ISLM #6 | Dr. John Goodenough | In The Presence Of Genius

“I tend to be a little pessimistic but I work like an optimist.”
– Dr. John Goodenough

Dr. John Goodenough is a 95-year-old National Medal of Science award winner known around the world as the father of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

He currently serves as the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair of Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, where he holds faculty positions in both the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  He began his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, where he laid the groundwork for the development of random-access memory (RAM) for the digital computer.

In the 1970's, Dr. Goodenough identified and developed the critical materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power portable electronics, initiating the wireless revolution. Today, batteries incorporating his materials are used worldwide for mobile phones, power tools, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices, as well as electric and hybrid vehicles.

Dr. Goodenough is the author of over 800 journal articles, nearly 100 book chapters, and 8 books and is adding to his tally by collaborating with innovative scientists more than half his age.  He recently filed a patent application for a new kind of battery that may usher in the next unimaginable era of discovery that will affect us all.

It was a thrilling and humbling experience to tap into the essence of genius with a living legend, and this episode is full of the kind of wisdom only accrued over a long and productive lifetime.  Enjoy!

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Want to hear another episode from a nonagenarian (a person between 90 and 99-years-old)?  Check out this episode with the incomparable Dr. Charles Eugster, a world-record holder in track and field and best-selling author, where we dive into the secrets of lifelong vitality, high performance, and productivity.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY:  What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode?  Would you like a transcript of this episode?  Who else would you like to see appear on the show?  Please let me know in the comments!

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Learn more about Dr. John Goodenough:


  • Great article on his life and the discovery of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery (Quartz, February 2015)
  • An overview of his newest discovery...has he done it again? (Quartz, March 2017)
  • Profile in the New York Times ("To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old", April 2017); in the article, the author comments "The more I talked to Dr. Goodenough, the more I wondered if his brilliance was directly tied to his age. After all, he has been thinking about energy problems longer than just about anyone else on the planet."



  • Some of the biggest obstacles and failures that he's has had to overcome in his life and how he did it? [4:15]
  • What's the role of luck in achieving success? [5:32]
  • What continues to drive him at 95 years-old? [6:55]
  • Finding meaning and purpose in life. [8:23]
  • How the challenges that we face today compare to others that he's lived through. [9:18]
  • Whether he feels more creative now or at an earlier time in his life. [17:18]
  • Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist if you want to achieve a happy and fulfilling life? [22:18]
  • The role that timing and the right conditions for creative breakthroughs. [24:05]
  • Things that governments and companies can do to create a better environment for innovation. [27:11]
  • What does he attribute to his long and productive life? [31:30]
  • Does he have any regrets? [37:05]
  • The best advice that he would provide to his 18 year-old self. [40:50]
  • The special interventions that shaped his early life and path as a scientist. [42:50]
  • The one thing that Dr. Goodenough believes in that no one else does. [46:38]
  • Is there anything he'd like to be able do today that he can't? [48:18]
  • Final thoughts and where to find out more about his life. [49:40]