Bill Gates Can Weight

It may be apocryphal, but this is still a great story. Bill Gates, at Microsoft in the early 1990s, used to carry around a list of the company’s top priorities. After a group of engineers attended an industry event, they came back to Gates with a message that “the internet was going to be a big deal.” Gates took out his list and showed them it was already there – “look, right here at number six.” The employees protested. The internet would need to be number one, and with a large gap between it and anything else. Gates took the time to listen, reordered his list, and Microsoft earned their place in history.


Michael Mauboussin likes to tell this story to illustrate how the “weightings” of our ideas matter. The difference between having a great idea at #6 compared to #1 could be the difference between relevance and obsolescence. Imagine how many tech companies had the internet on their list in the early 1990s, but never made it a priority. Where are they now? Even identical lists with different weightings can produce dramatically different results. 


We see the same truth in our investments. Do we own the index fund or pick the handful of companies we have the most confidence in? How do we look similar or different from whatever we’re comparing ourselves to, and why?


We see the same truth in our clients. Most people have similar “life stuff,” but we all have unique priorities and values. Each person’s list and weightings is a DNA sequence for how to service them. All marketing ultimately resides here.


We see the same truth in our investments in ourselves. Are we nervous to move our own #6 up to #1 even though we know the payoff could be huge? What’s driving our decision making and progress? 


Like Bill Gates in the story, we start by knowing what items are on the list and the weightings associated with each. We have to take new information into consideration from there and re-weight accordingly. The point is not to be perfectly optimal, but to be nimble enough that we’re not knowingly (or stubbornly) suboptimal. Better intentions in our investments, client relationships, and ourselves can lead to better outcomes, even without finding an internet-sized equivalent. 


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