Productive Paranoia

September 27, 2012

Be YOUnique Blog


Is being negative always negative? Bill Gates seems to disagree. Did you know that Gates is a negative person?

Here are some excerpts from the book Great by Choice.

It depicts a concept called productive paranoia. Its being highly attuned to threats and changes especially when things are going well. Fear and worry is channeled into preparation, contingency plans, buffers and margins of safety. 

How negative is Bill Gates?

  • Bill Gates said in 1994. “Fear should guide you, but it should be latent, I consider failure on a regular basis.”
  •  He hung a photograph of Henry Ford in his office, to remind himself that event the greatest entrepreneurial successes can be passed by, as Ford had been passed by GM in the early history of the auto industry.
  • Gates showed his fearful side in what became known as the “nightmare memo.” In a four-day period, from June 17 to June 20, 1991, Bill Gate’s personal fortune dropped more than $300 million as Microsoft stock suddenly fell 11 % when a memo filled with “nightmare” scenarios leaked its way to the San Jose Mercury News. Written by Gates himself, the memo listed a series of worries and threats-about competitors, technology, intellectual property, legal cases, and Microsoft’s customer-support shortcomings—and proclaimed, “our nightmare…is a reality.”
  • Gates demonstrated productive paranoia all the time, no matter how successful Microsoft became. Gates didn’t just sit around writing up nightmare memos; he channeled fear into action by keeping workspace inexpensive; hiring better people; building cash reserves; and working on the next software release to stay a step ahead, then the next one, and the next one after that.
  • Paranoid behavior is enormously functional if fear is channeled into extensive preparation and calm, clearheaded action.
The lesson: “Critical Thinking is crucial if you want to be successful.” But mind you, I said critical thinking, not to have a critical mindset or spirit — that means having a negative attitude. Critical thinking involves having a goal and being realistic in finding ways to achieve that goal, no matter the opposition.

So the next time someone tells you, you need to be positive all the time; give them these examples from Bill Gates…sometimes it pays to be negative!

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