The late Jim Rouse, the developer behind Columbia and countless urban renewal projects, once stopped me in mid-interview to ask what my goals in life might be.

I was a young man at the time and can't remember my answer exactly. I do recall, however, that as soon as I described my plans I started making excuses for why I had not made much progress.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it,” Rouse told me, quoting Goethe.

I have that line taped to my computer at home, my antidote for whenever procrastination begins to take hold.

I was reminded of that encounter last week while listening to Bill Gates address the Economic Club of Washington.

At various turns in Gates's life, he showed boldness, whether it was dropping out of Harvard to write software or giving away a large chunk of his vast fortune to tackle global health concerns and improve the K-12 education system in this country.

Gates set a high bar for himself. From his earliest days at Microsoft, he understood he was at the dawn of a digital revolution. But he really didn't think about getting there all at once. Instead, he and his co-founder just went to work. His idea to grow the business was simply to double in size each year -- no small undertaking in itself, but to Gates's mind, achievable.

Lots of entrepreneurs lose sight of where they are going. It's easy to do when one is so absorbed in getting a business off the ground. Gates said there was a time when no line of code escaped his inspection; he had to learn to step back, assume a more supervisory role, in order to focus on more strategic issues.

I sometimes wonder if the region finds itself in a similar place these days, preoccupied with budget skirmishes and political rivalries. Before the downturn, there were grand plans to use Metrorail to remake Northern Virginia, and turn St. Elizabeths in Washington into an anchor for a cybersecurity corridor reaching north to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. College administrators talked about creating new collaborations in university research. Hospital chiefs suggested personalized medicine was just around the corner.

Those initiatives still float out there, bold ideas, full of power and magic.