Monday, February 19, 2007

It's all about the brainpower

Bill Gates is IQ-obsessed. These days you can add Google and a host of hedge funds and startups to Goldman as the main competitors for Bill's coveted brainpower.

WSJ: (Rich Kaarlgard) Eleven years ago, while editing a tech magazine whose future would include boom and bye-bye, I caught a fantastically lucky break. I got to spend a week on the road with Bill Gates. ...

I'll never forget flying with him on the 11:30 p.m. shuttle from Logan to LaGuardia. Mr. Gates sat unrecognized, row 27, a lank-haired fellow in a rugby shirt and khakis. His eyes were glued to a book. His new friend Warren Buffett, you see, had lent him a copy of "The Intelligent Investor," Benjamin Graham's classic. Not only was pupil Gates reading it on a midnight flight, he was tapping notes into his laptop! F. Scott Fitzgerald was right. The rich are different.

Halfway through the flight, Mr. Gates closed the book, shut his computer off and we talked. Out of nowhere, he told me that he had recently figured out who his competition was. It was not Apple, Lotus or IBM. He waited a couple of beats. "It's Goldman Sachs."

"Is this a scoop? Is Microsoft getting into investment banking?"

"No," he said. "I mean the competition for talent. It's all about IQ. You win with IQ. Our only competition for IQ is the top investment banks." During that trip, I must have heard Mr. Gates mention "IQ" a hundred times.

The obsession with smarts is embedded deep in Mr. Gates's thinking and long ago was institutionalized at Microsoft. Apply for a job and you'll face an oral grilling that probes for IQ. It is oral and informal because of Griggs v. Duke Power, the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that banished written IQ tests and "tests of an abstract nature" from job applications. But Microsoft knows what it wants. It wants IQ. And Microsoft always has been savvy at getting what it wants.


Anonymous said...

Yet somehow Microsoft is not smart enough to recognize that if you keep doing things the way you always have you will get the same results.

So, Microsoft is stuffed full of very bright, near autistic, Bill Gates clones who code like it's 1980. The same problems appear over and over.

Microsoft is doomed by its success. The biggest, baddest dinosaur is still a dinosaur.

Anonymous said...

Noticeably absent from that list of top competitors for brainpower is our nations physics departments :)

Seth said...

Bill Gates is very smart, but the "it's all about IQ" line seems more like narcissism than insight. IQ is a primitive measure to begin with, and implies a degree of fungibility that just doesn't reflect reality.

Yeah Bill Gates probably could have been a great investment banker. But let him pick up a violin and give a credible performance of a concerto, or write a decent novel. I'd be a whole lot more impressed with the "it's all about IQ" line if his ways of proving his ability didn't so conveniently line up with huge once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like his DOS licensing deal with IBM.

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