As at the end of each life, especially those living in the public sector, it is an attempt to make sense of the achievements and award a legacy. In recent days, we have seen many tribute to Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, who died October 15 at the age of 65 years from cancer complications.
The problem with Allen, however, is the problem of polymates: no thing alone defines who they are. The cryptographer you know can be the sculptor of your friend. Or the electric car contractor can also be space explorer. Who is it and who to say? Polymath cares least, motivated more of the pursuit of ideas and interests than knowing how they perceive.
Known first to create the world's most important software company with Bill Gates, Allen left Microsoft in 1[ads1]983 after clashing with Gates and recovery from cancer treatments. He became a billionaire overnight when Microsoft was released in 1986. For the next decade he saw an attempt to fake his own technical heritage, but a combination of ideas in front of his time and bad leadership kept what was happening. All remains in the spotlight because of the wealth that kept him on Forbes's Richest People list and because of his connection to Microsoft, which dominated the tech world.
Since its time at Microsoft, Allen has come to be seen in other ways as well: A great philanthropist who pounds hundreds of millions of dollars for important causes such as brain science, cancer research and disease management. He often borrowed his megayacht, Octopus for research and recovery. He was also a space geek, who financed the development of an Ansari X award winning rocket, as well as a two-part aircraft carrier that would go to the edge of the earth's atmosphere. He had a high profile among sports fans for his ownership of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks. He transformed Seattle, his hometown, financing the development that made the city more vibrant and attractive. Unprompted in an interview this year, musician Quincy Jones said that Allen could sing and play the guitar just like Jimi Hendrix. He held 43 patents under his name.
So who was Paul Allen? Since Allen's many efforts have been pushed at the same time into the limelight since he passed, headlines have tried to synthesize their lives in a tidy manner: "Paul Allen Remembered for Sports, Technology, Give" and "From Microsoft to Space" and "After Paul Allen founded Microsoft, he changed brain science forever. "There is little agreement on where to place his influence and define moments.
I know first-hand the challenge of striking a label on Allen. When he wrote his biography in 2003, I met the task of finding a center for his story because he was both a polyman and a man until his death, always in search of a clear post-Microsoft identity. But now, in this reflective moment, it seems worth asking: Can you achieve great fame and success as a polymate?
Unlike many iconoclasts, which are biographical study values, Allen is not synonymous with a single company or invention or idea or momentary story. The Microsoft Creation Myth is an oldie and a treat, but it does not tell the whole story of Allen. He was not only only – co-founder of Microsoft.
It is a big contrast to how we think of who will be known.
It does not matter . ] how much one does in his or her life, it seems to be a collective cognitive inability to treat more than one major achievement from a person. So we have Bill Gates who are known to build Microsoft; Henry Ford who built model T; Mark Zuckerberg who took us with Facebook.
But all these people – we all – do so much more.
These are fine, simple narratives that give us a brief description of how we talk about these leaders and innovators. Do not be aware that Henry Ford's major impact was the assembly line, or that Gates could solve one or more of the world's greatest humanitarian crises. (Zuckerberg is still in his early days, so we must see and see. But he has already set up his own philanthropic company with the humble goal of curing all diseases in the daughter's lifetime.)
The story is dotted with examples of known People who were also politicians: Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among them, have brought many benefits and advances to their communities. Nevertheless, we often miss their achievements, many of which enrich our lives every day, with an overemphasis on a singular. As with a limited multi-choice menu, the story often selects only one of their many achievements and hits it on them. Perhaps we are not comfortable with the idea that a person is so well-versed in so many things. Being good in one thing is a challenge enough for most of us.
It's hard to break down a polymate. While I researched Allen on my book, I asked my sources-his friends and colleagues, past and present-now-what motivated him and how they defined him. Some of them talked about him as opposed to Gates, as though they existed only in relation to each other, and to a single narrative of the other. All was "more convenient" and "more relaxed" than Gates. As I wrote about these conversations, "Even those who have known Allen for many years still have trouble defining him because he always looks at new areas and finds new things that appeal to him." Or in his own words, "as a child, every year, I was interested in something else," he told Fortune in 1994.
At the time of the release, we called him "Unavailable Zillionaire" borrowed from a Wired story with the same name. Allen was perceived as more of a technical figure. He had launched a couple of companies with great ambitions that had failed, while he always had profits from a company, he had no longer to do with. Retrieving many of his millions in these erroneous perceptions ended up causing him to look as if Microsoft had been some stupid luck.
Microsoft, of course, had not been Allen's stupid luck, anything more than Gates. It was Allen who convinced Gates to work with him in a programming language in 1975 which ultimately led to the formation of Microsoft. Gates had the chutzpah to make great promises to his first customer, Altair, and so more familiar to IBM, of software that did not exist; Everyone saved the day each time by producing the world-wide software. If it were not for Allen, it would not be Microsoft's period. And if it were not for Gates, it would not be Microsoft mega-success as you know.
Allen's legacy can be that there is no singular and that we should embrace the many interested among us, the Renaissance, the team player. There are signs that we can go in this direction. The concert economy does not make a single inheritance when you drive your Uber car to your Airbnb home to design graphics for a job you have received through UpWork. Of course, working with a concert is not the same as curing cancer and improving the football game. But it is on the right track. People and their contributions to society are multifaceted, never quite suitable for a headline or blurb.
In the end, Allen may have had the correct title with his book, "Idea Man", gentle and lukewarm, though it may be. He probably understood that there was no invention, company or hunt that would like to best represent him and his life, but a series of those he would continue to generate. Or at least he stands in the long shadow of Bill Gates, it may be as he hoped.
Laura Rich is the author of the Paul Allen cinema "The Accidental Zillionaire" and the founder of Exit Club, a group of entrepreneurs who leave their businesses.