How to Become an Innovator

The Apple Watch, an iPhone-compatible smartwatch, will go on sale next month.
The Apple Watch, an iPhone-compatible smartwatch, will go on sale next month.

The Apple Watch, an iPhone-compatible smartwatch, will go on sale next month.

Before Steve Jobs co-founded Apple, there were no iPhones or iPads. Jobs transformed the way we think about many things, including telephones, computers, and books. Because of Jobs, says his biographer Walter Isaacson, entire industries like music and publishing have changed completely. Now, even wristwatches can do more than just tell time. They allow people to message friends, pay for a sandwich, and even track their health.

I recently talked with Isaacson at 92Y’s 7 Days of Genius Festival in New York City. We spoke about his new book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. I asked what qualities stood out in the innovators he studied.

“They tend to be people who really care about both art and science,” Isaacson said. “They really believe it’s important to connect the humanities to technology and engineering.”



What advice does Isaacson have for kids who want to become tomorrow’s innovators? “You have to love both the humanities and the sciences,” he said. “If you’re a humanities person—very creative and love art—you should not shy away from also learning Math and learning coding. If you’re an engineer . . . you should learn to read poetry.”

Every great innovator has passion, perseverance, and the courage to fail, Isaacson said. Working in teams makes creative people even more effective, he added. Sometimes, someone else’s suggestions can help improve or perfect your design.



When Isaacson was growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, he decided early on that he wanted to be a writer. After reading a book by a friend’s uncle, he realized that writing “is a job you can have, just like being a fisherman or an engineer or a doctor.”

Of all the books Isaacson has written, he said that his favorite to work on was a biography of Ben Franklin. “He did everything,” Isaacson said. “He was friendly and nice and good to people. Reading all of his letters . . . I felt I really got to know him and like him.”

I wonder what Franklin, one of America’s first inventors, would think of the Apple Watch!


Click here to see a video of William’s interview with Walter Isaacson.

Photo by Apple