Category Archives: Bill Gates

The Smartest People in the World Don’t All Work for Us. Most of Them Work for Someone Else

Bill Joy? George Gilder? Bill Gates? Dan Gillmor? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Bill Joy is a top computer scientist who helped to develop the UNIX operating system and co-founded Sun Microsystems. He formulated an important insight now called “Joy’s Law” about the distribution of expertise in organizations. Here are three versions:

  • No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.
  • The smartest people in every field are never in your own company.
  • The smartest people in the world don’t all work for us. Most of them work for someone else.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match within a direct quotation located by QI occurred in “Fortune” magazine in 1995. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Says Joy: “The idea behind our Java strategy was that the smartest people in the world don’t all work for us. Most of them work for someone else. The trick is to make it worthwhile for the great people outside your company to support your technology. Innovation moves faster when the people elsewhere are working on the problem with you.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1995 December 11, Fortune, Volume 132, Number 12, Section: Information Technology, Article: Whose Internet Is It, Anyway? Author: Brent Schlender, Start Page 120, Quote Page 130, Column 2, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with scans)

If You Invent a Breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence So Machines Can Learn, That Is Worth 10 Microsofts

Bill Gates? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I saw an advertisement on the “USA Today” website that claimed Bill Gates once spoke about a technology that was ripe for invention and would be worth 10 Microsofts. The ad did not identify the technology. Did Bill Gates really make a remark of this type?

Quote Investigator: In the early 2000s many companies with business models intertwined with the internet saw their stock prices collapse. Wary students observed this dot-com crash, and the number of computer science majors declined. In 2004 Bill Gates visited a series of universities to encourage students to pursue a career in computing which he believed still held marvelous opportunities. “The New York Times” reported a shrewd forward-looking comment made by Gates. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Gates scoffed at the notion, advanced by some, that the computer industry was a mature business of waning opportunity. In one question-and-answer session, a student asked if there could ever be another technology company as successful as Microsoft.

“If you invent a breakthrough in artificial intelligence, so machines can learn,” Mr. Gates responded, “that is worth 10 Microsofts.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2004 March 1, New York Times, Microsoft, Amid Dwindling Interest, Talks Up Computing as a Career (Continuation title: Enrollment In Computing Is Dwindling) by Steve Lohr, Start Page C1, Quote Page C2, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)

Choose a Lazy Person To Do a Hard Job Because That Person Will Find an Easy Way To Do It

Bill Gates? Frank Gilbreth Sr., Clarence Bleicher? Walter Chrysler? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

billgates04Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation offering eccentric advice that is often attributed to the billionaire software magnate Bill Gates:

I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

I will always choose a lazy man to do a hard job because a lazy man will find an easy way to do it.

However, a very similar comment has been ascribed to Walter Chrysler who was famous for starting the Chrysler car company:

Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.

Are these really the words of Gates or Chrysler?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. QI has located no substantive support for the claim that Bill Gates or Walter Chrysler made this remark.

The earliest evidence known to QI championing the counter-intuitive adroitness of the lazy man appeared in an article published in “Popular Science Monthly” in 1920. Frank B. Gilbreth Sr. evaluated the motions of workmen to determine the most efficient techniques to perform tasks: 1

Gilbreth studied the methods of various bricklayers—the poor workmen and the best ones, and he stumbled upon an astonishing fact of great importance and significance. He found that he could learn most from the lazy man!

Most of the chance improvements in human motions that eliminate unnecessary movement and reduce fatigue have been hit upon, Gilbreth thinks, by men who were lazy—so lazy that every needless step counted.”

Another important thing Gilbreth noted was that the so-called expert factory workers are often the most wasteful of their motions and strength. Because of their energy and ability to work at high speed, such men may be able to produce a large quantity of good work, and thus qualify as experts, but they tire themselves out of all proportion to the amount of work done.

The above valuable citation was located by librarian Erica Cathers who shared it with QI.

Gilbreth’s ideas were influential, and his comments about the “lazy man” probably reached the ears of many managers in industry. In 1947 an automobile executive named Clarence Bleicher testified before a U.S. Senate committee. He was the president of a division of Chrysler Corporation that built DeSoto automobiles. QI hypothesizes that Bleicher’s remarks were refashioned over time to yield the modern quotations. The following excerpt includes a question that was posed by Allen J. Ellender who was a Senator from Louisiana: 2

Mr. BLEICHER. …So if you have got a job that is tough—I have taught my foremen this for some months now—if you get a tough job, one that is hard, and you haven’t got a way to make it easy, put a lazy man on it, and after 10 days he will have an easy way to do it, and you perfect that way and you will have it in pretty good shape. [Laughter.]…

Senator ELLENDER. You say you would put a lazy man on a job to find an easy way to do it. Why would you say a lazy man rather than a hard worker?

Mr. BLEICHER. Because the lazy man will find an easy way to do it. He may not do much, but he will find an easy way to do it. [Laughter.]

Senator ELLENDER. That has been your experience?

Mr. BLEICHER. That has been my experience.

A thematically related viewpoint was expressed by German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord in the 1930s. However, Hammerstein was discussing the selection of military officers, and he assigned the greatest value to individuals who were both lazy and smart. The quotation under examination here does not mention intelligence. The QI entry on the Hammerstein quotation is available here.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1920 December, Popular Science Monthly, Volume 97, Number 6, “The Man of the ‘One Best Way’: How Frank Gilbreth studies men and their ways” by Fred C. Kelly, Start Page 34, Quote Page 34, McClure, Phillips and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1947, Eightieth U.S. Congress, First Session, Hearings Before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, United States Senate, Bills S. 55 and S.J. Res. 22, (Testimony of Clarence E. Bleicher on Friday January 31, 1947), Start Page 301, Quote Page 320, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust) link link

Computer Memory: 640K Ought to be Enough for Anyone

Bill Gates? James E. Fawcette? Nancy Andrews? Jerry Pournelle? InfoWorld? Apocryphal?


Dear Quote Investigator: Bill Gates is the one of the richest men in the world, but that does not mean that he correctly foresaw the future. In the early days of the personal computer industry Gates supposedly said the following about the IBM PC:

 640K ought to be enough for anyone.

The term 640K refers to 640 kilobytes of computer memory. But these days a computer often has a capacious memory that is tens of thousands of times larger, and this size continues to grow. The 640K limitation was once a real headache for programmers and users. This quote is notorious among computer enthusiasts and is typically dated to 1981, but Bill Gates has denied that he ever said it. Could you try to trace it?

Quote Investigator: During the 1990s Bill Gates wrote a syndicated newspaper column in which he answered questions from the public. When he was asked about the saying in 1996 he replied [BGLA]:

I’ve said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time.

The need for memory increases as computers get more potent and software gets more powerful. In fact, every couple of years the amount of memory address space needed to run whatever software is mainstream at the time just about doubles. This is well-known.

However, the computer periodical InfoWorld did attribute several statements to Gates that expressed acceptance or satisfaction regarding the 640K computer memory limitation. Top quotation expert Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, located the earliest version of this sentiment credited to Gates [BGNN]:

When we set the upper limit of PC-DOS at 640K, we thought nobody would ever need that much memory.  — William Gates, chairman of Microsoft

These words appeared at the beginning of an editorial written by James E. Fawcette published in the April 29, 1985 issue of InfoWorld. But no precise reference was given, and the words did not occur as part of an interview.

QI has located the earliest instance of a close match to the saying specified by the questioner. This is the version that is often attributed to Gates today. It appeared in InfoWorld magazine in January 1990 in an article that presented a timeline for the development of the PC industry in the 1980s. The remark ascribed to Gates was placed in quotation marks [BGSF]:

IBM introduces the PC and, with Microsoft, releases DOS (“640K ought to be enough for anyone” — Bill Gates)

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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