Lesson #5: Never Stop Learning

“Every now and then I like to pick up a copy of Time magazine and read every article from beginning to end, not just the articles that interest me most,” says Gates. “That way you can be certain to learn something you didn’t know previously.”

Learning is an essential ingredient of any successful business. As soon as you close your mind to the possibility of another reality, you are closing yourself off to other greater opportunities that lie waiting for you. “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself,” says Gates. “Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” In order for Microsoft to have maintained its competitive edge for the past three decades, it was crucial for Gates and all his employers to engage in a process of continual learning. For Gates, “‘I don’t know’ had become ‘I don’t know yet.’”

The ability to be open to change and to continue to try and improve oneself and one’s business is crucial to success, according to Gates. “People always fear change,” he says. “People feared electricity when it was invented…there will always be ignorance, and ignorance leads to fear.” If you ignore your surroundings and stop asking questions about how to improve, you will be destined to failure. In the highly competitive world of computer technology, where the likes of Google and Apple are becoming bigger threats to Microsoft, it is not difficult for Gates to stay on his toes.

Many outsiders attribute Gates’ success simply to his high level of intelligence. But for Gates, “Smart is an elusive concept.” Instead, he attributes his success to his desire to never stop learning. “There’s a certain sharpness, an ability to absorb new facts; to ask an insightful question; to relate two domains that may not seem connected at first.” It is this curiosity that Gates tries to inspire in his workers, encouraging them to not only find answers but to ask the right questions.

Gates now spends much of his time devoted to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to researching new innovations concerning health and education on a global scale. In this role, he continues to ask questions about the current state of the world and what he can do to both educate others and help relieve the problems. “Is the rich world aware of how four billion of the six billion live?” asks Gates. “If we were aware, we would want to help out, we’d want to get involved.”

For Gates, no matter what you spend your time doing in life, you should never stop asking questions; never stop learning. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a doctor or a software developer, it is only by increasing your understanding of the world around you that you will be able to have a significant impact. This is why Gates can still exclaim today, “I’m excited by the possibilities.” If you never stop learning, you will never stop seeing the possibilities.

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