Technology entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell’s 45-year resume includes a bunch of spectacular failures.
He once exhibited an electronic
game at the biggest toy show in the
country and sold not a single unit.
He lost two-thirds of the $100
million market for another product because he failed to patent his invention.
He sold his ;rst company, only to
be ;red 20 months later by the new
And he said “no” to Steve Jobs’ 1976
o;er to sell him a third of Apple Inc. for
Bushnell’s resume also includes some
equally spectacular victories.
He invented the Atari Inc. game console that captivated a generation of kids
in the 1970s and launched the personal
video game market.
He founded Chuck E. Cheese’s, the
;rst restaurant chain to combine food
with kids’ entertainment.
And through more than 20 other
startups, he pioneered technologies
such as digital navigation systems, online
ordering, and touch-screen menu and
As proud as Bushnell is of his success-es, he’s as grateful for his failures.
“A good failure is good for your soul,”
Bushnell said during a recent interview.
In his opinion, “too much” success can
be dangerous. He’s seen smart, successful entrepreneurs begin to believe they
can’t fail. They develop a sense of entitlement. They base their identities more
on who they are — or who they think
they are — than on what they do. Their
once-burning ;res to innovate, to create
and to grow dissipate. They become
Bushnell made big mistakes, but
complacency isn’t one of them.
In his 70s, Bushnell stays “on the steep
part of the learning curve.” He begins
each year with a list of 11 challenges that
fall outside his comfort zone and that he
thinks he can accomplish in 12 months.
Then, he assigns each a number and rolls
a pair of dice. The number that comes up
is his challenge for the year.
Bushnell’s passion for lifetime
learning shows in his most recent busi-
ness venture, Brainrush. The company
incorporates the latest in brain science
into fast-paced, computer-assisted
adaptive games that can accelerate
But does Bushnell think about his
failures? Does he wish he could go back
and do things di;erently?
No. His reasoning is priceless (if not
“Some of the bad decisions I’ve
made, I’m not sure that I would like my
life to not have had them,” Bushnell said.
“If I were able somehow to go back,
give myself some advice and change
that trajectory, I’m not sure that I would
end up where I am right now. And I like
where I am.”
Being happy with himself and how
he got here might be Bushnell’s biggest
Success, Failure and Perspective
Thoughts and Observations
From the Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
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