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Walter Isaacson: Creativity, Collaboration, Civility is Recipe for Innovation

As a preeminent biographer for figures like Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin and Steve Jobs, Conference keynote and Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson has watched and studied some of the world’s most celebrated thinkers and inventors. He is keenly aware of the factors that foster ground-breaking innovation.

While big ideas do not emerge easily or simply, to Isaacson, the recipe for innovation can be boiled down to three crucial ingredients: Creativity, collaboration and civility.

From Florence, Italy at the height of the Renaissance to Apple’s launch of the first iPod, history’s most lauded innovators have specifically embodied these elements. Most importantly, however, they also provide a vital blueprint for Detroit as the city continues its resurgence.

“This is all the more important now because there are a lot of people who thought Detroit would never bounce back the way it did, but it do so because of this combination of ingredients…the ability to be creative, to be collaborative and to be civil. When we look at Detroit we see the ability to use the creative economy to bring back a city.”

Following his address, Isaacson sat down with The Detroit News’ Daniel Howes, where he gave insight into how these same ingredients can help Michigan and traditional automakers compete in the evolving race to build new mobility technology.

Key Takeaways:

  • Beauty matters. What set Apple and Steve Jobs apart was the ability to connect creativity with technology in an intuitive, human-centered, and aesthetically pleasing way.
  • “Luddites” were wrong then and they are wrong now. Innovation and technological advancement eliminates jobs that become obsolete, but they also create future occupations that the world can’t envision today.
  • Innovation is a team sport. Steve Jobs argued to Isaacson that his greatest accomplishment was building a great team that could continue to build great products.
  • Collaboration demands inclusivity. As immigrants flooded into Florence at the beginning of the 14th century, they brought new ideas and new ways of thinking, helping usher in the Italian Renaissance.
  • Civility is a lesson Detroit can teach everyone. Bipartisan and cross-sector partnerships, like those between Gov. Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan, have helped spur the city’s revitalization.
  • Large companies are often overly protective of their existing revenue streams, leading to an inability to adapt and innovate.
  • Detroit versus Silicon Valley might be the epic battle of our time. As the auto industry reaches this crucial inflection point, automakers are trying to avoid the fate of computer hardware companies, who were commoditized in favor of software companies.
  • Isaacson argues that the company that best end-to-end integrates their hardware and software will win.

This session was sponsored by Consumers Energy and ties to the Conference pillars of winning the race in connected technology.