“Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one other serendipitously." - Walter Isaacson
In his famous biographies, Walter Isaacson has studied the lives of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci. A common theme among these individuals is that they interacted with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
Leonardo da Vinci thrived in the Renaissance era. It was a transformative period in which science, the arts, and culture where flourishing. In Florence, Italy, Da Vinci engaged with the likes of engineers, sculptors, merchants, poets, and many others.
Benjamin Franklin helped pioneer the civic culture in America. He founded the first public library, and started a club for people to meet and discuss ideas. Franklin was well-versed in disciplines such as science, journalism, and politics. He traveled to London at a young age to work as a printer. The stories he encountered and shared likely had a big impact on his worldview.
Steve Jobs grew up surrounded by computer engineers, creative artists, and counter-culture hippies. He learned the value of craftsmanship from his skilled father, and picked up hobbies like calligraphy from his short time in college. In his career, Jobs would bounce from meetings related to Pixar, Apple music, and iPhone design. This involved numerous interactions with people such as business executives, product designers, and graphic artists.
Each of these visionaries accomplished remarkable things throughout their lives. But the interesting pattern here is the social element.
Many of us picture inventors and geniuses as solitary figures. However, the interactions these individuals engaged in had a huge influence on their lives.
So how can we meet many people with a diverse range of interests?
It's surprising that our societies haven't made more of an effort in this regard. We have many events and meetups, but they often center around a specific niche. Maybe we need our activities to be more broad and inclusive.
Diversity breeds ideas. If we only surround ourselves to certain types of people, then our chances of generating ideas aren't very good.
Most universities seem to naturally segregate. They've got a business center, engineering building, and place for liberal arts. Why not just mesh everything together?
Maybe it's more awkward and uncomfortable to just throw everyone together like that. We naturally seem to seek comfort and predictability among those whom we meet. But maybe a little discomfort is necessary to spark ideas. We need to be open to diversity and unpredictability in order to grow and think differently.