National Instruments ni.com was founded in 1976 by James Truchard, and it has grown into a nearly 5,000 person company valued at over a billion dollars, and is consistently rated as one of the 100 best companies to work for. His company grew in part because of Truchard’s absolute enthusiasm for what he is doing. It is a trait held in common with the other self made billionaires which I have met with briefly this last year. All of them just glow with intelligence, good sense, enthusiasm and a willingness to hear out ideas with which they are not familiar. They have the traits in common with my conception of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but fortunately have had better outlets for their abilities than he did, and have given wonderful things to the world. He mentioned that he read a lot, and listed some of his favorite books: Thriving on Chaos by Tom Peters, Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore and The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen.
♥ You can now view this lecture as a video at View from the Top.
At the beginning of his company’s development he worked with some basic principles:Strategies for Success
- Dominate your corporate niche
- Be product-oriented
- Be distinctive/unique
- Strive for focus/coherence/Have a committed, high profile executive
- Give executives, and employees opportunities
- Use innovation/new products effectively
- Be perceptive of external environment
- Evaluate growth/profits trade-offs carefully
- Be flexible/opportunistic
What I particularly liked was his time sense, and setting up his company on a multidimensional strategy with time as one of the factors. Each of the time related subjects has its own type of strategy for implementation.
Future: Building a long term company Clock
100 Year Plan – Core Values, Culture, The National Instruments way.
10 Year Plan – Core Strategic Vision, People, Training, Platforms
5 Year Plan – Products/Markets, company Goals, Growth Goals, Quality Goals
1 Year Plan – Sales Forecasts, Goal Deployment
Quarterly Plan – Financial Goals, Sales and Profits, Update Goals
One thing Truchard emphasized was feedback. But the chart he presented struck me because of its similarity to Jeff Hawkins’s (founder of Palm Pilot) idea of how the intelligence of the brain works as presented in his book On Intelligence. That is, it is not just random feedback from everywhere to everywhere else, but rather it is hierarchical with feedback at any given level rapidly going back and forth between the association layers above and below it. Not just feedback from anywhere, but just from those specific sites and constantly occurring. Communications of the type, “this is what I think you said does that help you see better?” As these type of queries go up and down the interactive layers an intelligence like result develops. Truchard didn’t say that but it seemed to be implied in his diagram.
After the lecture I talked with him and a couple of other folks about my Earth Ark, and Gene Barrel solution to the Doomsday problem. That’s quite a challenge to hit someone with from out of the blue, but after the first shock they seemed to like it.
Later when talking to John and Laurie I broached the idea to them of supporting the Earth Ark, Lifehaven and Gene Barrel ideas by giving a substantial contribution in their wills. They sort of liked the idea of a seed bank in Antarctica with their name on it which would revive humanity after the Doomsday events. This may be the way to generate some enthusiasm for those ideas and to fund those parts which will need outside money. Like the shipping costs to their final locations. To do this would require my setting up a non-profit organization.
Later, I went to another lecture over at the Faculty Club. It was by Laurence R. Simon, professor of International Development at Brandeis who wrote, Cognition and Affect: A Developmental Psychology. This lecture appeared to be well received by all of the audience except for me. Quite frankly I was offended by the lecture because of its simplistic naivete (in the bad sense) and yet here is a person who has held many extremely responsible positions throughout his career. He gave the usual liberal slams at capitalism, and accused capitalists, of being greedy, and at the whole system as being corrupt. He wanted rich people to give all of their money to poor people. Well he didn’t say all of their money, but until these people were as poor as the poor they were giving their money to they should keep giving. Although he had a pleasant demeanor, and a smooth professorial delivery everything he said was of the short sighted counterproductive type which I criticized in my blog on the Copenhagen Consensus 2008.
Money is always in short supply so it should be used in a way which solves problems rather than making them worse which is what Simon’s simple solutions will ultimately do. A better use of the money is to send the surviving children to school rather than feeding the starving ones. That way in twenty years the children that did grow up would be more productive and richer and less populous for the local area. Feeding the starving children with the same quantity of outside resource money only makes more children twenty years hence, and puts the survivors at even greater ris,k and in an even more desperate environment than they already are because at that future time they are stretching the local resources even further.
My generalization about self made billionaires as being the best people to spend their money on philanthropy is in agreement with Andrew Carnegie. He said that ninety percent of money given to charity would do more good if it were thrown into the sea. Today I saw Carnegie’s wisdom played out before my eyes by Truchard and Simon.