Lesson #3: Think Long-Term

“We weren’t trying to just go public and get rich,” recalls Gates of his early Microsoft days. “There was no near-term thing. It always was this many-decades thing where there were no shortcuts and we’d sort of put one foot in front of the other.”

One of the key factors that Gates attributes to Microsoft attaining its dominant position in the computer industry is the company’s overall focus on long-term goals. Working their way from a BASIC program for the Altair to Microsoft’s latest program, Windows Vista, the company has gradually built itself up into a software empire. The company’s remarkable achievement did not come from any dreams Gates or Allen had of instant success.

From the very first time Gates laid his hands on a computer, he had the sense to know that this would be a constantly vibrant and growing industry. He impressed this idea early on throughout the Microsoft culture and corporate strategy. While Microsoft’s vision was focused solely on software, it became the first of its kind in 1991 to create its own computer science research organization. By founding its own research organization to stay on top of current technological developments, Microsoft was making the world aware that it was going to be a powerful force that was here to stay.

After 15 years, Microsoft Research remains one of the world’s largest, fastest-growing and dynamic software research organizations in the world. Its primary goal remains to be “always looking five to 10 years beyond the current product development cycles to identify and invent key technologies that will impact users in the future.” Microsoft Research currently has over 700 employees worldwide who cover more than 55 areas of research, including speech recognition, user-interfaces, graphics, networking and more.

The unique nature of the relationship between Microsoft researchers and developers is one of the factors that make the company so unique and also so successful. While the company researchers focus on more long-term goals in order to maintain the company’s competitive edge in the coming decades, they regularly meet with Microsoft executives and researchers in order to share their findings. This leads to the innovative products that Microsoft releases onto the market. Thus, by focusing on long-term goals, the company is able to profit in the short-term.

Taking a long-term approach to business has enabled Microsoft to have tremendous staying power in an industry that is constantly changing. But, Gates’ ambition to keep his company thriving and at the top of its game has not dwindled in his thirty years in the industry. When asked by Playboy if one success was enough for him, Gates replied, “Microsoft has had many, many successful products. It’s like saying to somebody who’s been married 50 years, ‘Well, hell, you've had only one wife. What's wrong with you? You think you can do only one?’ I mean I'm committed to one company. This is the industry I've decided to work in.”

Gates chose to focus on computer software and to do that spectacularly well for not only a few years, but also a lifetime and beyond.

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