Innovation, education, and inspiration
Podcast #98 — Aired July 4, 2016

As the creator of Atari, Nolan Bushnell is often called the father of video gaming. Since creating that groundbreaking gaming system, Bushnell has founded numerous companies, including Chuck E. Cheese. On this special 100th episode of BetterWorldians, Bushnell discusses the groundbreaking technology he has created to help make the world a better place. Bushnell will share inspiring stories of his entrepreneurial endeavors and talk about his mission to innovate and improve the educational process.

 

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Nolan Bushnell
Creator, ATARI

Nolan Bushnell is a technology pioneer, entrepreneur and scientist. Often cited as the father of the video game industry, he is best known as the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater. Nolan is passionate about enhancing and improving the educational process by integrating the latest in brain science, and enjoys motivating and inspiring others with his views on entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and education. Nolan received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Utah, where he is a Distinguished Fellow and also attended Stanford University Graduate School.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi, welcome to Better Worldians Radio. BetterWorldians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. I am Ray Hansel joined today by my co-host Gregory Hansel. BetterWorldians Radio is brought to you by the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called a BetterWorld. It rewards players for doing good deeds while we are raising money and awareness for charities. So far over forty million good deeds have been done on the better world by more than four million people around the globe. Good deeds include expressions of gratitudes, random acts of kindness and sending notes to real worlds sick kids just to name a few. This week on our one hundredth episode of BetterWorldiansRadio we welcome Nolan Bushnell the founder of Atari. Nolan is a technology pioneer, entrepreneur and scientist. Often cited as the father of the video game industry, he is best known as the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater. Nolan is passionate about enhancing and improving the educational process by integrating the latest in brain science, and enjoys motivating and inspiring others with his views on entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and education. Nolan received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Utah, where he is a Distinguished Fellow and also attended Stanford University Graduate School. Hi Nolan thank you for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Nolan
My pleasure being here.

Raymond Hansell
You are very very welcome. I am sure our listeners will be excited to be listening out some of your adventures and your journey as they continue, so let's start, as the father of Atari, you are often called the father of the video gaming industry im curious did you gaming start?

Nolan
Well I got a part time jobs when I was during college than I saw a video-game called Space-wars at MIT in 1962 and I felt, if I can put this computer game in restaurants in my arcade then it would make money and of course million dollars computer it stuck in my mind the cost of computer is going down, maybe now it is the time and it turned out it was.

Raymond Hansell
Is it that the idea that actually create Atari came about?

Nolan
Absolutely, this clear me running a game center as a summer job and seeing this game in the computer labs at the university and I put the two together and all of sudden end up with Atari.

Raymond Hansell
That's incredible. Now Atari was considered a cutting edge technology at the time, so what was the response initially to this whole gaming system that effectively Atari pioneered at that time.

Nolan
Customers it is really, it was really difficult to getting funding. So we basically have to operate a company a I often fought video-games is the easy part, have a fund to grow without capital is the hard part. Everybody thought, you know, games of course you know.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, of course, When you are out there on the leading edge the pioneers are the ones that gets the arrows. Yeah, yeah, and that's certainly true experience that ourselves. You know, we believed that gaming could really be a positive experience which is something you believed as well when you created Atari. There wasn't really a lot of need however, for blood and glory, can you talk a little about how your game was distinguished back there from not having that aspect of the gaming.

Nolan
Well, early new technology was controversial teenagers love what you are doing parents just kind and so I felt that in order to grow the business I didn't need to go to anything, you know, and that was a little bit through the seventies.

Raymond Hansell
If you think about the content that was actually on television that time, it was certainly different from what we see nowadays, so I am sure that in a way maybe the public wasn't ready for that and you certainly dint zig-zag in that direction which would have been controversial.

Nolan
You know we just didn't need it. You know, it make money by a risk to the bottom.

Raymond Hansell
Absolutely. Now hiring the right people that's something that you are very passionate about which is evidenced by the fact that you actually hired Steven Jobs at Atari in the earlier days. Just for a listener did you write a book that I was reading the last week Finding the next Steve Jobs a few years back. So, what is the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people?

Nolan
Well, I want to say that the most important thing, is not hard to hire people. It sounds little silly but it turns out that a lot of people they lost their passion somehow work they are not passion whatever they are doing and you still need and so what you really want to do is to hire the most passionate, the most creative people you can and those people just turn out to be diamonds and its important to remember that they are the white of our business.

Raymond Hansell
I will encourage our listeners to pick a copy of the book Finding the next Steve Jobs in each chapter reveals some of the things that you guys did over Atari sort of uncovering that passion and that pearl, that diamond, that doesn't necessarily come when you get through the first interview with impression management going on, cutting trough, really getting to the core of people is a really hard form.

Nolan
Yeah.

Raymond Hansell
Can you show to our listeners a little bit about the business opportunity that you also had with Steven jobs.

Nolan
Well I had the chance to own a third of Apple Computer for 50 thousand dollars and I turned it down. Of course I regret that subsequently, you know you win some lose some.

Raymond Hansell
That an amazing story but I mean he was when you hired him back in Atari what you guys put together finding the right people. You are also the founder of Chuck E. Cheese family entertainment, I shouldn't say that my age im over there at least once or twice every month or so. So I feel familiar with the space that you run. What inspired that venture?

Nolan
A couple of thousands of bucks I really want to be in the operative side of the business manufacturing side I want to be in the operating side of the business. Instead of the manufacturing side. I wanted to create my own location because I knew kids wants to play games and things like that I decided to create pizza arcade and of course it worked . And those games pizza parties and games, I decided to create

Raymond Hansell
Oh yeah its an amazing story, I can see now, as you are talking, from your experience in the computers and how these things just moved along. But each one of these business its still unique business model and has his own challenges.

Nolan
No question about it. I look at a lot of things I have done has been being in the right place at the right time, being lucky, at the same time you have to take some risks on the way as well, I think for some reason I was born willing to take risks and that's probably one one of my best aspects. Fearless depending on you win or lose if you fail.

Raymond Hansell
That's for who sits sideline and takes no risks I think that you know every day you get up you are taking a risk winds up, that most likely people tend to regret the risks that they didn't take.

Nolan
I think so too.

Raymond Hansell
Our experience in the middle ourselves, I read the Chucky Cheese was originally going to be called Chaotic Pizza can you tell us that story?

Nolan
Well Chaotic Pizza was a cool name. Well I bought a costume for a trade and when I got pointed that it was actually out I said of regret pizza nobody thought that was a good idea because was a food place, so I told marketing department to name it, I said to name and I said emphasize and that seemed to work and came out with the name Chuck E Cheese that stuck.

Raymond Hansell
That's really great really great. We need to take a break. When we will return In the meantime please check our game on Facebook called a BetterWorld. A Better World encourages habits of goodness, positive mindset,and giving to social causes to make a positive difference in the world. Players do things like express gratitude, share acts of random kindness, sent note to real world sick children and many many more. We like to congratulate the players of a Better World for successfully challenge the month of June with Marie's Meals a non profit that provides meals for over 1 million children per day each and every single. Raise funds to feed 50 a day for an entire school year. For July the partner of the month there is The Miracle foundation, a non-profit organization that brings life changing care to the worlds orphans you can find out more and play at Facebook.com/abetterworld.

Raymond Hansell
You are listening to BetterWorldians Radio we are speaking with Nolan Bushnell and now let's move and my co-host Gregory Hansell.

Gregory Hansell
Hi Nolan, it's Greg.

Nolan
It's good to talk to you!

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, so tell me I wanna skip forward now, from the Atari days and talk about a little Brainrush first. Can you tell our listeners what Brainrush is?

Nolan
Brainrush is really about brain science. How you learn and how you create permanent lasting memories; and the Brainrush is really about five principles. If you use these principles, you will find that learning is much more effective and much more powerful, and much more resilient. First principle if you put a person in a FMRI, you read a book, watch a movie, see a lecture and not much is going on in your brain. If you ask a question, that is like the learning moment. Now you have to think about it and make a decision. And that is an important step. The second rule is you need extreme time pressure. That puts you in the moment learning, you don't have time thinking about anything else. So you are focused. The third rule is play the completion. It is mastery. You have to master everything in order to complete a lesson. That is 100% down to a memory basis so you can answer quickly and essentially 100% correctly. Fourth rule is space repetition. You actually need to space your learning over a few days. Which reduces after 24hours; and that's really important if you want to have a complete memory. The fifth principle is adaptive. Everybody runs al slightly different clock speed, and you need to be stresses that's just your personal best and, if you do that, we can have vastly better outcomes than repetitions. I think classrooms should be get rid of them. And like I said, it should be noticed that in today's worlds the internet school its still organized like was in the 1800. That really should change.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah it's actually largely based its I think point further. So tell us how you believe games help us learning?

Nolan
Games give, provide context and if you have gaming that teach you right at the edge of doing something that's hard and doing something well and it turns out that makes you happy. And if you teach in the context of something that's understandable it's much more powerful than abstract concepts and games provide that construct.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, I think that's right, you know I think we often say and hear things that people don't like about games are exactly the things that make games so effective. You know at teaching us things that are difficult to learn. You know, I mean people say all game are addictive, they are interactive, imaginative and they have this power to pull us in, and I think that's the part of the magic the games teach us.

Nolan
No question about it.

Gregory Hansell
So how do you hope that Brainrush specifically can be used for education?

Nolan
Well, I think that we can be a supplement to any kind of education. I think that we can, I am actually building a school around Brainrush for teaching on entrepreneurship, and I actually think I can cover years worth of material in about 6 weeks, with better retention, better knowledge, better understanding with short attempts. You know, focus on the learning and give it all and, don't waste your time. I think school should be really cheap.

Gregory Hansell
I think that's right, you know people, unfortunately, with these giant weights today and in some ways prepare life experience in the life and they weight em down and keep them away from experience. So I think definitely to find a way to make that happen.

Nolan
We reinvented in 70s-50s. Now we have kids huge, that cant get rid of bankruptcy.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah and that kills the creativity that kind of stress and that kind of weight. So I did want to transition here because I wanted to talk about Snap Institute, I believe, which is our next set of questions. So can you tell me a little bit more what's that institute is all about.

Nolan
Snap Institute, we are going to have a long line versions available until fall. We have a physical location in Las Vegas, Nevada. And you say why Las Vegas? Well, because of trade shows. We believe that are a lot of entrepreneurs who want to start on but who don't know where to start. And particularly young people, they don't have experience and we believe that the best way to experience a business or in industry is a trade show on that industry. So we are incorporating trade shows into our curriculum in terms of a deep guide into an industry preparing the students for what to look for. How to fact, what to find into an industry and perhaps, sometimes into established industry they will be able to see things people that people who have been in that industry for years don't see. Its too precise that we learn things what an entrepreneur needs to have.

Gregory Hansell
What are your main goals with Snap Institute. What are you looking to accomplish for these kids, for these students?

Nolan
I wanna start with companies that are successful, with people who are looking to break out of the rule of going straight to the college. We are taking kids, you know, that haven't even finished high school and setting em on quickly and easily into the world of business. Give them just the tools, a little bit of accounting, little bit of business law, little bit of tools. Hey, these people are making this much money on YouTube, these people are doing really really well on eBay, these people are doing interesting things on 3D printers; stuff like that. And we just think that school needs to be reinvisioned were the changes is typical in the next 20 year. Nobody knows what the next 20 years major business will still be. But we do know that the one business that will always be and that is entrepreneurship.

Gregory Hansell
Sure. That brings us to the next question. Who is best suited for Snap Institute? Is this for everyone? Can everyone think to be an entrepreneur?

Nolan
I actually don't know how to answer that question but I think so. I think the number 1 rule is they have to be wild and passionate. If they are wild and passionate I think we can give them the tool, if you are lazy don't apply, if you are drug addicted don't apply, if you running away from life don't apply. If you wanna make something yourself, if you wanna grab that golden ring and work your butt off, that's the person I want because I think that passion rules and laziness fails.

Gregory Hansell
I think that's exactly right. So you talked about, the unfortunate burden that people have for school alone, how much affordable is Snap Institute?

Nolan
We are trying to bring it to less than a couple of thousands dollars for the all thing. And how we can get it? We basically are not looking to make a lot money on this actually probably any for the first couple of years. We want to give a 100% back to our students.

Gregory Hansell
That's incredible. You will make magic happen if you can pull it off. I think that's something that many people can find some ways of doing their price point like that. And if it enables them to kinda face forward and jump into, you know, changing the world of this company that's the best.

Nolan
All we need, confidence is really important. An optimist. And I think we can definitely give people some confidence and some optimism. And I think that's gonna deal with a lot of benefits.

Gregory Hansell
I think that' exactly right. I think that, those two things are the two sides of the same coin. You know, I think if you are confident, and you have the ability to be optimistic and you can have that kind of positivity that helps you to have the confidence you need to move forward. I think that's great.

Nolan
I gotta tell you I did a funny tweet the other day. I read an article that optimists live longer than pessimists. And so I did a tweet that says Optimism lives longer than pessimism, making both of them correcting their output

Gregory Hansell
There you go. That' the correct approach. So you brought out something earlier, with Ray, talking about risk. You know one thing that haunts some, if not all entrepreneurs is failure. And my question is, if you give entrepreneurs an advice how do you rebound from those setbacks.

Nolan
Well, I will get it like playing chess. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. When you lose you re-set up the pieces and go out again. And there is actually some entertainment, the best learning its like a scar, but you are in America. You know I was told when I talked to college graduates or groups, young people, I say if you not a millionaire or bankrupts three times by time you are 30 years old you are not really trying.

Gregory Hansell
Alright, I love that, I think that's right. I think people need to hear that message because those kind of setbacks can be so crushing for some people, they have this notion in their mind they have to jump for success, I know for my own experience in entrepreneurship it's very difficult, it's a jagged turning mix line from here to the finish lane before you can even reach it. And I think that knowing that, and knowing that even the most successful in history have failed many times, it's refreshing and it's confidence boosting .

Nolan
Well, what I like to say on that is, doing with business failure is as much important as not giving. You know at the time you thought it was the end of your life, it was just the most of the road.

Gregory Hansell
That's right . So you also are working an a mobile gaming company called Spill? Tell your listeners how you will you be changing mobile gaming with Spill.

Nolan
Well I believe that there are a bunch of classic games that can be reimagined in a mobile space that can bring people together. Like I am doing a lot of games right now that I hope it will become massively virable. People playing together on some of the games historically that I loved. And doing a few new things that I can't tell you about.

Gregory Hansell
So any of those classic games, not under raps that you can share? That you are hoping to bring back?

Nolan
Not yet.

Gregory Hansell
I love some of those classic games you were talking about. The arcade games in the pizza shops. It made me think of when we finally did get there, at the table top games, you had your slice, you sit down with your buddy playing against each other, I love that experience, back in the day.

Nolan
Yeah.

Gregory Hansell
So if you are finding a way to bring back those kinda, more power to you I think that's awesome.

Nolan
I gotta say watch augmented reality kind of gameplay. There are going to be some tabletops in which they come alive with augmented reality systems that are gonna blow your mind in the next few years.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. I love the augmented reality. I think you know we are barely scratching the surface. There is still much more things to come. There are some things that I find more exciting than the virtual reality stuff. In the augmented reality the actual real world is taking a place in a way, they are combining in a way that they never had before. So I think it's throwing.

Nolan
Yeah, magical .

Gregory Hansell
Magical for sure. So let me ask you one last question. I know you are trying to catch a plane. I ask this question every week to all our guests. How how do you the work you are doing, the work with Atari, the work with Bra inrush and the work with Snap and even the work with Spill; how do you hope this whole perspective of things is helping to make the world a better place?

Nolan
I think the world is a better place when people can learn faster, be smarter, be more successful and impact the world. I hope that the stuff that im doing its not about me impacting the world, it's about tens of thousands of people to impact the world. I feel like ten thousand of people can really make an impact. And if I can impact ten thousands of people than im the first of what I call a revolutionary change. And im very concerned about the future and that the world is gonna change very very quickly in the next ten years. And without proper education there will be a lot of people out of jobs. And they have to be able to climb their workplaces. Set the pieces back up, retrain themselves, cause many of the jobs are gonna be taken away and become obsolete. And so we have to learn to be a Life-long learner. Period.

Raymond Hansell
That's an amazing summary, Nolan. I think that the idea ten thousand entrepreneurs is a much bigger number than you think on the surface. Because ten thousand enterprises and a high percentage of them, let' say like one, are gonna employee hundreds of thousands if not millions of people and have hundreds of thousands and even tenth of millions of customers and they are people that are engaged in. And the more power, if the game is involved to engage them and to get that learning experience, really embedded so I think it's great. We talked about a tipping point and you wonder where is the tipping point. I think it's a good starting point for the tipping point of ten thousand entrepreneurs that's a really good way to make the world a better place.

Nolan
I hope so.

Raymond Hansell
I hope so too. Our listeners, you can learn more about Nolan Bushnell by going to nolanbushnell.com. Nolan thanks again for joining us at BetterWorldians Radio and it has been a great episode.

Nolan
Thank you .

Raymond Hansell
For our listeners if you are enjoying this episode please be sure to subscribe to our show on iTunes and give us a review. We are always listening to your feedback so let us know what you think. At the end our show each week we like to share our mission. We BetterWorldians we strive to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best out of everyone, we focus on positive thinking, positive values and positive actions. Ensure our visions to bring out the BetterWorldian in everybody so that we can all make a better world. So see you next time, please be a Betterworldian.