Written by Nolan Bushnell. Posted in Blog, Entrepreneurship, Gaming, Technology

For many years I have been ask to be part of a creative session for some of the major corporations. It turns out that many companies think of themselves as not being particularly creative. Often it is the corporate culture that kills off the natural creativity that exists in any group. The more political the corporate environment the less creativity issues forth and why government is so bad at innovating. Creativity is about risk. The higher the risk there are more reasons to say no to innovation. Often the companies whose markets are going away and customers defecting are the ones that need new solutions but because of fear they cannot make changes. I call these frozen stick crashes. When the plane is heading for the ground the last thing a pilot should do is nothing.

I have taken a room full of “non creative” business people and by the time we leave (sometimes late into the night) we have a totally new business direction that promises to create a new direction and product line that in some cases has saved a company. Some of the tricks that I use is the following:

  • Get rid of the politics. (very hard in some companies) but one way is to ask everyone to think of the craziest idea for their business. With a prize to the one with the most far out idea.

  • List them on a white board or PowerPonint slide (I usually have an interactive slideshow) and go through each one asking everyone how they would implement these nutty ideas if they were forced. Often the very solution comes from one of the nutty ideas taken seriously.

  • Who will be your competition in 5 years. What will the competitions business look like in 5 years.

  • What are the core capabilities of your company and how far can it reach keeping either market, technology, or resources constant.

For individuals that want to start their own company the creative idea can often come from your team. (Get your team before you start and use them as part of the early brain trust)

Go to trade shows other than the the target business. It is amazing how many good ideas that are common practice in one industry are totally absent in another.

Look at two businesses and ask what a mashup of the two businesses would be. This can be very surprising.

My favorite statement is that “Anyone that has had a shower has had a good idea, it is the one that does something when they get out that make the difference.

Take a Shower.

Startups and Recessions

Written by Nolan Bushnell. Posted in Blog, Entrepreneurship, Technology, The Future

This is a very good time to start a company. There are many things that are better for a startup during a recession. It turns out that in the early years of Atari we had a significant recession which allowed a great deal of shared risk. For example we were able to move into a large facility that could never be supported by our meager balance sheet. But the landlord looked at us a a better option than just leaving the building vacant. Also our vendors were all willing to provide long terms for their parts and services. The most important part of all was that I had my pick of the best engineers and managers in Silicon valley. Since many of their friends were laid off the thought of moving to a fun job at a new startup seemed not that much more risky to where they were. Our ability to cherry pick the best of the best allowed us to crush any technical problems we encountered and powered Atari as not just a game market leader but a technical super power. We were the first non government company to use N channel MOS and basically put that technology on the map. We innovated on so many technical levels that by the time I left the company we had a 85% market share.

Over the years people that I laid off or fired have contacted me. It turns out that they took their severance or unemployment insurance time to get another business going. Many times an employee that was easy to layoff was just miscast and once they got into their own gig they knocked it out of the box. I have often thought that the worst thing a person could have is job security. What is the probability that a 20 year old would know which job or career would make them happy? Once you have a wife, a kid a house and a boat you find yourself unable to move from a job that you hate. Unless you really screw up and get fired or at least get let go in an RIF. All of a sudden you have the whole world in front of you and you can now leap to a career that you love. I am really glad I cannot tell the difference between work and play. I wish everyone that dream.