If You Aren't Standing On The Edge You Are Taking Up Too Much Space

I thought I'd start off father's day with a tribute to my dad. I've learned an amazing amount from him and to this day he's one of my best friends.

When I was a teenager, I remember a number of Stanley-isms that stuck in my mind. One of my favorites was "if you aren't standing on the edge you are taking up too much space." As I type this, I can remember being in my bathroom at home taking a shower thinking about this, which is part of how I remember I first heard it as a teenager.

My dad pushed me, firmly but gently. As a kid I did very well in school, loved to read, and played sports (tennis and then running). When I was 13, I bought my first computer (an Apple II) with my Bar Mitzvah money (and a little help from my dad). I was a typical nerdy, inquisitive teenager — I hung out with "the honors gang" but also liked plenty of time alone to read and explore new things. I sucked at anything mechanical so almost everything I explored was "in my mind."

Before I could drive (so I must have been 15) my dad introduced me to a patient of his named Gene Scott. Gene had been a technology executive in the 1960′s and 1970′s and — when I met him — was running a technology startup with his son Brian called Scott Instruments. Gene and Brian had created one of the first consumer voice recognition systems — it was called the Scott Instruments VET-2 (for "voice entry terminal" — I think the 2 was because it worked on an Apple II.) Gene was my second mentor (my dad was my first) and he introduced me to the wonders of technology entrepreneurship.

One day when driving home with my dad from lunch in Denton, TX with Gene, I was overflowing with ideas. Gene had given me a VET-2 and I was bringing it home to plug into my Apple II and create all kinds of stuff with it. I'm sure medical dictation was one of them because my dad was always using his business — that of running a thriving endocrinology practice — to give me business and software problems to work on.

I don't remember exactly what prompted him to say the line, but I remember him saying "if you aren't standing on the edge you are taking up too much space." Thirty years later that line continues to be a defining characteristic for how I live my life. I'm constantly pushing, looking for the edge of whatever I do. I've internalized this as an endless quest for learning and virtually everything I do is motivated by my desire to learn something new, understand something better, or experience something completely.

Dad — thanks for so many things, but most of all thanks for being my dad!

Reprinted from Feld Thoughts

Brad Feld is a managing director at Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. He invests in software and Internet companies around the U.S., runs marathons, and reads a lot. Follow him at twitter.com/bfeld.

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  • SpeechGuy

    I knew Brian Scott, a brilliant guy, in part because we were both pioneers in trying to commercialize speech recognition. I founded and ran a company for ten years in the 1980s, one which was technically successful, but not commercially successful, much like Scott Instruments. Why? We stepped over the edge where there is no support. Accurate speech recognition takes substantial computer power and memory, so a company too early is faced with limiting the speech recognition scope (perhaps too much to be truly viable as a commercial product) or selling it on a machine that is more powerful, but too expensive to be commercially viable. Even IBM, which spent over five decades doing research in IBM Research labs (remember IBM ViaVoice dictation software?) eventually sold Nuance Communications the right to commercialize their technology for five years. Today, the "sudden" effectiveness of today's mobile voice search, healthcare dictation, etc., is not so sudden; the thresholds of computer power and cost effectiveness have been breached.

    So my message is caution--if you want to innovate, make sure that you are on the edge and not over it.