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FEARLESS GENIUS: The Digital Revolution | Doug Menuez

By Charles Tui

With a mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, Doug Menuez is traveling around America sharing his stories about Silicon Valley’s innovators and the technology that will change the world. As Menuez says, “there’s an amazing new wave of technology coming. And it’s exciting – it’s genomics, biotechnology, quantum computing – there’s so much technology and there will be job creating innovations. There’s a whole new generation of idealistic young innovators looking for [the] meaning of life.” Menuez recently presented some of his work at TEDxBeacon Street’sIntimate Evening Talks on March 29th.

“The challenge in innovation today is that we have a huge shortage of engineers and a trend in short-term investing, meaning that really tough problems like solving climate change are just not getting funded. And if we’re not doing that, are we really as innovative as we think we are? Or as we were?” -Doug Menuez

In 1985, Doug Menuez was a young photojournalist documenting the famine in Ethiopia for Newsweek. Despite being no stranger to horror and death, Menuez was devastated by the huge scale of suffering. Upon returning home, he looked for a way he could document something hopeful, something that would add meaning to his own life. That same year, Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple and announced a new company, NeXT, that would build a computer to revolutionize education. This was the opportunity Menuez had been looking for. By gaining Steve’s trust and permission to document his process of innovation, Menuez kick-started a new projected called “Fearless Genius” that would span 15 years resulting in 250,000 images that  documented innovation in over 70 companies.

Through “Fearless Genius”, Menuez was witnessed everything from products that scaled up to produce millions of full-time jobs to the dot-come crash that created the culture of innovation that now surrounds us.  When asked why innovation is different today, Menuez explained that there are three factors causing visible differences: investment, education, and government leadership.

Before the dot-com crash, companies knew that they would be making tons of money: “the cool thing was… being first to make something because there were so many frontiers.” But today’s innovation equation has shifted away from adventurous creation and towards making money. This is the first major difference. “[Investors] want their money out in 18 months. The focus has become answering ‘what’s your exit strategy?’ Naturally, this has led to innovation around things you can do in 18 months…apps…but [now] everything that is productized is an iteration of something that was more or less developed in the 80s and 90s.”

The second difference STEMs from education: “[There are] three million unfilled STEM jobs give or take in the US today. [If the US doesn’t] train more engineers and educate kids on math and science, [innovators] will have a very tough time getting a killer team together. We graduated fewer doctorates of sciences last year than 1970.”

The third factor Menuez sees is a difference in governmental leadership. With the advent of World War II and the space race, there was strong government support and policy to back entrepreneurs to solve problems. That drove whole industries to be created. Modern entrepreneurs lack that support. “There needs to be support from all levels of the government behind policy on the toughest problems… we can’t expect the private investors to go out there and take the hugest risks [by themselves.]”

Check out Doug’s talk for yourself! “FEARLESS GENIUS: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985-2000”