Nolan Bushnell's Two Simple Rules

There are a lot of stories about Nolan Bushnell. He was the electrical engineer who invented the game "pong" and founded Atari. For a while there in the 1970's, Nolan Bushnell could do no wrong.

Nolan would sit around the living room with his friends and come up with ideas of all kinds. Two of the ideas resulted in Atari and the video game “Pong.” They’re why Bushnell is in the Video Game Hall of Fame and why Newsweek named him “one of the 50 men who changed America.”

The ideas worked, and the money flowed. That was a good thing, because Nolan always had another scheme brewing to spend it. Then it was on to the next idea. Everything seemed to work, and the money flowed. Until the ideas didn’t work, and the money stopped flowing.

In 1978 he jumped, or was pushed, from Atari, which he had sold to Warner Communications. Nolan was a big Disney fan, and that played into the idea for his next scheme.

The scheme was Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. He planned to create a singing animatronic rat. The rat would urge children to eat more pizza while they played coin-operated video games. The restaurants would go by the name Chuck E. Cheese, the name of the rat.

By 1982, Chuck E. Cheese was a money-loser. By 1984, Nolan had been forced out of the company. It went bankrupt a few months later. After creating a money machine or two, he had created a business disaster.

Later in that decade, Nolan appeared on panel at an event for small business owners and managers. The moderator asked each speaker to share one piece of advice about business. Nolan's was simple.

Don't confuse good luck with good management.

That's Nolan Bushnell Rule Number One. There will be times in business when the results are great, but it's because of external factors you have nothing to do with. It's easy to take credit then, like a rooster taking credit for the dawn.

Resist that temptation. In good times and in bad, hang on to your ego and keep a firm grasp on reality. When you succeed, analyze your process. Did you make a wise decision or just get lucky? When you fail, analyze your process. Did you make a bad decision? Or was the decision good, but you took a hit from bad luck?

Chuck E. Cheese is not the end of the story for Nolan Bushnell. In fact, it almost seems like a prologue. At last count, he had founded over twenty companies. One of them is BrainRush, where he’s applying his skills in game design to achieve “smarter learning.” He also works with scientists to design Anti-Aging Games. There are other adventures still to come.

That brings us to Nolan Bushnell Rule Two.

Whether you succeed or fail, you’re not done.

There are still dragons to slay and mountains to climb. There are still triumphs and failures you can analyze so the next adventure is even better. Nolan Bushnell Rule Two boils down to this quote from Winston Churchill.

“Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage to continue that counts.”

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