline news, and 280-character opinions, such thoroughness is applaudable.

"THINK WEEKS"

In the 1980s, Bill Gates began a tradition he calls “Think Weeks.” The idea is simple, dreamy, and depressingly unrealistic for most Americans. The multi-billionaire spirits himself away to a secret cabin in the Pacific Northwest with his book bag and his brain (probably with computers and paper and pens and things too, I don’t know, it’s secret...shhhhh) for one week, twice a year. 

The key to these "Think Weeks" is that Gates is alone for the entire seven days, aside from one aide who brings him meals twice a day. The rest of his time is devoted to rest, relaxation, & loads of research. It sounds peaceful, and I’m sure it is, but do not be fooled. These "Think Weeks" are full of work; they're meant to be a time for Gates to think hard about whatever issue he’s facing, with stacks of research to help him along. 

My favorite part, however, is when the cabin is shown in the series, Gates opens up a mini-fridge to reveal that it's entirely full of Diet Coke. A man after my own addiction.

PERSONALITY TRAITS

Bill Gates has a lot to admire about him, and a lot to envy. If I had to narrow it down, though, I’d highlight his passion and his optimism. 

It’s well-known that Gates is a man who loves computers; his passion for them nevertheless knocks me to the ground. You know that feeling when you’re practically foaming at the mouth, fingertips itching for a keyboard or pages to flip when something truly sparks inside you, catches your eye, and drags you in? Gates lives in that feeling, constantly, it seems. For technology, first and foremost (he is a self-proclaimed technophile), but also for clean water initiatives, for the eradication of polio, for knowledge, for change.

Gates is also a man who has faced a lot of setbacks, despite his incredible advances. In Microsoft, sure, and in life, as we all do, but also in philanthropy. We assume that, with hundreds of billions of dollars at his disposal, Gates must be capable of any and all change he wishes to see in the world. And to an extent that is true. He's chosen where to put his money and he's made considerable changes in those chosen fields. But one person’s money cannot predict the future, it cannot reign in foreign terrorism, it cannot bring people back to life, it cannot control politics, and it cannot fix everything in a single swipe. Yet, Gates moves forward. He faces each challenge, and he keeps trudging on. And he’s making a huge difference (for example, here).

This isn’t a biography or a critical review of the series… it’s an urge for you to learn more about this man than his technological breakthroughs. A great start would be to watch the show ;). The vastness of Bill Gates and his impact on the world can neither be summarized in one article, nor in a three-hour miniseries. So I also recommend visiting GatesNotes, his blog, which has an article specifically about some of the bits that didn’t make the show. Personally, I’m fascinated by his lifestyle, his dedication, and his bookbag (also on GatesNotes as its own cute subcategory). What do you think you know about Bill Gates?