An interesting extract from The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power), by Harry Browne, loc 2967:

What is intriguing about Bono’s rhapsody is the part of the history lesson that really excited him: not democracy, but the ability of a group of rich men to bring about dramatic change, and to do so in the name of a ringingly good idea. The association of this peculiar form of greatness with Bill Gates, who had become something of a partner and patron to Bono, is surely no accident. (For more on the Gates connection, see below.) Bono’s version of America’s ‘idea’, in short, is fully in keeping with his own campaigning practice: rich and powerful men making decisions and creating change that they say is in the interests of everyone else – who may or may not get a say in the matter.

I’d like to find more unguarded statements of inspiration by prominent philanthrocapitalists, in order to consider their underlying motivations. 

From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 10326:

Aging brought another challenge—what one female friend called the “fear of not having any more brilliant ideas. The idea that after thirty, you’re kind of over the hill, that you’re not being clever anymore.” Steve Jobs, she believed, had a similar fear, one he and others confronted by starting second companies just to prove that their initial successes had not been mere flukes—which in some ways, of course, they had been.

The culture of competitive sleep deprivation has reached weird heights in recent years. This Guardian feature, detailing the times at which CEOs wake up, gives some sense of the extreme forms this can take. Concern for sleep pervades productivity culture, most obviously on sites like Life Hacker, with sleep routines given parity to software choices in their interviews with prominent creatives. 

This emerging cultural politics of sleep is a really interesting aspect of what I’m trying to analyse in my new book as cognitive triage (or rather triaging strategies, driven by and in turn driving, the intensification of work). This ‘sleep deprivation arms race‘ tracks the ossification of opportunity structures across many careers, as well as an acceleration of personal resources being deployed for professional gain. As Lucy Rock observes,

Margaret Thatcher accelerated the sleep deprivation arms race when it emerged she ran the country on four hours’ sleep a night. From Donald Trump’s three to four hours a night to Bill Clinton’s five to six hours when he was president and Condoleezza Rice’s habit of getting up at 4.30am to go to the gym when she was US Secretary of State, minimal sleep has become a sign of your commitment to the job.

Angela Ahrendts, head of retail at Apple who was the first woman to top Britain’s executive pay league when she was CEO at Burberry gets up at 4.35am. She gets a headache if she sleeps for more than six hours. It is, she said, “my inspirational time, my time to find peace, to watch the sun rise”. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s chief executive takes between four to six hours a night; Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, a mere four hours. 

Now we can be plugged into the world of work day and night, it feels more than ever that to work more and sleep less is the way to the top. Knocking off at 6pm? Hmmm… the boss will be answering emails until 9 and her boss until 11 and as for her boss, well, she only needs three hours’ sleep a night.

But where did it come from? One part of addressing this question involves analysis of the pleasures of acceleration. But another concerns role modelling. There’s a great paper by Ismael Al-Amoudi which I need to go back to in order to develop my analysis of this in terms of modes of reflexivity. But meanwhile, I just wanted to record this little extract from the end of the great Bill Gates biography I’ve been reading recently. From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 10268-10287: 

“He is the world’s busiest man, bar none,” said Charles Simonyi, citing one trip that included “Eleven meetings in five days in Europe—you know, like there were days there would be two countries. And he doesn’t fly a private plane, either.” Gates still managed a schedule as packed as anyone’s, but as he headed toward his forties, he seemed to be modestly tempering his legendary workaholism—and seemed vaguely defensive about it:   Most people have an overblown view of how many hours they work. It’s hard: Working eighty hours is very hard. You can’t do much else if you’re gonna do that. So there’s lots of weeks I work eighty hours, but I think my average is lower than that. . . .On average I take every other weekend off. . . .I’m probably more like seventy average now. There are some weeks I work more than eighty. Like those weeks I travel to Europe: That’s all I’m doing, is working, sleeping, working, sleeping. So you can get weeks where I’ll put in over ninety. I mean, I assume you don’t count reading business magazines, the Journal or the Economist.   Upon recomputing, he decided that an average of seventy-two hours was the proper figure. Though in recent years Gates had vacationed in the Dominican Republic, Thailand, and Australia with his girlfriend, he could barely contemplate the idea of a longer period of relaxation: “It’s possible I’d take a month off in the next three years. I don’t know what that would be like. I’ve never taken more than a week off with weekends on both ends.”

How much influence did the first billionaire boy-king of technology have in generating this ensuing arms race of competitive sleep deprivation? What does he think of the results? What did he personally gain from this? Was it good and/or necessary for the business? Was it good and/or necessary for his self? I’ve argued in the past that embracing acceleration, pursuing busyness as something desirable, can function in the same way as drink or drugs to help ‘blot out’ unwelcome internal conversation. This comment by an ex girlfriend certainly hints at this explanation in the case of Gates, from loc 10287 of the same biography:

“I don’t know what he would do if he had some time to spend alone with himself,” said one short-term girlfriend who tired of his strange blend of selfishness and selflessness. “He has a significant data storage device. But I don’t think he has a lot of wisdom.” And she didn’t think he was all that happy either. “So many times he complained about how he’s got to be here and got to be there. You say ‘Why don’t you say you’re not going to show up?’ but he won’t do that. He’ll stand up for everybody, but he won’t stand up for his happiness.”

But of course, the cognitive costs of living like this will continue to mount up. This is why I’ve argued for the importance of zones of strategic deceleration. Gates pursues this in a more individualistic way. From loc 9826-9846 in Gates:

Shortly before the Akers flap became public, Bill Gates had gone to the Gateaway complex for one of his “think weeks,” a tradition that had begun on the return from Albuquerque, when Bill would take a week off to spend time with Gam at her place on Hood Canal. Alone with his thoughts, he would strategize, read, play with competitors’ software, and “write a lot of memos.

However this is a form of temporising, compensating for but doing nothing to change the underling process. I’m not sure how, if at all, the holidays he took can be included within this analysis. But they’re notable nonetheless. From loc 8242 in Gates, as recounted by an ex girlfriend:

Winblad even convinced Bill to take a vacation now and then by coming up with “reading themes . . . We had a physics vacation once, a biotech vacation once, and we had an F. Scott Fitzgerald vacation.” Winblad was responsible for picking and packing all the reading material.

From Gates, by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, loc 6989-7007:

Microsoft was more like a northwestern Paul Bunyan. “It’s a culture of work,” Cole recalled. “Bill would hate it when the weather got good in Seattle. People would leave early. They weren’t going to put in their twelve hours that day or sixteen hours that day.” But the Pirates and just about everyone else at Apple worked long hours too. “The huge difference at Microsoft was nobody was having fun. People worked hard, all the smart, smart, smart people. But very few people were having any fun. They were grinding out the work.” Bill, Cole observed,   cares so much, and his way of motivating of people is through shame and intimidation. And some people are motivated that way. I mean, all of us to a certain extent are motivated by shame and disgust. People lose weight before they go to their high school reunions, and before they have to get into a bathing suit for summer . . . . It is motivating. But it’s not motivating for all people in all situations. And that was in fact the only trick in the bag.

I’m interested in how this leadership style diffused through the tech industry, in many cases being formalised in policy and consolidating as human resources common sense. From loc 7007-7029 of the same book:

It was a culture that came straight from the top. Gates was notorious for prowling the halls on Saturdays and Sundays and calling key people at home, asking “What’s the matter? Why haven’t I seen you around?” But the company was growing so fast that there was little time for training or traditional management. Gates’s rule of sink or swim still applied: You were expected to learn your job and do it. If you didn’t, find something else or take off.

“Ida said it very succinctly at the last meeting: Management cannot force you to work long hours, only YOU can do that,” Charles Simonyi wrote in an April 1985 e-mail. “So why do otherwise intelligent people CHOOSE to come here at night and during the weekend?” Personal convenience, for one thing (if you happened to be a night owl); the bonus, for another. “We do reward outstanding contributions with a bonus. The most straightforward way to make an outstanding contribution is by working longer.” Then there was   the clincher. We live in a competitive world in a landscape littered with visible corpses. Do you think our schedules are tight? Too many features to write and test? Our competition will be happy to hear it. . . . If they work day and night and sleep under their desks, we may have to. I, for one, do not want to lose, not just because of pride, but also because it is very unpleasant.