Curiosity Fuels Creativity
Summary of Shane Parrish's Podcast Interview with Walter Isaacson
The Knowledge Project by Farnam Street is a great podcast to listen to if you’re interested in learning from some of the smartest and hardest workers in their fields.
Shane Parrish usually conducts the interviews and he is always well prepared on which questions to ask.
On this episode, Shane interviews Walter Isaacson who has a fascinating resume.
Walter was the editor of Time, the Chairman and CEO of CNN, the President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and a best-selling author of many biographies including Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Jennifer Doudna.
In this podcast, Walter goes more in depth on the lives of the famous thinkers that he wrote about and what it was that led them to have such great success.
If you read one of my most recent summaries of Paul Graham’s Beyond Smart essay then you can probably guess what Walter discovered that led Einstein, Jobs, Da Vinci, Franklin and Douda to such great achievements.
Yes, all of these people are smart but Walter mentions that although Benjamin Franklin had many great strengths, his mental processing power wasn’t the greatest of his time.
So, if it wasn’t just intelligence that led to all of their great achievements, then what was it?
As Paul Graham mentions as well, Walter says that he knew plenty of smart people growing up and also when he worked at CNN, but they never amounted to much because they lacked creativity.
And this is what Paul Graham was saying in his Beyond Smart essay which I wrote a summary of here.
Paul Graham mentions that it isn’t just intelligence that leads to success because you need to have new ideas, or in other words, be creative.
Walter goes a little deeper though and mentions that curiosity is what leads to creativity.
Walter discussed some other topics on this podcast as well which I mentioned below.
Walter’s guiding principle for telling a story is chronological (starting at the beginning) because that is the way we lead our lives and learn things – step by step and day by day.
Steve Jobs said don’t focus on making profits because you’re going to cut corners. Focus instead on making really great products then the profits will follow.
The people that Walter Isaacson studied for his biographies (Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo DaVinci, Jennifer Doudna) all have a passion for great detail which helps them make great advances in their work. For example, according to Walter, Leonardo Da Vinci dissected the human eye to see how light rays hit different parts of the retina when he was creating the Mona Lisa.
Walter said that he had many failings when he was running CNN and Time Magazine and one of his failings was that he wasn’t brutally honest with people.
Some of the lessons that we can learn from the people that Walter studied are have a broad vision and be curious about everything.
“I think my lesson is to be curious about everything, don’t specialize too soon. Be able to go deep on a few subjects, but make sure you can also go wide.”
- Walter Isaacson
Walter recalls a time when he was 17 and working at the Times. This is when he learned how to extract information while interviewing other people.
He was supposed to find out about a young girl who was killed. When he called in to his boss from a payphone, he told his boss that he didn’t interview the young girl’s parents.
His boss replied, “Go interview the parents.”
He took a deep breath, interviewed the parents and learned his first lesson when interviewing others – people like to talk about themselves and what is happening but it’s important to stay silent and let them talk.