Around the Institute

Walter Isaacson on Disruption and Innovation

July 30, 2014

Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson delivers opening remarks at the 2014 Aspen Action Forum.

The theme of this year’s Aspen Action Forum is disruptive leadership, and Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson opened the event with a strong message on the subject: human connection — and a connection back to the arts and humanities — is the true end goal. After all, he said, “man is a social animal.”

“Every time we’ve had a new technology, somehow or another it’s been co-opted and brought together so that it becomes a social network, a way of communicating, a way of getting people together,” Isaacson said.

A biographer of several well-known disruptors — including Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and most recently, the founder of scientific computing Ada Lovelace — Isaacson shared lessons from these leaders’ own methods for how to be an effective innovator.

‘Disruption is Nothing New’

In the video above, Isaacson explains the history of disruption and the people whose technological advancements changed the world. He offers this nugget on the reasoning behind disruption: “whatever we’re doing, it’s to connect the idea of the humanities to technology, to connect the arts to the sciences.”

‘Innovation Comes From Collaboration’

Dispelling the notion that innovators are lone figures holed up in a room creating things, Isaacson emphasized that collaboration — between visionaries and those who can act to bring those visions to light — is key to disruption and innovation. In the clip above, Isaacson shares lessons on how to be innovative, including a story about Jobs on the importance of “serendipitous encounters, face to face.”