Vinod Khosla Speaks at Haas

This evening I attended the Dean’s Speaker Series at Haas. Tonight’s guest speaker was Vinod Khosla, who was, among other titles, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, and the founder of Khosla Ventures (his bio here).

Mr. Khosla’s speech is lengthily titled “The Innovation Ecosystem and Its Role in Shaping Our Renewable Future” (or, elegantly titled “Punditry / Invention” on the presentation deck, made by Mr. Khosla’s daughter who was also present). The presentation material had a distinct marketing flavor to it (think Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth slides, or Steve Jobs’ keynote slides, as opposed to conservative consulting / banking slides), with most slides containing only a few words or phrases in massively-sized fonts.

And Mr. Khosla’s argument was as concise as the material he was using. His core argument is that the advancement / adoption rate of technology will always be substantially underestimated – there is simply no accuracy in any forecasts of what will happen 10-20 years in future (examples presented: computer and mobile penetration rates, compared to expert forecasts in the past). He therefore implies that while clean-tech appears cost-prohibitive and unfeasible for massive adoption, there will almost certainly be technological breakthroughs (“black swans”) that completely transform the industry outlook. The conclusion – instead of trying to predict the future through extrapolation of the past (which is a futile exercise), we should simply invent our own future. In Mr. Khosla’s case, he is very optimistic in clean-tech will continue to invest in this area.

I think the takeaways for me from this one-hour presentation are three-fold. One is the concept that Mr. Khosla was selling, the mindset of optimism about change, which in other words is a call for action. Second is perhaps some observations on soft-skills, through his style of delivery and general on-stage presence. Probably the third takeaway is a reminder to myself to be always open to new ideas – personally, I’ve been somewhat of a skeptic on the clean-tech trends, and if Mr. Khosla is such a firm believer in it (he is certainly putting his money where his mouth is), I should probably re-examine my own thoughts and beliefs.