8. sep. 2023
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
The Hidden Sources Behind Big Ideas.
In this week’s newsletter, I want to expand on the last issue about The Myth of Originality.
I’ve decided to turn it into a series. Last week was the introduction, while this week we’re going to talk about some big names and what influenced their iconic work. Especially since I’ve talked about that nothing is truly original.
It’s important that we look at the past for references.
In all honesty, I was unsure how I would go about writing this week’s newsletter—it happens to me every week. I have an idea, even a drafty kind of title. But then, anxiety kicks in as I’m getting closer to Friday, and I’ve to write the whole thing.
And somehow, I managed to hit ‘publish’ every single week.
I believe the reason I don't dry out and miss a week (unless I get sick or something alerting happens) is because I write about what I find interesting that I think that someone of you would find interesting too.
Enough rambling—let’s cut to the chase. This is how I’m going to tackle it: one entrepreneur, one artist, and one inventor.
I’ve got Steve Jobs lined up for entrepreneurship, Picasso when we talk art, and for invention. The Wright Brothers.
All right, let’s get started.
We know Steve Jobs as the visionary entrepreneur who transformed the tech industry, introducing innovative technologies such as the Macintosh computer back in the day to today’s iPhones.
What most people don’t know is that Jobs wasn’t a magician who just happened to pull groundbreaking products out of thin air, leaving people in awe. Since we didn’t have direct access to his thought patterns.
But thanks to the internet, we’ve had the opportunity to scroll through the past and understand what influenced a man like himself to do what he did.
One of the reasons Apple, as a company and its products, are so heavily focused on simplicity and minimalist aesthetics is because of Jobs's own journey to India in his teenage years.
After dropping out of college, Jobs was working for Atari. While working at Atari he got the opportunity to travel to India at his own request. He was in search of inspiration and longed for enlightenment.
In India, Jobs was introduced to Zen Buddhism. He experimented with fasting and learned a lot about intuition and introspection from the local spiritual leaders.
Though Jobs dropped out of college, he only managed to take one course—calligraphy. Might sound crazy. But it did come in handy when he founded Apple later on.
When Jobs was a young boy, his adoptive father gave him advice that deeply influenced Apple’s design philosophy:
This was told by Isaacson, an author who wrote the biography of Steve Jobs at Job’s own request. This mentality that he got from his adoptive father influenced the way Apple products were being made. It even shaped the culture and mentality of the company.
Steve Jobs believed that beauty, art, and aesthetics were just as important as the technology itself. It shouldn’t only work and function but also be aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Another interesting thing is that Steve Jobs was a huge fan of Edwin Land, the co-founder of Polaroid who pioneered instant photography.
It’s kinda crazy how much Land and Jobs had in common.
They were both intense about their visions—sometimes to the point where others found them hard to handle.
They were both college dropouts and had a deep passion for the intersection of art, science, and business.
And… both of them were even forced out of their own company they founded. Crazy, right?
As you’ve probably noticed by now, a lot of what Apple became is deeply rooted in what Steve Jobs has been exposed to throughout his life.
Zen Buddhism, a calligraphy course, the teachings of his adoptive father, and the genius of inventions like Edwin Land—each one left a mark on him.
Steve Jobs had the amazing ability to take all of those influences and combine them into something new.
Not entirely original, but different. That’s the reason why the products Apple designed felt new to people who never knew of his influences.
There’s a whole lot more to discuss about the many influences on Jobs. But for your sake, I’ll hold back for now.
Instead, I’ll leave you with a thought-provoking quote from the man himself:
This leads perfectly to the next person I’m going to talk about—Pablo Picasso, the artist.
Picasso was not shy about drawing inspiration from other artists. It wasn’t about plagiarism. But it was about observing what’s around and transforming those insights into something new—with his own spin on it.
One of the artists that Picasso was influenced by was Paul Cézanne. Cézanne’s exploration of form and his method of breaking down objects into geometric shapes inspired artists like Picasso.
This inspiration became clear in Picasso’s most iconic period—Cubism. It was an art movement where basic shapes were deconstructed and pieced back together in an abstract way.
There was a period from 1907-1908 known as ‘Proto-Cubism’. It laid the foundation for the Cubism movement. You can notice this evolution in this Picasso painting.
You can see that the Proto-Cubism painting made by Picasso was influenced by Cézanne:
It’s not totally the same. But what Picasso and other artists noticed during the Cubism period was Cézanne's use of geometry.
That inspired the art movement.
Notice the similarities in the eyes?
Orville and Wilbur Wright were best known for their pioneering efforts in creating the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane.
But though they were pioneers, they also had influences that had an impact on their work. One of the people who influenced them was Otto Lilienthal, a German pioneer of aviation. Wilbur Wright said this in 1912 about Lilienthal:
Another major influence for the brothers was the French-born American civil engineer, Octave Chanute.
Chanute had completed a lot of successful glider flights and was happy to share his insights with anyone interested in his work. And of course, the Wright brothers took that opportunity.
They even used Chanute research paper ‘Progress in Flying Machines’ and his articles to guide their own experiments.
But what’s amazing about the Wright brothers is their observation of nature. They drew inspiration from watching birds—especially buzzards.
Wilbur noticed that the birds were able to maintain their balance in flight by adjusting the angle and position of their wings.
Though they didn’t get the desired result is funny to note that even animals have the potential to influence our work.
It reminded me of bullet trains in Japan, which was inspired by another type of bird called Kingfisher (I know I just sidetracked, but I was trying to make a point).
Also, their knowledge and understanding of bicycles gave them insights into how they could solve problems that previous predecessors couldn’t achieve.
It’s amazing to think how something as simple as the design of a bicycle could influence the invention of the airplane.