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The Moneymakers of Today Versus Those of Tomorrow

Barry Ritholtz

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- How can institutions balance the existing businesses that pay the bills today with creating the new technologies that will pay the bills tomorrow? That was the challenge facing this week's guest on Master in Business, Safi Bahcall, a member of President Barack Obama’s council of science advisers, and author of the book, “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries.”

Bahcall said that soon after he was appointed he was told he should update Vannevar Bush’s guidelines to innovation in government. The problem was, he had no idea of who Vannevar Bush was. He dove into his history and discovered that it was Bush who had persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to create the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which played a huge role in the war effort. The OSRD accelerated development of existing technologies and created new ones, including radar and the proximity fuse, which detonates munitions when they reach a predetermined distance from a target.

Bahcall argues that too many institutions fail to transition to thinking about the future from operating in the present. The group that is making the money for the company today wants to stick with what is working and those projects that have a very high success rate. The group that is creating the game-changing products are taking chances on ideas with a very high failure rate. Bridging the two groups is the role of leadership, something that companies such as Apple and Pixar historically have done well.

His favorite books can be seen here; a transcript of our conversation is here.

You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras on Apple iTunes, Overcast, Spotify, Google, Bloomberg and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.

Next week, we speak with Barbara Tversky, professor of psychology at Stanford and Columbia, and author of "Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought." Tversky was married to the now-deceased Amos Tversky, and helped Michael Lewis research his book on Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, "The Undoing Project."

To contact the author of this story: Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”

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