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What If the Guy Who Founded Atari and Chuck E. Cheese Opened a Senior Living Community?

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By Steve Moran

I recently had the chance to interview Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's. He is often credited with being the father of video gaming. When I told my wife about interviewing the founder of Chuck E. Cheese's she was not impressed, having endured many a Chuck E. Cheese's birthday party with my kids.  

She was more impressed that I was interviewing the founder of Atari. I told Nolan this story and then confessed, that unlike my wife, I always liked Chuck E. Cheese's. He opined that he was not surprised with women being the only real adults in the world.

He told me that when they designed Chuck E. Cheese's, the goal was to make it into a place where parents felt the same as kids do when they would go with their parents to a fine dining restaurant.  

Nolan will be a featured speaker at the Senior Living Innovation Forum this June where he will be talking about creativity and aging.  

Bushnell on Aging

We are as a society grappling with a brand new cohort of seniors whose chronological age is winding ever higher but who are not really getting older. They are creating, inventing, teaching and traveling. They may move a bit slower and have some additional health needs but they don’t feel old, don’t think old and don’t act old.  

Nolan recently turned 74 and I asked him if he would be willing to move into a senior living community and his response was . . . maybe, if they had a lab or a makerspace. He noted that he knows people who are in their 80s, 90s and 100s who are still going strong and that he wants to be one of those. Here are some of the projects or things he is working on:

  1. Rolling the Dice:  Each year he makes a list of 11 significant projects he is interested in tackling. They have to be brand new initiatives, learning something or doing something he has never done before. This year's list included: Hike a portion of the John Muir Trail, learn Tai Chi, learn how to do 3D printing, learn to play the banjo, bike the Slick Rock Trail, go to a hard to get to restaurant in the Swiss Alps, produce a play, learn a new database language, produce a weekly blog or video blog.

    These are all things that he has never done. Things that would force him to learn and create, to keep his brain active. He uses a pair of dice because it keeps him from choosing the easiest one. For this year the one the dice picked for him was . . . well you will have to attend the event to find out.

  1. Projects:  He points out that there is a high correlation between happiness and having projects to work on. His happy place is in the lab working on something. He finds hedonism to be a path to depression and misery.

  1. Changing the World:  He is already a person who has left a forevermark on the world. In a very real sense, every time you play any kind of electronic game you can thank Nolan for starting the world down that path. I asked him if he was working on any change-the-world initiatives.

    He is convinced that we are today teaching kids wrong. That we need to reinvent education. He is very concerned that we are churning out tens or hundreds of thousands of college graduates that are not capable of doing anything productive. In his view we need to spend more time on objective- and process-based learning and move away from academic pursuits.

One of the best part of these more intimate events like the Senior Living Innovation Forum is that not only do you get to hear amazing world changing speakers give a presentation, you often get a chance to hang out with them, to have an adult beverage and great conversation.   

You can learn more about the conference at the Senior Living Innovation Forum website or you can read my article about why you should attend HERE.

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