Lesson #4: Make A Strong Recovery

“There were a lot of missteps in the early days, but because we got in early we got to make more mistakes than other people,” says Gates.

The path to becoming the richest man in the world and chairman of the world’s largest software company was not without its challenges. From customers going bankrupt in Microsoft’s early days and defaulting on their payments to the company designing machines that were never released, Gates experienced his share of professional failures. Whether it was a product that failed or a hire that didn’t work out, Gates knew what it was to make a mistake. But, in moving past his errors, Gates learned the importance of a good recovery.

A long-time project of Gates’, an APL interpreter that he had almost finished designing, never actually got its feet off the ground. Despite Gates’ hard work, it was decided that there was too small a market for the product. Gates eventually got busy on another project and the APL faded into the past without ever having been shipped. On another similar occasion, Microsoft was contracted to write a code for machines manufactured by Texas Instruments. While they completed the product on time, Multiplan was a failure in the home computer market and the line was discontinued.

Gates learned from this mistake of creating software for 8-bit machines instead of the up and coming IBM PC generation. From that point on, whenever the idea for a new product line came about, Gates would ask himself, “Are we aiming too low, in terms of system requirements…is this another case like Multiplan?” With full confidence in his product, it was his strategy that Gates knew was flawed. And, it was that mistake that allowed Gates to make “one of the best decisions” he ever did. Gates chose to leave the world of DOS and focus solely on Windows and the future of graphical user interfaces.

Gates also admits to having made a number of critical mistakes when it came to retail marketing. Initially using agents in certain countries where Microsoft wanted to expand into, he regards this as a key mistake, preferring now to take a long-term approach and employ his own people. “You should hire people in all the countries you are going to be in and make sure they are there cementing long-term relationships – not just short-term commissions,” he now warns. “I think we learned that one pretty quickly.”

Reflecting on his early mistakes, Gates considers each and every one a part of the learning experience that got him to where he is today. For Gates, making mistakes was simply a natural part of the experimentation process. He always kept his calm and rationalized that every mistake was “correctable”, with the important thing being to “wake up and see what the results were.” What has always been significant for Gates is not the mistakes that he made along the way, but what he learned each time in bouncing back from them. And, there was always something to be learned.

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