You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
Sure, it’s one of the more overused cliches in the English language. Yet it still holds true in the tech industry, and that’s what Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold focused on Thursday night at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion.
Myhrvold, the controversial former Microsoft chief technology officer known for his big ideas and giant collection of patents, was the keynote speaker at the second annual Social Innovation Fast Pitch (SIFP), where 14 startups with plans to improve society competed for $230,000 in grants and investments. A list of winners and photos from the event are below.
During his 40-minute presentation, Myhrvold said he was there to talk about “inventing miracles.” He expanded on the themes that he discussed with GeekWire in an August interview, addressing Intellectual Venture’s Global Good program, among other topics.
He began by describing the need for more inventions that help people who actually need it.
“It’s great you can kill aliens with Xbox at a faster rate than ever before, but we didn’t really need our lives changed,” he said. “The fact is, there are people that do need their lives changed.”
So why does the tech industry focus so much on inventing gadgets for well-off people?
“Because you make a lot of money doing this,” he explained. “The tech industry – which I love, I’m a part of and am totally guilty of this – is about making tools and toys for rich people. … And frankly, everyone in the United States is rich compared to the world.”
Then Myhrvold used three analogies to illustrate his points about taking risks: search engines, e-books and baseball.
Altavista, Excite, Lycos and Hotbot were all search engines that got somewhere but eventually went away. Did people stop trying to build search engines? Of course not, Myhrvold said – look at Google and Bing.
How about e-books? Myhrvold has a collection of them. “I knew e-books would work because they were in Star Trek,” he said. But they were all a “complete litany of failure,” until of course, Amazon introduced the Kindle.
And then baseball. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter during the 2012 season and maintained a .333 batting average. Myhrvold did the hard math and found out that Cabrera gets out 67 percent of the time. Myhrvold estimated that his own inventing batting average might be around .040. The message: it’s OK to fail.
“This is not a game where you should count misses or strikes,” he said. “Inventing is about the power of the idea.”
So, from Myhrvold to all budding inventors: embrace failure, take risks, and don’t be afraid to pursue your crazy ideas.
“You know something? Most of your ideas will fail,” he said. “And I am completely OK with that.”
Winners of the SIFP 2012 Awards
For-profit social innovation, 1st place ($100,000): Scope 5
For-profit social innovation, 2nd place ($55,000): Corengi, Inc.
Established non-profit, 1st place ($25,000): CityClub Living Voters Guide
Young non-profit, 1st place ($15,000): Seattle Good Business Network
Young non-profit, 2nd place ($10,000): Express Advantage
University team, 1st place ($5,000): StudentRND
University team, 2nd place ($2,000): Swilo
Audience choice, 1st place ($7,500): Express Advantage
Audience choice, 2nd place ($2,500): Young Women Empowered
High school team, 1st place ($2,000): Project Firedove
High school team, 2nd place ($1,000): Food Allergy Freedom