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Steve Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson to speak at RIMS



PHILADELPHIA—At its core, innovation is a risk.

The desire and ability to innovate—to break from established theories and practices, be they political, scientific or commercial—is what led biographer and Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson to his detailed studies of men like Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

“I've always been fascinated with creative minds, and how they're able to take these imaginative leaps,” Mr. Isaacson, a former chairman and CEO of the Cable News Network and former managing editor at Time Magazine, said. “What it is that allowed them and allows us to take these risks, these imaginative leaps, has been a theme in my biographies.”

As a keynote speaker at the 2012 Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. Conference & Exhibition, being held April 15-18 Philadelphia, Mr. Isaacson will discuss the main links between innovation and risk-taking, particularly through the prism of his most recent work, the best-selling biography of Apple Inc. co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs.

“I think that having certain core principles that define how you're going to do your business helps you understand how to take risk, how to think outside of the box, and how to be imaginative in ways that are actually going to work,” Mr. Isaacson said. “We're often afraid to take risks, and it's partly because we're not confident in the data and the intuition we have relative to a new product or a new endeavor.”

Mr. Isaacson said he plans to highlight elements of Mr. Jobs' business strategy and philosophy that could provide guidance for risk managers, including his knack for convincing others to embrace risk as an opportunity to surpass one's limitations, real or perceived.

“Steve had an ability to get people to do things they didn't even know they could do,” Mr. Isaacson said. “They called it the reality distortion field. He was able to push his people into thinking they could accomplish what they thought was impossible.”

Another key element of Mr. Jobs' success at Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, especially since the beginning of the 21st century, was his emphasis on product simplicity and clarity of function, Mr. Isaacson said.

“Each of Steve's new products were what he called "bet-the-company' risks,” Mr. Isaacson said, noting in particular Apple's product expansion into the music industry, cellular phone and tablet computing markets, all of which had been unproven ground for computer manufacturers.

“Every time he went out into one of those areas, he was taking a big risk, but he did it based on a deep knowledge and intuition as far as the market's need for an imaginative solution to a new problem,” Mr. Isaacson said. “He realized that simplicity doesn't just mean eliminating certain elements of a product, but rather really understanding what the core essence of the product actually is.”

Mr. Isaacson's address is scheduled for April 18 during the RIMS Keynote Leadership Luncheon. Asked what led to Mr. Isaacson's selection as a keynote speaker for this year's conference, RIMS Executive Director Mary Roth said the author's biography subjects had distinguished themselves in their willingness to embrace risk in the pursuit of imagination and innovation.

“This is the same driving force that has allowed the risk management discipline to progress from insurance procurement to more complex processes like enterprise risk management and strategic risk management,” Ms. Roth said. “Mr. Isaacson's familiarity with his subjects, in addition to his experience at CNN, Time Magazine and in the private sector, makes him not only eminently qualified to see these similarities, but to relate them to larger business concerns.”