Bill Gates shares the secret to being more like him — and Warren Buffett

ByJames Dennin

Billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates aren't just at the top of their respective industries — Buffett in finance and Gates in software — they're also pretty good friends. 

The friendship between the two philanthropists is not new news: Gates and Buffett in 2010 together pledged to give away a majority of their vast fortunes.

But the truth is it didn't always look like they were going to hit it off, as Gates told Mic's Jake Horowitz in a sit-down interview, streamable below. 

"I didn't think a guy who just traded stocks would be interesting," Gates said, referring to the time they first met. "But when I did meet him ... he asked exactly questions that nobody had really asked me before."

Yes, the two men are different: Buffett is a finance dude who scrutinizes spreadsheets to figure out how much a company might be worth; Gates, by contrast, is emphatically an engineer, whose passion is creating products.

But, at the same time, the billionaires have at least one crucial quality in common: They don't let the herd mentality of Silicon Valley or Wall Street distract them from trends or priorities they perceive to be truly important.  

Gates attributes his success at Microsoft to an ability to see things differently from the pack. And it's true that in technology and finance alike, the herd mentality is rampant and detrimental, leading people to throw too much money at mediocre ideas, and too little at great ideas that aren't widely shared. 

Successful innovators, Gates notes, need "a more global view, more deep engineering view than others... You have to do something new, very different."

Now, it's important to concede right off the bat that not everyone can be the next self-made billionaire.

Both Gates and Buffett came from comfortable backgrounds and had the benefit of a leg-up in their chosen fields: Gates thanks to an early exposure to software as well as Buffett, who likely learned a thing or two from his stockbroker father

But while emulating these two greats might not in and of itself net you a billion, there is a lot to be gained from thinking differently from the pack: You might even find your own unexpected — even roaring — success story.

Here's what these two billionaires teach us.

1. You shouldn't be afraid to get "weird"  

If there's one quality Gates and Buffett both possess — aside from industriousness, magnanimity and intelligence — it's a comfort with letting their freak flag fly. 

For his part, Gates reportedly has a favorite tree that is monitored electronically 24 hours a day.

Buffett also marches to the beat of his own drum, passing on living in any of the finance capitals of the world to remain modestly in Omaha, Nebraska.

He also famously refuses to send email — and has a bizarre Coca-Cola regimen: roughly five a day; regular at the office, but cherry-flavored at home


While personal quirks in and of themselves obviously won't make you an instant rich person, staying comfortable with your idiosyncrasies will help you break free of the crowd: Research suggests the herd mentality often pushes us into making decisions that aren't in our best interest. 

Other research finds that simply going with the flow can make humans slower to adapt to changes in the environment — a big problem if you are trying to launch the next Microsoft or Berkshire Hathaway.

Not only can groupthink keep you from having your next million-dollar idea, it can also stamp out the empathy that comes with having a more diverse set of opinions. That's a great reason to speak up — not hold it in — if you don't agree with what everyone's nodding about in that meeting.

Another way to counter the problem? Changing your environment.

Herd mentality effects get worse when we're in a rush, meaning sometimes a vacation or a quick walk are all you need to see things in a new light. 

Weirdly enough, working in a space with high ceilings also promotes creative and abstract thinking, according to separate research, and even dim lighting can improve perceived freedom, and improve productivity in creative tasks.

Aside from slowing down and getting a change of scene, experts in creativity told Entrepreneur that the best way to trick yourself into thinking outside of the box is to brainstorm within parameters, as too much freedom can be crippling. Marketers, for example, might brainstorm for a specific medium — by coming up with "10 funny Facebook posts," not just "10 funny ideas." 

Another way to free yourself from inhibitions: Just focus on the quantity of the ideas you come up with, instead of quality. Seriously.

It's a lot easier to come up with 100 bad ideas than it is to come up with one really good one — and freeing yourself from pressure helps get juices flowing. Plus, sometimes several "weird" ideas together can become one good one.

John Peterson/AP

2. Find your calling — then amp your skills

Now, all the outside-the-box thinking won't help you that much if you're not sure what you're good at. And both Buffett and Gates were lucky enough to figure out their calling early on. 

"I was lucky to be exposed to software at a very young age," Gates told Mic. "I was 13 when I became obsessed with figuring out how I could write good software."

Buffett is little different: At 17, he bought an old pinball machine for $25 and convinced a local barbershop to lease it from him so that people could play while they waited for the cut. Eventually, Buffett and his young partner were operating pinball machines all over town.

Indeed, one major difference between Buffett and Gates might be best described using a framework popularized by investor Paul Graham — who drew a line between "makers" and "managers."

Gates, who co-wrote the code for the first PC game ever, is more of a maker. Buffett, who has run the same company for five decades, is more of a manager.

Which are you?

For people who aren't sure — or feel lost — consider an exercise invented by veteran career coach Richard Leider: Make a list with three columns, including "gifts" (what you're good at), "passions" (what makes you happy) and "values" (your beliefs). Then start reading up on the many great jobs out there — to help you find a gig that best matches up with all your desired qualities.

Once you have a few jobs in mind, focus on supersizing your skill set.

First, work on those "soft" people skills that are truly timeless, which will help you across industries. You might also consider brushing up on technical skills, including coding and data analysis — and wrangling technology like search engines, as Money suggests.

Growing industries like solar and other renewable energy tend to pay out more for workers as the competition to find employees gets fiercer: The need for wind-turbine electricians, for instance, is expected to double by the year 2024.

Gates in his interview with Mic also named technical areas ripe for disruption, including "artificial intelligence" and "understanding how the brain works."

But if you are not a technical person, don't fear. Human interaction and higher-level service skills are also in high demand.

Taking care of the elderly and infirm is an increasingly valued skill set: Openings for occupational and physical therapists, home care aides and physician's assistants are growing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Ditch the traditional job application 

Cover letters and resumes are both areas where the herd-mentality and predictability abounds.

Be different.

Maybe it's by ditching the typical flattery, as one particularly blunt undergraduate did to land a high-profile finance internship. Or maybe you have design chops and can turn your resume into an actual playable game.

Even if you'd prefer to play it a little safer, there are still ways to make your paperwork stand out. Career experts and hiring mangers suggest ditching traditional chronological resumes for a style that's more skills-based

Instead of saying you learned accounting skills during your summer working at a restaurant — make "Accounting" a heading on your resume, and list all relevant jobs you've had, like volunteer work that required money math skills.

Some other tips? Changing up the font and bolding key terms can make your resume stand out. And always give the job listing you're eyeing a close read for any keywords — e.g., "adaptive" — that your current resume lacks.

Add those.

As for your cover letter, differentiate yourself with colorful and positive personal details. Experts recommend thinking of the letter as the "how and why" to your resume's "where and what," and using it to spell out motivations, passions, and what you bring to the table besides obvious skills. Why you?

What's the quirky part of your "story" that makes you unlike other candidates?

Remember: Even Buffett was not above such niceties. After getting rejected from Harvard Business School, Buffett snagged a spot at Columbia University — after writing a letter to two of his idols who were professors there.

And if it's any comfort, Gates insists that the next big inventor is out there. Even if there won't be another Microsoft per se, Gates said: "I do think there's room for more and ... we certainly hope that curing disease, solving the clean energy problem, that in those other domains we can surprise people."

It's true that by several measures, today's young people have it tougher than their parents did. But by doubling down on what you're good at — and training yourself to think differently from the rest — you can increase your odds of being one of the best: if not in the world, then at least in the room.  

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