This is the second piece in my Wholes & Roles series about situations in which two people use complementary talents to achieve a purpose in business, politics, pop culture, etc. This thread will be about the collaboration of Bill Gates and Paul Allen to form Microsoft. Dave has already written the thread “Real Idea Men” on the Keirsey.com blog, establishing that the whole of the skills of Gates as a Mastermind Rational and Allen as an Inventor Rational laid the groundwork for one of the most successful companies of the past few decades. My piece here will expand on Dave’s writing and go in-depth regarding how Gates’ and Allen’s respective Rational talents were valuable in getting Microsoft up and running during its formative years. For my analysis of their roles in Microsoft I will merely distinguish between Gates as a Coordinator and Allen as an Engineer rather than their most specific Rational type (Mastermind, Inventor, etc.); I will explain my thoughts about their specific types afterwards. On a final note, most of my information here comes largely from the excerpt from Allen’s book Idea Man that danny1987 gave us a link to on the forum. Thanks a lot Danny!!!
Bill Gates the Coordinator Rational was mostly focused on having himself, Paul Allen, and their employees taking the strategic actions necessary for Microsoft to succeed. In the excerpt from his book, Allen describes Gates as having an almost single-minded focus on goals he wanted to achieve for himself and the company. Gates was able to focus on one task at a time in a very disciplined way. He also appeared to be comfortable working for long periods of time on the company’s computer programming projects. He usually did not have the need to recharge his batteries and did not easily understand his employees’ need to do so. In addition, Gates “stopped [the programmers] from wasting time in areas where [they] had scant chance of success”, making sure they were efficiently using their resources and staying focused on their goals. Moreover, he sought closure in arguments and plans of action, needed to have loose ends on projects tied up, and wanted to work until his projects were perfect and continue discussions until they were resolved. Furthermore, Allen repeatedly depicts Gates as demanding in his dealings with the people at Microsoft. As I alluded to earlier, he often could not understand his employees’ need to have time off. He also repeatedly started conflicts and was critical of the employees regarding their work. According to Allen, in these situations he “came on like a force of nature.” Gates was naturally most comfortable in the Coordinators’ action-oriented and directive roles.
In contrast to Gates, the Engineer Rational Paul Allen’s talents were probing for and experimenting with new ideas and possibilities, many of which would be the basis for Microsoft’s computers and programming. Allen has written:
“From technology to science to music to art, I'm inspired by those who've blurred the boundaries, who've looked at the possibilities, and said, "What if...?" In my own work, I've tried to anticipate what's coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people's lives in a meaningful way. . . . The varied possibilities of the universe have dazzled me since I was a child, and they continue to drive my work, my investments, and my philanthropy.”
As a student, Allen was a “generalist” who wanted to study a variety of subjects. When he and Gates were working on the BASIC interpreter, it was Allen who came up with the major innovation of bringing high-level computer language together with a microprocessor. He would eventually be in charge of developing the new software and technology for Microsoft. Moreover, Allen focused heavily on information, data, and analysis in his work at the company. He described research as his “bailiwick” and tended to take in as much data as possible before making a decision, at times over-analyzing his data. Allen was instinctively most in his element in the Engineers’ domain of ideas and information.
Gates and Allen each appeared to more comfortably play distinct and different Rational roles when they worked together. It would additionally seem hard to picture either of them being able to have the same kind of success without the other. Gates had an unusually intense focus on the actions necessary to realize a vision for computers and programming and was proactive in driving those he worked with towards this vision. However, he spent much less time probing for and developing new ideas. He and Allen worked together as “crack programmers” before they got Microsoft running but he eventually left the major software development and innovation to Allen. Conversely, Allen contributed groundbreaking innovations and made it a point to have as much information and analysis as possible for all the decisions he had to make. That being said, he did not instinctively have the strategic vision for business action and single-minded focus on results for extended periods of time that Gates usually had. It was Gates and eventually Steve Ballmer, rather than Allen, who mostly handled the business, management, and sales realms of Microsoft. Moreover, Allen writes that he would have managed the employees at their company differently than Gates and would have made discussions with them more “civil and rational.” He felt somewhat out of his element in the conflict-heavy environment his partner often created with his handling of their people.
My discussion of what Gates and Allen each distinctively brought to the table at Microsoft concentrated on Gates’ role as a Coordinator Rational and Allen’s as an Engineer Rational. I do not believe that their work together makes their most specific Rational types obvious. For starters, one could seemingly make a good case for Gates being either a Fieldmarshal or Mastermind; I understand why Dave has changed his mind about this. He could be a Fieldmarshal because he gravitated to the major management role at Microsoft and was usually very directive with his employees, instigating numerous conflicts with them. On the other hand, he had a need to be the smartest guy in the classroom or boardroom. This competitive streak could frequently be a trait of the Mastermind’s contender role as a Rational. He also did a lot of his computer code-writing and programming in his and Allen’s very early days behind the scenes – by himself or just with Allen. In the past 20 years, he has founded and headed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His work and management there might shed some light that could help us more clearly pin down Gates as a Fieldmarshal or Mastermind.
Allen’s specific Rational type appears to be more obvious than that of Gates. I believe he is an Inventor, but what distinguishes him from an Architect is more obvious in his ventures after Microsoft than in his work there and before. He has put himself out into the world and gotten involved in a number of very public projects. He owns several sports teams and a film company, has founded and invested in several other companies and projects, and has a band that has performed publicly at events with major artists. He is a Renaissance man with numerous ideas and interests but is additionally driven to apply them with other people and the public at large. In contrast, Architects do not usually seek to involve the world in their ideas and projects to the same degree. I cannot speak for all Architects but can say that Allen is a lot more outgoing with his work than me. I instinctively do very well in the world of information and analysis and think I have a lot of creative ideas, but I tend to be most effective working behind the scenes and alone or in a small group. (On a side note, I have performed music in public, but not at big events with Usher and Dave Stewart like Paul Allen has ).
In sum, Bill Gates and Paul Allen complemented each other on opposite ends of the Coordinator-Engineer Rational spectrum. If either Gates or Allen played his own role by himself, the application of their innovations and the founding of Microsoft would most likely not have happened the way they did, and the computer and software revolution might have taken a very different course. Each of them needed the other to put their ideas into the world, and the wholes they created were greater than the sum of their parts.