Imagination, with Jen Easterly

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Jen Easterly was in the US Army for 20 years. She joined as an intelligence officer and served in command and staff positions around the world. She worked on the Army’s first cyber operations unit. Jen then worked as Deputy for Counterterrorism at the National Security Agency. She’s currently Managing Director at Morgan Stanley.


Hi, I’m Jen Easterly, I’m a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley and the Global Head of our Cybersecurity Fusion Center. So if I could think about one piece of advice to give myself 30 years ago when I was first starting out, it is the super power of imagination. I always like to say that Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited and imagination embraces the entire world stimulating progress and giving birth to evolution.

So while many of us are very focused still on our education and acquiring knowledge, I actually agree that imagination is more important. That is one of the things that I really look to when I am hiring people for the Fusion Center, is somebody who is willing to really come up with bold ideas and to go against conventional thinking and to really think about what the possibilities in the world are in a really creative way. And if I would give advice on how to strengthen your imagination, because I really think it is a force multiplier in everything we do, I talk about 5 simple things.

First it’s: questioning. Really appreciating the importance of intellectual curiosity. Questioning why, questioning why not. Going against convention. Really taking inspiration from the words of somebody like the great Grace Hopper who essentially was one of the inventors of code who said: The worst words in the English language are: we’ve always done it this way. So I think questioning is important.

I think thinking, deeply and critically, and creatively are important too. We’re all so busy, we don’t take the time to pull ourselves back from the email, or the social media, or the busyness of the day. I think thinking creatively, quieting your mind going for a walk meditating is so important.

Three, I think: reading. Reading what inspires you what makes you laugh, what makes you cry. I think reading is the single most important activity to make us better, more imaginative more articulate human beings. Reading is incredibly important.

I think it’s also really important to be a good writer. There are so many writing assignments that many students have to take these days but, words can truly be some of our most powerful weapons. And words can really inspire and spur the the imagination, our imagination, but the imagination of others, so I think it’s hugely important to be a good writer.

And then finally: being a storyteller, which, you know, many of our greatest leaders and our greatest technologists were our greatest storytellers imparting lessons with power fueled by imagination conveying words much more convincingly than mere facts or PowerPoint slides could. So I think it’s incredibly important to be a good storyteller particularly in the world of technology, where you really need to figure out many ways how to translate the technical speak into non-technical lessons for people to understand. In the world that I’m in, in cybersecurity, tt really comes down in many cases to the individual and what the individual and what the individual does to protect himself or herself so understanding that imperative is so important and the power of stories can really help make that come true.

Jen Easterly, Managing Director at Morgan Stanley


Jen Easterly

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