John McAfee on freedom, leadership and innovation

John McAfee talking with Mark Hopkins, Mick Jones and Joshua Stramiello.

As I look forward to the years ahead, it is clear to me that the future of our industry and our country will be led by those who embrace principles that are tied to the past, while innovating at the level that startups do. It is an unpleasant reality that companies that grow to a certain size will fall into the classic dinosaur mentality. They become bound to quarterly reports, earnings and other realities in the world of Wall Sreet, and they will inevitably stall in their efforts to truly innovate. Some become forced to act in response to either buy out their smaller competition or try and run them out of business. There is something ethereal about the spirit of startups, about the calling to do something better and to truly make a difference.

They become bound to quarterly reports, earnings and other realities in the world of Wall Sreet, and they will inevitably stall in their efforts to truly innovate. Some become forced to act in response to either buy out their smaller competition or try and run them out of business. There is something ethereal about the spirit of startups, about the calling to do something better and to truly make a difference.

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A couple of years ago, when the public was kicking around options for Microsoft’s CEO position, I somehow gathered the most votes in a poll (ahead of Bill Gates). It wasn’t a position I wanted, but the sentiment was appreciated. Many people responded to the notion that if I had somehow ended up there, my first move would have been to dismiss anyone that was there longer than a decade. Bill Gates was probably the last big thinker at the company and the lull that happened after he left was noticeable. I was making a point that all the heft, the corporate power and product evolution that a mega corporation can put together cannot replace the journey of the little guy.

Since that time, Satya Nadella has taken the spot that Gates once held, and he has made sensible decisions that have helped the company regain some relevance. That was a welcome relief from just about a decade of bad decisions and maneuvers from the company. It was losing on mobile, losing enterprise business and losing in public perception.

There is beauty in this industry, if not consistency in the fact that everything changes over the years while many things stay the same. Take software for example — something I know a bit about. I made a lot of money off of the company I built, which was ultimately valued at billions of dollars. If you look at selling software, the way we profited 30 years ago doesn’t apply anymore in our current age. The cost of a digital product was real in those days. Bandwidth, media and even packaging came into the picture with a price tag. Today, that digital expense is practically zero, so you can see in this plain example that archaic principles of marketing and product cannot possibly apply today. A different paradigm is needed; we need fresh ideas across the business spectrum in addition to fresh products. Regardless of these changes, we continue to see companies that are stuck in archaic models, they are stuck in a glue trap of management and they are mired in a culture of slow innovation that is about a natural response as you can expect in these situations.

The history of innovation is filled with many legends: a man with a moonlight mission to stop computer infections, two guys in a garage, a ruthless and determined perfectionist and his sidekick. Those are the stories of people who are driven to take their idea and make it real. I see this spirit when I see technology and causes such as Bitcoin, digital privacy, open source and hacking. The basic idea in innovative technology is that you can use whatever you want and make it your own. There is nothing more innovative or more American than that, and it is directly related to the reasons we embrace open, secure technologies.

Mega-companies have never been very close to breakout innovations, and that is a reason for concern. Change takes guts, and if leaders are beholden to calculations, percentages, polls and perception in any kind of organization, then the wait for that change is going to be quite long, if it happens at all. Reinventing a company, or a nation for that matter, takes new blood. There is just no other way. The spirit that motivates us going on toward the future must embrace the legends of what made companies great in the first place.

Whatever our future holds for us, the spirit of innovation and freedom are critical to our success. If I should be the leader of this nation, I will foster these notions to a fruitful state. #McAfee16

Image credit: Media Day Open Office Hours / M Dean Jones