Remember, Babe Ruth was not only the home run king, he was also the strikeout king

STEVE CASE is one of America’s best-known entrepreneurs and chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC, an investment firm he co-founded. He is a pioneer in making the Internet part of everyday life. Steve’s entrepreneurial career began in 1985 when he co-founded America Online (AOL). Under his leadership, AOL became the world’s largest and most valuable Internet company. AOL was the first Internet company to go public and among the best-performing stocks of the 1990s, delivering a 11,616 percent return to shareholders. At its peak, nearly half of Internet users in the United States used AOL. Steve is the author of the New York Times best-selling book The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future. Steve is also chairman of the Case Foundation, which he established with his wife, Jean, in 1997. In 2010, Steve and Jean joined The Giving Pledge and publicly reaffirmed their commitment to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

The Third Wave by futurist Alvin Toffler had an enormous impact on my life. It was his vision of a global electronic village that helped put me on the path to co- founding AOL. I read Toffler’s Third Wave as a senior in college and was mesmerized by the idea of connecting people through a digital medium. I knew it was inevitable and wanted to be a part of building that future. The book was so influential, when I decided to write a book, I borrowed the title: The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future. Toffler’s three waves were the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the technology revolution. I focused on the three waves of the Internet: building the platforms to get the world connected, then building apps on top of the Internet, and then integrating the Internet throughout our lives in increasingly pervasive—and sometimes even invisible—ways.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
First, I’d say it’s important to lean into the future, and position yourself for what’s happening next, versus what’s happening now. Wayne Gretzky was a great hockey player because he didn’t focus on where the puck was, he focused on where it was going, and he got there first. Do that!

Second, if, like many people, you got a liberal arts degree, be proud of it, and own it. While the conventional wisdom says that coding is the key to success, that’s not as likely to be as true in the Third Wave, when major industries will be disrupted, as it was in the Second, when the focus was on building apps. Sure, coding will continue to be important, but creativity and collaboration will be as well. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be confident in the skills you have, as they may be make-or-break for the journey you pursue.

And third, be fearless. I recognize this is easy to say and hard to do, particularly for a generation that has been raised by hovering helicopter parents who may have encouraged you to stay in the box, and in a world that has been unsettled by job loss and terrorism. But despite all of that, you have to get out of your comfort zone and swing for the fences, knowing that sometimes you will fail. Remember, Babe Ruth was not only the home run king, he was also the strikeout king. If you take risks, you will sometimes fail, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It just means you have to dust yourself off, get up, and redouble your efforts to succeed.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
There are three things that have become conventional wisdom, especially in places like Silicon Valley, that worry me. First, the idea that naiveté is a competitive advantage. PayPal’s founders famously said the fact they knew nothing about the credit card industry gave them an edge in disrupting it. That was true in their case, but it’s now become a truism. This notion that ignorance is a strength is likely to lead to stumbles in a new era of innovation and disruption of major industries. For example, if you want to disrupt health care, it’s not just about the software, it’s about how you work with doctors, integrate with hospitals, get paid by health plans, and deal with regulations. Knowing something about health care is likely to be helpful—perhaps instrumental—in figuring out how to push forward, and having the credibility to get things done. Domain expertise is likely to also be important in AgTech [agricultural technology], as understanding the culture of farming is going to be important. Or in EdTech [educational technology], to be sure what you’re building can really help students learn and teachers teach. The trick will be balancing that expertise with fresh out-of-the-box thinking. The people who do both well will be the victors in the Third Wave.

The second concern is the idea that it is better to do everything yourself— what some call a “full-stack” solution. There will be examples of this working, but going it alone will not work as well when it’s not just about the app. Partners will likely be needed and, indeed, could be pivotal. There’s a proverb that will become increasingly important: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together.” That could very well emerge as the mantra of the Third Wave.

And the third piece of bad advice is that it’s best to ignore regulations and just plow ahead. Sure, Uber was successful in ignoring local laws. Rather than waiting for approvals that may have never come, they raced forward and built up a very successful and very valuable two-sided rider/driver marketplace. Hats off to them. But that worked for Uber because the laws were set locally, not nationally. That won’t be the case for most innovations in sectors like health care; if you launch a drug or medical device without getting approval, you’ll be stopped in your tracks. That will be the case with driverless cars on the roads and drones in the sky. It will be true with Smart Cities innovations. The list goes on. The bottom line is—like it or not—innovators in the Third Wave need to engage with policymakers to drive real innovation. In summary, the playbook that worked in the Second Wave, when the focus was on building software and services and driving viral adoption, generally won’t work in the Third Wave, as the Internet starts impacting some of the most fundamental aspects of our lives.

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