I recently watched Nathan Myhrvold’s video at TED and it’s amazing. I want to talk about the video and what I learn from it in a moment, but let me introduce Nathan Myhrvold first. He is the man who is featured in The New Yorker’s article In The Air (I wrote a post about the article entitled How to Create Ideas: 11 Proven Lessons from Idea Generators). He is a genius. He began college at age 14 and earned PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics at age 23. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow under Stephen Hawking (a top physicist who wrote A Brief History of Time). He later moved to Microsoft where he founded Microsoft Research and became Chief Technology Officer.
In the video he talked about what he did after he left Microsoft in 1999. He talked about what he did in archeology, palaeontology, SETI, nuclear technology, photography, and even cooking! Look at the diversity of the topics. This is not to mention his earlier career in physics and information technology.
What amazes me even more is the depth of what he did. He wasn’t just a spectator in the sideline. He made innovations and inventions in those fields. He wrote a paper in palaeontology, held patent for a new kind of nuclear reactor, and made a creative device for cooking (you can see the device in the video). He is also a prize-winning photographer and world barbecue champion. In every field, he worked with the best people. For instance, when he went to Easter Island to examine its statues, he worked with a researcher who had worked 20 years on that subject. In SETI, he worked with a top researcher whose profile was the basis of Jodie Foster role in the movie Contact.
I don’t know about you, but this video is inspiring for me. It teaches me lessons on how to live an exciting life. You can feel Myhrvold’s passion and enthusiasm during the talk. He is a clear example of curiosity. I thought I already had wide interests, but after watching this video I realize just how narrow my world is.
I learn a lot from the depth of his interests. When I’m interested in something, usually I only have enough interest to go through the skin. I don’t have enough interest to go deep into that subject. But Myhrvold not only has wide interests, he also has deep interests. It’s deep enough to make him an expert in a field. This is an important lesson for me. I need to widen my interests, but even more important, I need to deepen them. That’s a key to living an exciting life.
I just imagined that if Leonardo da Vinci lived in the 21st century, he will be like Nathan Myhrvold.
Photo by pmo