Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reviewing ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World' by John Wood

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World is the inspiring story of how one of Bill Gate’s right hand men went to the Himalayas to ‘get away from it all’ and discovered a consuming new passion for his life.

Visiting a Nepalese school full of kids hungry to learn but with a library that was empty, led John Wood to establish, ‘Room to Read’, an organization that is now operating in Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and several African countries.

The book does not describe a religious experience with blinding lights and voices from the sky, however, it does suggest the importance of taking time out from the treadmill and scheduling opportunities to evaluate our lives and reestablish our priorities in accordance with those things that are truly important. When a Nepalese headmaster said to Wood, “Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books,” this sentence was to change John Wood forever.

Trained in banking and with a top class MBA, John Wood is no educationalist. The thing he does bring is a voracious appetite for reading that was nurtured by his parents from a young age. Standing in the empty School library near the top of the world John Wood said, “It is hard to imagine a world in which something as random as where you were born could result in lifelong illiteracy.”

This book surveys the gradual rearrangement of priorities as Wood weighs up the wisdom of accumulating more wealth while thousands of children around the world cannot read or write.

For anyone establishing a not-for-profit organization and needing to learn how to cast a vision and get people on board, this story is an ideal text book and case study.

John Wood in ‘leaving Microsoft’ does not repudiate all that he learned in the corporate world. On the contrary, he draws upon the rich bank of experience he received in the management culture and demonstrates how the principles and practices might be translated into the non-profit sector. As the author reflects on his time with Microsoft he gives some inside glimpses into the lives of Bill Gates and other leaders.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World records the journey of how John Wood learned about aid and development. He recognized the futility of merely giving handouts to the passive poor as he embraces a principle that he calls ‘coinvestment’, in which both parties are contributing what they are able, to attain a common goal.

Readers will be inspired by this story and will learn practical tips about how to ask for money, how to motivate people to participate and how to build an organization from nothing. Wood gives important insights into how to employ the right people and he stresses the importance of developing the loyalty of staff and the huge brigade of volunteers.

Leaving Microsoft is not all 'beer and skittles'. John Wood records the painful process of leaving a successful career, informing his boss, breaking the news to his partner and walking away from the trappings of success. He relates that the best advice in going public with the leaving process came from an Aussie mate who said to him: “There are two ways to remove a Band Aid: slowly and painfully, or quickly and painfully. Your choice.”

‘To Change the World’ required significant personal change for the author in readjusting to his new vocation in which he had no important title, no office, no steady income and no plush house provided by the company. He writes engagingly of standing in front of the mirror to practice the answer when somebody was going to ask the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?”

In the period of ‘starting over’ there are some things that do not change—Wood’s enormous capacity for work, his attention to detail, the importance of perceiving the trends, his tenacious approach to asking people for money and his commitment to ‘know the numbers’.

Leaving Microsoft is not written to encourage everyone to ditch their job or become a ‘corporate refugee’. In his promotional speeches John Wood does, however, seek to encourage people to devote some time and money to helping those in the world who have few resources. The book is a challenge to evaluate your life, to become entrepreneurial and to have the courage to do what you believe is right for you regardless of how it looks in the eyes of others.

This book is aimed at a general readership. It is interesting and moves at a lively pace, like its author.

John Wood, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children (New York: Collins, 2006).

Image: Front Cover.