Vinod Khosla on innovation vs. punditry

Faith Merino · November 17, 2010 · Short URL:

The founder of Khosla Ventures discusses how true innovation is unpredictable

At Tuesday afternoon's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, took the stage to discuss the difference between innovation and punditry.  He started off by mentioning a 1986 study that forecasted that by the year 2000, there would be just under one million cell phones.  They were off by 10,000%.  There were 109 milllion cell phones in the year 2000.  AT&T spent $1 million and then ended up scrapping its whole cell phone business based on this forecast.  Why?  Because the 1980 "mobile phone" was the size of a cinder block. 

He then moved on to a Berkeley study that followed 80,000 forecasts over the course of 20 years and found that "experts have about the same accuracy of dart-throwing monkeys," said Khosla.  "You don't do unreasonable things by being reasonable."

Twitter, for example, did not exist five years ago, Khosla added.  Which pundit could have predicted that a 140 character tweet would ever take off the way it did, or that a series of 140-character tweets could outline the whole culture and character of a city, like San Francisco when the Giants won the World Series?

Things like Twitter are created by innovators, not pundits.

"In every generation, you've seen radical shifts...Almost certainly, the next big thing won't come from Google, Facebook, or Twitter."  To drive his home point, Khosla pointed out the fact that in the 1980s, no one thought there would be a PC in every home, and in the early 90s, no one could have predicted that email would've taken off.  Even more shocking, the iPhone didn't exist before 2007.  "Now, it is conventional wisdom," said Khosla.

"Change does happen, which is good news for all of us...The most interesting thing is the explosion yet to come.  That's where almost none of the forecasts you read about...are likely to be true."  Almost certainly, all of the companies will be at least as, if not more, surprising than Twitter, proclaimed Khosla.

The most important thing to bear in mind, said Khosla, is that you will fail, but your willingness to fail gives you the freedom to succeed.  "The difference between delusional and visionary thinking is largely retrospective...Stop looking at the pundits, stop reading the research reports.  None of that is relevant to true innovation," he added before signing off.

For Khosla's view on vision, be sure to watch his speech, "Vision is bumbling around."

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Khosla Ventures

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Khosla Ventures offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital to entrepreneurs. The firm helps entrepreneurs extend the potential of their ideas in both traditional venture areas like the Internet, computing, mobile, and silicon technology arenas but also supports breakthrough scientific work in clean technology areas such as bio-refineries for energy and bioplastics, solar, battery and other environmentally friendly technologies. Vinod was formerly a General Partner at Kleiner Perkins and founder of Sun Microsystems. Vinod has been labeled the #1 VC by Forbes and Fortune recently labeled him as one the nation's most influential ethanol advocates, noting "there are venture capitalists, and there's Vinod Khosla." Vinod Khosla founded the firm in 2004.