What do Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Jennifer Doudna all have in common? Celebrated journalist and author Walter Isaacson calls upon his years of research to explain how curiosity has always fueled creativity among history’s greatest innovators, and how each of those individuals shaped the world around them. On this episode Issacson dives deep into the curious obsessions of Jobs, da Vinci’s ability to develop a brilliant mind, Ada Lovelace and how she developed the algorithm, and how Doudna’s work with gene editing could shape the future to come.
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A journalist by trade, Issacson served as the editor of Time and then chairman and CEO of CNN before eventually spending 15 years as president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, the international research institute and think tank. Isaacson has also written bestselling biographies on Jobs, da Vinci, Franklin and Albert Einstein, and in 2021 released his latest biography, The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation:
These aren’t seven secrets to success or seven easy lessons for how to run a company. In fact, when people would come up to me and they’d say, “I used your Steve Jobs book.” Like Elizabeth Holmes would—the person who invented Theranos or launched Theranos say, “Oh, I used your Steve Jobs as a how-to book.” I’d go, “No, no, no. It’s not a how-to book. Don’t try this at home.”
Intellectual honesty is something that can push people, make people a great leader, it’s something that’s… I’ve been a manager, I’ve run companies, I know that being really brutal and intellectually honest is important.
I think that’s a metaphor for how we as a society sometimes have big bangs that start in a singularity, a particular place, and then the energy gets dispersed. People during the pandemic moved to places like my hometown of New Orleans because they could work anywhere and they decided they wanted to work in a place that was more fun or edgier or had more music or would have more food, whatever they liked.
We see it as a kid. We’re all curious as kids, until grownups say, “Quit asking so many dumb questions.” And then we get the curiosity kicked out of us. But Leonardo teaches us that to be creative, all we have to do is nurture that natural curiosity we all have inside of us.
Turing pushes the opposite approach, which is yes, machines will be able to think. We will have machine learning, we’ll eventually have artificial intelligence. That’s still a debate going on today, whether it’s Elon Musk or Bill Gates, or many other people, they debate whether machines will ever be able to think creatively as the human mind will.
And so much more.