The 2 questions Bill Gates asks himself when solving big problems

Jessica Yun
·3-min read
Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft but now spends his time dedicated to the Foundation he set up with wife Melinda. (Photo by Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)
Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft but now spends his time dedicated to the Foundation he set up with wife Melinda. (Photo by Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has amassed nearly $158 billion and spends his time working on solving some of the world’s biggest technology, education and healthcare issues.

He’s been vocal about funding coronavirus vaccines and treatments, and so far has donated more than $480 million to the fight against the pandemic through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But his problem-solving process is something that hasn’t changed since he was a schoolboy, he revealed.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve tackled every big new problem the same way: by starting off with two questions,” he wrote in a recent blog post.

“Here they are: Who has dealt with this problem well? And what can we learn from them?

“They seem like obvious questions, but sometimes it's surprisingly hard to find the answers.”

The method is tried and tested: the technique saw him through his three decades at Microsoft, and still uses it often.

“I ask these questions literally every week about Covid-19.”

Gates likened the method to a sports coach that analyses the most successful teams to understand what they are doing well.

For Gates, there is no difference between this and solving a pandemic, and he brings this approach to his foundation work.

“Over the past three years, health experts and organisations from countries at every income level (including the Gates Foundation) have come together to find out who has made the most progress on certain health problems, identify what made them so successful, and help others put these lessons into action,” he said.

But Gates also acknowledged that while lessons can be learnt and extracted from past successes, every problem is nonetheless different.

“Of course, not all lessons can be applied in the same way everywhere. What works in one country may not work exactly the same way in another.”

Another lifelong habit that Gates has cultivated is his love for learning. The busy billionaire is notorious for his habit of reading a book a week since he was a child, despite his hectic schedule.

Gates has previously warned that the coronavirus pandemic is not the only crisis that our generation has to solve, noting that “we also need to act now to avoid a climate disaster”.

He stepped away from the board of Microsoft in mid-March, just when the Covid-19 crisis was escalating, in a move that shocked people across the globe.

Global figures such as Kevin Rudd and Helen Clark, former New Zealand Prime Minister and co-chair to WHO’s Covid-19 inquiry panel, will be speaking about the economic catastrophe caused by the coronavirus pandemic at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on 17 September. Register here for your tickets.

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Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit 2020 is on 17 September. Buy your tickets now.
Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit 2020 is on 17 September. Buy your tickets now.