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Bob Metcalfe

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This image is so true to life, it could have been taken at this event.

I saw Bob Metcalfe speak. He’s the principal founder of 3Com, a Fortune 500 company, and the inventor of the Ethernet (which, as far as as Internet infrastructure goes, gives him a roundabout claim to being the inventor of the Internet also, by a certain logic). He talked about jobs, and how the sector he created has become so established that it now has its own position – network guy.

He talked about how research universities are the Xerox of today. He also talked about the inventor ecology and how important the whole ecosystem is, not just start-ups. He used the example of the football team and a 400 person band. You need the band too, in other words.

Someone asked how to do Xerox today and he said do something you love. He said that its stubbornness when it fails and persistence when its good. For 15 years he was the one in the wildneress selling Ethernet, until, at some undefinable juncture, it caught on.

15 years is a long haul.

He talked about ‘redlining’ – in a sense,’knowing your limits. He brought the company to 1,000,000 a year a month in sales and ‘redlined’; someone else brought it to 2,500,000 before hitting red. And so on, to ever-higher numbers.

He said you don’t hire; you recruit. A people recruit A people and B people hire C people, in this framing. In other words, if you think of it as hiring, you’ve already lost.

He said venture capitalists are disliked because 90 percent of their customers they turn down.

He said you have to value sales.

He said most ideas are bad ideas. If you’re good your good idea might work, but bad ones are a dime a dozen.

He also talked about Python, and how he was now taking a course in it; the infrastructure guy, doing code at last. Now you see a lot of coders extending a hand in the opposite direction, too (towards ‘making’).

This speech reminded me of the importance of human capital and the limits of being too ‘informational’, without enough emphasis on human development and capital. He’s now heading a kind of creative innovation category created for him at UT-Austin, and despite his role now as a kind of senior authority figure, his thoughts were consistently thought-provoking and not predictable. He seems to have learned from his mistakes (see, history: open source) and given some thought to avoiding the ‘conventional wisdom’ traps.

The time I spent listening to him was time well-spent.

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