Photo by Josh Hild

Smart People Are a Dime a Dozen. What Counts is Being Creative and Imaginative

The collective writings of Jeff Bezos, with a foreword by Walter Isaacson, will be published on 17th November this year by Harvard Business Review Press. (available to pre-order). Here is my review of Invent & Wander.

Most people know Jeff Bezos is the Billionaire founder and owner of Amazon. And many people will know Walter Isaacson as the author of the biographies of people including Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. All are men with certain traits that Bezos also has, says Isaacson.

In something of an understatement, Isaacson says all are smart people, but adds, “Smart people are a dime a dozen and often don’t amount to much. What counts is being creative and imaginative”. But does Bezos earn the right to be compared to Leonardo da Vinci? I will have to read the whole book before I jump to conclusions, but I confess the idea did make me cringe.

Are you wondering, on what basis Isaacson ranks Bezos among these greats? Let me tell you. Among the “ingredients of creativity and imagination” listed, the first is “ to be curious, passionately curious”. He quotes Einstein saying, “I have no special talent” “I am only passionately curious”, and “curiosity is more important than knowledge”.

The second is to “to love and to connect the arts and sciences”, and to recognise that “technology is not enough”, as Steve jobs and Leonardo da Vinci both did. On this second trait Isaacson goes on to say, “In fact, it helps to be excited by all disciplines” to want “to know everything you could possibly know about everything that was knowable”. Because “people who love all fields of knowledge are the ones who can best spot the patterns.”

The third characteristic is to “have a reality-distortion field”, a phrase used in relation to Steve Jobs that comes from a Star Trek. It describes the “ability to create an entire new world through sheer mental force”, and the ability to “think different”.

The final trait is the ability to “retain a child-like sense of wonder.” He cautions, “we should be careful to never outgrow our wonder years — or to let our children do so”.

For now, I am not going to go into the evidence Isaacson offers to back up his claims that Bezos has these traits. Instead I want to reflect on them.

First, I agree, passionate curiosity driven by an excitement in all disciplines enables people to see patterns others cannot. I believe it is what gives people the ability to imagine entirely new worlds, to think differently, and to be inventive.

Mary Parker Follet, writing in the early 1900’s, inspired me to take this path myself, she studied many disciplines and was a real visionary. And, the more I come to know the more I want to know, and the more I realise how little we will ever know. But now I see patterns everywhere. I am not comparing myself to Bezos, and certainly not the other greats. I am just saying that I agree with Isaacson’s views on the importance of these characteristics.

On the final trait and Isaacson’s warning, that “we should be careful to never outgrow our wonder years — or to let our children do so, ” let me suggest the other traits Isaacson refers to all stem from this one. A “child-like wonder” allows us to imagine entirely new worlds, be inventive, see patterns, and be excited by all disciplines.

I will finish by saying I think all these views, and the point I made last, give strength to the arguments made by Sir Ken Robinson who sadly died less than a week ago. His most famous TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? was based on exactly the same arguments Isaacson makes. Let me put it another way, the education system we have is designed to kill child-like wonder, imagination, the ability to see patters and the excitement of exploring all disciplines. It is designed to produce programmed robots that pass tests, not people like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos.

I dedicate this article to the memory of Sir Ken Robinson and encourage you to watch the video, whilst I work on the next parts of this review of Invent and Wander.

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Paul Barnett

Paul Barnett

Advocating the purpose of all enterprise should be contributions to sustainable widely shared prosperity measured in terms of human flourishing and wellbeing.