There were a whole lot of email forwards and blog posts on a speech that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford. But the speech that Bill Gates delivered at Harvard have done fewer rounds on the internet. Where Steve Jobs spoke about Passion and following your hearts desire, Bill Gates spoke about what his passion is, ie identifying the hunger and poverty in the world and then doing something about it. What makes his speech more impactful is that he actually does walk his talk.
I loved this speech. I had read the script of the speech a couple of times and then when I got access to the video watched the whole thing again. Below is a really brief Summary of what Bill spoke about, but do watch the speech on YouTube here (it’s in five small parts), or atleast read the script here. It may spur you to do something about the world’s biggest problems. It’s certainly moved me.
Bill Gates began by pulling punches on himself, by quoting the Harvard Crimson, where he was called, “Harvard’s most successful Dropout.” I loved the bit when He said that he’s a bad influence, that’s why he’s been asked to speak at the Graduation Ceremony and not their Induction Ceremony. After a light-hearted introduction he comes to the point that he has one regret. That is that he left Harvard without knowing about “the great inequities of the world.” He learnt about World Hunger and the Global Poverty ten years after leaving College.
Why there is Still World Hunger
He and Melinda have been asking themselves why do these problem still exists? And the answer was simple yet painful. It’s that the market did not reward adequately for the resolution of these. There is no profit in it. There is much more gain and excitement in launching a new version of a software than there is in finding meals for a few hungry people that you don’t even know. If innovative ways could be found where Company’s share value and Votes for Politicians are directly proportionate to the extent that they solve the World’s biggest problems, the resolution of the inequities in the world would be much faster.
Bill continues to say that However there are skeptics who say that these inequities have always existed and will continue to exist, because people just don’t care. But Bill Gates, disagreed. It’s not the lack of care that’s the problem. Infact there are more caring people in the world than we know what to do with. The issue is not that people don’t care enough, it’s that the “complexity” of the problem bewilders them that they don’t know what to do next. He gives the brilliant example that haven’t we all either personally come across problems either by reading it in the papers or in personal life, that hurts us and we certainly care to do something about, but the issue looks so complex that we don’t know what to do. And hence do nothing. “Complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action to those who care. And therefore makes the caring hard to matter.”
Five Step Process to break down complexity
Bill urges, don’t let complexity bog you down. And there are Five steps for one to deal with complexity:
- Determine a Goal
- Find the highest impact approach
- Deliver the technology ideal for that approach
- In the meantime use the best application of Technology you already have.
- Finally, measure the impact of the work and share that. Success or Failure. So that others can learn.
(As a side note, the Five step process is almost identical to GTD’s Natural Planning Model by David Allen, which I’ve explained in this blog post.)
An example of a complex issue being currently addressed in this manner by many is AIDS.
- Step 1: Goal – End the Disease
- Step 2: Highest Impact Approach – Prevention with a Vaccine that has life long immunity with a single dose
- Step 3: Deilvering the Technology- Vaccine research by Government and Foundations
- Step 4: Meanwhile – In the meantime we work with what we have in hand. i.e. getting people to prevent risky behaviour.
Never stop thinking and working. Don’t do what we did with Malaria in the twentieth century. Which is to surrender to complexity. He concludes by saying that inequities in the world have indeed always existed. But the knowledge and awareness of these inequities, together with the technology to resolve them is at a level that has never existed in the past. The progress in Bio Techonology, wide-spread use and benefit of the Personal Computer and finally the internet has multiplied many fold the number of intellegent mind and innovation available. He urges the graduating students of Harvard University, to the best minds in the world, to work on the world’s biggest problems. Identify any one “inequity” break down the “complexity” by the steps identified and make lasting difference in the world.