A Breakfast with Nolan Bushnell

Creativity by Nolan
Image by pescatello via Flickr

Last Saturday i was part of the METal group that had breakfast with Nolan Bushnell.  It was a really thought provoking.  My favorite part was the beginning of the speech which he came out and said:

Ideas don’t mean shit.  Everyone has good ideas.  Some better than others.  Only over time and work can you own an idea.  Just having an idea doesn’t account for a thing, but if you spend a year making an idea a reality only then can you claim an ownership of it.

Prior to the breakfast, i had never heard of Nolan.  If you don’t know who he is, let me list some of his accomplishments:

  • Founded the company Atari in 1972 and grew it to $2 billion in annual sales in 1982 and at the time was the fastest-growing company in the history of American business.
  • Founded Chucky Cheese in 1977 and turned over day-to-day operations in 1981
  • Founded in 1984 Etak which was the first company to digitize the maps of the world, as part of the first commercial automotive navigation system; the maps ultimately provided the backbone for Google maps, mapquest.com, and other navigation systems; it was sold to Rupert Murdoch in the 1980s. In May 2000 the company, headquartered in Menlo Park, California, became a wholly owned subsidiary of Tele Atlas.

Let’s just say he’s quite a badass.  At the breakfast he talked about those past ventures and some of the businesses he’s involved with – specifically bring social games back to an arcade-like area and transforming the educational system.

One piece he did talk about is how to stimulate creativity within a company.  He mentioned that he has a system to do this.  Saying:

With every company i’m involved with, I get the group of “thought leaders” together in a room. I then ask them to metaphorically to “keep one foot on base” and come up with what the 2-year product line should be. These are the logical products that a smart company should invest in.  I typically like to redo the 2 year roadmap every 4 months.

After i get the “one foot on base” ideas, then I ask people for their wild and crazy ideas. Each person must supply one. I’m a Nazi about getting each and every person to submit at least one off-the-wall idea.

Then we take a break, play football and drink a beer and go to bed.

The next day we get back together and i ask the group how they’d implement their wild & crazy idea. Doing so tends to lend credibility to a crazy idea and makes them actually possible. I have found that more good ideas and companies come from these crazy ideas than the  2-year product roadmaps

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