Why “The Innovators” Should Be Required Reading for Tech Entrepreneurs

Ben Wilde | Leadership

If you’re a tech entrepreneur, we’ve got a great recommendation for your reading list. It’s Walter Isaacson’s latest book, “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.” You might recognize Isaacson’s name. In addition to writing the blockbuster biography Steve Jobs in 2011, he’s also the CEO of the Aspen Institute and previously served as chairman of CNN and managing editor of Time magazine. Suffice to say, the man knows how to tell a story.

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And what a fascinating story “The Innovators” recounts as it tracks the parallel histories of the rise of the computer and the Internet, and the men and women who pioneered their development. More than a history lesson, however, the book provides a glimpse into the successes and failures of some of the world’s most innovative leaders.

The book begins by describing Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who in the 1840s was the visionary responsible for pioneering computer programming more than 100 years ahead of its time. As Isaacson guides readers through history, he traces the incremental development of the computer in the 1930s and 40s and the invaluable contributions of men like Alan Turing and John von Neumann. He also details the technological advances in programming, transistors and microchips that helped catapult the computer age forward.

With industrial computers rapidly developing in terms of their sophistication and application to daily life, “The Innovators” continues its forward advance, turning its focus to the rise of video games, personal computers, software and the Internet.

Along the way, readers get acquainted with some 60 innovators from throughout history. Some like Grace Hopper and Vannevar Bush are perhaps less well known, while other such as Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Larry Page are household names. The book also describes the founding of great companies such Intel in the 1970s and of the development of fascinating projects like Wikipedia in the early 2000s.

In a 2014 interview on NPR, Isaacson articulates what is perhaps his book’s greatest insight, explaining:

“One of the things we biographers realize is that we distort history a little bit. We make it sound like there’s some great individual in a garage or a garret who has a light-bulb moment and all of a sudden innovation happens. But when you look at innovation, especially in this day and age, it happens in teams — creativity is a collaborative effort in the digital age. I wanted to get away from writing about the singular individual.”

Indeed, the team-based nature of innovation is one of several recurring themes throughout the book. To learn about the others, we encourage you to add “The Innovators” to your reading list.

What other books do you think are great for tech entrepreneurs?