Kamran Elahian (Part I)

Do something that creates life, that nurtures it, helps humanity
Kamran Elahian

Perhaps you sometimes question how and why all these technological and social changes are happening in the world, in the economy, and in society. I had the opportunity to talk to Kamran Elahian, an innovation catalyst, philanthropist, entrepreneur without borders and a global venture capitalist. A person, who makes these changes happen.

A man of Iranian origin, he ended up as a Stanford student. Afterwards, he worked for Hewlett Packard, which he left after they rejected his idea for a project. At the age of 27, he co-founded CAE Systems. Within 3 years, it was acquired by Tektronix for 75 million dollars. At the age of 30, he co-founded Cirrus Logic, the leading fabless chip company which had its IPO valued at 150 million dollars in less than 5 years. Within 10 years its revenue grew to over a billion dollars and its market capitalization exceeded 3.5 billion dollars. In 1989 Kamran founded Momenta, after creating the leading touch-sensitive tablet and pen, the Momenta Computer (preceding the iPad by 18 years). After he was fired by the board of directors, he traveled around the world, which eventually led him to believe that technology could be used to empower people to gain the knowledge that he had acquired. He dreams about a world without war and that with the use of the internet and communication technologies, there is a genuine chance to give this generation and the generations of the future the knowledge to appreciate and celebrate our differences. It is my pleasure to introduce Kamran Elahian to you.

OU: Poverty and wealth are big issues and you work a lot to implement changes in this area. How would you reduce poverty and whose responsibility/choice is it?

The reason that we have such a high level of poverty on the whole planet is that the distribution of wealth happened in a way that it benefits only a tiny percentage at the top who own a majority of all the resources and wealth of the planet. Regardless of which country you look at, you can see that it’s the top 5% that own 90% of the wealth of the world. It might be 10%, but anyway it’s a small percentage at the top that owns a majority of everything. Our planet has enough resources to be sufficient for all of us; it’s just that typically there’s a number of greedy people in each country who are self-centered and want everything for themselves and who don’t have enough compassion to care for the rest of people. This situation is further amplified by corruption in governments, when politicians, who are easily influenced by the wealth that is offered to them, through financing their elections or by giving them financial incentives, ensure that they pass laws that benefit the wealthy people at the expense of the poor people.

There is an excellent method, right now, in our hands, that we can use to empower young people, young men and women to use their brains and create wealth without the approval and without the need to get the blessing from an old man, who is typically in charge of the above-mentioned.  In the traditional form of capitalism, everything is owned by one or two people at the top of the corporation, and they try to do everything that benefits the business. That’s the old style of capitalism. The new form of capitalism is innovation capitalism. While the purpose of the old style of capitalism is to maximize the shareholders’ profit, the goal of the new style of capitalism (fair and just capitalism, or capitalism 2.0), is for corporations to develop a product or service that customers truly like. Moreover, being such an organization, you should take care of your employees in addition to taking care of the environment, be a good member of society, try to do things that benefit your country, your society, and the whole planet. And if you do these three well, your corporation will, in fact, maximize its profits.

If you look at the highest valued companies like Google, Apple or Amazon, they have very happy customers, very happy employees, they care about the environment, yet their profits are so high that their valuation is the highest valuation of any company. So, I believe there is a way to eliminate poverty not by revolution or violence, but by defining a new style of capitalism. These companies, that I mentioned to you, even though they started as one, two or three key people at the top as founders, gave a lot of shares and ownership of their company to their employees. When Apple went public, probably hundreds of the employees became millionaires. When Facebook went public, over a thousand people became millionaires. Everything’s not concentrated with one or two people at the top.  Once you have this situation, when you create much more innovative companies, you are effectively creating a new form of wealth for young women and men. Eventually, it would start the transfer of the power from the hands of politicians, which typically are corrupt and dictators in many countries, to a more idealistic and a more just form of government, driven more by young people rather than old men.

[quote]Three guiding principles that have shaped my life:
1. Create new technologies that bring people together,
2. Create new global companies with activities in many different countries that motivate people to work together,
3. Create global foundations that apply ICT to improve education, reduce poverty and promote tolerance[/quote]

OU: Your goal is to make this world better through technology. How do you think technology will impact on human development?

I cannot advocate an innovation-economy solely based on innovation. I advocate an innovation- economy based on capitalism and moral values that benefit humanity. I always like to encourage young people to create new kinds of products and services that help society. If you look at any invention, it could be used for good, or it could be used for bad. The invention of a knife had a fantastic impact on the evolution of humanity. Maybe 99% of the usage of a knife is a positive thing. We use it to cut meat, vegetables, to help us eat and to perform surgery. But there is perhaps 1% or even fewer humans who use a knife for war or for crime to kill people and do bad things with it.  You can never be 100% sure that an invention won’t be abused. But overall, if you develop something that you know is 99% good then that is good enough. However, if you produced, for example, a very advanced technology that allows you to hack devices and steal people’s money then you know that this it is immoral and is 100% a bad thing because it promotes bad behavior.  Take gambling as an example. The people who created these games (including internet gambling), are trying to make money by having many people gamble, which results in many people losing their money when they can’t afford to. And instead of spending their money on the education of their children, they spend it on gambling because of an addiction. The gambling websites, by definition, apply an algorithm that will separate you from your money.  And it is, by definition, not a good business to be in. If you have a choice, do things that benefit society and bring in an element of morality. Your heart always tells you. Here is an easy test, just ask yourself “If I develop this, is this helping humanity?” If it is, then develop it. If it is something that destroys life, then don’t. Do something that creates life, that nurtures it, helps humanity, rather than destroying life and the planet.

To be continued…