Bill Gates Is a ‘Rational Optimist’ – and Maybe You Should Be Too

  • Bill Gates has found the perfect balance between optimism and pessimism, says Morgan Housel.
  • This approach can be applied to any field of life, the psychologist writes in a new book.
  • The Microsoft cofounder also seems to be demonstrating “rational optimism” when it comes to AI. 

Why has Bill Gates been so successful? One psychologist and money expert thinks it’s because the Microsoft cofounder is able to strike the perfect balance between optimism and pessimism.

Morgan Housel describes Gates a “rational optimist” in a piece for CNBC, meaning he prepares for any short-term setbacks while maintaining an optimistic outlook for the future.

Housel regards finding this middle ground as a crucial life skill for everyone.

In a new book “Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes,” published this week, he says rational optimism can be applied to any field, from finance to relationships. What’s essential is recognizing that optimism and pessimism exist on a spectrum, he notes.

Worrying about having enough cash to pay staff wages is the perfect example of rational optimism, says Housel.

Gates has toed a cautious line when it comes to cash, ensuring that Microsoft always had enough to survive for the next 12 months even with no revenue coming in.

Asked in 1995 about his reasoning, Gates told journalist Charlie Rose the tech sector moved so quickly that he could never guarantee making enough sales to keep the company afloat.

But ultimately, dropping out of Harvard to focus on Microsoft and leading the shift to personal computing led many to regard Gates as a visionary.

Balancing pessimism and optimism is “what you see in almost every successful long-term endeavor,” writes Housel.

One of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, Gates was the world’s richest person for most of the period between 1995 and 2017. He’s still worth $129 billion, per Bloomberg, despite giving away billions over the years to philanthropic endeavors through his foundation.

The 68-year-old is now applying his rational optimism to AI. In a blog post in July, he acknowledged the short-term issues when it comes to artificial intelligence, but said that despite some risks, AI is the future.

“The future of AI is not as grim as some people think or as rosy as others think. The risks are real, but I am optimistic that they can be managed,” he wrote on GatesNotes.

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