What Inspires Bill Gates?

Inspiration is one vital ingredient frequently missing from our work and, indeed, from our lives. Master inspiration—and you’ll never have to worry about motivating anyone, including yourself.

We all know what should inspire us: selfless service, world peace, and customer satisfaction. But what actually does? Where do people who seem to have inspiration in spades get their fix?

Since I’ve been writing a lot about Steve Jobs lately (here and here), it’s only fair that I dedicate a post to his archrival. Bill Gates spent seven years and $63 million to build his dream home in Medina, Washington. Clearly, he was going for something more than a warm meal and a roof over his head. He designed the place to feed his soul, as well as those of future generations of Gateses.

So, what inspires Bill Gates?


Gates seems to have a soft spot for roaring-twenties industrialist types who have accumulated massive wealth in one lifetime. He named his house Xanadu 2.0, after the extravagant residence of a newspaper tycoon from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Another fictional tycoon, The Great Gatsby, is quoted on the ceiling of Gates’ library.


As in electricity. The Gates’ mansion is a gigantic computer wired to read and process every guest’s preferences, down to the choice of music and wall art. It took 100 electricians—among a total of 300 construction workers—to complete the project. 1


In 1994, Gates paid $30.8 million for the Codex Leicester, a scientific notebook Leonardo da Vinci kept in the early 1500s. The manuscript in Leonardo’s mysterious mirror handwriting is now on display inside Gates’ home library.

An Inspirational Quote

The library takes up 2,100 square feet of Gates’ 66,000 square-foot home. Its ceiling is a dome with a motto inscribed around the base. The inscription is a sentence from the final page of The Great Gatsby, one of Gates’ favorite novels. (He owns four rare copies of the book.) It reads:

“He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.” 2

A Tree

Gates has a favorite tree, a 40-year-old maple that grows on the property. Like friends and family, the tree is hooked up to a computer which provides for its needs 24 hours a day. If it becomes too dry, the system automatically waters it.

A Trampoline

Among the mansion’s fitness facilities, an indoor trampoline stands out. The trampoline has its own room with a 20-foot ceiling.

What else?

As much as it’s a testament to the couple’s personal tastes, the Gates’ home is also a tool for selling digital home technology to the world. And, apparently, so is The Road Ahead, the book Bill Gates wrote while his house was taking shape:

“…First thing, as you come in, you’ll be presented with an electronic pin to clip to your clothes. This pin will connect you to the electronic services of the house… The electronic pin you wear will tell the house who and where you are, and the house will use this information to try to meet and even anticipate your needs — all as unobtrusively as possible.” (Bill Gates, The Road Ahead)

In the book, he takes a stab at inspiring readers with his particular version of the future:

“A decade from now, access to the millions of images and all the other entertainment opportunities I’ve described will be available in many homes and will certainly be more impressive than those I’ll have when I move into my house in late 1996. My house will just be getting some of the services a little sooner.” (Bill Gates, The Road Ahead)

How did he do? Not great, according to these Amazon reviewers:

1 out of 5 stars: dry, nerdy, Microsoft advertisement

“this book is probably the second worst I have ever read. it comes off as a dry, nerdy Microsoft advertisement. Bill Gates may be a business genius, but he cannot write a book! this book is supposed to talk about the future, but instead it has a whole chapter devoted to his new house! (he hopes the first thing you notice when you come in is not the electronic pins he hands out, but his “beautiful” view if the lake outside) he seems to be saying, “look at me, I’m rich!” very nerdy. if you want a book about the future, read 1984 by George Orwell.” (January 19, 2000)

1 out of 5 stars: A Bunch of Baloney

“This book represents more of the PR drivel that Microsoft historically has dished out. It clearly proves that Gates has relied on the ideas of others for greatness, as the man does not have an original idea in his head. At the same time, it is true that he is a brilliant wheeler and dealer, and master manipulator of markets. His forte has been as a rip-off artist, as the evidence coming out in the current DOJ trial clearly shows. If the road ahead is dominated by Bill Gates, it will be a sorry state for consumers and competitors alike. Read “The Microsoft File: The Secret Case Against Bill Gates” instead. (December 7, 1998)

I do not have an opinion on Bill Gates’ book, because I haven’t read it. If the book truly captures what inspires him, then I trust it has found a like-minded audience. It’s possible, however, that Gates didn’t fully understand it himself until he moved into his new house. After spending all that time and money to impress visitors, did he, perhaps, realize what drew him in? A tree? A quote? A memory? A dream?

Likewise, if you keep looking for inspiration, you might find it closer than you think. Use it to connect and inspire others. Show them what moves you. Scary as it can be, it always works. Because it’s not just you against the world, straining to impress and convince. It’s something greater than you working through you and others to call itself into existence.

If you’re curious what inspires other business leaders, you might like my book, because it gives you a glimpse into their worlds.

[1] “19 Crazy Facts About Bill Gates’ $123 Million Washington Mansion” by Madeline Stone, Business Insider, November 7, 2014

[2] Source: “The House that Bill Gates’s Money Built” by Elizabeth Corcoran and John Schwartz, The Washington Post, August 28, 1997 https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1997/08/28/the-house-that-bill-gatess-money-built/083910d4-78c8-4d09-ab66-820cfb103e46/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.aa590e971dd2

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Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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