How Bill Gates (and Office) Changed Your Life

Last Updated Jun 30, 2008 10:31 AM EDT

How Bill Gates (and Office) Changed Your LifeHappy Monday, and welcome to the first day that Bill Gates has not been a full-time employee of the company he created, Microsoft.

Do you miss him? Love him or not one thing is true: Bill Gates, his company, and his products have had a profound influence on corporate life everywhere.

In a recent Harvard Business blog post, B V Krishnamurth writes about the impact that Gates has made on managers. He has taught us, says the author, the power of focus, thinking big, passion, and giving back to society.
But here's something else to think about. Perhaps no one -- strike that -- no one person has had as much impact on how business men and women do their work in the modern era as Bill Gates. Most white collar workers use Microsoft products every day. In fact, many companies organize their work processes around the features found in Microsoft Office and its components Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Mail. When you take your work on the road, Microsoft Exchange keeps you in touch and synchronized.

Now, we can argue forever about how well these products work, how easy they are to use. But the fact is they work well enough to have become a standard in most businesses of any size. Microsoft succeeded in this office productivity software market where others fell short including Apple, IBM, WordPerfect, Corel, Borland, and Sun.

For Better Or Worse?
Here's my question for you: How has the Gates-led Microsoft changed your work environment? Is it for better, or worse? Have you found better tools?

My answer: Microsoft Office has become the dashboard of my work day. Here I plan my calendar, prioritize and assign tasks, collect and disseminate information, organize meetings. I've heavily customized Outlook Mail -- which seems to be the electronic spinal cord for our organization -- to interact with my with to-do list and to help me organize the hundreds of e-mails that arrive each day.

So Outlook has definitely made me more productive at work. I methodically execute tasks and answer e-mail correspondence like a sharpshooter mows down shooting gallery ducks at the county fair.

But Office's rigid reliance on rules, categories, and linear reasoning also forces me to think inside the box. Thinking outside the box requires shutting down Office for awhile to create time for uninterrupted contemplation.

Office is a tool for the left side of the brain. But as organizations evolve away from hierarchical, command-and-control decision making towards fluid, just-in-time team approaches, will the Gates-less Microsoft migrate Office to the right brain as well?

(Bill Gates image by maveric2003, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.