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Michael Dell

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

Michael Dell: Yeah. I wanted to see how it works, so I took it apart. A good thing about the early personal computers is that they had completely kind of standardized chips, and so you could literally get a book about each chip and read what each pin did, and how signals were processed through the chip. You could design your own circuits and you could modify them, and you could literally see exactly how the thing was working. That was sort of the classroom for me. That was where I learned the basics of how these things worked. Then I kind of became fascinated with, "Well, how could you improve it?" How could you make it do more things? How could you expand it? How could you make it go faster? How could you hook it up to other computers and let your imagination run wild?
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Michael Dell

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

We went off for a few days with some of the really smart people in the company and a few outside advisors. And we said, "Well, what are we going to do with this company? This thing is really growing fast, but we're in a business that's pretty competitive and expanding rapidly. What do we do?" So we had three strategies that we clued in as our growth path for the future. The first one we said was, "We've got to go outside the U.S., because 96 percent of the people in the world live outside the United States, and it's going to be at least half the opportunities -- outside the United States. You can't just be a domestic company." Second thing we said was, "We really want to go after large companies, because they underwrite their purchase of technology through productivity and they can afford the best tools. That, we know, is going to be a lucrative opportunity and we really want to go after that in a big, big way." Kind of an odd thing for a little company like ours to go after, particularly with IBM and others in the field. The third thing we said was, "Differentiating our business is going to be really key, and the way to do that is on service." You've got to have better service than the competitor. So we invented this idea of on-site service for the PC, which had really never been done before. So with those three strategies we kind of marched forward, and that lasted five or six years.
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Joan Didion

National Book Award

I can't go on if it's not pretty much the way that it should be. Towards the beginning of a book, I will go back to page one every day and rewrite. I'll start out the day with some marked-up pages that I have marked up the night before, and by the time you get to page, maybe, 270, you are not going back to page 1 necessarily anymore, but you're going back to page 158 and starting over from there.
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David Herbert Donald

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

David Herbert Donald: It's hard to explain how any great writer comes to have the gift that he does, and when you don't know, you'll explain -- we'll say Shakespeare or Racine -- by saying he did this, that, or the other. So you can't pinpoint Lincoln as this was influential, but there were things that were influential. First of all, as a boy, he had very few books, and they were, as it turned out, the great books. He had the Bible, he had Pilgrim's Progress, he may have had Robinson Crusoe, just a few books like that he memorized by heart, because he had no others. He loved to read. So that the patterns that he learned growing up were those of simplicity and directness, as well as eloquence, but there were other forces, too. When he became a lawyer, his first law partner didn't teach him much, but his second one was Stephen Trigg Logan. Logan was a little dried-up man who had a hot temper, was nevertheless a master lawyer, and he would go over briefs that he and his partners drew up, and he would cross out page after page of nonsense, of legal formalities and so on, to say, "This is what we want to say, just these 12 lines, not these 14 pages," and Lincoln watched, and he learned. There's a great difference between the briefs Lincoln drew up before he met Logan and the ones after he practiced with Logan. He gained in succinctness, in clarity, in avoidance of technicalities, so that many of his briefs are really, literally short essays, works of art.
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David Herbert Donald

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

Lincoln carried over the skills that he learned from Stephen Logan into his public life as well. His early speeches were often, like most early 19th century speeches, full of flowery images and big words and long wind-up. He learned from Logan, forget all of that, get directly to the point, and people will listen to you. So he did, and he became a master of direct approach to his audience. They thought, "He's talking to me personally, not some abstract body out there." Now, this carried over particularly as he became a public figure and as he became president. No other president has equaled Lincoln as a master craftsman. When you look over his drafts, you realize how carefully he revised, how thoroughly he looked at words, how he decided on this word versus that one as being the appropriate word, not necessarily any old word. So he was a craftsman and worked at it. He knew that his success depended on his skill with language. This is the more important because, in those days, of course, there was no radio. There was no television. How do you reach people? You reach people primarily through some public speaking, but mostly through public documents, which are printed in the newspapers. People read a lot of newspapers in those days. In order to read a story in the newspaper, it's got to be short. It's got to have a structure. It's got to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it's got to be logical. One thing has to follow after another. He learned this lesson very early. By the time he became president, his presidential messages are models of what a president ought to be saying.
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David Herbert Donald

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

David Herbert Donald: Professor Randall was a great advisor and a great mentor. He taught me, I think, in the best possible way. He was not a brilliant lecturer. His courses were fairly pedestrian. I didn't think his seminars were particularly interesting, but working with him on a one-to-one basis as his assistant, I think that's the way one has to learn to be a historian. That is, he was writing, and if he needed some particular reference, I had to go find it and get it. If he was writing, he wanted everything checked meticulously over and over again. So I had to take the manuscript over to the library and check it all out. So that by working closely with him, I got to see, first of all, a lot of the library and its extensive holdings, but I got, even more important, to understand what a scholar is about. It is about care. It is about pains-taking. It is about judgment, as well as it's about very skillful writing. He was an excellent writer as well. So in that sense, Professor Randall and Mrs. Randall shaped my future career.
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