Talks @Google In Conversation With Nolan Bushnell

Talks @Google In Conversation With Nolan Bushnell

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Atari DeLorean Silhouette

By DeLorean on September 28, 2014

Google is well-known for their employee perks that have become part of the Silicon Valley mythos. They include dry cleaning service to-and-from your desk, free gourmet food and snacks that are never-ending, the 80/20 rule, and of course the persistent feeling that you’re already living in the future.

Probably the coolest, most satisfying perk in my opinion, is that working at Google you’re constantly exposed to amazing people and great thinkers. According to Business Insider, one Googlista said that the company is a great place to see, listen to, and meet with people who he grew up reading about — “Never in my life have I met so many people with a Wikipedia page than in the last year!”

The most proficient source of “amazing-people-exposure” likely comes from the TED-like talks that Google hosts on a regular basis. Not only are they interesting and informative, but it’s a great way to have so many world-changing free-thinkers constantly infusing Google employees with much of the same. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell spoke at Google about his history, passions, what made things work and what didn’t. It’s a fascinating talk that’s about an hour long and well worth watching. Google has made the talk available on YouTube, and we’ve embedded it below along with stray observations:



Stray observations:

  • The Googlista who opens the talk introduces Nolan by saying that he worked at Atari for nearly four years, and saw Atari go from 8,000 employees to 150 employees in a year and a half. Nolan Bushnell’s booming voice rises from the back like an orchestra and says “Not on my watch.” Epic.
  • Nolan’s open includes a slideshow simply titled “Ideas” and a reference to those creatives in the audience, including Bushnell himself, as “The Chosen.”
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Zone of Flow is sheer genius. Everybody should study this chart.
  • On failure: “I think I have made and lost more money than anybody has the right to do. And it has been a ball. If you’re a true existentialist, which I consider myself to be, what you really want to be able to do is have an interesting life.”
  • On being a self-starter: “Everybody whose ever had a shower has had a good idea. Do you own that idea? No. Is it your idea? No. You don’t own an idea until you work on it, until you fine tune it, until you research it. Anybody who says ‘He stole my idea!’ is a fool. If you have an idea, and you didn’t do anything on it, you’re lazy. Laziness is unacceptable, and if somebody did your idea, did their idea, even if you told them about your idea and they did something and you didn’t, not ‘shame on them’, shame on you. Get that in your head and it will change your life.”
  • On the gene pool and Idiocracy: “You guys should all go out tonight and procreate. It’s not only fun, but it’s good for the world. And the reason for that is there’s a kind of reverse Darwinianism going on right now, in which the stupid people are reproducing and the smart ones aren’t, and that’s wrong. It will probably sow the seeds for a worse future than global warming, pestilence, famine, war — than anything else. Because intelligence is the only thing that allows man to survive, and prosper. It’s our secret sauce. And if we allow our gene pool, through attrition or good intentions to deteriorate, shame on you. I’ve got eight kids. Done my part.”
  • On Nutting Associates: “I thought that the guys that were running Nutting were pretty lame. Do you know what the wonderful thing about entrepreneurship is? Everybody has, in [Silicon Valley] has had an officemate or friend, who we know we’re smarter than, that’ve gone off and started their own company and made a million dollars. And you say to yourself, ‘he’s not that smart!’ Well that’s the way Nutting was.”
  • At 22:02 — “Yeah, let’s give it a tug.”
  • Some of those Googlistas smile and giggle at themselves, as though they can’t wait to run home, call their mom and tell her that they got to meet Nolan Bushnell at work today.
  • Nolan Bushnell says Atari (before Warner) never had any money. They were always outgrowing their capital structure, and video games at that time were perceived to be trivial. “Why would you invest in a video game when you could buy a steel company, or God forbid, wheat?”
  • On Warner Communications and the Atari 2600: “Warner really screwed things up. Warner had a big record company at the time, and they thought that the video game business was about software. It is about software, but they felt that the 2600 would last forever. And as you know, the 2600 was actually a piece of crap. You don’t have quarter-inch pixels because you think it’s cool.
  • 256 bytes. Not K. 256 bytes of memory. How impressive is it that they were able to do so much, with so little, for so long. They ran that tech into the early ’90s and beyond. The 2600 didn’t really go away until the Jaguar.
  • On Androbot: “This was my swan song. Remember what I told you about losing money?”
  • When in Vegas, regardless of why he’s there, Nolan Bushnell will make it a point to attend random trade shows. He’s a big believer in mixing ideas. “Have you ever attended a grocery store trade show?” Nolan says you’ll walk out with ten great entrepreneurial ideas.
  • On failing your way to success: “If you’re not falling down you’re not learning how to ski.”
  • On not saying no: “When you’re dealing with other peoples’ ideas, try to say yes. It’s very easy to say no, because it’s a stupid answer. There’s no risk, and it’s a lazy answer. One of the things that we tried to do at Atari, and I think Google does too, is ask for data, ask for analytics, and no one can have an unresearched ‘no’. If you say ‘no’ you have to say what you would do instead.”
  • Nolan hits it out of the park speaking on education and the state of our system.
  • Nolan Bushnell gives his best impersonation of a Japanese person at 1:03:54, immediately realizes he’s sounding offensive and buys it back.
  • At about 20 minutes in Nolan Bushnell actually says: “I’m saying out loud, and forever, Al Alcorn designed PONG. I keep saying that, but it won’t matter.” Nolan Bushnell feels attributing the invention to himself is wrong. Yet that didn’t keep the Google-certified geniuses from posting the following description with the video: “Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Pong and founder of Atari, is rightly considered the father of electronic gaming. Today Nolan speaks to Googlers about his passions, both old and new.”
  • Great ending with Nolan Bushnell reciting the story about Robert Brock, Pizza Time Theatre’s biggest franchisee who went rogue and rebranded as Showbiz Pizza: “A guy named Robert Brock fell in love with the idea of Chuck E. Cheese. And he came and asked for a large franchise area, pretty much in the midwest, kinda Texas through Illinois. I don’t know if it was malice of forethought or what, but he went through all the training programs, we designed his pizza parlor for him, got everything all ready.. The day he was going to open his first Chuck E. Cheese for some strange reason he didn’t put the Chuck E. Cheese sign up, he put in Showbiz Pizza and bought some animals from a guy in Florida. Really pissed me off. We sued him. Won a judgement for $200 million dollars that was to be paid over the next η years at the tune of 6% royalty, which is exactly what the franchise fee was. So, we ended up being a franchisor without portfolio, without control, of Showbiz Pizza. […] It all came together in one big happy family. The gorilla and those guys died. We buried them and Chuck E. Cheese reigned supreme, as he should.”
  • Nolan Bushnell’s favorite phrase? “As it turns out…” He uses it no less than twelve times.


HOW IT SHOULD HAVE ENDED: At the end of the talk a Googlista from the back thanks Nolan Bushnell for speaking, calls the presentation amazing, and it fades to black. At this point in the show, I like to pretend end credits are rolling over Frank Sinatra’s My Way playing in the background. Perfect ending to a great watch.

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