Davos and Gates Foundation 2.0

I was in the audience in Davos this evening when Bill Gates presented his vision of “Creative Capitalism,” his term for a capitalism that ties self-interest to the desire to help others in the service of meeting the world’s looming challenges. Bill’s remarks were straight from the heart, and clearly the cornerstone of the work he will begin in earnest when he moves from Microsoft to the Gates Foundation later this year. Creative Capitalism is the cornerstone concept of a new release –Gates Foundation 2.0.

But as I listened to his remarks, I realized that I was also hearing Bill 1.0, the fast-following hypercompetitive genius who built Microsoft into an empire by adopting and out-executing the ideas of others. But for the MacIntosh, Microsoft would have never done Windows, and Microsoft never took browsers seriously until Netscape came out of nowhere to dominate the Web.

Now, with Creative Capitalism, Bill is fast-following Google.org. Gates Foundation 1.0 was the DOS of charitable institutions, the quintessence of the traditional foundation model. Then along came the Google founders and Google.org, a truly innovative rethink of charitable work for the 21st century. Measured against Google.org, the Gates Foundation looked, well, a bit square. It was the PC in Apple’s “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” ads, and Google.org was the Mac.

So let the race begin, for unlike the technology wars, this is not a zero sum game. A decade ago, Bill Gates abruptly changed his plan to wait until retirement before giving away his fortune and established the Gates Foundation. The result was not merely early good works, but also a burst of foundation-building by other technology titans who in turn raced to match Gates’ generosity and vision. Now history is about to repeat itself, as the charitable innovations of the Google founders and Bill Gates inspire their peers to meet – and exceed—their visions.