Immersed with Scott Jones
Studying someone’s process of how they achieve success can only help others. Scott Jones generously shares his methodic approach of how he tackles challenges and projects through immersion.
One can only imagine how proud Scott Jones’ parents were to find out that their son was hired on as a research scientist at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, only to discover that after spending six years at IU, including summers, he had not yet earned a degree. A mere technicality of one economics course and a language requirement was needed for Jones to move to Boston.
The econ credit was completed via correspondence. What is interesting is the manner in which Jones studied for his Spanish language fulfillment exam – by locking himself in his grandmother’s attic for 10 days. Oddly, while immersing himself in his Spanish textbooks, Jones listened to German music.
During his time at IU, Jones applied to study abroad in Hamburg, Germany. However, Jones was not accepted into the program because he had not done well enough in class. Ironically, while attending MIT, he lived with a family from Hong Kong. There were four generations under one roof speaking Cantonese, which is more challenging to learn than Mandarin. Jones became mildly fluent in Cantonese conversation through this immersive experience.
The earliest memory Jones has of his extended focused attention was the time when he completely dismantled his mother’s (she was a journalist) Selectric typewriter and re-assembled it, which took all night. “I think it worked all right after I was done with it,” Jones recalled, smiling, from his reverse engineering experience.
This pattern of immersion would continue during the creation of Boston Technology, a voicemail company he co-founded. The hard-working crew barely left their offices, sleeping under their desks, ordering in carry-out and completely immersing themselves into their voicemail services project. While this did result in a nice liquidity event for Jones, his partner and their investors, the process was not without moments of panic, sometimes expressed by partner, Greg Carr. What concerned Carr was Jones’ constant stream of entrepreneurial ideas.
“While perhaps valid ideas, most of these did not pertain to our project at hand,” said Jones. “And Greg was absolutely right, these were distractions for us.”
Jones knew that in order to achieve what the team of Boston Technology set out to do, he had to get rid of all unrelated distractions. They virtually did not leave the building for two years. His immersion paradigm would prove successful.
Jones needed to somehow release all other percolating ventures out of his head. “I realized if I wrote these ideas down in journals, I could clear my head and focus,” shared Jones. By writing down his extemporaneous thoughts, Jones was able to declutter his brain and focus.
After the Boston Technology liquidity event, Jones explored those notebooks of ideas. He has been able to “play” in a spectrum of playgrounds. A few results of this are: Gracenote music services, which are integrated into every iPhone, ChaCha human-powered search, Precise Path Robotics, Galaxia Lighting, Escient Home Automation, Gazelle TechVentures and now Eleven Fifty Academy.
With the proven success of Jones’ immersive style, this quintessential entrepreneur — with an innate understanding of technology — has repeated this pattern of immersion in everything he does. His process is not without moments of doubt or fear creeping in.
It was a fear of failure that initially delayed him from diving into programming while at IU, but once he immersed himself into coding, he spent most of his time with computers in the basement of the HYPR building.
As challenges arise during Jones’ creative process, Jones focuses on the question, such as, “How can I solve this?” before he would sleep, then awake with an answer. If this doesn’t work, he goes outside to walk and contemplate the solution. During the Boston Technology days, Jones hiked around the famous Walden Pond in Concord, contemplating a snag that had arisen and a solution would inevitably surface.
Another coping mechanism that Jones employs is to look at all possible outcomes. “I mentally fast forward to what’s going to happen,” shared Jones. “I look for what can be done to prevent as many of the failed scenarios as possible and move forward.” He has trained himself to take risks.
Back in 2005, Jones co-founded Indy Robotics, LLC, which funded a team of 120 researchers to create a unmanned vehicle in a competition sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Of the researchers, about 20 of them spent one month camped out in the Mohave Desert doing nothing but working on their 6,000 pound, autonomous robot vehicle. In truth, there was no other choice. They were in the middle of the Mohave Desert with the closest hotel forty-five minutes away.
“The 20 of us made more progress during that month in the desert than the full team of about a hundred managed during the prior 18 months leading up to the race,” said Jones.
Jones’ latest collaborative effort, Eleven Fifty Academy, puts immersion into practice. For 12-14 hours a day, for seven days, students are writing code. Food is catered in, the distractions are minimized — the only thing to do is to focus on programming. The coding classes are often offered in Jones’ home. A proven forward-thinker, Jones believes it is essential to have the skill of programming.
While Jones may have a dozen or more major projects going on all at once, Jones has proved time and again that, while immersion isn’t the only way to learn, he has proven how effective it can be.
For more information on coding classes, please visit: elevenfifty.com.