”The Innovators” is Walter Isaacson’s followup book to the ”Steve Jobs”-biography that I think many of you have read. I’ve struggled a bit when I should write this review. How do you make a review on a 500 pages plus book that cover the whole history of the digital revolution from the 19th century to present time? I’ve taken a somewhat other approach than normal that I hope you like, enjoy!
I got my first computer back in the mid eighties. It was a Commodore 64, complemented with a 1530 (C2N) Datasette (a data cassette player). On this I played games and took my first trembling steps in programming. So the emergence of some of the things described in this book I’ve witnessed first hand. Others I’ve just taken for granted and not thought so much about. Therefore this book was very, very interesting for me to read. To finally get the histories on how the things that has been such a huge part of my life, both professionally and personally, was innovated.
Without going into details of the content, I would like to list the chapter of the book.
- Chapter 1 – Ada, Countess of Lovelace
- Chapter 2 – The Computer
- Chapter 3 – Programming
- Chapter 4 – The Transistor
- Chapter 5 – The Microchip
- Chapter 6 – Video Games
- Chapter 7 – The Internet
- Chapter 8 – The Personal Computer
- Chapter 9 – Software
- Chapter 10 – Online
- Chapter 11 – The Web
- Chapter 12 – Ada Forever
As you can imagine all the key figures of the digital revolution are present the book. From 1843 when Ada Lovelace publishes ”Notes” on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, via the work of Alan Turing, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to 2011 when an IBM computer named ”Watson” wins Jeopardy!
My favorite three personal favorite anecdotes that I will take with me and retell from now on.
1. The first bug in computer history.
”One night the machine conked out, and the crew began looking for the problem. They found a moth with a wingspan of four inches that had gotten smashed in one of the electromechanical relays. It was retrieved and pasted into the log book with Scotch tape. ’Panel F (moth) in relay’, the entry noted. ’First actual case of a bug being found.”
2. First usage of the word hacker in the TMRC (Tech Model Railroad Club) at MIT.
”We at TMRC use the term ’hacker’ only in its original meaning, someone who applies ingenuity to create a clever result, called a ’hack’” the club proclaimed. The essence of a ’hack’ is that it is done quickly, and is usually inelegant.”
3. Meaning of the abbreviation RFC, the documents that lay the foundation for internet.
”To emphasize the informal nature, I hit upon this silly little idea of calling every one of them a ’Request for Comments’ – no matter whether it really was a request.”
Innovation – my takeaways
In the last chapter Walter Isaacson sums up some lessons from the journey of writing this book. He first and foremost states that creativity is a collaborative process. That innovations comes from smart people working together as a team, rather than from a lone genius. History shows that people that collaborate wins, while the lone genius often get stuck somewhere along the road and don’t have the knowledge around him or her to continue. To mention a few companies that have created such innovative environments are Bell Labs, IBM and of course Apple.
My personal takeaway is the ideas should be shared in the open. We live an era where this is more possible then ever before, the internet and social networks makes sharing just a click away. I would like to end this review by another quote, that I thinks sums up pretty well what innovation in knowledge work is all about.
”One thing I find fascinating about mojitos is that the taste is so amazing, despite the fact that the separate ingredients are actually rather boring. And I have noticed the same can also apply to ideas. When you mix different ideas from multiple sources, a new idea can emerge that both aggregates and improves on the pre-existing ideas. I call it the Mojito Method.” – Jurgen Appelo, quote taken from his book ”How to change the world”.
I can recommend this book to any geek that wants to more about the history of the digital revolution. It’s the perfect companion on your next vacation where you have the time to relax and really get absorbed by the stories, and maybe also daydream how it might have been if you were there :).
All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist