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. Currently, he is Co-Founder/Chairman at Modal VR, HearGlass Inc. and Brainrush, where he is devoting his talents to enhancing and improving the educational process by integrating the latest in brain science.
Atari was started in September 1970. Everything about it was hard. This was before the microprocessor was invented. It was a ‘paranoid’ company; it always felt like others were at their back. Mostly, there was a sense of urgency to get things to market within the shortest time possible.
It was also a very innovative culture. Perhaps the first to have a beer tap in the office! The ‘beer light’ was lit every night at 6 pm – people were encouraged to come in and share their problems and also their ideas. This informal communication style was purposeful; there were no executive parking spots. This egalitarian company had flexible hours and an open vacation policy. The emphasis was making sure the job was done, rather than where and when it was done.
Bushnell says that they tried to have a flat organizational style. The best management was by cheerleading rather than assigned tasks. Leaders would make sure the desired outcomes were clear but it allowed for each employee to become passionate about the job they wanted rather than the one they were assigned.
One of his techniques was having a plan he called ‘rotating to excellence’. This required that someone was fired every month. He acknowledges that this is difficult but if you fire the ‘worst employee’ every month, eventually you will end up with a stellar company.
Nolan mentioned that he regrets having exited from Atari when he did – believing that there were a lot of things that he could have accomplished, that fell by the wayside after he left.
What you will learn in this episode:
● How less than $1000 launched the video game industry
● Why the ‘Pong’ ball was square instead of round
● Why Nolan will never ‘retire’
● What it was like to work with Steve Jobs
● How the Tiki room at Disney helped create Chuck E. Cheese
● Nolan’s view of the world of technology and how things are changing
● Why it is important to read science fiction
Links from the episode: