#36 Finding The Next Steve Jobs How to Find, Keep, and Nurture Talent



In the episode, Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, shares anecdotes from his entrepreneurial journey, highlighting creativity, innovation, and the importance of action. He recounts a lavish party attended by Steve Jobs, where they discussed Apple's future and Jobs' view of computers as creativity tools. Bushnell reflects on his decision to decline a stake in Apple, noting his companies' substantial revenues at the time. He emphasizes the need for a company culture that nurtures creativity, citing his book's concept of 'pongs'—flexible pieces of advice—as opposed to rigid rules. The episode also touches on the challenges of monetizing digital content, with the host sharing insights from a Patreon experiment and the value of listener support. Bushnell's stories underscore the significance of embracing the unconventional, learning from failures, and fostering a diverse and inclusive environment to drive innovation.

Summary Notes

Early Success and Lifestyle

  • Nolan Bushnell's company, Chuck E. Cheese, was prospering significantly.
  • Nolan purchased an extravagant six-story house in Paris featuring marble staircases and a basement swimming pool.
  • With no furniture to fill the house, Nolan decided to host a large party for friends and colleagues from Chuck E. Cheese and Atari.

It in 180 business at my company, Chuck E. Cheese, was thriving, and I was feeling flush. So I bought a very large house in Paris.

This quote establishes the success and wealth Nolan Bushnell had achieved through his company, Chuck E. Cheese, which allowed him to purchase a luxurious house in Paris.

Encounter with Steve Jobs

  • Steve Jobs, a former Atari employee, attended Nolan's party.
  • Jobs appeared surprised by the grandeur of Nolan's residence.
  • Despite the success of Apple, Jobs maintained a modest demeanor.
  • Nolan and Jobs arranged to meet for breakfast the following day.

At around 09:00 p.m. I looked up and noticed that my former Atari employee, Steve Jobs, was at the door. I smiled, and Steve rolled his eyes.

This quote captures the moment when Nolan Bushnell noticed Steve Jobs at his party, highlighting Jobs' reaction to the opulence of Nolan's new house.

Comparing Company Successes

  • During the 1980s, Atari and Chuck E. Cheese were generating substantial revenues, overshadowing Apple's earnings at the time.
  • Nolan reflects on his decision to decline a one-third ownership of Apple, which was offered by Steve Jobs for $50,000.

In 1980, Atari was bringing in around $2 billion in revenue, and Chuck E. Cheese some $500 million.

This quote provides context on the financial scale of Nolan's businesses compared to Apple, indicating the immense success of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese.

Creativity and the Evolution of Apple

  • Nolan and Jobs spent a day discussing creativity and exploring Paris.
  • Jobs was particularly interested in the creativity he sensed in the city and the uniform architecture.
  • Jobs viewed the computer as a tool to enhance human creativity, akin to a bicycle for the mind.
  • Jobs expressed concerns about Apple's lack of innovation and the pressure on him to be the sole source of ideas.
  • Nolan and Jobs agreed that fostering creativity within a company requires contributions from many individuals.

The computer is going to allow even more people to be creative, Steve said.

This quote reflects Steve Jobs' belief in the potential of computers to empower human creativity, suggesting his vision for technology as an enabler for creative expression.

The Importance of a Unique Signature

  • Steve Jobs admired the distinct and harmonious architectural style of Paris.
  • He desired to incorporate the simplicity and uniformity he observed into Apple's design philosophy.

That parisian simplicity was something he wanted Apple to emulate.

The quote emphasizes Steve Jobs' aspiration to infuse Apple's products with the simplicity and elegance he admired in Parisian architecture.

Fostering Creativity Within a Company

  • Jobs recognized the need for Apple to cultivate creativity beyond just his own ideas.
  • Nolan realized that Jobs was seeking to find someone within Apple who could be as innovative as himself.
  • They discussed the importance of a succession of creative individuals to drive a company's future.

Everyone expects me to come up with all the ideas. That's not how you build a strong company.

This quote conveys Steve Jobs' understanding that a successful company relies on a collective effort to innovate, rather than depending on a single person.

The Concept of Pongs and Flexibility

  • Nolan Bushnell's book contains 'pongs' instead of rules to enhance creativity.
  • Pongs are pieces of advice that apply flexibly, unlike rigid rules that can stifle imagination.
  • The book emphasizes the need for adaptability in different situations to foster creativity.

Neither of us felt that creativity could thrive in the presence of strict ones.

This quote encapsulates the shared belief between Nolan and Jobs that strict rules are detrimental to creativity, advocating for a more flexible approach.

Learning and Competitive Advantage

  • Nolan Bushnell quotes Peter Drucker on the importance of learning quickly to maintain a competitive edge.
  • Bushnell aligns with the idea that constant learning is crucial for success.

The only source of sustained competitive advantage is the ability to learn faster than your competitors.

This quote, attributed to Peter Drucker, underscores the strategic importance of rapid learning for a company's long-term success.

Podcast Format and Updates

  • The podcast discusses Nolan Bushnell's book, "Finding the Next Steve Jobs."
  • The book is structured with short, impactful chapters, each providing a 'pong' or piece of advice.
  • The host experimented with a Patreon paywall but has since made all podcasts freely available.
  • The host is motivated by the support and intensity of some listeners who chose to subscribe at higher rates.
  • The host commits to a new podcast every Monday and discusses ways to sustain the podcast.
  • The host encourages support through book purchases or reviews.

So this book is a little different from the other biographies that we've read. It's a very, very quick read.

This quote describes the unique format of Nolan Bushnell's book, which differs from traditional biographies by offering concise, actionable advice in each chapter.

Entrepreneurship and Learning

  • Nolan Bushnell discusses the value of compiling key ideas from entrepreneurship podcasts into a single document called Founders Notes.
  • Founders Notes is compared to Blinkist, but specifically for podcasts featuring interviews with entrepreneurs.
  • The aim is to distill long interviews into tweet-sized bits of knowledge with timestamps for easy reference.
  • This process is designed to accelerate learning by providing quick access to insights and resources mentioned by entrepreneurs.

"So what I did is I took all of my notes with the main ideas from a bunch of different entrepreneurship podcasts, and I was surprised that once I compiled them all into a Google Doc, it was over 60 pages of notes."

This quote highlights the extensive amount of information Nolan Bushnell has gathered from various podcasts on entrepreneurship, emphasizing the potential value it could provide to others.

"Well, I'm kind of doing the same thing for podcasts, but instead of just being as wide and varied as nonfiction, I'm just focusing on interviews with entrepreneurs."

Nolan Bushnell is creating a specialized resource for those interested in entrepreneurship by narrowing the focus to interviews with entrepreneurs, differentiating Founders Notes from other summary services.

"I turn it into tweet sized bits of knowledge and that you could read in probably less than a minute."

This quote explains the format of Founders Notes, which is designed to be concise and easily digestible, much like tweets.

Adopt Flexible Policies

  • Nolan Bushnell shares a story about Steve Jobs at Atari to illustrate the concept of "adopt flexible pongs," which are quick, actionable insights.
  • The story demonstrates the importance of flexibility in the workplace to accommodate creative individuals.
  • Allowing Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to sleep at the office was a strategic decision to maintain a comfortable environment for them.

"For example, when Steve Jobs first came to work at Atari, he wanted to be able to sleep overnight at the office."

This quote introduces a specific example of workplace flexibility that was beneficial in retaining key creative employees like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

"But in the end, we decided to permit overnight sleeping and rely on just the guards, rather than the alarms for security, because we wanted to create a comfortable environment for the two steves."

The quote explains the decision-making process behind allowing overnight sleeping at the office, highlighting the value placed on creating a supportive environment for creative talent.

Passion and Intensity in Hiring

  • Nolan Bushnell emphasizes the importance of passion and intensity over traditional credentials when hiring employees.
  • Steve Jobs is cited as an example of someone whose passionate enthusiasm set him apart from other employees.
  • The idea that passion can be a more valuable trait than formal qualifications is reinforced by Nolan's preference for hiring based on hobbies and diverse interests.

"Listen, out of all the different things you could be selecting employees for, the most important is passion and intensity."

This quote summarizes Nolan Bushnell's perspective on the primary qualities to look for in potential employees, placing passion and intensity above other criteria.

"If there was a single characteristic that separated Steve Jobs from the massive employees, it was his passionate enthusiasm."

The quote reflects on Steve Jobs's standout trait at Atari, suggesting that his passion was a key factor in his success and hiring.

Encouraging Eclecticism

  • Nolan Bushnell advocates for valuing diversity and unconventional traits in the workplace, such as eclectic fashion choices.
  • He shares stories of creative individuals who might not fit into traditional corporate environments but offer valuable contributions.
  • The discussion includes examples from Pixar and Atari, where creative expression in the workplace is encouraged and celebrated.

"Don't let your company dismiss people who dress differently, dye their hair pink, or wear strange jewelry."

This quote advises against judging potential hires based on their appearance, encouraging companies to appreciate the creativity that can come from those who present themselves unconventionally.

"Some of the best people I ever hired might have been considered somewhat freakish."

Nolan Bushnell reflects on his hiring experiences, noting that some of his most successful hires were individuals with unique personal styles, suggesting that such traits can be indicative of creativity and talent.

Hiring the Obnoxious

  • Nolan Bushnell discusses the counterintuitive idea of hiring obnoxious individuals for their ability to push ideas and not cave under pressure.
  • He connects this concept to Steve Jobs, who thrived at Atari due to the company's culture that accommodated his confidence and persistence.
  • The willingness to embrace disagreeable traits is suggested as a strategy to find employees who will champion their creative ideas.

"Steve Jobs understood that Atari was the kind of place that would allow him to flourish, no matter how arrogant he seemed."

This quote explains how Atari's culture was a good fit for someone like Steve Jobs, whose assertiveness was an asset rather than a liability.

"Perhaps everyone has creative potential, but only the arrogant are self confident enough to press their creative ideas on others."

Nolan Bushnell suggests that arrogance, often seen as a negative trait, can be beneficial in ensuring that creative ideas are pursued with conviction.

Expect to be Criticized

  • Nolan Bushnell shares his experiences with criticism and skepticism, which are common in the entrepreneurial journey.
  • He recounts how his ideas for Atari and Chuck E. Cheese were initially perceived as ludicrous.
  • The discussion includes a collection of quotes about "crazy ideas," reinforcing the notion that groundbreaking concepts are often met with disbelief.

"Frankly, most of my life, people have told me I was crazy."

Nolan Bushnell reflects on the frequent criticism he has faced throughout his career, suggesting that being perceived as "crazy" is a common experience for innovators.

"Even now, when I use those words to explain Chuck E. Cheese, people laugh."

The quote illustrates that even successful ideas like Chuck E. Cheese can be met with laughter and skepticism, emphasizing the importance of perseverance in the face of criticism.

Misjudged Technologies and Historical Predictions

  • Historical figures often made incorrect predictions about the future of technology.
  • John Bouilliard dismissed the phonograph; Lord Kelvin claimed heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible.
  • A Michigan Savings Bank president advised against investing in automobiles, seeing them as a fad.
  • Thomas J. Watson of IBM predicted a tiny market for computers; Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox doubted the future of video.
  • Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation saw no personal use for computers in homes.

"gnoble, senseless metal. That was John Bouilliard, member of the French Academy of Sciences, at a demonstration of the phonograph in 1878." "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible. Lord Kelvin, president of the British Royal Society, 1895." "The horse is here to stay. But the automobile is only a novelty, a fad. A president of the Michigan Savings bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company in 1903." "There is a market for about five computers. Thomas J. Watson, chairman of the board, IBM 1943." "Video won't be able to hold on to any market it captures. After the first six months, people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night. Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox Studios 1946." "The world's potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most. IBM to the eventual founders of Xerox, explaining why the photocopier market was just not large enough to justify production. 1959." "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home. Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment corporation at the convention of the World Future Society in 1977."

These quotes illustrate the skepticism and short-sightedness that often greet new technologies. They show how experts can misjudge the potential and impact of innovations, highlighting the difficulty in predicting technological progress.

Predicting and Inventing the Future

  • Humans are generally poor at prediction, often making declarations without understanding future possibilities.
  • The quote, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself," suggests proactive creation rather than passive prediction.
  • It is implied that focusing on innovation and invention is a more effective way to shape the future.

"Humans will never stop making declarations of things they have no idea. And that's something that had to be basically beaten out of me." "The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself."

These quotes reflect on humanity's tendency to make unfounded predictions and the personal realization that invention is a more reliable way to influence the future. The emphasis is on creating change rather than merely forecasting it.

The Importance of Reading for Creativity

  • Creative people are often enthusiastic readers, regardless of the genre or subject matter.
  • Reading habits can be indicative of curiosity, passion, and a mentally active brain.
  • Nolan Bushnell emphasizes the diversity of reading interests among talented individuals and the link between reading and a dynamic mind.

"One of the best ways to find creative people is to ask a simple question, what books do you like?" "Which books people read is not as important as the simple fact that they read at all."

These quotes suggest that the act of reading itself is a key indicator of creativity and intellectual engagement. Bushnell uses reading habits as a litmus test for identifying creative individuals.

Directed Anarchy and Innovation

  • A horizontal company structure can foster innovation from all levels, not just top executives.
  • Good ideas can emerge from anyone, including those in seemingly inconspicuous roles.
  • The concept of directed anarchy involves encouraging all employees to contribute ideas and solutions.
  • The story of Froggy and Ilya Garcia at the Atari factory illustrates how overlooked workers can provide valuable insights.

"One of the best reasons to keep your company horizontal is that creative leaps do not always originate with your top players." "Good ideas can come from assistants, janitors, part-time workers, people who are invisible in a strictly vertical company." "Froggy and Ilya Garcia were a husband and wife team in their 70s who worked on the Atari factory assembly line, staffed mostly by 20 year olds."

These quotes stress the importance of inclusivity and openness in organizational structures to harness the creative potential of all employees. Bushnell's anecdote about the Garcias exemplifies how valuable contributions can come from unexpected sources.

Skunkworks and Innovation Spaces

  • Skunkworks refers to autonomous groups within organizations tasked with advanced or secret projects.
  • Atari's Skunkworks in Grass Valley was a hub for creativity, leading to the development of significant products.
  • Creative individuals thrive when given autonomy and the right environment.
  • The importance of balancing the immediate needs of a business with the development of future innovations is highlighted.

"Atari had its own skunk works as well." "A significant number of Atari's best products were spawned here, including the driving games that represented a strong profit stream for Atari." "Oddly, it's often hard for many employees to understand that the future is also core to the business."

These quotes describe the concept of Skunkworks and its successful implementation at Atari, where it became a birthplace for some of the company's most profitable products. The narrative underscores the challenge of getting employees to recognize the value of long-term innovation.

Individual Isolation and Creativity

  • Personal space and simplicity can be conducive to creativity.
  • Steve Jobs exemplified the practice of minimizing clutter to maintain a clear and imaginative mind.
  • A state of mind between wakefulness and dreaming is suggested as the source of creative thoughts.

"Steve was always a fan of keeping life simple and meditative." "I strongly believe that anyone who wants to be creative must find a place where his or her mind can be alone and untouched by the insanity of complexity."

The quotes convey the belief that creativity flourishes in environments free from distraction and complexity. The anecdote about Steve Jobs serves as an example of how a minimalist lifestyle can support a creative mindset.

Championing Bad Ideas

  • Encouraging the exploration of "bad" ideas can trigger creative thinking.
  • Reversing the normal mental dynamic from critical to creative can reveal new perspectives.
  • The technique of debating both sides of a proposition is used to broaden understanding and foster creativity.

"I would then take the six items on the bottom of the list and say, let's suppose we were restricted for the next few months to work on just these six terrible projects. How do we make them work?" "Arguing for something you don't believe can turn your understanding of the world upside down and help you see issues you had not been able to see before."

These quotes illustrate a method of stimulating creativity by focusing on ideas typically considered bad and finding their potential. The approach is likened to debate practice, where arguing against one's beliefs can lead to new insights.

Celebrating Failure and WD-40

  • Failure is seen as a stepping stone to success, illustrated by the development of WD-40.
  • The name WD-40 reflects the process of trial and error, with the final successful formula being the 40th attempt.

"One of my favorite failure stories is that of the ubiquitous household product WD-40. It's called that because the first 39 versions of the product failed. WD-40 stands for water displacement 40th formula."

This quote highlights the importance of perseverance and the positive aspects of failure, using WD-40 as an emblematic example of how repeated attempts can eventually lead to a successful product.

The Importance of Mentorship and Like Minds

  • Creatives often work on projects that are not immediately understood by others, making mentorship and peer support crucial.
  • Mentors like Bob Noyce provide guidance and validation for innovative work.
  • Seeking like-minded individuals can help creatives navigate the challenges of pioneering new ideas.

"By definition, creatives are always working on something that's different, innovative and new." "I've had great many mentors. One of the best was Bob Noyce, dubbed the mayor of Silicon Valley."

These quotes underscore the value of mentorship and community for creative individuals who are pushing the boundaries of innovation. Mentors can offer support, knowledge, and understanding that might not be available from the immediate environment.

  • Books serve as connections between influential individuals.
  • Bob Noyce is frequently mentioned as a mentor to prominent figures like Steve Jobs and Nolan Bushnell.
  • The impact of books and interactions with influential people can be transformative.

"Books are the original links, Bob Noyce pops up in a bunch of these books."

This quote highlights the role of books as a medium for sharing knowledge and connecting individuals across different domains.

Early Business Leadership and Mentorship

  • Nolan Bushnell discusses the challenges of leading a large company at a young age.
  • Mentorship from Bob Noyce was crucial in guiding Bushnell through business challenges.
  • Bushnell learned to overcome the fear of not knowing everything and the importance of seeking help.

"Bob was enormously helpful to me, especially in terms of business advice."

Bushnell credits Bob Noyce for providing valuable business advice, which implies the significance of mentorship in entrepreneurship.

Neutralize the Naysayers

  • Creating a positive environment is essential for fostering creativity.
  • Nolan Bushnell emphasizes the importance of neutralizing negative influences in a company.
  • He provides strategies for dealing with naysayers and encourages collective problem-solving.

"There are many obstacles to creativity, but one of the most pernicious is other people."

Bushnell identifies other people, particularly naysayers within a company, as significant obstacles to creativity, suggesting the need for a proactive approach to maintaining a creative environment.

The Concept of Thinking Toys

  • Bushnell encourages the use of toys to stimulate creativity in the workplace.
  • He shares how modeling clay helped him design the cabinet for his first game, leading to the founding of Atari.
  • The idea of "thinking toys" demonstrates the unconventional methods Bushnell employed to inspire innovation.

"The first game I created was called computer space."

This quote describes the origin of Bushnell's first game and illustrates the practical application of his "thinking toys" concept in product development.

Inventing Haphazard Holidays

  • Bushnell values the importance of rest and perspective to maintain creativity.
  • He invented spontaneous company holidays to provide unexpected breaks for employees.
  • The idea was to alleviate stress and refresh the creative judgment of his team.

"I would announce a few days in advance that on the next Monday or Friday, the company would be closed."

Bushnell's approach to unexpected holidays showcases his innovative management style aimed at fostering a healthy and creative work environment.

Sleep and Creativity

  • Nolan Bushnell challenges the conventional sleep schedule and supports flexible sleeping patterns.
  • He recognizes the historical prevalence of polyphasic sleep and its potential benefits for creativity.
  • Bushnell advocates for allowing employees to sleep according to their natural rhythms.

"Sleep as the body desires."

This quote encapsulates Bushnell's philosophy on sleep and its role in supporting the creative process within a work environment.

Action as the Path to Success

  • Bushnell stresses the importance of taking action on ideas, using Steve Jobs as an example.
  • He recounts how Jobs' decisiveness led to investing in Pixar and the success of Toy Story.
  • The principle of acting on ideas is highlighted as a key to entrepreneurial success.

"You must act. Do something."

Bushnell's advice emphasizes the critical step of moving from ideation to action, which he views as a defining characteristic of successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.

Conclusion and Gratitude

  • The podcast concludes with an acknowledgment of the listener's role in the podcast's success.
  • The host expresses a love for both listening to and creating podcasts.
  • A reminder is given that the full story can be found in the book, with a link provided for purchase.

"If it wasn't for you, the listener, I'd just be sitting here talking to myself, which would be kind of weird."

The quote conveys the host's appreciation for the audience, recognizing them as an integral part of the podcast's existence and success.

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