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#157 The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
December 7th, 2020 | E157

What I learned from reading The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson.


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[0:29] This is the story of those pioneers hackers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Who they were, how their minds worked, and what made them so creative. 

[8:41] She developed a somewhat outsize opinion of her talents as a genius. In her [Ada Lovelace] letter to Babbage, she wrote, “Do not reckon me conceited but I believe I have the power of going just as far as I like in such pursuits.” 

[14:10] The reality is that Ada’s contribution was both profound and inspirational. More than any other person of her era, she was able to glimpse a future in which machines would become partners of the human imagination. 

[16:37] Alan Turing was slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience.

[20:15] If a mentally superhuman race ever develops its members will resemble John Von Neumann. 

[23:40] His [William Shockley] tenacity was ferocious. In any situation, he simply had to have his way. 

[28:38] Bob Noyce described his excitement more vividly: “The concept hit me like the atom bomb. It was simply astonishing. Just the whole concept. It was one of those ideas that just jolts you out of the rut, gets you thinking in a different way. 

[29:06] Some leaders are able to be willful and demanding while still inspiring loyalty. They celebrate audaciousness in a way that makes them charismatic Steve Jobs,  for example; his personal manifesto dressed in the guise of a TV ad, began, “Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes.” Amazon's founder, Jeff Bezos has the same ability to inspire. The knack is to get people to follow you, even to places that they may not think they can go, by motivating them to share your sense of mission

[38:26] As Grove wrote in his memoir, Swimming Across, “By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazi’s final solution, the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint. 

[39:10] Grove had a blunt, no-bullshit style. It was the same approach Steve jobs would later use: brutal honesty, clear focus, and a demanding drive for excellence. 

[39:40] Grove’s mantra was “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” 

[40:24]  Engineering the game was easy. Growing the company without money was hard

[42:40] Vannevar Bush was a man of strong opinions, which he expressed and applied with vigor, yet he stood in all of the mysteries of nature, had a warm tolerance for human frailty, and was open-minded to change 

[47:17] Gate was also a rebel with little respect for authority. He did not believe in being deferential. 

[47:51] Jobs later said he learned some important lessons at Atari, the most profound being the need to keep interfaces friendly and intuitive. Instructions should be insanely simple: “Insert quarters, avoid Klingons.” Devices should not need manuals. That simplicity rubbed off on him and made him a very focused product person. 

[48:47]  Steve Jobs’ interesting way to think about a new market: My vision was to create the first fully packaged computer. We were no longer aiming for the handful of hobbyists who liked to assemble their own computers, who knew how to buy transformers and keyboards. For every one of them, there were a thousand people who would want the machine to be ready to run

Innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors. [57:21]


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