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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Academics & Research

Award recipient shares Jobs’ philosophy


“Smart people are a dime a dozen; what really  matters is being able to think imaginatively, to think creatively,” Walter Isaacson said. |  Mary Dahdouh/The Daily Cougar

“Smart people are a dime a dozen; what really matters is being able to think imaginatively, to think creatively,” Walter Isaacson said. | Mary Dahdouh/The Daily Cougar

Steve Jobs had begun to see a connection between Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and himself, said biographer Walter Isaacson on Friday at the Farfel Distinguished Lecture.

“I got a phone call from (Jobs) — and I had written about Benjamin Franklin, was just about to come out with the biography of Albert Einstein — and Steve talked to me and asked, ‘Why not do me next?’” Isaacson said.

“Of course my first reactions was ‘OK, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein (and) Steve Jobs?,’ and I told him ‘Your humility hasn’t fully deepened since we first met’ but after a while I realized, especially when he was sick and battling cancer, that he was a person who had transformed seven industries in America.”

Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute as well as former CEO of CNN and editor of Time Magazine, was honored as the 2013 Farfel Distinguished Lecture speaker.

The Farfel Distinguished Lectureship is UH’s most prestigious award that honors the leadership of Aaron Farfel, who served on the UH System Board of Regents for 16 years.

“The process of selecting the speaker for the Farfel lecture is one that engages a number of people in the University. We really want it to be something that enlightens individuals and creates conversation about a topic that maybe people aren’t discussing as much as we would like,” said Karen Clarke, associate vice president of marketing and communication and associate vice chancellor of marketing and communication for the UH System.

“(Isaacson) is a great story teller. There are a lot of academics who have evocative ideas, but it’s difficult for them to engage a larger group in those concepts and ideas. One thing that we liked best about Isaacson was that he is clearly able to tell a story and give analogies and things like that, which really draw you in so you learn a lesson and get the point in a way that’s memorable,” Clarke said.

Throughout the lecture, Isaacson continually told heartfelt stories about Jobs, as well as Franklin and Einstein, which truly brought together the minds of all three men to focus on intellectual creativity. Some were perplexed by the connection Isaacson made between the three men, but many agreed.

“You absolutely can’t go anywhere in America without seeing an Apple product somewhere,” said chemistry junior Camden Kirkland. “The man literally revolutionized how computing and technology are used in both America and the world.”

Jobs’ endless passion for pursuing perfection and his motivation for pushing past boundaries were as widespread as his products, Isaacson said. This passion of his was expressed in one of Jobs’ favorite sayings, “Don’t be afraid. You can do it.”

Jobs, alongside Franklin and Einstein, has revolutionized the world in some way through his ingenuity.

“I realized that there was a common thread between Steve and my original two: Franklin and Einstein. That common thread was imagination and creativity,” Isaacson said. “Smart people are a dime a dozen; what really matters is being able to think imaginatively, to think creatively.”

With that common thread established, Isaacson concluded by explaining Jobs’ beliefs on simple beauty.

When Jobs looked at the first iPod, he questioned the necessity of an on and off switch, Isaacson said.

“And it dawned on me that they don’t need it: If you stopped using your iPod for long enough, it powered down and when you started using it again, it powered itself up. It was the beauty in simplicity that he saw,” Isaacson said.

Isaacson provided insight to the philosophical side of Jobs, one that was suitably demonstrated through a technological medium.

“I said to him, ‘Do you still believe in the spirit of life? Do you believe that something lives on?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I like to believe that, but then sometimes I’m just a little bit afraid that it’s just like an on and off switch — when you die, you just click off and you’re gone,’” Isaacson said.

“I was somewhat taken aback, then he gave me that little half smile he had, then he said ‘Maybe that’s why I didn’t like putting on/off switches on Apple devices,’” Isaacson said.

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