Saul Singer: Life is The Pinnacle of Creation
Today, everybody talks about innovation. Many books try to figure out the magic formula to accelerate innovation. Companies invest tons of money into making innovation happen. What do we truly need to know about innovation?
Saul Singer: Journalist, Author
Saul Singer is the co-author, with Dan Senor, of the best-selling book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. The book has reached #5 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller lists, and is also a bestseller in Israel, India, and Singapore. Also, he is an editorial board member at the Times of Israel and serves on the advisory boards of Vintage Investment Partners, an Israeli fund of funds, and Tevel B’Tsedek, an Israeli NGO working in Nepal, Haiti, and Burundi. Today, he shares with us how he started up his unique life.
-----For those who are not familiar with you tell us more about you. How did you get interested in journalism and writing?
I started in journalism when I moved to Israel 20 years ago, working for a newspaper called the Jerusalem Post. I have no training in journalism, but my background in policy, from staff work in the US Congress, prepared me for writing editorials and eventually my own weekly opinion column.
-----When you write something, what happens in your mind? Do you know what you want to write from the beginning or do you articulate it gradually?
I find that ideas come from writing, rather than writing from ideas. Good writing usually requires clear thinking, but writing is often an important means toclarifying thinking.
-----What was the most difficult thing when you experienced when you published your book? How has that experience changed your life?
The most difficult thing was to invest a lot of time and effort without knowing whether anyone would actually see the result. The book completely changed my professional focus. Before the book I mostly wrote about strategy and politics. I have since become immersed in the much more interesting and exciting world of innovation, particularly, how countries become innovative. My travels to many countries to speak about the book have opened my eyes to the changing global map of innovation.
-----When you start something new, there are so many unpredictable things. Looking back, what allowed you to take a leap of faith?
Ignorance helps. If I had thought too much about the chances of a book becoming successful, I might never have written it. All entrepreneurship involves a suspension of disbelief. Daniel Kahneman has written about the paradox that the most successful people have an essentially irrational approach toward assessingrisk
, and that progress and growth seem to be driven by such people.
-----Through your research and experience, what makes certain people think differently?
The main barriers to thinking differently are social and psychological rather than individual capability. Water likes to take the easiest, well-worn, path and so do we. I think that creative people don’t necessarily have more ideas than anyone else, they are just more driven and willing to stray from the well-worn path.
-----What is the most important thing you have ever learned in your life and why?
Victor Frankl was right; the greatest human need is for meaning. Most people are trying to make their life easier, but that’s not where meaning comes from. I know of only three sources of meaning: spirituality (belief or struggle), relationships (family and friends), and work (paid or not; what we do to have an impact on the world around us). We should be trying to bolster all three sources of meaning in our lives as much as we can.
-----When you hear the word “successful”, who is the first person that comes to your mind and why?
It takes a lot of courage to actually do anything. I admire people who can build companies that change the world. I also admire people who can help one person at a time. Sometimes that takes even more courage
-----What does “life” mean to you?
Life is the pinnacle of creation. We are entering an age when we have to discover and re-discover what it means to be human. We are living in one of the most exciting moments in history. In this century, human life is changing faster than it ever has, and maybe faster than it ever will be.
-----If you could make a call to 20-year-old Saul Singer, what kind of advice would you give to him?
Get more experiences. Get out of your comfort zone. Educate yourself by building things and learning from people, not just in schools. Study stuff that you wouldn’t normally touch outside of school, like great literature, philosophy. Find ways to force yourself to write more often because that’s the only way to learn how to write – and other forms of creative communication.
-----If you could leave one message to make the world better, what would be your message?
There so much that needs to be done; finds something that matters to you and
do it. But in order to get stuff done, you also need to build your own character (see The Road to Character, by David Brooks). We often forget that part.