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Book Review: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

December 23, 2014

The InnovatorsThis book, and writing this review, was a trip through memory lane for me! Having spent more than three decades in the semiconductor and high technology space, the people listed in Isaacson’s excellent book were almost all familiar to me. Some I have met, others I have listened to in presentations and almost all I have read about.

If you have read other books by Walter Isaacson (perhaps the biography of Steve Jobs) then you know how well written this book is. If you haven’t read any of his other books then you are in for a delightful experience.

I believe The Innovators will be the definitive history of the development of the computer and the internet. I found insights into why things happened the way they did since I frequently had a view from one of the competitors in the technology space or a view from one of my key customers. Several times I found myself shaking my head and saying, “So that’s why . . .”

You do not have to be a technological genius or have spent years in technology to enjoy this book. In fact, if you are an every day user of computers, tablets and/or smart phones for work or personal enjoyment, then you may well appreciate the history in this book. It is more about innovation, the people and the personalities than about the technology itself. And that is what added the extra dimension for me.

But despite all the fun of reading about the industry I love, the larger business lesson for us all is that Isaacson makes it abundantly clear that, more often than not, true innovation comes from teams not from super star individuals. So for business leaders, moving forward, the emphasis needs to be on creating high functioning teams allowing for the mix of business smarts, marketing acumen and product/process creativity. Some seem to have recognized this need and have embraced different collaboration tools being provided by various vendors. From sales force automation programs to collaborative work spaces, teams are finding ways to collaborate in order to improve the customer experience and to create new products and services. This trend seems to be right in line with the trajectory of technological advances outlined in this book.

And, as Isaacson points out, collaboration doesn’t end with humans. He says that he:

“also became interested in how the quest for artificial intelligence—machines that think on their own—has consistently proved less fruitful than creating ways to forge a partnership or symbiosis between people and machines. In other words, the collaborative creativity that marked the digital age included collaboration between humans and machines.”

It is my view that this continued collaboration between human and machine will accelerate along with the technological advancements — meaning at an exponential rate in many areas. As I read through Isaacson’s book, the acceleration of technological advances in all the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas feed each other and allows for this leveraged growth. That is also why the collaboration between disciplines is so important both in the past and in the future.

I believe this is a valuable, perhaps essential read for all of us in this age of intelligent machines.

Click on the image above to see this book on Amazon.

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