Well, I’d encourage kids to learn science, to find a way to enjoy it, and experiment. Just the model of the world you get the depth of your understanding, and the opportunities that you’ll have will be fantastic. We need society to be more literate about science and innovation. We need to challenge people and take their innate curiosity, not let it fade away. Even innovation in education, using these tools to let you see the best lecturers or learn about an experiment that you might want to try. So if you’re young today, you’re actually exposed to more things and I envy kids growing up now. They’ll have a chance to solve big problems and they have better learning tools than certainly my generation had.
I think scientists and inventors are particularly important because many of them faced long odds. They had to see the world in a new way. In fact, if we think why is our lifestyle so much better, whether it’s food or medicine or transportation, it’s because of these great innovations.
My friend, Paul Allen, and I wanted, the personal computer we dreamed about having and then that we were able to shape so that eventually billions of people could benefit from it.
Whether it’s the environment or medical costs, all of those, I think innovation will be what gets us out of the problem. At the turn of the century, around 1900, people were projecting how much horse manure there’d be and that our cities would just be inundated. Well, of course, the car solved that problem. It introduced some new challenges like, okay, where’s the oil going to come from. But it’s always innovation that gets us out of just straight-line thinking of problems look like. So I have very little doubt that in the next 20 years cheaper, friendly ways of generating energy will come along and that will avoid a big problem and also let us live better lifestyles. Clearly in health we need big breakthroughs for the big diseases. The diseases in this country and the diseases elsewhere. I think the world is educating more people. We’ve got better collaboration. So I’d be optimistic that the right things will come, but it’s a long list of problems, and the only reason I feel good about them is that innovation will be able to surprise us with solutions that aren’t just zero-sum trade-offs, but rather take us into a whole new way of looking at things.
Have a lot of people who from a young age get a great math and science education and get exposed to the idea that new innovations can really fundamentally change things, whether it’s a new seed and a new way of generating energy or a new kind of software. Our future will be defined by those innovations and we have to have all the IQ of our smart, young minds being ambitious and dreaming and understanding that the status quo can be greatly improved. Getting those minds to come together and try out different experiments, have the right incentives so that if they do invent something that there’s this great reward and they can be an exemplar promoting that idea.
I think exposing kids to the stories of innovation is something that’s important. I think having them get where the frontier is, what the tough problems are. I’m often saying to my son when he asks, “Is there a product that can do this?” I say, “No, you’ll have a chance to invent that.” Show him that he has that ability and should be encouraged. So recent examples, I think, are particularly powerful. Then even the stories of where somebody tried to innovate but hit a dead end get a sense of why it’s so daunting and yet the benefits are so incredible when it does come to pass.
I’m still trying to innovate in my 50s, but I have to say some of the new and different ways of looking at the world, you have to have a fairly blank mind where you’re willing to see things that are quite different. You often have to assume other breakthroughs. See that those are coming. In our case, knowing the miracle of the microprocessor and this Gordon Moore prediction of exponential improvement allowed us to not worry about the size or the memory or the speed, but just dream of almost infinite capacity and how could software take advantage of that. An innovator is probably a fanatic, somebody who loves what they do, works day and night may ignore normal things to some degree and therefore be viewed as a bit imbalanced. Certainly in my teens and 20s, I fit that model.
The world keeps changing. To stay ahead of the game, or even to stay in the game, you have to keep innovating: innovate in your products, innovate in your process, innovate in the markets, etc.