Walter Isaacson | Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Da Vinci and Ben Franklin | Lex Fridman Podcast

updated 13 Sep 2023

In this engaging conversation between Lex Fridman and Walter Isaacson, two remarkable minds delve into a wide array of topics, offering insights into the world of biography, relationships, self-awareness, and the significance of legacy. Walter Isaacson, a renowned biographer and author of numerous biographies of iconic figures, shares wisdom and advice drawn from his extensive study of great men and women throughout history. The discussion touches upon the importance of reading biographies, self-examination, and the profound impact of mortality on one's perspective. Isaacson also opens up about his commitment to giving back to his beloved hometown, New Orleans. Amidst it all, Lex Fridman and Walter Isaacson share a mutual respect and admiration for each other's work, making this conversation an inspiring and thought-provoking exploration of life's complexities.

Walter Isaacson | Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Da Vinci and Ben Franklin | Lex Fridman Podcast

The Role of a Difficult Childhood

  1. The Role of a Difficult Childhood: The conversation explores the role of a difficult childhood in the lives of great individuals, particularly great minds. They discuss whether a difficult childhood is a requirement, a catalyst, or a simple coincidence of fate for achieving greatness.

  2. Impact of Childhood on Elon Musk: Elon Musk's childhood is discussed in detail. He had a difficult and violent childhood, with a psychologically problematic father. His childhood experiences have left demons in his mind, which he harnesses to take on risky and adventurous ventures.

  3. Psychological Trauma in Elon's Childhood: Elon Musk faced psychological trauma in his childhood, including being bullied and physically injured on the playground and being berated by his father for an extended period after the incident. These traumatic events had a lasting impact on him.

  4. Veld School Experience: Elon Musk's time at Veld School, a paramilitary camp for young South African boys, is mentioned. Initially, he struggled but later learned to defend himself, which instilled in him the tendency to punch back and take risks.

  5. Errol Musk's Influence: Errol Musk, Elon's father, is described as having a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. He was both an engineering genius and psychologically abusive at times. Maye Musk, Elon's mother, expressed concern that Elon might become like his father.

  6. Inner Demons: Elon Musk is depicted as being self-aware of the demons in his head, and he occasionally goes into a dark and quiet state. His mood can change rapidly, but he is also capable of showing different facets of his personality, from engineering to humor.

  7. Childhood Influences: The conversation highlights how childhood experiences shape individuals. Some, like Elon Musk, use their difficult childhood as a source of motivation, while others may have fewer demons and drives.

  8. Harnessing Demons: Walter Isaacson suggests that everyone has their own demons, regardless of their childhood experiences. The key is to harness those demons and use them to fuel ambition and creativity.

  9. Know Your Strengths: It is essential to know your strengths and superpowers. Different people excel in various areas, and self-awareness helps individuals leverage their strengths effectively.

  10. Empathy for Humanity: Elon Musk's empathy extends beyond interpersonal relationships; it is directed toward humanity as a whole. His driving force is the pursuit of missions that benefit humanity, such as space exploration, sustainable energy, and safe artificial intelligence.

  11. Passion for Mission: Elon Musk's passion for his missions goes beyond words. He is frustrated and impatient when minor engineering decisions or obstacles hinder progress towards his grand goals.

  12. Inspiration from Biographies: The conversation underscores the inspirational aspect of biographies, especially for young people who face struggles and adversity. It suggests that one can use their pain and challenges as a source of inspiration to achieve great things.

  13. Epic View of Biography: The discussion touches upon the broader purpose of writing biographies, which is to show that even individuals who face tremendous challenges in their upbringing can achieve greatness if they channel their demons and use their unique strengths.

Overall, the conversation delves into the complex interplay between childhood experiences, personal demons, and the pursuit of extraordinary missions in the lives of great individuals, with a particular focus on Elon Musk.

Jennifer Doudna

  1. Introduction of Jennifer Doudna: Jennifer Doudna is introduced as a pioneering scientist known for her role in discovering the CRISPR gene editing tool. Her childhood experiences and challenges are highlighted.

  2. Feeling Like a Misfit: Jennifer Doudna's early life is characterized by feeling like a misfit, especially while growing up in Hawaii in a Polynesian village where she was the only white person. She also faced pressure to live up to her father's expectations.

  3. Pushback Against Gender Stereotypes: Jennifer Doudna's school guidance counselor discouraged her from pursuing math and science, telling her that they were not suitable for girls. This pushed her to defy stereotypes and choose a career in science.

  4. Inspiration from Books: The power of books to inspire and change one's perspective is emphasized. Jennifer Doudna's father gave her the book "The Double Helix" by James Watson, which introduced her to the world of science and made her realize that girls could become scientists.

  5. Walter Isaacson's Books as Inspiration: Walter Isaacson mentions that his books are meant to inspire readers by showcasing the lives of innovative individuals who were not just highly intelligent but also curious, creative, and willing to think outside the box.

  6. Importance of Personal Stories: The conversation emphasizes the value of personal stories in understanding the lives of notable figures like Albert Einstein, Jennifer Doudna, Leonardo da Vinci, and Elon Musk. These stories help readers relate to the struggles and challenges faced by these individuals.

  7. Dealing with Life's Scars: Rather than avoiding challenges and scars, the conversation suggests that it's essential to learn how to deal with them effectively. The focus is on resilience and growth in the face of adversity.

  8. Einstein's Background: Albert Einstein's background as a Jewish individual growing up in Germany is briefly mentioned, highlighting his journey and the challenges he encountered.

The conversation primarily revolves around the idea of using personal stories and books as sources of inspiration for individuals facing challenges and striving to achieve their goals, with a particular emphasis on the experiences of Jennifer Doudna and the value of reading.

Albert Einstein

  1. Einstein as a Non-Traditional Success Story: Einstein is portrayed as a person with an unconventional path to success, challenging the notion of a standard trajectory through life. His story is described as inspiring due to his unique journey.

  2. Einstein's Background and Challenges: Einstein's Jewish heritage in Germany during a challenging time is highlighted. He faced difficulties in school, was slow to learn how to talk, and was a visual thinker who often daydreamed.

  3. Academic Rejections: Einstein's early academic experiences are mentioned, including his rejection by the Zurich Polytechnic, where he did not initially meet their admission standards. He did not excel academically and struggled to secure a teaching position.

  4. Einstein's Transformative Year (1905): The significance of 1905 in Einstein's life is discussed. Despite working as a third-class patent examiner, he wrote three groundbreaking papers in that year that revolutionized science. These papers addressed quantum theory, relativity, and Maxwell's equations.

  5. Einstein's Visual Thinking: Einstein's visual thinking is noted as a key factor in his innovative insights. While working at the patent office on devices to synchronize clocks, he visualized what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam, leading to his theory of relativity.

  6. Theory of Relativity: Einstein's theory of relativity, particularly the concept that the speed of light is constant but time is relative based on one's state of motion, is explained. This theory was a result of his out-of-the-box thinking and mental leaps.

  7. Innovative Thinking and Leaps: The conversation emphasizes the importance of innovative thinking and making mental leaps outside the confines of traditional rules and academic norms. Einstein's ability to think differently and visualize concepts led to his groundbreaking discoveries.

  8. Elon Musk's Similar Approach: The discussion draws parallels between Einstein's unconventional thinking and that of Elon Musk, who pursued electric vehicles when others had given up on the idea. Musk's ability to envision and calculate the feasibility of his ideas is compared to Einstein's approach.

  9. Reality Distortion Field: The term "reality distortion field," attributed to Steve Jobs, is mentioned as a way to describe individuals like Einstein and Musk who can inspire others to achieve the seemingly impossible through their visionary thinking.

  10. Visual Thinking as a Catalyst for Innovation: The conversation ends by emphasizing the power of visual thinking as a catalyst for innovation and a key element in the success of individuals like Albert Einstein and Elon Musk.

Overall, the conversation revolves around the unconventional paths to success taken by great thinkers like Einstein, highlighting their ability to think differently and visualize complex concepts as a source of inspiration and innovation.

Similarities between Einstein and Elon

  1. Commonalities Among Visionaries: Isaacson identifies common traits among visionaries like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albert Einstein. He notes that they were all visual thinkers, which may have arisen from certain challenges they faced during their childhood.

  2. Visual Thinking: Visual thinking is emphasized as a key factor in the innovation and problem-solving abilities of these visionaries. They had the ability to mentally visualize complex concepts and engineering solutions.

  3. Einstein's Thought Process: Walter Isaacson discusses Albert Einstein's approach to problem-solving. He mentions how Einstein visualized concepts related to the theory of relativity while working at the patent office and making mental leaps that led to groundbreaking discoveries.

  4. End-to-End Control: Isaacson highlights the importance of having end-to-end control in innovation. He cites examples from Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, emphasizing the significance of controlling both hardware and software to create a seamless product experience.

  5. Risk-Taking and Innovation: The conversation delves into the importance of being adventurous and willing to take risks. Isaacson notes that true innovation often involves risk, and risk-takers are crucial for driving progress.

  6. Iterative Brain Cycles: Visionaries possess the ability to iterate on their ideas and adapt quickly as they encounter challenges or obstacles. This iterative approach allows them to pivot and refine their visions.

  7. Exploring the Unknown: The metaphor of confidently exploring a dark room with the belief that there are no painful obstacles (like stepping on Legos) resonates with the idea that visionaries like Musk are willing to explore uncharted territories.

  8. Risk and Regulation: Isaacson raises concerns about the increase in regulation and reluctance to take risks in innovation, suggesting that risk-takers are essential for pushing boundaries and driving progress.

  9. The Power of Words: Lex Fridman highlights the power of language and words in shaping human history, including their role in love, conflict, and communication. He questions whether language or visual representations hold more significance.

  10. AI and the Metaverse: The discussion briefly touches on the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and the emergence of the metaverse. Lex Fridman shares his experiences in the metaverse, discussing the potential implications for human interaction and perception of reality.

  11. Simulation Theory: Isaacson mentions Elon Musk's exploration of the idea that we might be living in a simulation, drawing a humorous connection to "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Elon Musk's curiosity about the nature of reality is acknowledged.

  12. Sense of Fun and Exploration: The conversation concludes with Isaacson discussing how Elon Musk's sense of fun and exploration have played a role in his ability to tackle profound questions about life and the universe.

The role Elon Musk's Humor in his Innovations

  1. Elon Musk's Sense of Humor: Elon Musk is described as having an explosive sense of humor, including a willingness to engage in silliness and absurdity. He often uses humor as a release valve.

  2. Shift in Mood: Isaacson mentions how Elon Musk can transition abruptly from a serious and intense mood, especially during critical meetings, to a light-hearted and humorous one. He might pull up Monty Python skits on his phone and start laughing.

  3. Different Modes: Elon Musk is noted to have different modes, including an "emulation of human mode," an "engineering mode," a "dark and demon mode," and a "silly and giddy mode." These modes seem to coexist and can shift rapidly.

  4. Role of "Crazy" and "Madness": The conversation explores the role of eccentricity and "crazy" in innovation. Elon Musk's quote, "To anyone I've offended...Did you also think I was going to be a chill normal dude?" is mentioned, along with Steve Jobs' quote about those crazy enough to change the world.

  5. Impulsiveness: Elon Musk's impulsiveness is highlighted through anecdotes, such as changing executive roles or making decisions during critical moments, like launching a rocket.

  6. Accepting the Faults: Walter Isaacson references a Shakespearean quote, "Even the best are molded out of faults," suggesting that taking the faults and eccentricities of innovators like Musk as part of their overall character is essential.

  7. Society's Perception: The conversation touches on the idea that society often doesn't celebrate or fully appreciate the darker or crazier aspects of individuals who drive innovation. It's mentioned that there is a tendency to critique rather than understand and accept these qualities.

  8. Cruelty: Lex Fridman raises the topic of cruelty, implying that along with eccentricity, Musk has also faced criticism for his behavior, including online interactions and statements.

This part of the conversation delves into the complexity of individuals like Elon Musk, who possess both eccentricities and remarkable innovation capabilities. It emphasizes the challenge of accepting the entirety of such individuals, including their faults and unconventional behavior, in the context of driving progress and innovation.

Steve Job's Cruelty

  1. Question of Cruelty: Wozniak once asked if Steve Jobs had to be so "mean, so rough and cruel, so drama addicted." This raised questions about Jobs' management style and behavior.

  2. Wozniak's Perspective: Walter Isaacson recounts a conversation with Wozniak, where he asked Wozniak about the answer to his own question. Wozniak suggested that if he were running Apple, he would have been kinder and treated everyone like a family. However, he acknowledged that under his leadership, Apple might not have created the Macintosh or the iPhone.

  3. Steve Jobs' Response: Steve Jobs responded similarly to Elon Musk, stating that some people, including those in media, like to "wear velvet gloves" and sugarcoat things to be liked. However, he, Jobs, considered himself a working-class kid who didn't have that luxury. If something was wrong, he believed in telling people it was wrong.

  4. Brutal Honesty: Both Steve Jobs and Elon Musk believed in being brutally honest when they thought something was subpar or misguided. This approach was not limited to them; other successful individuals like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Errol Musk also used the term "stupid" to describe things they disagreed with.

  5. Necessity of Direct Communication: Isaacson notes that while being kinder might be preferable, sometimes brutal honesty is necessary to drive change or reshape organizations. He reflects on his own experiences and how he might have avoided tough decisions during his time running CNN.

  6. Sending a Signal: The direct, critical approach used by figures like Steve Jobs sent a signal to their teams, encouraging them to strive for excellence and become "A players." This approach motivated people who were committed and all-in.

  7. Twitter Takeover: Walter Isaacson recalls visiting Twitter headquarters before a takeover, highlighting that the importance of direct communication and being "all in" was recognized even in different industries like technology.

This part of the conversation explores the complex issue of leadership styles, emphasizing that while brutal honesty and perceived cruelty may be challenging to handle, they can also serve as a driving force for excellence and innovation in certain contexts.

On Elon's Twitter Takeover

  1. Twitter Acquisition: Elon Musk secretly began buying shares of Twitter in early 2022. By April, the Twitter board offered him a board seat, but his initial interest waned when he realized most people in his inner circle did not use Twitter.

  2. Changing Twitter's Direction: Elon Musk expressed a desire for a more intense and hardcore approach at Twitter. He believed that Twitter needed a shift away from its current image, emphasizing terms like "hardcore" and "intensity" rather than psychological safety and birds tweeting.

  3. Decision-Making Process: Musk's decision to pursue Twitter ownership went through various stages of uncertainty. His opinions on the acquisition seemed to fluctuate daily. At times, he considered pulling out of the deal, while at other times, he was excited about the possibilities it presented.

  4. Closing the Deal: The deal to acquire Twitter faced legal challenges, but it ultimately closed in October. Musk went from considering legal actions to accepting the deal, even though he had to make peace with it.

  5. Scaling Down Twitter: After acquiring Twitter, Musk initiated changes to scale down the workforce to 15% of its previous size. This involved challenging decisions, such as closing a Sacramento server farm on Christmas Eve.

  6. Starting a New Social Media Company: Initially, there were considerations within Musk's inner circle, notably Kimbal Musk, about starting a new social media company from scratch, possibly based on blockchain technology. However, they faced technical challenges in building a scalable platform.

  7. Legacy and Baggage: Starting a new social media platform would have allowed Musk to avoid the legacy and baggage associated with an established platform like Twitter. However, it is challenging to gain a significant user base from scratch, as demonstrated by various attempts to create new platforms.

  8. Engineering Challenges: Musk's approach required a significant engineering effort. The "Three Musketeers" were instrumental in guiding technical decisions and navigating the complexities of the transition.

This part of the conversation explores the intricacies of Elon Musk's involvement with Twitter, the challenges associated with acquiring an established platform, and the technical considerations that influenced the decision-making process.

Hiring and Firing

  1. Firing at Twitter: Elon Musk took significant steps to overhaul the team at Twitter after acquiring the platform. He believed that Twitter's engineering team was disproportionately large compared to its software development efforts, and he fired 85% of the team in three rounds of layoffs.

  2. Signaling Commitment: Musk's approach to layoffs was driven by his desire to create a culture of hardcore commitment and loyalty. He sought to keep only those employees who were fully dedicated and "all in" for the vision he had for Twitter.

  3. Algorithm for Deletion: Musk has an algorithmic approach to streamlining teams. He believes in questioning every requirement, deleting unnecessary elements, and then adding back only 20% of what was deleted. This approach aims to eliminate timidity in decision-making.

  4. Strong Signal: Musk's actions in terms of layoffs sent a strong signal to the remaining employees and new hires about the importance of being an A-player and demonstrating unwavering commitment to the mission.

  5. Team Creation: Both Steve Jobs and Elon Musk emphasized the importance of creating effective teams as a key factor in their success. Jobs regarded the team as the best product he ever created.

  6. Priorities in Hiring: Hiring at Musk's companies is based on three main criteria: excellence, trustworthiness, and drive. Musk places a strong emphasis on these attributes when building teams.

  7. Importance of Trustworthiness: Trustworthiness is seen as a critical quality in hiring. Musk was concerned about disloyalty among Twitter employees after the acquisition, and he took steps to identify and retain those who were loyal and dedicated to the company's mission.

  8. Drive and Loyalty: Musk values employees who are "all in" and committed to the company's vision. This often means having a strong drive and a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.

  9. Collaboration: While Musk is known for his intense leadership style, he also recognizes the importance of collaboration and building strong teams. He is a magnet for attracting talent and promoting individuals who demonstrate exceptional skills and commitment.

  10. Benjamin Franklin's Team: Musk highlighted the exceptional collaborative efforts of the founding fathers of the United States, particularly Benjamin Franklin, in forming a successful team to shape the nation's future.

The conversation explores the challenges and nuances of hiring and managing teams, emphasizing the need for excellence, trustworthiness, and drive while also acknowledging the importance of building a culture of loyalty and commitment.

Time Management: Similarities between Elon and Ben Franklin

  1. Elon Musk's Unique Time Management: Elon Musk's approach to time management is described as unique and intense. He constantly switches his focus between various projects and companies throughout the day.

  2. Serial Tasking: Instead of multitasking, Musk is a serial tasker. He focuses intensely on a single task for a period, then switches to the next without distractions.

  3. Intense Focus: When Musk is focused on a task, he demonstrates extreme concentration and dedication, often to the exclusion of all other thoughts or activities.

  4. Palate Cleanser: Musk occasionally takes breaks from intense work by playing games like Polytopia or engaging in other activities before transitioning to the next task. These breaks serve as "palate cleansers."

  5. Don't Emulate Musk's Style: While there may be valuable lessons to learn from Musk's work ethic, Walter Isaacson advises against trying to emulate Musk's exact time management style. It requires a specific set of circumstances and teams accustomed to working with Musk.

  6. Ben Franklin's Approach: Ben Franklin's approach to time management is characterized by making the most of every hour and being curious. He sets an example of utilizing time effectively.

  7. Urgency and Vibrancy: Musk's sense of urgency in his work instills a vibrancy and intensity into even mundane tasks. The lesson here is to approach life with an acute sense of urgency and engagement.

  8. Know Yourself: Different individuals have different work styles. Some can focus intensely, while others excel at seeing patterns across various tasks. Recognizing your own work style is important.

  9. Appreciating the Quiet Moments: Musk's intensity often prevents him from savoring moments of success or tranquility. The conversation emphasizes that, while intense dedication has its merits, there is also value in savoring the quiet moments and appreciating successes.

In summary, the discussion highlights the distinctive time management styles of Elon Musk and Ben Franklin, underscoring the importance of finding an approach that works best for an individual's personality and goals.

The Individual vs The Group

  1. Individuals vs. Groups in History: The discussion begins by addressing whether history is shaped more by individuals or groups. Walter Isaacson mentions a quote by Henry Kissinger, who recognized the significant impact of individuals like Sadat, Golda Meir, and himself on history. While history can be driven by groups, there are cases where individuals play a crucial role.

  2. Dirty Secret of Biographers: Biographers sometimes distort history by emphasizing the influence of individuals. However, this distortion can be justified when certain individuals, like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Albert Einstein, truly made a significant difference in history.

  3. Analyzing Individual Impact: Isaacson looks at the contributions of individuals like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Albert Einstein and tries to determine whether their absence would have allowed historical forces and groups to achieve the same results. This perspective offers valuable insights into the role of key figures in shaping history.

  4. Einstein's Special Relativity: Special relativity, one of Albert Einstein's 1905 papers, took some time for the scientific community to fully grasp. This theory not only changed how time is observed but also introduced the concept that time itself is relative.

  5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Isaacson highlights the contributions of individuals like Steve Jobs in bringing innovations like the iPhone to market. Some companies, such as Panasonic and Motorola, failed to recognize the potential of such innovations.

  6. Elon Musk's Impact: Elon Musk is credited with pushing the electric vehicle industry forward and driving the development of Tesla. While others contributed to the early stages of the company, Musk's leadership is acknowledged as the driving force behind Tesla's success in producing a million electric vehicles annually.

  7. Elon Musk's Potential Retirement: The conversation touches on Elon Musk's eventual retirement. Given that everyone is mortal, the question of when and how Musk will retire remains open. However, his significant impact on electric vehicles and other industries is undeniable.

  8. Changing Automotive Landscape: Musk's influence on the automotive industry has been profound, with electric vehicles becoming the new norm. In the near future, owning a gasoline-powered car may be considered outdated.

In summary, the discussion explores the balance between the influence of individuals and groups in shaping history, emphasizing the unique contributions of key figures like Elon Musk while acknowledging the collaborative efforts of teams and groups in various historical contexts. It also briefly touches on the inevitability of Musk's retirement and his lasting impact on industries like electric vehicles.

Mortality, Long Term Thinking and the Future Innovators

  1. Elon Musk's Attitude Towards Retirement: Elon Musk is known for his incredibly productive schedule and has not shown any inclination toward retirement. He thrives on the pressure, drama, and the feeling of being all-in. Retirement seems to be far from his mind.

  2. Lessons from Past Vacations: Musk has had experiences with vacations that did not go well for him. For instance, he got malaria during one vacation and was ousted from PayPal during another. As a result, he jokes, "I've learned, vacations kill you." This suggests that he prefers to stay fully engaged in his work.

  3. Long-Term Projects: Many of Musk's projects are envisioned as 100-plus year endeavors. He is known for thinking incredibly long-term, even in situations where it may seem unusual. For example, he has held meetings to discuss the governance structure of a Mars colony, emphasizing his commitment to long-term thinking.

  4. Unusual Focus on the Future: Musk's long-term vision is evident even in high-stress situations. During rocket launches or critical moments, he may divert his attention to inquire about future projects or technologies. His passion for building a sustainable future is a driving force behind his work.

  5. Passion for Robotaxis: While Musk's vision extends far into the future, his true passion lies in projects like Robotaxis. He envisions a future where autonomous vehicles revolutionize transportation. Even when working on other projects, his focus remains on the long-term impact and progress.

  6. Inspiring Future Generations: Writing biographical books about innovators like Jennifer Doudna, Steve Jobs, and others serves the purpose of inspiring future generations. These books highlight the achievements and journeys of remarkable individuals, encouraging young readers to pursue their own passions in science, innovation, and pushing boundaries.

  7. Empowering Young Aspiring Innovators: The stories of innovators can serve as role models for individuals, especially young women and those underrepresented in certain fields. Isaacson emphasizes that reading about the accomplishments of these pioneers can inspire others to believe in their own potential to make a difference.

In summary, the conversation delves into Elon Musk's relentless work ethic and long-term thinking, as well as the role of biographical books in inspiring the innovators of the future, especially those who may not have considered careers in science and technology.

How to Write

Process of Writing: - Walter Isaacson starts his writing process by trying to understand how the minds of his subjects work. He focuses on what makes creative and imaginative people different. - Isaacson emphasizes the importance of observing individuals closely and understanding what drives them, including the inner demons that influence their actions.

Narrative Approach: - Isaacson prefers to be a storyteller rather than a preacher when conveying ideas. He believes in the power of narrative to engage readers and convey complex thoughts effectively. - Chronological storytelling is a key element of his writing. He believes that showing how a person evolves over time is essential to understanding their creative growth and wisdom. - He cites the importance of showing moral and creative growth in the narrative, as this is the essence of creativity.

Interviewing and Conversation: - Isaacson mentions that people generally love to talk when given the opportunity. He encourages curiosity and genuine interest in others when conducting interviews. - Silence during interviews can be powerful. Isaacson advises being patient and not trying to fill silences, allowing interviewees to share more. - Curiosity, open-mindedness, and a lack of agenda are crucial for effective interviews and conversations. Isaacson recommends asking sincere questions rather than leading ones. - He highlights the value of giving credit to others during conversations, acknowledging their contributions and ideas.

Breaking Down Walls: - To break through walls or shields people may have, Isaacson suggests being genuinely interested and patient. Building trust is essential for deeper conversations. - Trust often develops over time, sometimes taking multiple visits or interactions. - Isaacson recognizes that trust is a fundamental element of building rapport and conducting meaningful conversations.

Objectivity in Writing: - Isaacson aims for honesty in his writing, which he considers akin to objectivity. He writes for the open-minded reader, not to please or displease his subjects. - He strives to provide a better understanding to readers, prioritizing their perspective over the subject's reaction. - Maintaining objectivity while telling a deeply human story is essential for Isaacson in delivering an honest and engaging narrative.

Romanticism: - Lex Fridman expresses his romantic approach to conversations and the beauty of discovering a person's mind during a conversation.

Love & Relationships

Love & Relationships: - Romantic relationships can vary in importance for individuals who have a significant impact on the course of humanity. - Albert Einstein's relationships with his wives, Mileva and Elsa, were complex. Mileva contributed to his work but was not treated well, while Elsa provided more of a partnership of convenience.

Writing Process: - Walter Isaacson prefers to write at night as morning is not his favorite time of day. - He creates a structured outline for his books, typically around 100 pages, where everything is in chronological order. This helps him follow the narrative and stay disciplined. - Isaacson organizes his chapters and story elements based on chronological order, then clusters related events or decisions. - He follows the mantra of "Let me tell you a story" when he faces challenges in conveying a point. Isaacson believes in storytelling and avoids unnecessary transition sentences.

Advice for Young People

Advice for Young People: - Walter Isaacson recommends reading biographies to gain insight into the various ways one can lead a fulfilling life. - He emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and examining one's motives and actions. - Isaacson suggests that understanding why you're doing what you're doing is crucial, even on an hourly basis.

Thoughts on Death: - Isaacson doesn't think about death frequently but mentions a perspective shared by Steve Jobs. Jobs believed that the awareness of our mortality can provide focus and meaning to life.

Legacy and Giving Back: - Isaacson discusses his sense of legacy, which he believes is influenced by his work as a biographer. He knows that his legacy will be a shelf of biographies of interesting people who may inspire others. - Instead of just focusing on legacy, he emphasizes the concept of "paying it forward." He returned to his hometown, New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, and he is actively involved in contributing to the community and helping the youth. - Isaacson believes in immersing oneself in a community and getting involved to ensure that future generations can be creative and successful.

Acknowledgment of Lex Fridman: - Lex Fridman expresses his admiration for Walter Isaacson's work as a storyteller and mentions his long-standing admiration for Isaacson. - Isaacson acknowledges Lex Fridman's respect and appreciation for his work, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to have this conversation.

Overall, this portion of the conversation provides valuable advice for young people, insights into the contemplation of life and death, and Isaacson's perspective on legacy and giving back to his community. It also includes an exchange of mutual respect and admiration between Lex Fridman and Walter Isaacson.