In a rare public appearance, Vivek Ranadive joined Dean Ann Huff Stevens on stage for a Dean’s Distinguished Speaker event in April at the Graduate School of Management.
He touched on everything from listening to the U.S. moon landing on the Voice of America during his childhood in India to his success as an entrepreneur putting big data to work on the trading floor of Goldman Sachs on Wall Street and later bringing that same entrepreneurial thinking to launching TIBCO in Silicon Valley.
Today as owner of the Sacramento Kings, Ranadive has a bold vision for revitalizing Sacramento and extending the NBA’s global brand.
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Drawing on his experiences and perspective, he shared the five forces he believes are shaping the future of Western Civilization. Here’s an edited excerpt of the Q&A:
We’re living in an incredibly exciting time. And we’re entering a new era. And I call this era Civilization 3.0. Civilization 1.0 was the start of our modern civilization and it was really driven by the agrarian revolution. And people were farmers and shopkeepers, and carpenters and painters.
It was the age of, of the artisan. Now with the industrial revolution, we saw the ushering in of Civilization 2.0 and it became the age of the corporation and it was all about corporate efficiency. We’re now living in a time when the world’s largest seller of books doesn’t have any bookstores. And the world’s largest seller of music doesn’t have any music stores. And the world’s largest hotel doesn’t have any hotel rooms. And the world’s largest taxi company owns no cars, you know, and I can go on. So we’re living in a really interesting time and it’s kind of the age of extreme service.
And in some ways, it’s back to the future where you have platforms and you have individual contributors and every business actually ends up looking like a basketball team. Where it’s a social network on the one hand and there’s perishable inventory on the other, and, and how do you tie those two together?
What are the forces that are shaping the new century, and what are the forces that we have to harness in order to thrive in this Civilization 3.0?
I believe there are five forces that one has to think about as, as you think about the future.
If you look at the amount of data that was created from the beginning of mankind till say a year or two ago and you call that x, then the last year and a half there’s been 10x that data created. Today there will be more content put up on YouTube than Hollywood created in its entire history. So the amount of data is just going up exponentially and that’s the first force.
It took a hundred years for there to be a billion landline phones, it took ten years for there to be billion cellphones. And it took just one year for there to be a billion smart cell phones.
There’s now more mobile devices on the planet then there are toothbrushes. And it’s only a matter of time before billions and billions of people have more computing capability in their pockets than, as I said, NASA had when they put man on the moon. So that’s the second force.
And these are platforms like YouTube and Facebook, and, the iPhone App Store, Twitter. Where you don’t have to be a large corporation to reach large audiences. Any individual now can reach massive audiences by leveraging these platforms.
A few hundred years ago China and India were about two-thirds of the world economy. And most economists predict that in this century we’ll revert to that situation at some point.
If the 20th century was the science century, the century of science, then I believe that the 21st century will be the century of math.
And what I mean by that, is that now you don’t really have to know the why, you simply have to know the what. When research scientists were trying to figure out how the AIDS virus mutated they spent years and years and years and they couldn’t figure it out. They then converted it into a math problem, put it into a game called Foldit, and within a week, gamers had found the solution. So you simply have to find the pattern. If A happens and B happens, then there’s a high likelihood that C will happen. So what is the pattern?
In my own business I had a customer in Europe, and it was a large retailer, and they were trying to solve the problem of credit card fraud. Now, you don’t want be too stringent about it because then you’ll turn away a lot of good customers. And they spent millions and millions of dollars trying to fight the problem. And they were either too stringent or not stringent enough, and they could never figure it out.
So we looked at it as a math problem and we looked for the pattern, and it was really interesting. What we found is that if you bought champagne, razor blades, and diapers, it was probably a stolen credit card. Now, you can try to explain the why of it later, and then you say, okay, champagne, a big ticket item, easy to pawn off. Makes sense. Razor blades, you know, big ticket item, easy to pawn off, makes sense. Diapers, you know, why, why diapers? Aah! He’s a dad, then you think he’s a good guy, you’re not going to be suspicious and you can pawn off diapers too.
So really, you know, you see this theme repeating itself where the, you can use math to find the pattern, in that data the answers lie. And I believe that answers to many of mankind’s problems, whether it’s the water problem we face or it’s disease or it’s security threats or whatever.
There’s enough data now that you can actually find the patterns in that data to find those answers. So, it’s really about channeling, harnessing those five forces, and using them to, to create good, and to solve problems. That’s where the opportunities lie. As I said earlier, I think of every business increasingly looking like a basketball team.
And every business looks like a social network on the one hand, and you want to use technology to capture that network, to expand it, to engage it. It’s your customers, your suppliers. And then on the other hand, every business has perishable inventory. So whether you’re selling basketball tickets or clothes or food or hospital beds or hotel rooms, airline seats, consumer electronics, clothes, banking products, they all are perishable.
And the businesses of the future tie those two together. And the businesses that have really succeeded, they figured out how the cost of supply is zero, and the cost of demand is zero, if you look at a company like Google. And so, you know, so in those, in the harnessing of those forces, a lot of the opportunities of the future lie.
And I’ll submit to you that we’re going to have more change than ever in the history of mankind, ever. 85% of all medical diagnoses will be done by computer program. Most people will be replaced in factories by robots. Driverless cars will no longer be a novelty. They’ll be everywhere.
Wearables, where they continuously monitor your health, will be a legacy technology and people will probably have, have tattoos that are doing that, that are embedded in you. A UC Davis caliber education will be available to every human being on the planet for free. 80% of the waste that we have today will be eliminated.
The planet will be lit up by LEDs. You will be moving to much more energy efficient ways of lighting up the planet. And they’ll all be controlled by the cloud. You know, I can go on and on, but I think the list is endless. And this is an incredible time to be at UC Davis.
It’s an incredible time to be a student. And you know, you are lucky to be here.
There are a lot of problems we can solve with predictive technologies. And the way that technology has evolved and the problems that you can solve, I can tell you and you know, I went to MIT as an engineer. And I am sure that your engineering college would say the same thing: That there isn’t a serious computer scientist in academia that 15 years ago would have told you that you could have a driverless car. That’s just like mind boggling that you’re able to do that. You have neural networks … you have machine learning. And so computers are taking leaps that we never imagined before, in our ability to, to look at different types of data and process it very rapidly. Allows you to be, you know, to be predictive.
I think people have historically looked at education as being kind of left brain or right brain. And I think that there are many advantages to a left brain education. That’s just having the ability to think outside the box and, and connect the dots. And what I would say is if you can connect the dots, you’re not going far enough. You need to go find dots that you can’t even connect. And so, I think that you need to have an education that really gives you the ability to, to learn and because things are going to change.
I think that, one of the things is that I’ve never been afraid to make a fool of myself. And so I’m not afraid to venture into areas that I have no knowledge in. I started a software company. I was a hardware engineer. And I got involved with basketball. I never touched a basketball in my life. And so a willingness to. To go after they are known and, and, you know, take, take chances and, and learn is something that is important. But the thing that I would say, to the university is the greatest good you can do for your students is to make it really hard on them and really challenge them.
We have this vision through the charter I gave the team was to create very simply what I call the WBA, for the World’s Best Arena. And I wanted it to be iconic and I wanted it to be on postcards of California. It’s going be the world’s first indoor-outdoor arena. And, hopefully, we’re going deliver on the promise of iconic.
So we’re pushing the envelope. It’s going be the smartest building in the world. It’s going be the greenest. The arena’s going to check into you. It’ll tell you where to park, it’ll tell you how to get to your seat. It’s going be ticketless. It’s going be cashless. It’s going to be frictionless and I don’t even want to have to have you pull out your phone. As you walk up, it should recognize you and guide you to your seat. So we set a very, very high bar and I have complete confidence that our teams going to deliver on all these promises.
When I sold the NBA on letting us keep the team in Sacramento and buying the team, I presented this notion of what I called NBA 3.0. We’re going to make basketball the premiere sport of the 21st century and it’s a sport that lends itself to a global fan base. It’s a sport that can be played by boys or by girls, one person, a few people, indoors, outdoors, in cities, in villages, rich countries, poor countries.
It doesn’t take up a lot of space, you get a lot of exercise. And so, I created this vision of NBA 3.0 and that was driven by three vectors. It was driven by technology and we’re going to use technology to create this global community. It was driven by, just having a global outlook from the start. So we have taking it out into China. We’re taking it to Mexico this season. I’ve taken the commissioner to India, where it’s become one of the fastest growing sports. And then the third was we had this notion that it should be about more than basketball and it should be an agent of good and an agent of change in the community.
So, using those vectors we are putting a lot of wood behind the kind of the globalization and the arrow of taking basketball and sharing the joy of this incredible sport. And how it unifies people and, and really you think about the basketball arena, it’s the 21st century communal fireplace. You know, it’s where everybody gathers to enjoy some great sport. So we’re combining all that into, into this vision of NBA 3.0.