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One Crazy Idea

How do you encourage a sense of play and risk-taking in your organization? The founder of Atari suggests you take one annual gamble.
Atari innovation lessons
photo by Kalas Mannen

Nolan Bushnell (@NolanBushnell), legendary founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, recently came out with his first book, Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep, and Nurture Creative Talent.

In an interview posted by leadership speaker Skip Prichard (@SkipPrichard), Bushnell — who hired a young Jobs at Atari in 1974 — shared some pearls of wisdom about creativity and leadership with his publisher, Tim Sanders. Here’s a sampling:

Sanders: I know it’s your strong belief that leaders at companies need to foster a creative culture. If you were going to give leaders one piece of advice on how to think differently about a creative culture, what would that piece of advice be?

Bushnell: I would encourage them to say “yes” to at least one crazy idea a year.

Sanders: Give me an example of some of the crazy ideas you heard when you were in Atari.

Bushnell: Among the many that were pitched to me, one that stands out was this notion of making pretty pictures when music happened. It seemed ridiculous at the time. The product ultimately turned into Midi.

Sanders: Midi, of course, is the standard that still exists to this day for connecting music devices to each other and synchronizing them.

Bushnell: I think we built 20,000 of them, and I think we sold six at full-price. (Laughs.) But it did become a force within the industry, for sure.



If Atari’s history interests you — but reading a full-length book does not — we recommend the 1983 New York Times article “Atari Parts Are Dumped.” According to the story, “The company has dumped 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and other computer equipment at the city landfill in Alamogordo, N.M. Guards kept reporters and spectators away from the area yesterday as workers poured concrete over the dumped merchandise.” Last month, the story resurfaced when a film production company received permission to excavate the dump site and try to recover the cartridges, particularly those of a video game based on the Oscar-winning motion picture E.T.

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