Bill Gates: How To Succeed As An Introvert

Last night's episode of Q&A featured Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates as its special guest. Gates touched on plenty of hard-hitting subjects during the program including health vaccines, the questionable tax practices of technology vendors and Australia's contributions to foreign aid. However, one of the more interesting topics is something we're sure many of our readers can relate to: how to overcome shyness.

Photo: Getty Images

During the show, audience member Anthony Liang asked Gates how he has managed to succeed in a predominantly extroverted world and how the education system can harness the positive features of introverted personalities.

Gates' response was as follows:

Well, I think introverts can do quite well. If you’re clever you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area. Then, if you come up with something, if you want to hire people, get them excited, build a company around that idea, you better learn what extroverts do, you better hire some extroverts, like Steve Ballmer I would claim as an extrovert, and tap into both sets of skills in order to have a company that thrives both as in deep thinking and building teams and going out into the world to sell those ideas.

Another audience member then asked Gates how he overcame his socially awkward teenage years.

"How did you eventually find a solid self-identity and confidence within yourself?" Elleena Yang asked. "Did achieving financial security, success and fame boost your self-confidence? What drives and motivates you to get up every morning and, more generally, how can the average person figure out their driving force and their inspiration and passion?"

Well, I think, I mean, some self-confidence is different than finding your passion. From a young age, ideally you will have adults in your life, preferably your parents as part of that, some of your teachers, people around you, who like you and they're behind you and they will back you, no matter what goes on, and that gives you enough confidence to go off on a quest and during that quest you try different things out.


If you're lucky when you're very young, you find something you're passionate about. I did when I was 13 years old. I found computers and software. It took me another five years to figure out that was my life's primary work, but that's a lucky thing.


Other people, you know, get up into their 20s or even later before they find what they're passionate about, but proceeding with a certain set of self-confidence, that there are people who care for you, you care for them, that you succeed in their eyes by how you treat them, I think that's pretty basic and it gives you the platform on which to try out new things, to fail, you know, first you're not going to succeed in various things, so self-confidence is primary and then finding your passion is an adventure, a quest that may take time, and it may switch over the time of your life, but those deep relationships will let you pursue it with vigour.

Q&A host Tony Jones then prompted Bill Gates to share an anecdote about how he spent two weeks working up the courage to invite a girl to the school prom.

"I don't know how long it took me, but she did turn me down," Gates deadpanned. We bet she regrets that decision now.

[Via: ABC's Q&A]


    Introversion and shyness are not the same thing.

      Gates answers questions about introversion and overcoming shyness/lack of confidence as a teenager.

        That may be true. But as happens all too frequently in articles on this site, the setup clearly equates the two things. And that's just misleading.

        So we get:
        How to Succeed as an Introvert
        [Oh good, I think, perhaps it will be about how to succeed when you get your energy from being alone rather than with others.]
        Then the next relevant sentence in the intro is:
        However, one of the more interesting topics is something we’re sure many of our readers can relate to: how to overcome shyness.
        [And my heart sinks. Same old, same old from Lifehacker.]

        What immediately follows does in fact, as Chris points out, address the matter of introversion, which is a surprising and welcome change.

        But that doesn't change the fact that whoever is preparing these articles is being very careless about how they characterise introversion, and the equation with shyness happens all too often. Fine if the topic of the article covers both challenges – say so, but don't make it seem as if they are the same thing.

    If you’re lucky when you’re very young, you find something you’re passionate about. I did when I was 13 years old. I found computers and software. It took me another five years to figure out that was my life’s primary work, but that’s a lucky thing.

    Nothing can help with this, which is really, really frustrating. Took me until 22 to find something I was even vaguely interested in, and now at 23, I have no idea if I'm really going to happy in this field.

    Attending his school prom? I'm questioning his bona fides as an introvert.

    I'm in my early 30's and still havent found anything that I'm interested in. Nothing drives me at work except the fear of failure and financial struggle for me and my family. I guess the desire to continually succeed for my family is a passion of sorts, or a driving factor, but not the underlying basis of my involvement in my current job or field.

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