Bill Gates Decides To Take a Week off by David A. Kaplan
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Bill Gates’ “Think Week” to have a week off to focus on crucial topics for Microsoft’s future is discussed in detail. Although his Think Week practice was not conducted anymore after he left Microsoft, it became an inspiration to Mark Zuckerberg for his operation of Facebook. Gates conducted Think Week once or twice a year from 1992 to 2008 at Microsoft. It was his idea to re-calibrate corporate strategies and direction. This resulted in creative directions and ideas for Microsoft, including the implementation of Xbox Live. Although Microsoft mainly derived amazing products and operational ideas through strong teamwork, Gates was in charge of core aspects of the management. His Think Week definitely helped himself retreat from the World and focus on critical issues for the future of Microsoft.
During Think Week, he is away from ‘the world’ – no human contact except his wife. This enables him to immerse himself, cleaning his mind and body, being away from all the memos, manuscripts and articles, and this in return brings a space for brilliant ideas for his corporate. “During the six days of Think Week, I did nothing other than reading, sleeping and eating (p.99-100 of this chapter)”. Before the Think Week came in, Gates had several trials of different working styles, where he just sat down and replied all the comments from employees regarding the corporate management and projects, or read all the materials ranged from overviews about coming consumer trends to recent issues with semiconductors.
Upon having the Think Week, Gates was able to have enough space and time to take step back from what he was doing and redirect the corporate if necessary. His “Internet Tidal Wave” memo of May 26, 1995, to Microsoft executives is the best example of what Think Week could result in. The memo was motivated from various materials that employees had sent him. During the Think Week, Gates was able to composition a big picture from the employees’ materials. In the memo, Gates pinpointed the hope and threat of the Net. This made Microsoft prioritise the Net industry, where a Silicon Valley called Netscape had a 70% share with regards to the browser market. Eventually, Microsoft won the browser war. About Microsoft not initiating Think Weeks after Gates left, he said he is not surprised as there are different ways that people cope with loads of works to do as a CEO, and Gates enjoys pushing himself super-hard to the extent where he fully focuses on reviewing and commenting over 120 papers in six days. He also added that he did not recommend his work style to several CEOs when they approached him and asked about Think Weeks. For example, General Electric’s CEO does “picking people and business models” rather than handling every kind of papers ahead of him.
Gates now does not do Think Weeks anymore at his current foundation. He said there is no reason to do that as he does not have loads of managerial jobs that he needs to deal with. But he goes to invention sessions at Intellectual Ventures (IV), a private investment and invention laboratory for fields ranging from software to biotechnology. Gates uses his sessions at IV for topics on global health, and in this way he may keeps his Think Weeks ongoing.
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