Curious people are voracious readers and active learners. The great US President, Teddy Roosevelt, fitted this description perfectly. He didn’t just read books, he devoured them. While he was President he would read a book every day before breakfast. Depending on his schedule he would read another two or three books at night. He reads tens of thousands of books in his lifetime, including hundreds in foreign languages. He was an expert speed reader, able to retain huge amounts of information he used throughout his life. He made quick connections and built great rapport due to his vast mental encyclopedia of knowledge. This had a major effect on his leadership and influence.

In more recent times Bill Gates has set a similar example. Did you know that twice every year, for more than 20 years, he locked himself away for one week to read? He called this his “Think Weeks”. Family, friends and colleagues were banned from attending or making contact with him. The location, a cottage on the U.S. Pacific Northwest coast was kept secret. There he read up to 100 internal Microsoft papers stamped “Microsoft Confidential” in days that typically ran for 18-20 hours. These papers could be more than 100 pages each.

Alone, Gates’ digested documents from Microsoft employees on topics ranging from the future of technology to the forecasting of the next hot products. No topic was out of bounds. Gates’ took the time to learn what his employees knew, recognising that he didn’t know everything himself. He used his Think Weeks to consider the future direction of Microsoft. As an example, it was material submitted for his Think Week in 1995 that inspired Gates’ ground-breaking paper, “The Internet Tidal Wave,” which moved Microsoft into the online arena, and led to the ultimate crushing of Netscape by Internet Explorer.

Bill Gates recognised that you need time to think in business and the best way to do this is when you are alone. By removing yourself from the day to day issues, your mind will wander and roam. Your imagination will be sparked. Gates’ also understood that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and, in a disciplined manner, digested enormous amounts of new knowledge and data during his Think Weeks. Bill Gates took the time, twice a year, to read and ponder the future of Microsoft.  Contrast this with your own situation. Do you spend enough time reading and thinking about your own future?

Most great ideas will come to you when you are alone or out of the office. It is therefore important to spend regular quiet time alone, reading and pondering. This could be an hour a day or an hour each week. The important thing is to be disciplined about it.

A good starting point is to commit to read 12 business books every year – that’s one per month. Make it a New Year’s resolution.

Bill Gates’ approach is an example to everyone and we can all learn from it. Microsoft changed the world as we know it and a lot of that happened because of the weeks spent in a small cottage in the Pacific Northwest. Don’t underestimate the benefits of spending time alone thinking and pondering your options and your future. Get cracking – all you need is discipline and follow-through (and no excuses, of course).

Curious people are voracious readers and active learners. The great US President, Teddy Roosevelt, fitted this description perfectly. He didn’t just read books, he devoured them. While he was President he would read a book every day before breakfast. Depending on his schedule he would read another two or three books at night. He reads tens of thousands of books in his lifetime, including hundreds in foreign languages. He was an expert speed reader, able to retain huge amounts of information he used throughout his life. He made quick connections and built great rapport due to his vast mental encyclopaedia of knowledge. This had a major effect on his leadership and influence.

In more recent times Bill Gates has set a similar example. Did you know that twice every year, for more than 20 years, he locked himself away for one week to read? He called this his “Think Weeks”. Family, friends and colleagues were banned from attending or making contact with him. The location, a cottage on the U.S. Pacific Northwest coast was kept secret. There he read up to 100 internal Microsoft papers stamped “Microsoft Confidential” in days that typically ran for 18-20 hours. These papers could be more than 100 pages each.

Alone, Gates’ digested documents from Microsoft employees on topics ranging from the future of technology to the forecasting of the next hot products. No topic was out of bounds. Gates’ took the time to learn what his employees knew, recognising that he didn’t know everything himself. He used his Think Weeks to consider the future direction of Microsoft. As an example, it was material submitted for his Think Week in 1995 that inspired Gates’ ground-breaking paper, “The Internet Tidal Wave,” which moved Microsoft into the online arena, and led to the ultimate crushing of Netscape by Internet Explorer.

Bill Gates recognised that you need time to think in business and the best way to do this is when you are alone. By removing yourself from the day to day issues, your mind will wander and roam. Your imagination will be sparked. Gates’ also understood that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and, in a disciplined manner, digested enormous amounts of new knowledge and data during his Think Weeks. Bill Gates took the time, twice a year, to read and ponder the future of Microsoft.  Contrast this with your own situation. Do you spend enough time reading and thinking about your own future?

Most great ideas will come to you when you are alone or out of the office. It is therefore important to spend regular quiet time alone, reading and pondering. This could be an hour a day or an hour each week. The important thing is to be disciplined about it.

A good starting point is to commit to read 12 business books every year – that’s one per month. Make it a New Year’s resolution.

Bill Gates’ approach is an example to everyone and we can all learn from it. Microsoft changed the world as we know it and a lot of that happened because of the weeks spent in a small cottage in the Pacific Northwest. Don’t underestimate the benefits of spending time alone thinking and pondering your options and your future. Get cracking – all you need is discipline and follow-through (and no excuses, of course).

PS. The Bull is taking two weeks off – the next wisdom will be posted on Monday 25thJanuary, 2010.