Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | May 8, 2013

Great Work, Hiring Creatives, and a Joystick

great work, hiring creatives, and a joystick: an interview with atari founder nolan bushnell
by Todd R. Nordstrom on behalf of the PIHRA Foundation

“Just because you’ve hired creatives doesn’t mean you’ll keep them,” warns Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and author of Finding the Next Steve Jobs. “Once you have them, isolate them. Celebrate their failures. Encourage ADHD. Ply them with toys. Encourage them to make decisions by throwing dice. Invent haphazard holidays. Let them sleep.”

That may sound like rogue advice. But it doesn’t come without some deep history. Bushnell is an icon in the Silicon Valley and quite possibly one of the most influential visionaries of our time. Yes, his credentials include: Founder of Atari, and Founder of Chuck E Cheese’s. But, most recently, Bushnell’s attention has focused in a new direction—sharing advice with organizations on how to find, attract, motivate, and retain creative people.

“I see companies trying to be creative,” says Bushnell. “They’re hunting for the next great thinkers to develop something new and exciting. And that’s what companies should be doing. But they’re going about the process all wrong. True creativity is seemingly one of the most difficult things for most companies to understand, to obtain, and to retain. The coolest companies in the world don’t have one Steve Jobs—they have many, and they know how to find them.”

Personally, Bushnell is surprisingly cordial. Unlike many “typical” leaders (especially those who are promoting a new book) he seems more interested in having real conversations—an exchange of thought, rather than a stage where he can talk about himself. And, during this interview, I often found the two of us wandering off topic—talking about everything from Paleo Man, to fitness, to comic book illustrations, to video games and of course, to creativity.

“You could have written about creative processes,” I interrupted, realizing I was witnessing his creative mind at work. “Why did you choose to write about hiring creative types?”

“Because it’s necessary today,” he replied. “The next big wave of competition will be companies who are creative—those that break the mold and give us new ways to learn and interact, and think. Of course, the hard part will be shifting our thinking around how we find creative-types, how we inspire and motivate creative-types, and how to keep creative-types. Because, whether an organization believes it now or not—you’ll need those creatives to survive.”

Finding the Next Steve Jobs is a book jammed with insights, stories and tips on finding creatives. In fact, the way the book is formatted (in short, easy to consume segments) it’s easy to get swept into a reading pattern that doesn’t allow you stop—because you’re curious about what you’ll read next—a story about early Atari days, an insight about starting a concept centered around a mechanical singing mouse, or a tip learned along the way about how to spot, engage, and hire a truly creative thinker, while you’re watching a swim meet.

“Any advice for the reader on who or what to look for?” I asked.

“Look, listen, and interact with the person,” he said. “We all get so focused on reading about someone’s credentials on a resume that we really don’t engage with them. Look for passion—a person who is chasing something. Listen for intensity—a person who doesn’t see boundaries. Interact with people—many of my best hires were those people I bumped into outside of the office. I never saw a resume. Instead I saw how they thought. I saw how they created. I saw how they overcame mental hurdles.”

“I have one final question,” I said. “Does creativity equal great work?”

“Creativity must be part of great work,” said Bushnell. “Many times employees will think that their job is to create a zero-defect product, policy, practice, or environment. It’s great to have perfection. But it’s not perfect unless you’re moving forward—innovating new ways, new designs, new procedures, and creating something better than you had yesterday.”

About the PIHRA Foundation
For more information about the Foundation, visit our website at

Please join the PIHRA Foundation Board of Directors by volunteering to help advance workforce readiness through community service in the Greater LA Area.
Watch for items featured at the PIHRA Foundation Auction at the 2013 California HR Conference in August…Yes there will be another Diamond Ring this year!

About Todd R. Nordstrom
Todd R. Nordstrom is a renowned blogger, book author, researcher, social marketer, and speaker. Todd has worked side-by-side with many of the world’s biggest names in business books, self-improvement, and health. “So, who am I? Quite simply, I’m a guy who gets out of bed each morning, knowing that it’s my turn to contribute—believing I can make this world a better place.”


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