“[Rochester] is a hotbed of innovation,” Meliora Weekend keynote speaker Walter Isaacson said as he stepped to the podium in Kodak Theatre last Saturday, October 10. Isaacson, best known as the author of the 2011 biography “Steve Jobs,” is no stranger to innovation. His newest book, “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution,” is evidence of his interest in the topic. Isaacson’s 40-minute speech covered the subjects of his biographical works.

Despite a career that has included a stint as the Managing Editor of TIME Magazine and his current role as CEO of the Aspen Institute, Isaacson referred to himself as a biographer in his speech. He has published six biographies—on Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Steve Jobs and, most recently, the innovators profiled in his most recently published work. He is in the process of writing a seventh book, which will be about Leonardo Da Vinci. As UR President Joel Seligman noted, the people profiled in Isaacson’s six biographies are “individual geniuses.” For Isaacson, however, the profiles all demonstrate the necessity of collaboration, not the singularity of genius.

“It’s all about collaboration,” he said early in the presentation. “It’s all about creating teams.”

He turned to examples from his biographies. In his interviews with Steve Jobs, Isaacson explained, Jobs spoke about the importance of “creating a team that [would] continue to make good projects.” John Vincent Atanasoff, one of the figures profiled in “The Innovators,” is credited with the invention of the first digital computer. According to Isaacson, however, he “couldn’t get it [fully] working” because of a lack of collaboration. Isaacson expressed his own role as a collaborator: biographies are “drafts of history,” he said, which will be added to and contradicted by future biographers and historians.

Tailoring the speech to the setting, Isaacson also spoke on the collaboration he sees happening at UR. “The next wave of the digital revolution [will be] those that can connect the humanities to technology,” he said, acknowledging the University’s efforts to do just that.

The themes connecting Isaacson’s biographies were not limited to collaboration. He also discussed the importance of curiosity, listing questions from the journals of da Vinci and the puzzles that Franklin explored throughout his life. He concluded by discussing passion and the meaningful contribution that a curious, collaborative individual can make.

“Every single one of the people I’ve written about…realized it’s not just about your passion,” Isaacson said. “It’s about connecting passion to something larger than just you. […] When Steve Jobs was dying four years ago, we were sitting [and] talking about life. He said, ‘It’s not about what you get to take out of the river, it’s about what you put into the river.’”

Remus is a member of 

the class of 2016.



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