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IBM Impact 2012: Are all innovators created equal?

Walter Isaacson took to the stage at IBM Impact in Las Vegas to discuss the common attributes some of the great minds he's written biographies about.

IBM Impact 2012 logo

True innovators share a number of core characteristics and ones that businesses should pay attention to if they wish to succeed.

The ultimate lesson of being a great innovator is that you're part of something larger than yourself.

So claims the man who wrote the biographies of both Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs among others.

"All of you know a lot of smart people. Smart people are generally a dime a dozen and don't amount to much. It's the innovative people, the imaginative people, the people who think different, they're the ones who change the world," Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, told delegates during the opening keynote of IBM Impact today in Las Vegas.

"Steve Jobs had a passion for his product. It started when he was seven years old. He was building a fence with his dad around the back yard of their house. His father said to him We have to make the back of the fence just as beautiful as the front.' Steve said Why? Nobody will ever see it. Nobody will ever know.' And his father said But you will know.' Jobs said that was one of the lessons of his life. If you care for your product, make sure that even the parts unseen, the code that will never be noticed all of that is just as beautiful so you can be an artist."

Isaacson referenced comments made by Benjamin Franklin, who reasoned that the person next to someone who disagrees might have a relevant point and they should be listened to as others might learn something from them.

The ability to think differently is a common theme in all of the biographies Isaacson has written and he reiterated that's also the theme of Impact 2012. The great innovators he's covered also had a thirst for knowledge, were extremely curious and were persistent in their aims.

"The ultimate lesson of being a great innovator is that you're part of something larger than yourself," he said.

"You're not just there to twiddle with something or to try and maximise a profit tweaking a little something. You're there to make something innovative, imaginative and new."

Jobs helped create one of the most successful companies in history with products that will long be remembered. He was notorious for telling employees not to be afraid, encouraging them to push themselves further aiming for design brilliance or shaving time off boot ups by saying "You can do it," Isaacson detailed.

"Steve Jobs once told me the most important thing was not to make a great product, but to make a great company that would continue to make great products and continue to innovate. And, really, from the calculator, to the computer to the cloud, that's what IBM has done," Isaacson said.

"I so respect IBM. I'm doing my next book on the history of the computing age," Isaacson told the audience. "IBM is 100 years old, but still a young company and still innovative."

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