Features & Columns

Nolan Bushnell:
Finding the Next Steve Jobs

In his new book, Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame offers hints
on how to find and hire the next Steve Jobs
Nolan Bushnell PLAYING WITH PONGS: Nolan Bushnell prefers 'pongs,' or hints, on making businesses more creative.

Nolan Bushnell and ZERO1 are putting the "rad" back in radical. So much so that Bushnell has now written a user's guide for conventional Silicon Valley managers hopelessly trying to operate in a rigid and hierarchical structure without creativity.

Published via NetMinds, a service empowering authors to publish smarter by building invested, quality teams around their books, Finding the Next Steve Jobs is a glorious, unapologetic paean to creativity and eccentricity in the workplace. It posits creativity as the most important factor in the future success of every business.

On Wednesday, May 15, Bushnell will invade the ZERO1 compound in San Jose to present his book and instruct companies on how to find, nurture and deal with creative types, in order to ensure their longevity in the ever-accelerating 21st-century business landscape.

ZERO1 makes a perfect partner, because it advocates a similar strategy. That is, if businesses are to keep up with the rapidly changing times, radical experimentation and risk-taking are necessary, and since artists are natural-born radical experimenters, their ingredients need to be incorporated into the company stew.

Bushnell, who founded Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre right here in suburbia decades ago, pretty much defined what it now means to be an eccentric Silicon Valley visionary. Like any creative genius, he didn't cook up a Michelin three-star meal every single time and he didn't hit a home run every at-bat, but he has first-hand knowledge about what made Steve Jobs unique, from when Jobs was a unwashed hippie working for Bushnell at Atari.

Thankfully, Finding the Next Steve Jobs does not insult the reader with belligerent dogma on how to discover unique creative talent. According to Bushnell, rules tend to ruin everything, so, instead, the book presents a series of pongs.

Unlike rules, which foolishly assume they can work for everybody everywhere, pongs apply only where the advice is helpful or needed. Instead of chapters, the book contains 53 pongs—hints toward finding and cultivating creative weirdos.

"Creativity is every company's first driver," writes Bushnell in pong #0, the introduction. "It's where everything starts, where energy and forward motion originate. Without that first charge of creativity, nothing else can take place." And then: "Openness to creativity must be present at all levels of your company. Creativity doesn't reside in one person, or even a few people. It must be planted throughout the entire company, or it won't bloom anywhere."

From there, the pongs illuminate several ideas, many of which will be second nature if you're already a polarized, right-side-of-the-brain creative type. But since most businesses are structured around rigid, hierarchical, top-down bureaucracies inimical to creativity, those businesses, if they really want the next Steve Jobs, will find the book invaluable. It's completely unlike the pedantic business-guru dreck one usually encounters.

Want to find unique creative talent? Well, Bushnell says, go to Burning Man, which he calls "an employment center disguised as a festival." Hang out at the swimming pool after the trade shows. Seek out the lurkers. When interviewing people, give them problems to solve, find out how curious they are and what books they read.

Seek out the obnoxious, the crazy, the smelly and the isolated. Never hire anyone just on his or her credentials alone. In other words, avoid the clones, the poseurs and the folks who flaunt their resumes and shine during interviews, but who can't actually do anything. At the least, test them on their curiosity and resourcefulness. Give them weird shit to figure out.

"I know of no creative who is not hypercurious," writes Bushnell. "Curious people always have a range of interests and a broad base of knowledge in many disparate fields and subjects. This trait has nothing to do with college. It has everything to do with innate intelligence."

Most of all, it isn't enough to find the next Steve Jobses and hire him, says Bushnell. You have to create a situation in which they can flourish, and then your company will too.

Nolan Bushnell Reception

ZERO1 Garage, 439 S. First St., SJ

Wednesday, May 15, 7pm