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Five open-ended questions with the man behind CES, Gary Shapiro

KANSAS CITY— Gary Shapiro is the CEO of Consumer Electronics Association, producers of the world’s largest innovation event, International CES. The International CES is also home to Eureka Park, a village of hundreds of startups showcasing their work. Shapiro is also the best-selling author of Ninja Innovation and The Comeback and has been honored as

Gary Shapiro

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Gary ShapiroKANSAS CITY— Gary Shapiro’s the CEO of Consumer Electronics Association, producers of the world’s largest innovation event, International CES. That event also is home to Eureka Park, a village of hundreds of startups showcasing their work. He’s a best-selling author of “Ninja Innovation” and “The Comeback,” and has been honored as a civil rights champion by the Anti-Defamation League.

He sat down with SPN during last week’s Big Kansas City to answer five burning questions.

Getting people to start new things is hard. How should we be doing that as a country?
It takes leadership in a community, whether it’s government or business. It takes someone to say, “This is our vision for the future” and others have to buy in. How does a community reach across and go out of its comfort zone to get people who are different to succeed? First startups, big business, wealthy, poor, academia, all these different rich group need to work together because that’s how we create anything, by working together.

What role should government play or not play in innovation?
First of all, leaders have a bully pulpit there to be effective. One of the biggest tech entrepreneurship leaders in the U.S. Senate, Jerry Moran of Kansas, is mister innovation. He helped introduce and pass the Startup Act and it’s been phenomenal, yet you look at his background and there’s nothing there as to explain why he’s into tech. So political leadership to help drive innovation is great.

Leaders like Sen. Moran can help brand a community and figure out its message and how to position itself to the outside world. You look at KC with Google Fiber and they chose this area and people have responded to that and it’s taken off. That doesn’t happen without that vision and branding.

Brand is so important. The message of Google Fiber, the message of this conference is important. It says we want innovation and tech here.

The government can do positive things, too. In Virginia we have a law that gives tax credits to investors. Our governor has been focused on innovation and working with companies like Uber and Lyft to make those companies and our laws compatible.

What kind of world do you want your children to grow up in?

When you’re 58 and have a 2-year-old, it’s a moral issue to bring them into the world when you won’t be around for a good part of their life. So I want to do something better now. I’m passionate now about waking people under 30 up on the issue of doing math and the math doesn’t work anymore in this country. It’s a mathematical certainty that we are on an unsustainable path. They should hold political leaders accountable to that.

We have 23 interns and I ask them why their generation isn’t standing up. They say they’re more worried about jobs, when they can stop living in their parents’ basement… and those are valid concerns, but they still need to get engaged in a movement. A lot of our kids grew up in an entitlement culture. They’re told they’re entitled. Politicians promised you’d get to keep these things. That’s why I’m engaged with No Labels, a non-partisan group that aims to balance the budget and get energy independence by 2025.

But I want them to live in in a world of innovation. I see AirBnB, Uber and Lyft and there’s no question they created new jobs, fueled the economy, taken cars off the road, reduced drunken driving and changed the real estate market. There’s no question that they’ve also hurt taxi drivers and hotels, but maybe it’s because of the industry I represent, but I see change as good.

Will there be a point where electronics, Internet services, apps and more become too pervasive in our lives?
First, it’s not pervasive enough yet. We need broadband wireless in rural areas. We want cable, satellite, wireless and Wi-Fi… Internet over power lines. Those are good things.

Second, I have pretty strict rules with my kids. Parents shouldn’t give obligations over to devices. My kids aren’t allowed to watch TV at all unless it’s something worthwhile: something scientific, a documentary or something to help teach them Chinese. We don’t let them use devices at the table, either. I hate seeing people at dinner not talk to each other. Live conversations should be preserved.

It is too pervasive. But from a “What is best for the human spirit?” standpoint, like anything in life, it takes moderation. Are sports good or bad? Food? Alcohol? It’s a balance. I’m not into extremes.

We’re like Pavlovian dogs when we get that text ding. I do it, too. It’s not good.

How does CES play into the tech community? What role should it play?
It brings innovation to the market. If you have an idea and you can reality test it amazingly well. Everyone who is focused on innovation around the world comes to it.

Even the 10 major car companies are now showing with us because innovation has gone from horsepower to electronics in the car. That’s what is starting to matter to people.

We’ve got consumer products, phones, TVs, computers, transportation and so much more. Then we bring in Hollywood, broadcast news, cable news, content creators so it’s an inspiring event where people come charged up with a vision of the future and that is incredible.

It’s 2 million square feet of exhibit space. 850 speakers. Workshops. No one gets to see the entire thing. But you do get a sense of it if you pick what you’re interested in.

There’s connections still being made—every segment has events, parties and partnerships in vertical areas.

It’s even good to get outside your particular industry or comfort zone and see something else. Innovation is putting together diverse thoughts in a new way.

Read more about Gary Shapiro and his Big KC talk about innovation and government.

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