Idea Man by Paul Allen

A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft

My admiration for Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft, grew exponentially when I’d discovered he’d dedicated his memoir to his parents before passing away from cancer in 2018. Indeed, when one looks at how Paul Allen approached philanthropy, it becomes apparent that at the heart of his generosity lay a concern for the welfare of others, including $100 million to eradicate Ebola in West Africa

Another fundamental lesson imparted by Paul Allen is relevant to today’s world where we tend to value talent but not “seasoning” and maturity. A talented young man created Facebook, but did he possess the wisdom to understand that his platform could someday become a force for disunity? 

Allen’s advice is simple but profound for those looking to succeed in life: preparation and hard work make the dream work. However, by his admission, Allen was lucky to have access to computer programming classes at high school. Sadly, today in America, only 47% of high school students have access to computer programming classes. And this percentage falls further when we take minority students into account. The lesson I draw from this is clear: we need a national K-12 plan to teach computer programming so that the digital economy transforming the world does not create more inequality. 

One final word of wisdom imparted by this generous man whose life was cut short by cancer is how best to grow a company: find the best people and give them room to operate. And once a company grows, his advice is to ensure that the culture of innovation is always alive. 

My takeaway from reading the story of Paul Allen’s life is this: how is it that one of the richest men in the world could not save his own life and die of cancer.  Maybe it is because we are not spending enough across the entire research chain that relates to cancer. Instead, we are deploying capital to some silly platforms with NO social impact. 

Call me a romantic, but I think the life of Paul Allen and the millions across the world who have lost their lives to cancer is worth far more than the billions spent to create and maintain inconsequential social media platforms.