"I bet you're wishing you never wrote any articles about Bill Gates," a friend said.
I tilted my head and stared at him quizzically. (Evidently I do that a lot. Derek Zoolander has "Blue Steel." My wife says my signature look is "Puzzled Golden Retriever.")
"Why?" I finally said.
"Well, he's getting a divorce," he answered. "There was his reported relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. The Wall Street Journal says he had to step down from the Microsoft board because of an investigation into a relationship with an employee. The New York Times says he pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft, and at his and his wife's foundation."
He nodded. "Yep," he said. "I bet you wish you had never written anything positive about him."
Actually, I don't wish I hadn't written anything positive about Gates, because I never really did. There's a huge difference between admiring a person, and adopting one or two of his or her strategies.
While I know people who know Gates, I don't. Nor do I know Melinda. So -- and while this sounds harsh, that's not my intent -- I don't care, one way or the other, about Bill Gates the person. That's for his family, friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances; I'm none of those.
But I do think his two-question approach to solving big problems -- "Who has dealt with this problem well? And what can we learn from them?" -- is useful.
So I wrote about it.
That article wasn't an endorsement of Gates. It was an endorsement of not wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel when a perfectly good wheel already exists.
The same is true for, say, Elon Musk. You may like Musk. You may not. Forming an opinion about Musk the person, positive or negative, is interesting but also irrelevant. I don't know him, nor likely do you. We're not in a position to "care," one way or another (again, not in a bad way) about Musk.
Yet his "first principles" approach to solving problems -- establishing a fundamental fact or conclusion that you know is true, deconstructing it down to its core elements, and working up from there -- can be extremely useful. Clearing the clutter and noise by settling on a fact, or premise, or conclusion that is the only conclusion, regardless of my perspective?
I do care about that.
You may or may not like Jeff Bezos. That doesn't make his approach to making decisions -- one-way doors versus two-way doors -- any less useful. Mark Cuban came under fire some years ago for improper workplace conduct that existed in the Dallas Mavericks organization. (The investigation found no wrongdoing by Cuban, but it did happen under his watch. That doesn't make Cuban's "no mentors rule" -- or his approach to meetings -- any less useful.)
Lance Armstrong once gave me cycling tips. I'm not going to stop using them because he admitted to doping.
What matters is the quality of the strategy, tip, tool, or perspective. And whether it actually benefits you. Not the source.
Because none of us are perfect. Some of us (and by "some of us," I mean me) are a lot less perfect than others. We're all a mixed bag.
Besides: Outcomes are knowable and can be admired.
People, even people relatively close to us, are in large part unknowable. Deciding whether I like, much less admire, Gates or Musk or Cuban or anyone I don't really know is a waste of time. My "feelings" about people who play no role in my life are irrelevant.
But learning from people who have found a better way to do something I want to do? Learning from their successes and failures? Applying useful, actionable tips and tools to my professional or personal life?
I would be foolish not to.
Because you can embrace a person's strategy.
Without "embracing" the person.