How Bill Gates’ Mom Forever Changed My Idea of Success

The power of focusing on one thing at a time.

It was the 4th of July weekend, 1991, on the Gates’ family Hood Canal compound, off the coast of Seattle, that solidified a bond of friendship between Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and delivered to the world a prize piece of business advice.

Bill’s mother insisted on hosting a dinner party to finally introduce Bill and Warren, legendary tycoons who were, at the time, #28 and #19 , respectively, on the Forbes list.

Story has it neither guests of honor were quite interested in attending.

Bill worried that he would have nothing to talk about with a “stock-picker” and Warren worried Bill would babble on about personal computers — of which he did not own, nor was he inclined to.

Deciding to ignore the small talk they immediately jumped into a subject they both loved — business, and what drives it. Later that night around the dinner table Bill’s father, Bill Sr., asked everyone a very poignant question

“What factor is the most important thing in getting to where they’d gotten in life?”

Bill and Warren’s answers were the same — Focus.

Focusing on one thing at a time.

After doing some research on this I learned many of the greats adopted the same philosophy of being singularly focused rather than attempt to conquer all at once: Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Richard Branson, et al.

I stumbled upon this lesson about month ago and it has completely changed the way I will approach things. At once, I realized I had been spreading myself way too thin, without getting much accomplished.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

There are a few different ways of looking at the idea of focusing on one thing at a time. Do you:

1. Literally only do one thing at a time like Bill?

Bill would sit in a chair for hours to write code, and nothing else, when it meant improving the personal computer.

2. Keep a singular goal in mind, like Warren?

Warren focused on anything and everything he could get his hands on — so long as it related to investing. He let go of all sorts of other pursuits that interested him: art, literature, travel, science, to focus on his one passion.

I definitely lean more towards Warren’s. Keeping a central pursuit in mind, doing the many things needed to pursue that goal, and closing out anything that doesn’t serve it.

I heard someone refer to this as batch-tasking.

The first month of a new year and many of us are thinking of how we can make this year better than the last?

I encourage you to consider the idea of keeping focus on just one goal.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says —

A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.

Happy rabbit hunting my friends!

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