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10 Questions On Innovation to Vinton G. Cerf

by Roberto V. Zicari on February 15, 2006

February 2006 – Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. In December 1997, President Clinton presented the U.S. National Medal of Technology to Cerf and his partner, Robert E. Kahn, for founding and developing the Internet.

1. Who are your favorite innovators?
There are inventions whose inventors I don’t know so the latter question has some relevance. Dean Kamen is one of my favorite innovators because he’s a fearless engineer. Similarly Burt Rutan and Paul McReady are equally able to think of solutions out of the ordinary. Tim Berners-Lee for the WWW. Fred Smith for inventing FEDEX. Steve Jobs for his stunning ability to gauge the market for new devices/services. There are many more.

2. What do you consider are the most promising innovations of the last 3 years?
Carbon Nanotubes that have such a variety of potential applications.
Broadband communication over power lines (experiencing a renewal of interest with new economics;
Netflix – re-inventing DVD rental business.

3. What helped you to become a successful innovator?
Long term support for research by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; widespread participation in the design, implementation, deployment and operation of the Internet by thousands of companies and individuals; a philosophy of openness; and not constraining the Internet’s evolution by patenting its technology.

4. Did you pay a price to be an innovator? Which one?
My famiy paid a price – I wasn’t around much and still travel a great deal.

5. What are the rewards to be an innovator?
When your ideas take root and benefit from the support of many people, when businesses are built around them and when the world’s population appears to get benefit from them, how can you not feel very amply rewarded for your part it the creation?

6. What are in your opinion the top 3 criteria for successful innovation?
A) don’t be afraid to re-visit old ideas – times, technology, tastes, economics change and may make an unworkable idea into a winner.
B) Listen to experts but don’t be constrained by them
C) Perseverence counts.

7. What would you recommend to young people who wish to pursue innovation?
Find something you are good at and stick with it. Successful innovators are not afraid of hard work and long hours and perseverance in the face of adversity and even ridicule.

8. In your opinion how can we create a culture that supports and sustains innovation?
Celebrate innovation; show our young children that innovators are not just those that make a lot of money – they are also the ones who bring fresh, new ideas to the table. Encourage exploration.

9. What do you think stops/slows down innovation?
Rigid training methods that stifle innovation; failure to recognize alternative paths to creativity; positive feedback for out of the box thinking.

10.Do you think becoming an innovator can be taught?
I think conditions can be created to allow innovators to flourish but I am not sure this is something that can be taught.

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