Drew Forum: Walter Isaacson Peeks Into the Minds of Some Great Thinkers
Biographer and Newsman offers insights into the lives of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs.
Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs were all smart – but that’s not what made them extraordinary – it was their ability to harness their creativity and challenge conventional thought.
That’s one of the messages Walter Isaacson, former Time Magazine Editor and fCNN Chairman, shared with the audience at the Drew Forum on Feb. 26. Isaacson has written biographies of Franklin, Einstein and Jobs and used his speech to talk about common leadership qualities among the three.
“Smart people are a dime a dozen and they often don’t amount to much,” said Isaacson, a Rhodes Scholar. “What really matters is being imaginative, being creative, what Steve Jobs called, the ability to ‘think different.’”
He talked about Einstein being fascinated by the simplicity of nature and physics – why does a compass needle point north? How do you synchronize clocks? Is time actually relative?
He noted the exacting nature of Jobs, who took pains that each Apple product was aesthetically pleasing and simple to use and how Jobs’ single mindedness and focus challenged employees to push the boundaries of what they were able to do, leaving legacy that changed the way people listen to music, talk on the telephone and read books.
He described Franklin, a printer’s apprentice, who used lessons he learned while meeting with Philadelphia merchants to hone his diplomacy skills. Franklin knew that compromise and negotiation were essential for a Democratic society to succeed. He debated issues that are still important today, immigration, religion and government, and was willing to listen to the differing viewpoints of others, Isaacson said.
“Benjamin Franklin had the ability of being able to pull people together and find common ground,” Isaacson said.
All of these extraordinary men were fascinated by learning and had a natural inquisitiveness about things, he said. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Franklin would scoop buckets of water from the sea to measure the temperature, thus charting the Gulf Stream in the process. As Einstein lay in bed dying, he called for the papers on his desk and worked on math equations until his last moments. Jobs dropped out of college, but audited classes at Reed College and at Stanford to continue his learning.
After telling these stories, Isaacson said he’s working on a new book, one that traces the life of Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician who lived during the 1800s, who is known for writing algorithms that were to be carried out by a machine, which could be construed as the precursor to coding a computer.
The final speaker in the Drew Forum will be Journalist and Television Host Barbara Walters, who is speaking on April 3.