The fourth-richest man in the world (as of December 2021) has few regrets when it comes to his educational past. The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, is an icon for many reasons: He introduced us to the personal computer, the Windows operating system, and Microsoft Office -- all of which have become ubiquitous.
And he did all of this after dropping out of Harvard after only two years. Which makes you wonder: How much more might he have accomplished if he had completed his degree?
Well, you won't hear Gates entertain those kind of "what ifs," but he did highlight one regret to Harvard students in 2018: "I wish I had been more sociable."
For all of the bluster about educational requirements in the professional world, Gates is a prime example of someone who found his own path without getting a diploma first. He's not the only one: Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, too, as did a slew of other millionaires/billionaires and self-made success stories: Amancio Ortega (co-founder of Zara), Ben Francis (founder of Gymshark), and Simon Nixon (co-founder of Moneysupermarket), to name just a few.
While we often think of the deified dropout as unique to the tech world, the names above reveal a wider-reaching reality: Success can be found in many industries without a degree.
I'm not urging would-be/will-be CEOs to drop their degree and charge headfirst into entrepreneurship. Instead, I'm wondering if we take another look at how we frame competency -- from CEOs down to frontline workers.
Questions should be asked before job requirements are blindly drawn up: What skills are really necessary to complete the job and excel in a work environment? And is it more important to gauge a candidate's ability and willingness to learn than it is to see "BA" or "MBA" somewhere on their resume?
Back to Gates. For him, an educational retrospective revealed the need for more engagement with others -- better social skills, stronger relationships. I've long quoted Simon Sinek on this front, because it holds true: "The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe." That requires people skills -- and I've never seen a college degree that proves you know how to relate to people.
In the scramble of The Great Resignation, companies are rethinking their recruitment and retention policies on all fronts. But in the rush to roll out shiny incentives and lust-worthy perks, perhaps the core objective is forgotten. What do you actually need in a new hire? A piece of paper or people skills? Institutional association or relatable passion?
Ask these pointed questions -- of yourself and your candidates -- and you'll open the door to a wealth of talent that too often falls under the radar.