How Paul Allen and Vulcan Combine People and Approaches to Develop Solutions
[It's] a core element of my management philosophy: find the best people and give them room to operate, as long as they can accept my periodic high-intensity kibitzing. – from Idea Man, Paul Allen’s memoir
It doesn’t get much more intense than reaching a Super Bowl. Under Pete Carroll’s well documented Win Forever approach, the Seattle Seahawks have reached the big game two years in a row. While the hiring of Coach Carroll and his subsequent success is the most visible example, across Paul Allen’s organizations and initiatives there is a consistency in combining the right people and the right approaches develop opportunities or tackle big problems.
Allan Jones has worked for more than a decade to build out Paul Allen’s vision to accelerate the understanding of how the brain works and make that information widely accessible. The Allen Institute for Brain Science has created functional maps of the wiring in the adult mouse brain, the developing mouse brain, spinal cords of mice and humans, and the human brain. With more than 350 employees, the organization is set to move into a new headquarters in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood later this year.
Oren Etzioni has been an influential member of the computer science and start-up scene for more than twenty years and earned Geekwire’s Hire of the Year after being tapped to lead the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. AI2 will work to realize Allen’s vision of a "Digital Aristotle" – AI software that utilizes large amounts of knowledge in machine-understandable form to answer questions, explain those answers, and discuss those answers with users.
One of the newest Allen projects is the Allen Institute for Cell Science, announced in December and to be led by Rick Horwitz, leader in the field of cell biology. He and a team of up to 70 scientists and experts will work to build computational models cells.
In the 27 years since Paul Allen purchased the Portland Trail Blazers, the team has made the playoffs 18 times, putting them in the upper echelon of NBA teams. Since 2012, General Manager Neil Olshey has built a team around a young nucleus of home-grown players including LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Both of those players are in the top 10 for points per game this season and the team has one of the top five winning percentages at the midway point in the 2014-15 season.
Great Elephant Census
Through his traveling, Paul Allen has seen the impact of people on the land, the ocean and wildlife and the problems that impact often creates. After spending significant time in Africa, Allen witnessed the impacts of poaching and habitat loss on the continent’s elephant population. As with the Allen Brain Atlas, Allen had the idea for a research tool that could inform conservation efforts for elephants. He partnered with Dr. Mike Chase and his Elephants Without Borders organization to develop and execute the Great Elephant Census. Dr. Chase is leading a group of researchers and NGOs as they crisscross Africa’s savannahs to develop an accurate count of the elephant population that can be shared with governments, conservationists and researcher working to preserve elephants. With the project, Dr. Chase and is continually searching for novel and creative ideas for to improve the count.
The redevelopment of South Lake Union has dramatically changed downtown Seattle and created one of the first innovation districts in the U.S. Leading an initiative that reimagined a district populated by the rundown storefronts of commercial print shops, warehouses and car dealerships has been the work of Vulcan Real Estate’s Ada Healey. Over nearly a decade and a half, she has led a team that created dozens of new commercial and residential buildings linked together by a shared vision, and a new waterfront park. Success can be measured by the record setting deals and the vibrant streets of the neighborhood.
Allen was recently inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame along with Burt Rutan, who conceived the SpaceShipOne project that won the Ansari X-prize by becoming the first privately-built craft to enter suborbital space. That success has led to Stratolaunch Systems, an ambitious vision for a new spacecraft system that will incorporate the world’s largest aircraft. It will be part of the coming growth of the private space industry. Space industry veteran Charles Beames will be responsible for creating and executing the strategic plan to realize Allen’s vision of revolutionizing space transportation.
There many other examples of Allen finding the right people with passion and purpose to work with him to build out ideas that can make an impact. Though most won't receive the attention of a Super Bowl run, many will have a lasting impact on the planet.