By Alexsandra McMahan
CEO of Prospect Journal
A few months ago, Jung visited UC San Diego to speak for IR/PS, and I had the opportunity to sit down with him for a few moments and speak about the depth of his ideas and the role they can play on a global scale. Highlights of the interview are published below alongside an introduction to Intellectual Ventures. If you would like to read the entire interview, please click here.
The highly competitive and integrated nature of the world today necessitates that individuals be capable of understanding both the large and small pictures. No longer do the problems of one continent or one government contain themselves to their “designated” physical space within their borders. As a result, the few individuals that acknowledge this truly international web of crises, catastrophes and creative solutions that permeates each corner of our globe are curious, intelligent and powerful. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with just such an individual – a sort of global architect – and peek inside the brain of a man who has an incredible attentiveness to detail while seeing a larger-than-life picture.
Edward Jung founded Intellectual Ventures with former Microsoft co-worker Nathan Myrhvold in 2000. Initially, the project started with a simple concept: What if we put a bunch of creative, brilliant people in a room, and brought a problem to their attention — one they normally would not see in their field? If we did this regularly, and then tried to bring their solutions to the market, what would happen?
Today, the company has raised over $5 billion from investors, and Jung has visited numerous countries in the past year to discuss projects and problems of interest to IV. With growth has also come restructures as well as problems: instead of being hailed as invention’s brainchild, IV has received a reputation as a patent troll, an investment used only to sue, make money, rinse and repeat. Jung addresses this more in the expanded interview transcript, but that was not the focus of our conversation.
Instead, I wanted to spend some time with Jung discussing his approach to life. In the current interconnected and overloaded world, having the ability to step back, see the overall picture, and then create something worthwhile is extremely valuable. The same architectural mindset that made Jung extremely successful at Microsoft and Intellectual Ventures permeates every aspect of his thought process. During our interview, Jung’s oversight and attention to framework became apparent several times. His trademark blend of creativity and structure brings new life to several global ideas. He looks at crises and sees opportunities, and this type of viewpoint is exactly what is needed to combat some of the major problems facing our global community today. Jung’s next big projects involve several global problems, and as Intellectual Ventures gears up to solve water pollution in India or food safety in China, it is assuredly Jung’s quiet guidance and undeniable vision that moves the company forward.
If there is only time to read one excerpt from this conversation today, Jung’s response in regards to the 20-something generation truly highlights his unique understanding of the ever-changing global community and the power – or catastrophe – that it can bring.
- The Importance of Dinner
- Frankly, Nathan and I can get together in a room with a white board, and that’s perfectly fine for us. With the people you know, I think it’s very different, and I’m very used to doing that… I think the thing that is worth pointing out is that it is for people you don’t know – and I’m not a person who’s particularly outgoing, I don’t really do much press – and so to me, it has been new to try to meet people and bring them into a kind of “context of worker vision” through food and wine.
- The Fundamentals and How They’re Changing
- You’ve got programmable vaccines, you’re manufacturing in a totally different way. For the first time, there’s fluorescent lights – there’s lots of different changes for the light bulb. Cameras, they are digital, and [functioning] without lenses; television’s completely changed; computers are changing – everything is changing. This is actually amazing. When I was 20, not that much stuff was changing. Now, a tremendous amount of stuff [is changing], so that’s a huge opportunity for your generation to participate and contribute.
[It is] totally possible that if you don’t go to school, you can do a startup here in the US and become quite successful. That cannot happen in Korea. There’s a lot of countries in which there is no way – you will never get an opportunity to succeed. So that’s something to look for – in able to enable your generation the best, you have to look for social structures that are the best for it. I don’t know if it’s the US or where it’s going to be, but there will be places where it is going to be the best, and I assume people will flock over there.
- The Importance of Global Solutions
- We have inventors all over the world, and the best clean water inventions come from India. Why? Because they have dirty water all over the place. And why? Because they understand what actually is deployable, versus what kind of works well in the laboratory but that would never actually get out to Calcutta.
- On Personalities and Perfect Pairings
- There are many great inventors – very, very smart, very innovative people – who because of their personality, we wouldn’t invite to invention sessions because they would be disruptive… But a lot of the inventions we’ve been trying to – are by their nature interdisciplinary. The whole idea is that any one person who has the skills and knowledge and ability to build sort of a quarter of a bridge across this [intellectual] chasm, and so you need at least four or five of them together – maybe six or seven of them – and they all build different parts of it, and suddenly! They all come together. And, I think what we’ve been able to show is that it’s extremely successful, but boy, you have to have the right personalities.
- Thoughts on the Next Generation
- I think that ideas come from places where people see the problems. Each new generation has a new set of issues to look at and a new set of eyes to look at them and they come up with – I think – very clever solutions, as well as a problem set that other generations never see… For example: I have what I call the Web Advisory Group – it’s a very formal group down in the Bay Area. They’re all much younger than me, they’re sort of “your” generation, and I get together with them – over dinner – and I talk to them about things like “okay, so what are you seeing? What are the things you’re worried about? What is going to happen in the future?”
- Why Finance Managers (Finally) Like Intellectual Ventures
- They’re looking for other things, so sometimes, that starvation actually causes you to seek new things to eat, and we [Intellectual Ventures] must look like a tasty kind of sushi or something.
- On the Reality of Intellectual Ventures
- Whether you’re privacy-breaking, in the case of Facebook, or you’re someone like us, where in order to assert our rights, we sometimes have to sue people. That creates a negative image. It is, I think, important to distinguish between the two. Mind you I am partial, I am biased, but [take] Facebook’s privacy issues, right? The people who are raising an issue about it are predominantly the customers themselves, and they are saying, “hey, I am uncomfortable with losing this privacy, and I find this to be an issue.” I think in the case where you look at “troll-like” behavior, there are definitely bad actors out there, but I’m not aware of any of our investors complaining about that – unless they are actually breaking the law by stealing IP. Facebook doesn’t actually break the law – they may be offending people – but the people that we sue are actually breaking the law.
The problems that can be solved by a single company or a single start up? They’ll get solved anyway, so we don’t have to do that. But the ones that are really big, that require the integrated effort of hundreds or thousands of scientists, or hundreds of thousands of companies and so on– they don’t happen by themselves. Nobody creates a Boeing jet by having lots of little companies suddenly show up and a jet appears. Someone’s gotta architect it from the top down, and take a lot of risk in doing so.
..The problems that can be solved by a single company or a single start up? They’ll get solved anyway, so we don’t have to do that. But the ones that are really big, that require the integrated effort of hundreds or thousands of scientists, or hundreds of thousands of companies and so on– they don’t happen by themselves. Nobody creates a Boeing jet by having lots of little companies suddenly show up and a jet appears. Someone’s gotta architect it from the top down, and take a lot of risk in doing so.
- On Healthcare
- It’s a very fascinating area – it takes a different approach than what we’re doing. It is rife with problems, but also huge opportunity if you figure it out. There’s a lot of money in pharmaceuticals, biotechs, and these companies are very, very challenged right now, but the value they offer is huge. It is a system that has to be connected with the tariff system and all these other systems and it’s complicated, but it would be a really cool problem.
- On Art
- The way that artists connect to people, or to their fans, has got to be the least efficient system on earth.
Right? You’re a local artist, you have to go find a gallery owner who will show you once for a week and then hopefully.. it is the most parochial cottage industry thing ever…
Art has to seek its rightful place, so if an artist is ok with giving their stuff on a poster or on an iPad, no one should stop them. [Right now] that distribution is hard for them. It’s hard for them to do that. I think that if we build a system that allows are to find the place it needs to go, at any level, whether they want to do an original, or rotate it between a set of people who could be fans together, or all the way down to people who just want a very cheap replica… If the artist is okay with it, why not? I think building a network like that would be really cool.
- Why He Does What He Does
- I want to do something that really moves the needle and does something important. I can’t do it myself, so harnessing the inventive output of thousands of people and hundreds of institutions around the world by just creating an incentive system for that? Well, it just seems like a really leveraged idea. Now, it is a grand experiment, and we may completely fail, but it is worth giving it a try.
Someone with such sweeping influence and steady capital is bound to change the global community- that much is obvious. What is less clear, however, is exactly how such an individual will wield his incredible power. As the full transcript shows, Jung has many ideas, and, if coupled with his powerful resources, Jung could use these to affect the global community selfishly. Thus far, however, his work appears to be primarily community-driven. With Intellectual Ventures and particularly the Global Good project, Jung genuinely seems to believe in the power of doing something productive for society. In the long term, there is no telling whether this particular member of our global community will do for better or for worse by our world, but if I had to venture a guess, I would say that Jung’s 130 travel legs last year are just the beginning. If an individual can convince thousands of business professionals to invest in a wildly optimistic venture to fund the creation of ideas… well, then his decisions to pursue elder care in specific nations, environmental solutions in the atmosphere, or art sharing in the world wide web, or project X on continent Y will be worth following.
Photos by Intellectual Ventures