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January 21, 2009

Innovations, Expectations, and Change

Bill Gates

I learned an important lesson about predicting the future. Often, we expect too much too quickly, but we don’t expect enough over the long term. Change doesn’t happen on a schedule, but it can be more sweeping than anybody imagined.

 -- Bill Gates

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

CompassionRise has recently noted the theme of renewal, which has been prevalent in conversations globally with the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. Elections and changes in leadership lead to expectations, which have been the subject of much political discussion but which we all experience in our daily lives, too. As we innovate and change -- socially, professionally, or personally -- how do we manage expectations?

Bill Gates is the Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and he spoke the words we consider today, January 21 while announcing a new, US $630 million effort to defeat polio. The polio vaccine was first administered in the 1950s, but "polio has caused paralysis and death for much of human history." As from the Gates Foundation:

Polio is a crippling and sometimes fatal disease that still paralyzes children in parts of Africa and Asia and threatens children everywhere. Polio has been completely eliminated in the Americas, the Western Pacific, and Europe, but the wild polio virus persists in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, and imported cases from these countries threaten other developing nations.

Our science and technology have made it possible to defeat this disease if our efforts are well enough organized and supported. Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the British and German governments each made significant commitments to enable a broad and bold approach to finishing humanity's fight against polio. Their commitments should inspire others, too:

“G-8 countries pledged repeatedly to take all necessary steps to eradicate polio,” said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. “We urge other countries to join us in closing the funding gap and ensuring that health workers have the support they need to protect the world’s children from polio.”

The fight against polio has many layers of significance. As World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan observed:

Successfully eradicating polio is crucially important, not just to ensure that no child will ever again be paralyzed by this devastating disease, but also to show that today--in the 21st century--we can deliver life-saving health interventions to every single child, no matter where they live, and even in the most difficult and challenging environments.

Bill Gates observed today that innovation has been the key to our partial, encouraging success against polio so far, and that only more innovation will make possible our final victory over the disease:

My favorite statistic about global health is this: In 1960, 20 million young children died. Two years ago, that figure was 10 million. In short, in my lifetime, the world has learned how to save more than 10 million children every year. 

Surely, that is humanity’s greatest accomplishment in the last 50 years. And innovations both simple and complex made it possible. From knit caps that keep newborns warm to the most advanced vaccines, innovations can save lives. 

In the context of innovation, Gates made his larger statement about change and expectations, that "Change doesn’t happen on a schedule, but it can be more sweeping than anybody imagined."

The key to managing expectations may be clear and thoughtful leadership. The Gates Foundation's simple, forceful mission statement begins:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is "Guided by the belief that every life has equal value."

They specify a remarkable 15 Guiding Principles and 4-Step Approach. The 15th principle may be the most important:

15. We leave room for growth and change.

In their methods we see balance. Do not choose between following a mantra or guiding principle, writing a business plan or listing specific guidelines, and keeping an open mind. Do all and each carefully. Writing a mission statement or one guiding principle is hard work. It is just as hard to find the words to describe all your methods and motivations, thresholds and intentions. Doing these, though, helps to shape and fulfill expectations.

Managing expectations is essential to creating change. When we have "taken care of business," when we are prepared and connected and determined, then we are free to look up, to set our eyes on the horizon. We can let ourselves imagine the greatest changes, then set out to achieve our goals with less fear for how long it may take to get there or for what may stand in our way.