I Went to Stanford (for lunch)

Weekend before last I took my daughter to new freshmen Admit Weekend at Stanford University. Yes, she is brilliant and we are extremely proud of the young lady she has become. The campus in Palo Alto, California is undeniably gorgeous, but what struck me were the names on the buildings and the feeling of entrepreneurial energy that possesses the place. Stanford is a producer of hall of fame innovators.

Walking on campus you will see references to tech legends like Hewlett, Packard, Brin, Page, Thiel, Hastings, Cerf, and McNealy. But the university produces innovators in all fields including business (Phil Knight and Doris Fisher), government (Herbert Hoover, Sandra Day O’Connor, and our very own San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro), science (Sally Ride and Brad Parkinson), literature (Steinbeck), journalism (Ted Koppel and Rachel Maddow), sports (John Elway, Tiger Woods, and Kerri Walsh), and a few of my favorite innovators of all time including Edward Tufte, Guy Kawasaki, and Robert Mondavi.

What is it about this place that makes it so conducive to innovation? What can we learn from it?

I suspect that it starts with good inputs. The university obviously attracts the best and brightest, but that is true of all top tier institutions of higher education around the world. Stanford also has world-class facilities and faculty, but then again, so do other universities.

The differentiator has to be in the culture of the institution. The entrepreneurial drive and spirit of discovery are alive on campus. The location in the heart of Silicon Valley provides daily reminders of the sky-is-the-limit possibilities that the world has in store for each student. It is difficult to ignore.

So maybe the answer to the question is to hire great people, give them great facilities, and nurture an entrepreneurial culture of innovation in your organization. Maybe you already have a Hewlett or a Packard or a Mondavi working for you today.