Risk

Bite-size bits of wisdom from Bill Gates and Richard Branson

October 17, 2012: 10:19 AM ET

Want to know how Bill Gates thinks about creativity, or which business decisions Sir Richard Branson regrets? Two new books will tell you.

FORTUNE -- "People do play computer games at work, but they also doodle with pencils. Do you take away their pencils? That's not the way a modern workforce is managed. You've got to trust people."

So said Microsoft's (MSFT) chairman in 1996, according to Impatient Optimist: Bill Gates in His Own Words -- and, like most quotations in this pocket-sized book, it seems as timely an observation as it was back then. Editor Lisa Rogak, whose Barack Obama In His Own Words was a 2008 bestseller, has compiled sound bites from Chairman Bill by topic, from A (acquiring other companies) to W (working with his wife).

The result is like eating salted peanuts: Once you start reading, it's hard to stop. Here's Gates on bigness: "Size works against excellence. Even if we are a big company, we cannot think like a big company or we are dead." On risk: "A little blindness is necessary when you undertake a risk. You have to have a little suspension of disbelief." On creativity: "We tell people if no one laughs at at least one of their ideas, they're probably not being creative enough."

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Some of Gates' remarks in these pages shed light on his second career as a major-league philanthropist, like this one, on why corporations should give away money: "Profits are not always possible when business tries to serve the very poor. In such cases, there needs to be another market-based incentive -- and that incentive is recognition. Recognition…attracts good people to the organization."

Want to know more about his personal life? Here's a nugget from a commencement address he gave at Harvard a few years ago, about his lack of success with women while he was a student there: "Radcliffe [the women's college that merged with Harvard in 1977] was a great place to live. There were more women up there, and most of the guys were math-science types. That combination gave me the best odds, if you know what I mean. That's where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn't guarantee success." More

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