Bill Gates is chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp, speaks to Fast Company about patience, fast-following, and the innovation gap. Excerpts with edits and my comments.
On measuring the return on R&D investment: We have a very unusual model in that if I say that something is going to be important - like I say that TV in the future will be delivered over an IP network -- you know I said that 12 years ago. Well, about eight years went by and nothing happened. Microsoft was spending more than $100 million a year on that R&D, and we were ahead of our time..
On Microsoft is often called a "fast follower." : We shipped a media player before real player company was founded, period. Google didn't [do search] first: AltaVista, guys who worked for us, came first. We did many things where we were first. Then we have other areas where we do catch-up, like the browser.
Is one strategy better than the other: Oh, it's always better to be first. Actually, it's very expensive. We'd rather have more competitors investing in long-term research. It would be healthier for the industry if more people would do that. And that might cause us not to be first on as many things. [But] the things that we've been really successful in, we were first.
On Green field or incremental innovation - Which is more important: Most breakthroughs are a compilation, where a ton of incremental improvements come together.
On as a society, have we gotten better at innovation: There have been lots of improvements.Innovation builds on itself in the sense that the Internet and the PC are themselves tools of innovation that allow far more rapid innovation than ever before. [But] most people in the world live in very poor conditions, and our ability to focus innovation on the things that would save lives is extremely poor. For people living in the United States, we've got erectile- dysfunction medicines and cell phones with nice color screens. There is a very inequitable spread in terms of how creativity is being applied. We're doing better than we've ever done, and people are healthier and better off. But are we really making the advances to improve human conditions where most people live? Not even close.
While, there is no doubt,Microsoft places emphasis and has demonstrated its innovation capabiltiies, As Thomas Hawk writes, One of the funny things about the interview is that he basically paints Microsoft as being an early innovator of the television/computing combo and yet here it is 2005 and the satellite providers, the cable providers and TiVo all have systems at market today that record HDTV while with Gate's primary television solution, Microsoft Media Center Edition, you still can't watch cable or satellite HDTV.