Steve Forbes’ advice: innovation is king

Yesterday, I heard billionaire Steve Forbes speak in Buffalo, NY, as part of a traveling motivational seminar. I was on assignment for Artvoice, Buffalo’s alternative weekly newspaper. Forbes shared the bill with the power elite: former Secretary of State Colin Powell, football great Joe Montana, and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani. The “Get Motivated!” seminars rent out sports stadiums around the country for all-day sessions and offer discounts to employers who take their whole office as a substitute for a day’s work.

Here’s what Forbes — the editor of Forbes magazine and CEO of Forbes Inc. — said to the 19,000-plus Buffalo crowd:

He began by telling his family’s immigrant story as his grandfather came over from Scotland and started Forbes magazine in 1917. Half-joking, he said: “There’s nothing wrong with nepotism as long as you keep it in the family.” Ironic, considering the seminar’s theme was to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Forbes’ big point was innovation: you get ahead not by coming up with something new, but modifying something existing. He idolized Sam Walton, the founder of big-box behemoth Wal-Mart, as someone who thought “outside the box.” (How ironic.) He also called out Starbucks as a company that took something common like coffee and turned it into a commodity. In his eyes, the secret to their lucrative success was giving their cup sizes clever names and designing their shops to be destinations for the laptop crowd.

He also spent a lot of time railing against the federal income tax and called for it to be abolished. “The bottom line is stop trashing the U.S. dollar,” he said, to thunderous applause. “Make it worth holding again!”

Forbes is a known conservative who campaigned for the presidency in 1996 and 2000 on the Republican ticket and his membership in the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks speaks for itself. FreedomWorks, specifically, is a big player in the health care debate. Check out their official position here. But what their website doesn’t say is that they strongly oppose Obama’s health care plan and have allegedly been responsible for planned outbursts at health care town hall meetings this month. Although Forbes didn’t mention health care in yesterday’s speech, you can read his pointed views here.

Analysts, help us beef up the board and membership for FreedomWorks — an important part of our health care project. It’s important that we track what these billionaires are up to and where they’re throwing their money around.