Bill Gates takes the risks that very few people will do in this world.
He risked in 1975, when he left Harvard to build Microsoft. In 2008, he risked leaving Microsoft to work full time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
And in 2013, he took another bet, when his foundation contributed to a $ 5.5 billion initiative to address one of the most ambitious public health goals ever set: eradicate polio.
Those big bets have borne fruit – polio still remains a problem in some parts of the world, but significant improvements, such as the development of effective vaccinations, have been made since Gates was involved – which shows that taking big risks and getting big hits can go hand in hand.
But how do you determine which risks are worth taking and which are not?
This is a question that the co-founder of Microsoft explored in a recent blog post, in which he talks about the new Netflix series, "Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates". An important theme in the documentary is Gates' willingness to invest time and money in projects that have no guarantee of success.
"Watching the series made me think about what the word" risk "really means," Gates wrote in his post. "Whether we invest $ 100,000 or $ 100 million, the decision is always calculated. I spend a lot of time thinking, analyzing data and talking to experts to judge if we can really make a difference. "
But Gates says regardless of how much analysis is done, it is important to feel comfortable with uncertainty. "We are facing problems where progress is measured not only in years, but often decades – in which your final goal does not change, but your journey to get there may be necessary."
Gates's trick to feel at ease with uncertainty, he explained, is to continue learning and being open to new strategies that can bring him closer to his goals. "This approach has driven every big bet I made in my career from Microsoft to today, including polio."
The willingness to take risks is important, but Gates emphasized another key point: a good bet is based on appropriate models, not a suspect. In the decision to take polio, Gates said he had a model in mind, and that model was the history of smallpox: the only human disease ever successfully wiped out.
In the end, Gates stated that his risk-taking approach is "very similar to what Warren Buffett does when he makes an investment on a bet, which will be worth 10 times more along the way".
"Warren spends a lot of time looking for a company that has great long-term prospects. So it makes a big investment and holds it for many years," explained Gates. "He is famous for having followed the course through market rotations and economic cycles".
Like Buffett, Gates also chooses his projects carefully, looking for those that will make the difference and create better lives for generations to come. Analyzing whether achieving a certain goal can really make a difference is what Gates loves most about his job: "I'm never happier than when I dive into the details of a problem".
Of course, deciding what risks to take is never easy. "I also feel the pressure to assert every dollar and every day," he wrote. "I say no to many more opportunities than I say yes."
Tom Popomaronis is a trade expert, leader of intersectoral innovation and Vice President of Innovation at Massive Alliance. His work was presented in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40s" by the Baltimore Business Journal.
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