If you want to tackle problems the same way as Bill Gates, you need to start with two simple questions: "Who has dealt with this problem well? And what can we learn from them?"
"Ever since I was a teenager, I've tackled every big new problem the same way: by starting off with [those] two questions. I used this technique at Microsoft, and I still use it today," Gates wrote in a GatesNotes blog published Tuesday.
Gates, who is currently worth $118 billion, famously dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975, and today spends his time working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In his role as a scientific philanthropist, he has been an active participant in the global fight against the novel coronavirus.
"I ask these questions literally every week about COVID-19," Gates wrote.
While the two questions are solid starting blocks for tackling a problem, that doesn't make them easy to answer, the entrepreneur said.
"They seem like obvious questions, but sometimes it's surprisingly hard to find the answers...," Gates wrote.
That is especially true when it comes to one of Gates' biggest concerns: global health.
"There are low- and middle-income countries that have made huge leaps in, for example, delivering vaccines or ending malnutrition. But anyone who wants to identify those countries, find out how they did it, and apply the lessons in their own country would have their work cut out for them," he wrote.
To help identify and study what countries have made significant progress in global health in economical ways, a coalition of experts and leaders from universities to the World Health Organization to research organization contributed to the Exemplars in Global Health program. The research project is supported by the investment firm Gates Ventures and the philanthropic Gates Foundation and has been in the works for three years.
Currently, Exemplars in Global Health has information on the progress various countries have made in five key areas: mortality of children under 5, vaccine delivery, the role of community health workers, preparedness and response in the face of an epidemic and the limitation of childhood physical and mental development resulting from poor nutrition. Going forward, the program will add information about the results countries have had in additional categories, such as mortality rates of mothers and newborns, family planning systems, anemia among mothers and primary health care systems.
"Exemplars is all about figuring out how to improve health care based on evidence of what works," Gates wrote. "It will help governments use time and money more efficiently—and with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a greater need to get the most impact out of every dollar spent."
It should be as easy to research public health efforts and results as it is to watch a replay in sports, Gates said: "In sports, every coach is able to study the most successful teams and figure out what they're doing well. There's no reason that things should be any different when the goal is preventing childhood deaths instead of scoring touchdowns."
Huge problems like global health are not the only issues for which Gates asks questions. He is relentlessly curious, by his own admission, and he asks himself questions to make progress and assessments of his goals in multiple situations.
For example, at the end of each year, Gates reflects by asking himself several questions: "What was I excited about? What could I have done better?" he wrote in an end-of-year blog post in 2018.
Gates also asks himself questions like, "Did I devote enough time to my family? Did I learn enough new things? Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones?" he wrote.