The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, Walter Isaacson

I have recently been on a Walter Isaacson kick. Ever since I made the leap of reading “Steve Jobs,” I’ve been hooked on what I call the “Isaacson Theme.” That is, quite simply, that Isaacson appeals to those who come to the intersection of the liberal arts and science; the humanities and technology. Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” is the pinnacle of this relationship: being perfectly proportional, Da Vinci spent many hours compiling the math for the picture. But what he sketched wasn’t simply biology, math, or science; it was art. The intersection of these two very different disciplines created one of the most well known pictures in the Western world (probably second to the Mona Lisa!).

Therefore, when Isaacson compiled a brief history of the digital revolution, you know that it will be full of intriguing tidbits about how it happened, but also why it happened. Here are some lessons about innovation I gleaned from this book:

Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Quite the opposite actually: the digital revolution was the product of many, many different minds coming together. Who created the internet? It’s hard to say. Who created the personal computer? Again, it wasn’t just one person. Isaacson compared it to building a cathedral: it would be wrong to say that one person alone built it. There were architects, builders, tilers, masons, foundation pourers, etc. This is a critical lesson in becoming innovative. As the saying goes, “good artists copy; great artists steal.”
Innovation happens in groups. This may go without saying, but it is a surprisingly misunderstood concept. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates had Paul Allen. Bill was the brains behind Microsoft but he needed Paul to go to his meetings for him (as Isaacson explains). Different people possess different strengths and weaknesses. So just because you are really smart and know how to get over hurdles in the tech field doesn’t necessarily mean you will become an innovative guru. The brilliance behind big companies like Microsoft and Apple was that they not only had good ideas but they were able to market them and package them in a way that appealed to the larger population.

Of course, Isaacson has many more lessons to share. You may have to read the book and gather your own conclusions. Suffice it to say that this book is impactful, whether you’re in the technology industry or not, because it demonstrates those keys to being creative. The lessons here, I’d like to think, are cross disciplinary. An excellent book from an intriguing author.

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