When I was 17 years old I meandered into the book section of our local Caldor (a lesser-version of K-Mart for those who didn’t grow up in the Northeast) and purchased a book that would forever change my life. On the cover was a rather nerdy looking man, dressed in a sweater and collared shirt, standing in the middle of a road that stretched out across the desert landscape towards the infinite horizon.
The man on that cover was Bill Gates and the book was titled The Road Ahead. Within its contents was a prophecy of what was to come and I devoured it like gospel. I was a high school senior who was far more interested in computers than girls and had heard rumors of this thing called the World Wide Web, although I hadn’t yet experienced it myself. The book introduced me to concepts like hyperlinks, file-types, message boards and even email. It’s funny in 2016 to think about being introduced to the concept of email via a book – but in 1995 books were all we had.
The Road Ahead also included a CD-ROM with video examples of the technologies Gates explored, including hand-held internet devices that seemed like something out of a science-fiction film. Only this wasn’t some utopian work of fiction, this was a detailed map of all that what was to come. I read and re-read that book several times over. I would soon convince my parents to allow me to blow my allowance and a portion of my savings on an AOL subscription – back in the days when $20 would earn you a full 5 HOURS a month of internet access. My parents didn’t understand computers and most certainly had no concept of what the internet was, but being the amazing people they are they agreed to allow their son to detach the phone from the kitchen wall and plug the cord into a 2400-baud modem on the back of our IBM Aptiva. There was a series of screeching noises and then that weird, haunting voice – “YOU’VE GOT MAIL.” My life would never be the same.
I’ve always had an affinity for Bill Gates. He showed me the way early on and a lot of what my career and life eventually became can be attributed to his passion for not only coding the world we now live in, but championing personal computing as the revolution it became. While there have been stories over the years about cut-throat business practices that allowed Microsoft to become the behemoth that it is – and I honestly haven’t touched a PC willingly in nearly a decade – Bill Gates has still remained a hero of mine. Not only did he become one of the richest people ever (he’s worth approximately $90,000,000,000) he created an amazing foundation and has dedicated his later adult life to noble causes through his philanthropic endeavors. In an era of seemingly endless greed, Gates in his humble sweater-driven attire stands in sharp contrast.
Recently I came across an article on LinkedIn where Gates listed his favorite books of 2016. There are three things I learned while reading Gates' book list.
1) You Always Have Time To Read
I love to read, but admittedly rarely carve out the time to do so. A year or so ago I was inspired to read several business biographies and managed to tackle Walter Isaacson’s profile on Steve Jobs, as well as Richard Branson’s auto-biography Losing My Virginity, before work and life threw the rest of my list to the way-side. I have two books I’ve been working through lately, but typically only squeeze in 15 minutes or so of reading towards the end of my day with eyes half-opened. The justification I’ve given is that I’m just too busy. In Gates' article however he says he’s had a solid practice of reading a book a week since he was very young. So let me get this straight, Greg Spies with his small digital marketing agency doesn’t have time to read, but Bill Gates, one-time CEO of one of the largest tech companies in the world can knock out a book a week? One of us is lying – and something tells me it’s not the bespectacled man in the sweater-vest.
2) Variety Is The Spice Of Life
One thing I noticed on Gates’ recommendations is that they cover a wide-range of topics. One would assume being a tech pioneer his books would lean to that particular genre, but the five books he recommends suggest his reading list explores beyond his personal expertise. His first recommendation String Theory by David Foster Wallace is a collection of essays on tennis. Admittedly if this wasn’t a recommendation from a life-long mentor I probably wouldn’t give it a second glance. Another choice is Phil Knight’s memoir of building Nike titled Shoe Dog. Another pick deals with history of genome science while another tackles our aging electrical grid. These are some pretty diverse topics – and it’s a good reminder that an enlightened mind needs to explore beyond that which it already understands. So often I have a tendency to return to genres I’m familiar with. A good goal for 2017 will be to start learning outside my comfort zone and discover all the things I didn’t even know I don’t know.
3) Bill Gates Has An Awesome Blog
Not only did I enjoy his article and promise myself I’ll jump-start my reading habits in 2017 (starting which his selections) I also discovered Gates has a pretty awesome blog which is as nerdy as one would expect. It’s a combination of book reviews, scientific discoveries and personal stories from his global travels. I’ve added it to my blog list – a folder of bookmarks to informative blogs that I actually manage to carve out time to read now and again. Gates is a solid writer and his posts are informative, enlightening and sometimes just fun. Its good inspiration for entrepreneurs to remind us to look up from our day-to-day and realize there is a whole world of knowledge out there for us to explore.
As Gates remarks in his article, we’ve come a long way in the past twenty years as far as educational resources are concerned. Much like him, as a child I was limited to a set of old encyclopedias and the occasional trip to the public library. These days there are a seemingly endless variety of resources for us to explore. While YouTube provides an easy visual form of information digestion, nothing really compares with the power of the written word when it comes to expanding your mind. As I begin to make my goals list for 2017, a book list is now certainly part of it. While I’m not ready to dedicate myself to a book a week, I am going to at least make the effort to tackle a book a month – with the knowledge that like all endeavors, repetition and practice will hopefully expand upon those efforts.