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Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent [Paperback]

Nolan Bushnell , Gene Stone
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 Mar 2013
In Silicon Valley legend Nolan Bushnell's first book, he explains how to find and hire employees who have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs.

Nolan Bushnell founded the groundbreaking gaming company Atari in 1972, and two years later employed Steve Jobs, as well as many other creatives over the course of his five decades in business. Here Bushnell explains how to find, hire, and nurture the people who could turn your company into the next Atari or the next Apple. Bushnell's advice is constantly counter-intuitive, surprising, and atypical. When looking for employees, ignore credentials. Hire the obnoxious (in limited numbers). Demand a list of favorite books. Ask unanswerable questions. Comb through tweets.

Just because you've hired creatives doesn't mean you'll keep them. Once you have them, isolate them. Celebrate their failures. Encourage ADHD. Ply them with toys. Encourage them to make decisions by throwing dice. Invent haphazard holidays. Let them sleep.

The business world is changing faster than ever, and every day your company faces new complications and difficulties. The only way to resolve these issues is to have a staff of wildly creative people who live as much in the future as the present, who thrive on being different, and whose ideas will guarantee that your company will prosper when other companies fail.

Bio: About the Authors
Nolan Bushnell is the founder of video game company Atari, Chuck E. Cheese-the first restaurant to integrate gaming into its entertainment model-as well as twenty-five other companies. Bushnell has been inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame and the Consumer Electronics Association Hall of Fame, received the BAFTA Fellowship, and was named one of Newsweek's "50 Men Who Changed America." He's a frequent subject of media coverage and was prominently featured in Walter Isaacson's best selling book, Steve Jobs.

Gene Stone, a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor for such companies as the Los Angeles Times, Esquire, Harcourt Brace, and Simon & Schuster, has ghostwritten thirty books (many of which were New York Times bestsellers) for a wide range of people in many different fields. Stone has also written numerous titles under his own name, including The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, which has been translated into more than twenty languages; the New York Times bestseller Forks Over Knives; and The Watch, the definitive book on the wristwatch.

Editorial Reviews:
"The man who helped give a generation the game of Pong now gives a new generation a series of pongs for their careers. Nolan Bushnell's book is a spirited and insightful road map for anyone trying to navigate the new world of work."
-- Daniel H. Pink, author of To Sell Is Human and Drive

"Nolan is a genius, and a generous one, too. Like most geniuses who share their secrets, his secrets are simple, and available to anyone with the guts to listen."
-- Seth Godin, Author, The Icarus Deception

Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Net Minds Corporation (26 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0988879514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0988879515
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 12.7 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 895,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book 15 Jun 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Highly recommend for anyone wanting to know more about the legend Steve Jobs but also what makes Nolan Bushnell tick as well. Has some great tips on not only how to employ creative people but also how to be more creative yourself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and entertaining 30 May 2013
By Svenski
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Many books of this type can make for heavy reading but this title from Nolan Bushnell is an entertaining, inspirational and informative read.

Lots of anecdotes intermingled with some sound and down to earth advice and this isn't just a book for those wanting to hire the best talent. There is plenty here to inspire everyone from budding entrepreneurs to those that are wanting to get more fulfillment out of life.

Bushnell has always been a visionary and often decades ahead of his time. This book sheds some light on his often crazy but always exciting world. Anyone with a passing interest in Atari, Bushnell and his many other ventures will enjoy this too.
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By James TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book's split up into nice short chapters focussing on an aspect of a company, affirms what we all us bitter corporate drones suspected all along, and then throws in a few anecdotes.
Sorry, that sounds harsher than I meant. It's enjoyable bite-sized reading covering the thoughts of Nolan Bushnell - just doesn't have a lot to do with Steve Jobs. Thinking about it, I think I've pulled that fifth star off entirely on that basis - would have been improved if Nolan had just written his autobiography.
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By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
Nolan Bushnell is a technology pioneer, entrepreneur and engineer. Often cited as the father of the video game industry, he is best known as the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater. Over the past four decades he has founded numerous companies, including Catalyst Technologies, the first technology incubator; Etak, the first digital navigation system; ByVideo, the first online ordering system; and uWink, the first touchscreen menu ordering and entertainment system, among others. Currently, with his new company, Brainrush, he is devoting his talents to enhancing and improving the educational process by integrating the latest in brain science. Additionally, he enjoys motivating and inspiring others in his speeches on entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and education.

In this volume, written with Gene Stone, Bushnell shares just about everything he has learned -- thus far -- about the do's and don'ts of identifying, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, nurturing and (when necessary) protecting, and then retaining the [begin italics] creative [end italics] any organization needs to achieve its strategic objectives. In fact, having sufficient creative talent should be among those objectives. Immediately he establishes a direct and personal, almost conversational rapport with his reader as he focuses on a series of insights, 52 of which are admonitions that serve as titles of 52 brief chapters. For example, "Make your workplace an advertisement fir your company (#1), "Hire the crazy" (#10), "Hire under your nose" (#15), "Champion the bad ideas" (#27), "Neutralize the naysayers" (#40), and "Take creatives to creative places (#42).
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of the many books I've read, this is the best 4 April 2013
By Kevin Pezzi, MD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I work (probably not for long!) for a company synonymous with high-tech creativity. Nolan Bushnell's spellbinding book corroborated my suspicions about what's wrong with their corporate culture, and why they are successful instead of being hyper-successful. I was mystified by why they love what I call my little ideas but not my big ones that could change the world and make them more valuable than Apple, Microsoft, and Google combined. The answer? Fear of being wrong. If my company nixed Henry Ford's big idea as they did one of mine, we'd still be riding horses and bicycles.

They claim to embrace big ideas but instead reject them. A salient characteristic of big ideas is that they initially sound brash if not nutty. Imagine if a young Thomas Edison told them, "I have an idea for putting a carbonized bamboo filament in a bulb that will create a demand for a distribution system to bring electricity into every home and business. Yes, electricity is dangerous, but it will make the world a better place. Really."

My employer asks me to think of solutions to all sorts of problems. One request initially seemed so mundane that I decided to let it percolate in my brain by building a shed (readers of this book will know why that's important). Somewhere between the first nail and the last coat of paint, an idea popped into my head that met their request but also solved one of the biggest problems in the world today: a problem that seems unsolvable. My first prototype worked and subsequent ones were even better. Not only did it work marvelously, but it was easy to PROVE that it worked. It could be quickly produced for a low cost and there is nothing else like it, thus permitting substantial profits without plundering customers.

The upshot of this story is that even companies who say they want big ideas are more comfortable digesting smaller incremental ones that temporarily give them a competitive advantage instead of introducing game-changing technology.

This meshes with research indicating that very innovative ideas often elicit strongly negative reactions. People claim they like truly creative ideas until they actually meet one. New ideas can evoke feelings of uncertainty that makes them uncomfortable. To mitigate that fear, they retreat for the comfort of old ideas or minor tweaks of them. However, rejecting the idea often isn't enough. As I discussed in a blog article ("Ridiculing good new ideas"), innovative people and ideas are often hammered for years or even decades until others belatedly realize the innovation's merit.

Buttressing that close-mindedness is an unfortunately prevalent psychological process called "system justification" that motivates people to defend the status quo even when the status quo is screwing them. System justification is basically the secret sauce of sheeple that turns men into mice. If the cheese ain't yellow-orange, they ain't biting. If the cheese clogs their arteries, clogged arteries are good. Ya dig?

Readers who read between the lines will realize that Bushnell's book could help them discover not only creative talent but also leaders innovative enough to conceive of solutions to the myriad problems that plague us. However, system justification prevents them from embracing anyone who truly thinks differently or is less than perfect, notwithstanding the observations of Abraham Lincoln ("It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.") and Friedrich Nietzsche ("In heaven all the interesting people are missing.").

H. L. Mencken echoed a similar comment: "The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man--that is, virtuous in the YMCA sense--has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading."

Or invented something truly remarkable, I might add. There's a reason for this. Researchers found that prenatal exposure to higher levels of testosterone makes people more likely to be eminently gifted with extreme creativity but it can also make men more likely to act like men, not angels. If Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein were judged by today's "one strike and you're out" standards, they would be massacred.

Bushnell made so many great points that I could write a book about them. Here's one: In discussing clones, he mentioned how diversity is reflexively equated with superficial things such as gender or ethnicity, not creative diversity. Thanks to the Internet, I've made friends around the world: every continent and nations from Haiti to ones even smaller. Our common denominator is that we like ideas. We're thinkers. Skin color is utterly irrelevant. Why on Earth should human resources departments care about race or other differences Bushnell mentioned? To meet some quota? Because it requires less mental horsepower to process?

Readers should heed Bushnell's advice to "debate both sides of any proposition." I've done that for years on my blog, with some readers concluding I'm über-liberal and others thinking I am further Right than Attila the Hun, sometimes on the same issue. Neither, but long ago I realized the mental exercise I could obtain by taking extreme but disparate opinions. Incidentally, that tactic led to personal attacks on me that, while ludicrous, triggered a burning "I'll show you!" passion that finally got me into high gear. I had the potential all along, as many of you do, but I was frittering away my talent and hence my life. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to get us going. I certainly did.

Bushnell also wisely advised readers to be more tolerant of what they perceive as arrogance. Some people who are dripping with arrogance have good reason for their lofty self-assessments. Arrogance has a positive side effect: it incentivizes those with it to go the extra mile to maintain justification for it. In my years working as an ER doctor, I saw that the most humble physicians had good reason to be humble. They put people in graves who should have been saved. I began my medical career being very humble, and I too had good reason for it. Then, finally, something clicked in my brain and I became very good at saving lives but not in tolerating the BS that American physicians are subjected to that makes many of them long for a way out of medicine. I had an exit strategy focused on creativity, which is virtually immiscible in the medical profession that values conformity above all else.

Nolan Bushnell is more than an accomplished genius. He is a genuinely great human being who can look past the superficial and inspire people with more than a paycheck, unlike other tech entrepreneurs who often seem coldly robotic and oddly Machiavellian. I'm sure some of them will bristle while reading Bushnell's book - IF they read it, which is unlikely, given their unjustified arrogance in thinking they have all of the great ideas and know all they need to know about finding and nurturing creative talent.

I am intrigued by Bushnell's current focus ("improving the educational process by integrating the latest developments in brain science") because that is the ultimate innovation that will catalyze endless additional ones, and because of my experience in transforming myself from dunce to doctor and beyond. My sixth-grade teacher called me "slow," which triggered a burning desire to prove him wrong. But how? It took years and some serendipity to discover the solutions that crystallized during the summer vacation between my 10th and 11th grades. I'd struggled so much until then my grand plan was to drop out and work on an auto assembly line. When I returned, I could easily keep up with the smartest kids in class. I aced the rest of high school, college, the MCAT exam, and medical school, graduating in the top 1% of my class even though my ADD made the regimentation of med school pure torture. I crave intellectual diversity and want to do 100 things at the same time, not just sit and passively absorb information. I love learning, but the traditional way is so misguided and counterproductive the educators who perpetuate it should embrace superior alternatives. I found methods that worked wonders for me and others, such as thousands of people I've helped around the world, including a couple of my friends who were trapped in boring, dead-end jobs and are now physicians and medical school professors.

While intelligence can be improved, creativity is even more responsive. Bushnell's masterpiece presented valuable ways to spur corporate creativity, while I found ways to supercharge individual creativity. Collectively, this information could kickstart our economy and engender an unprecedented intellectual renaissance, but people so wedded to doing things the old way fight change even if it could clearly benefit them.

A case in point: Years ago during a long conversation with the CEO of a lawn equipment manufacturer, he mentioned his desire to produce tractors but he couldn't figure out how to offer a clearly better product so he wouldn't need to compete on price in a market that is already saturated with low-cost manufacturers. I have inventions (prototyped and proven, not vague ideas) that would give him a huge innovative edge in tractors and snowblowers -- another subject we discussed. At that time, I was so eager to get my foot in the door I offered to sell him the ideas for $1 each. He considered my offer for several weeks but said no, as I revealed in a blog article ("Meet a pigheaded CEO who is fettering our economy").

A few American corporations are open to accepting ideas from outsiders, but most persist in thinking they can generate all the ideas they need. A pervasive myth is that engineers can invent. Some can, but many cannot, and when they do, what results is usually incremental improvements, not transformative ones that revolutionize the process or supersede it.

That's why the American economy is stagnating. The USA left other nations in the dust by introducing one invention after another that made a night-and-day difference in how something was done. The last great invention to do that was the Internet, conceived decades ago. Where are the big breakthroughs now?

I suspect that many inventors get so frustrated dealing with hidebound companies that they just give up. To prosper, we need to become more receptive to new ideas and those who generate them, instead of resisting and mocking them, as is all-too-common human nature. Nolan Bushnell is not afflicted by that, but he is truly unique. To harmonize with others, Americans quickly learn to feign modesty and hide their gifts if they have them to lessen predictable retribution from folks with a crab mentality (Google it) or the tall poppy syndrome (ditto).

In addition to stimulating intelligence and creativity, my brainpower boosting methods also kindled my empathy so dramatically it reshaped how I feel about other people and even animals. Genuine empathy (not the fake veneer of it we're taught) can be easily instilled and otherwise fostered, but our hidebound system that supposedly champions innovation instead exhausts more energy resisting it. What a pity, considering what it could prevent: school shootings, innumerable other crimes, fragile marriages, and Americans HATING and backstabbing others with dissimilar political opinions.

Interestingly, I also stumbled upon a way to make time seem to pass more slowly. The answer to that eternal mystery could also synergistically fuel a global recovery. We're not wedded to the past, so let's not cling to it. Encourage everyone you know to tune out frivolous time drains and tune into Bushnell's book so we find more Steve Jobses. They're out there.

Billionaire philanthropist John Paul DeJoria said, "Most people tiptoe through life to make it safely to death." Few people are brave enough to think outside the box, but that's where the great ideas are. If we want a vibrant economy and problems solved, not perpetuated, we should heed what Apple said in their "Think Different" commercials:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun reading, perhaps with some useful ideas for businesses that want to encourage innovation 9 Jun 2013
By Esther Schindler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you want to study accomplishment, someone once told me, don't look only at the creative individual's life and choices. Look at the person's parents' background, because those people likely established an environment that permitted (if not inspired) the freedom to think differently. (Which is not to say that parents get the credit, but rather that they enabled the creativity, intentionally or otherwise.) If that's so, then it also makes sense to look at the attitudes of creative people's mentors, too -- and top on the list has to be Nolan Bushnell.

I think Bushnell is less-well-known to younger techies and entrepreneurs, and that's a damned shame. He founded and/or ran several companies that blazed new paths and did the unexpected, most prominently Atari and Chuck E Cheese -- as well as quite a few that didn't succeed, about which he is more candid than most. That alone would make his business advice worth listening to.

In this context, however, Bushnell is the most interesting (or marketable?) because of his impact on the young Steve Jobs, when Jobs (and then Woz) came to work at Atari. Bushnell saw Jobs' skills (and his weaknesses, too) and took the kid under his wing, creating a lifelong relationship in which they clearly inspired one another. And, as Bushnell writes, "The truth is that very few companies would hire Steve, even today. Why? Because he was an outlier. To most potential employers, he'd just seem like a jerk in bad clothing. And yet a jerk in bad clothing can be exactly the right guy to give your company the highest market capitalization in the world."

In this book, therefore, Bushnell shares snippets of advice -- he calls them "pongs" -- that can help a business identify and foster the creative talent within the organization. Most are short chapters with both anecdotes and specific suggestions, making them easily consumable, a little at time, for people with busy lives (doing creative things, I assume). There's advice on everything from hiring interviews to finding creatives (via Twitter!) to "instituting a degree of anarchy" to requiring risk (and "rewarding turkeys").

So, for example, Bushnell suggests one way to make it harder for a company to say No is to make people responsible for their criticism, because those with the most authority in a go/no-go decision "tend to be the ones who can analyze it least intelligently." One way, he says, is to set a rule that objections must be written down. For one thing, it forces the critic to be specific: "If the worst part of an idea is its cost, writing down actual numbers forces people to be more precise," Bushnell says, and it lets the idea's creator rebut or investigate the options.

The pongs make for outstanding reading, but I reluctantly withhold a fifth star because I'm not completely sure who will read this book. Certainly it's not the people whom we would agree NEED to read it, such as all the "We've always done it this way" bean-counter-led organizations that... well, I'm sure you've worked for a few of them, too. If you're trapped in one of those businesses, trying to break out, I worry that you'll just get depressed. The book is great reading for businesspeople who already are thinking in terms of fostering creativity, but I wonder how much of the advice will be really NEW.

I absolutely enjoyed the book -- as much for the geeky nostalgia about what it took to create a gaming company in the 70s and 80s, when microcomputers were spawning a revolution. I think some of his ideas are great, and I hope your company adopts them. But even if it doesn't, you'll enjoy reading this.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let them be free! 28 May 2013
By Howard Rothenbach - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Nolan Bushnell hits the nail right on the head when he writes that creatives can't be caged. I've found the same to be true with my present work as a volunteer coordinator. The stuffy, everything must have a rule attitude, that I deal with on a regular basis chases most of my volunteers away after one or two visits.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great BookOn Silicon Valley 23 May 2013
By Jan Sollish - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book because, although am not in a tech industry, I do work in Silicon Valley. I am always looking for insights into the people I deal with. Many books ( with the exception of Steve Jobs biography) have been very boring.
Not so with Nolan Bushnell's book. FIVE STARS!
Mr. Bushnell has written a well crafted and fascinating look into a world few of us know. Each chapter is a "sound bite"...short (2-3 pages) but packed with interesting facts about companies we all are familiar with.
Not only that, the very subject of of creativity begs to be explored. And, apparently Mr.Bushnell, has dedicated much of his life to finding creative individuals, much like himself, and opening doors for them to explore their dreams and our present and future.
I bought this book for my three administrators.
I would hope anyone involved with creative people will pick up this book. We seem to have lost the deep and abiding respect, hope and faith in the creative individual.
It is so good to know that there are powerful people like Mr. Bushnell who are also ethical, empathetic, in touch with humanity and humorous!
Buy this book!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly beautiful and truthful business book. 3 Oct 2013
By Craig Matteson - Published on Amazon.com
This is a delightful and most useful business book.

Of course Steve Jobs the individual was sui generis, but the point of this book is that there are lots of people out there who can contribute to your organization the way Steve Jobs contributed to Bushnell's companies before he became "STEVE JOBS". The trick is not only to find them and recognized them, but to cultivate them, hold onto them, and spark their creativity and contribution. Most organizations say they want creativity but then shun it and if they accidentally hire it they consider it a mistake and squash it at every turn. Then they say that the age of the great creative minds and spirits has passed. Well, for them it never was. But others are pulling it off every day.

Nolan Bushnell, of course, is most famous for starting Atari and Chuck E. Cheese. But he has done many more cool things in life and this book is full stories from his career to illustrate the principles (he calls them pongs instead of rules - because rules can be too rigid and stultifying) he lays out for you. These pongs are short, clearly stated, and cleverly argued. Frankly, it has been a long time since I enjoyed a business book this much. For me, it seemed fresh, more than clever, and spot on in its points.

The author gives you creative ways to find creative types, identify the real ones from the poseurs, how to hire them, develop them, keep them fresh, manage them, use them within a true business setting without stifling them or killing the business, and what your jobs as the boss actually are.

As just one example, I loved his notion of keeping the naysayers and toxics from killing ideas with their cheap talk by making people write down their problems with the ideas put forward. Making them take ownership for their criticisms. Beautiful.

I have to warn you, though, if you aren't a creative yourself, you might find the ideas of this book impossible to implement because you won't be able to let go and get outside your own private rule book. Bushnell's "pongs" are not rules, but they are quite good. But they will not allow you to operate in a traditional and continuous process kind of way.

Get it, read it, and if nothing else you will learn why you aren't a creative type.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Saline, MI
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