What Business Can Learn from Gates' New Web Site

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Want Bill Gates as a corporate advisor? Care to hear and read his thinking on the big issues facing the world today? Want to apply his approach to your own business? Then his new site--The Gates Notes--has something for you.

Since leaving his fulltime job at Microsoft in mid-2008, Gates has worked fulltime at his charitable foundation, which invests over $3-billion-a-year in solving the world's most critical problems, generally related to health and education.

The site, subtitled "An inside look at global matters," follows Gates around the world, both physically and intellectually. It includes essays, videos, and links to sources Gates is using to expand his own education. If there is such a thing as "progressive capitalism" it would describe the site's vague political bent.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has shaken the philanthropic world because it is run not like some sleepy do-gooder but like Microsoft: Making big bets and expecting both wins and losses along the way. Gates puts the same sort of thinking and management style that helped Microsoft change the world into the foundation's work.

The foundation is managed by former Microsoft execs, including Gates, his wife Melinda, Patty Stonesifer, and Jeff Raikes. Warren Buffet is a top advisor and Gate's father, William H. Gates, Sr., is co-chair with the son and daughter-in-law.

I'll repeat my prediction, made nearly a decade ago, that someday Gates and/or the foundation will win a Nobel Prize for its humanitarian work, which has grown to include Warren Buffet's charitable foundation as well.

The Gates Notes is an exceptionally well-done site, allowing Bill to present his wide range of interests in a variety of forms. I was quickly reminded that the reason Bill has all that money is because he really is that smart.

The question-and-answer page, where readers ask Gates questions, include topics such as "Is there progress on an AIDS vaccine?" to "Should companies help the poor?" to "Where can I get unbiased news?"

Gates even defends why his foundation isn't involved in climate change issues, saying they are better solved by the marketplace.

"I'm a believer that whenever markets can work, that's where you will find the best answers because you'll get entrepreneurs from all over the world who can pursue thousands and thousands of ideas in parallel," Gates wrote.

"Depending on how you measure it, energy is probably the biggest market in the world. That means somebody can make a risky bet and try it, and you have clear metrics of success. So if you have a promising idea about sequestering carbon, or a cheap nuclear plant, or solar photovoltaic, you can get the capital to build plants, to hire people, and to demonstrate whether it works at scale.

"This is perfect for the marketplace. But it's not something any foundation should try to do. In the areas that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on, it's where you have diseases that don't exist in the rich world and so the research dollars aren't there because there's no market-driven opportunity."

In other words: Capitalists are do-gooders, too, but foundations and, according to Gates, governments have their places, too.

The site may also put to rest any remaining fear the Gates is some sort of evil genius. His areas of interest--renewable energy, tropical diseases, family planning, climate change, pandemic response, the earthquake in Haiti--are more those of saint than sinner.

How can this help your business?

The Gates Notes, more than his books, shows how the man's mind works and shares his thoughts on current issues. It's not a how-to for businesspeople, but in seeing how Bill is trying to help change the world, you might pick-up some hints on changing your company, too. Since he's no longer competing with anybody, Gates has no reason to hold back or misdirect.

The Gates Notes also show that while business can certainly be a source of the world's problems, it can offer many of the answers, too. And if you're down on the world, Bill Gates might even make you an optimist.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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