How Much Water Should A 10 Year Old Boy Drink The First, Worst Conflict of Bill Gates

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The First, Worst Conflict of Bill Gates

The most memorable glass of water Bill Gates ever drank, he didn’t drink. When he was twelve years old, Bill Gates got into a conflict with his parents. He got angry, shouted at his mother, and his father admonished him. The remarkable thing about that awkward but not unusual exchange, which occurs in most families, was how remarkable it was to Gates.

The conflict itself was not unusual for the Gates family, as Robert Guth reported in last weekend’s edition of the magazine The Wall Street Journal. Through conversations with Bill Gates Sr. and other family members, Guth discovered that the Gates family atmosphere was very competitive. They often played cards, board games, ping-pong and other sports. There were also fights. Even as a boy, Bill Jr. was confrontational, causing intense arguments with his parents.

In the article, Guth focused on what it was like for Bill Sr. to raise Bill Jr., who would become one of the most influential business leaders of our time. At 6’6″, Bill Gates Sr. towers over his son even as an adult, though he’s never been a domineering presence. And regardless of the family’s competition and bickering, Bill Sr. has rarely lost his composure.

Until one day when Bill Jr. yelled at his mother in an argument. Bill Sr. immediately poured his son a glass of water and told him to have more respect.

This was such an atypical incident in the Gates family experience that it lives on in family lore. They remember it and talk about it, and Guth even led his article on the front page with this “water-throwing” anecdote.

However, as Guth says, the Gates family rarely engaged in negative conflict. The splash of water puts a memorable punctuation mark on the incident, but it was an isolated incident of Bill Sr.’s loss of temper and balance, not one of many examples.

The glass of water that Bill Jr. wore, but did not drink, stands out as an exception. It was a rare departure from how the Gates family usually deals with conflict, and how Bill Jr. in his early years learned to manage conflicts and deal with difficult people (like him!).

In addition to learning about conflict, it is clear that there are many factors that helped shape Bill Jr.’s eventual business success, including, for example, his natural drive and intelligence.

And chance certainly played a role. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell recounts how, as a boy in the 1960s, Gates had extensive access to state-of-the-art computing resources that happened to be located near the University of Washington. Bill Jr. spent more than ten thousand hours working with computers as a young man, which exceeded the time spent by most of the world’s computer scientists at that time.

Gates’ unusual approach to computers at a young age gave him invaluable technical knowledge that helped him succeed in the software industry. His computer background, however, does not explain how Gates achieved the even more extraordinary feat of successfully leading an organization to decades of sustained success through all stages of growth, from startup to global leader.

That story is not only technical, it is interpersonal. Among the important interpersonal factors driving his leadership success is how Gates has been able to handle conflict effectively enough to keep talented people working with him through countless challenges over the years.

It is worth considering that the family experience of Bill Jr. perhaps helped to internalize the difference between intensity and offense that often marks the difference between creative conflict and negative conflict.

We should all remember our own “water-throwing” incidents to remind ourselves to manage the key difference between creative conflict that helps people thrive as a group—whether it’s a family or a business team—versus negative conflict that angers and divides groups. into factions.

By the way, 12-year-old Gates said in response to his father throwing water: “Thanks for the shower.” Since this incident is clearly the worst confrontation young Gates has had with his father, who has otherwise so successfully modeled calmness and avoidance of negative conflict, he can now say, in retrospect, “Thanks for the lesson.”

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