Yesterday I picked up a new book Inventors at Work. It is very similar to Founders at work and consists of interviews of well known inventors. I was struck by one paragraph in its introduction that summarised the common traits of inventors. I’ve reproduced that paragraph below (added breaks and emphasis are mine)
What I found is that all of these very different inventions sprang from a set of common traits in their inventors: perseverance, drive, motivation, a touch of obsession, and—perhaps most importantly—a buoyant inability to see experimental failure as anything but a useful and stimulating part of the invention process.
I was also struck by the fact that most of the inventors I interviewed expressed a similar set of preferences and work habits. They like to work on multiple projects simultaneously in multidisciplinary teams, freely sharing their ideas with others. They reach out to experts in other fields and ask lots of questions.
They wake up in the middle of the night and sketch out their ideas on paper or visualize them vividly in their heads. They prototype ideas using materials that they are comfortable working with.
They use physical exercise to relax their minds and jack up their concentration. They seek mental stimulation and different tempos of thought in areas outside their specialties.
Most strikingly, they value slow time to ponder, dream, and free-associate.
So ingrained are these traits and habits of mind that none of the inventors I interviewed could imagine ever ceasing to invent, even if they retired from their professions.
The last bit also reminded me of Maker’s schedule from one of Paul Graham’s essays. I’m sure there is more good stuff in this book.