3 famous innovators whose mothers were key to their success

Not all moms would travel into the African bush or drain their life savings just to help their kids realize their dreams.

3 famous innovators whose mothers were key to their success
Getty Images, credited left to right: Ian Waldie / Staff; ANGELA WEISS /
Scott Wintrow
/ Stringer
  • Mother's Day is Sunday, May 12.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jane Goodall, and Elon Musk all received extraordinary support from their mothers.
  • Without this support, these innovators' careers probably would've turned out much differently.

​Philip Seymour Hoffman

Even when his roles were small, such as in 1992's Scent of a Woman, it's hard to forget a performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Equally adept at playing the lead role or that of a bumbling sidekick, Hoffman was one of his generation's greatest actors. And his mother is largely to thank for introducing him to the craft.

In 2006, Hoffman won Best Actor for his lead role in Capote. Here's what he said during his acceptance speech:

"My mom's name is Marilyn O'Connor, and she's here tonight. And, I'd like, if you see her tonight, to congratulate her, because she brought up four kids alone, and she deserves a congratulations for that. . . She took me to see my first play. She stayed up with me and watched the NCAA Final Four. . . Be proud mom, because I'm proud of you."

Hoffman died in 2014 from a drug overdose. One year later, O'Connor was honored at the High Falls Film Festival, of which she was a founding member. O'Connor said:

"Movies have been a part of my life since I was a little girl. My parents took me to movies. I snuck away to go to movies by myself even at night. . . I left college classes early so I could go to movies."

​Jane Goodall

As a young girl growing up in London, Jane Goodall had a very specific dream: She wanted to live in Africa among wild animals. It's a goal many parents might scoff at or try to discourage. But Jane's mother, Vanne Morris-Goodall, never did anything of the sort.

"Mother told me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I am always grateful for that," Goodall told The Citizen in 2014.

That support went beyond just words. In 1960, as Jane was preparing for one of her early trips to Tanzania, British authorities told her it wasn't safe to venture alone into the bush. So, Vanne agreed to accompany Jane as a "chaperone" for several months.

Jane said she learned a lot about being a mother from observing how chimpanzees raise their children. Jane once described what makes a successful chimpanzee mother, and it sounds remarkably similar to how Jane's own mother raised her:

"The offspring of mothers who are protective, but not too protective; tolerant, but able to discipline; affectionate and above all supportive have less problems."

​Elon Musk

Before Elon Musk founded enormously successful companies such as SpaceX and Tesla, he and his brother, venture capitalist Kimbal Musk, founded a software company called Zip2 in 1995. It wasn't an immediate success. Elon and Kimbal's mother, Maye Musk, was working for the company at the time, performing duties such as overseeing interns and vetting business plans. Maye, who was a model, dietician, and business-owner herself, ended up donating $10,000 of her savings to keep the company afloat. She later said it was her "best investment ever."

A few years later, Compaq bought Zip2 for $307 million.

"I don't stop my kids from doing anything they think is right," Musk told Forbes. "As long as you're doing something that is good for the future, then I think you should remain positive and do it."

Live on Thursday: Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.

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