Living an Exciting Life: Lessons from Nathan Myhrvold

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.

Nathan Myhrvold 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


  1. AMazing video of an amazing person. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Avani,
    I’m glad you like it. I was excited when I watched it which is why I decided to share it in a blog post.

  3. Hi Donald: I recently wrote a post on “How to Be a Renaissance Man or Woman” that highlighted that people like Leonard da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Galileo Galilei, and so on, were involved in many different fields, were athletic, played musical instruments, and so on. Nathan Myhrvold is definitely a man of the Renaissance, I enjoyed this article–and the video–very much.

  4. Marelisa,
    “Renaissance Man” is a term I only learned recently and I love it. I enjoyed your article about it.

  5. While watching his talk I noticed one thing which probably is a speciality of him: Pattern matching.
    While he is digging into a subject he searches for patterns. His wide interests help him because he gets a very lot examples of different patterns.

    I think looking to completely different things can help being more creative in other areas – such as airplane manufacturers looked at birds when improving their airplanes.

  6. Martin,
    I think you’re right that pattern matching is his specialty. His pattern matching skill enables him to quickly learn new subjects because he can apply what he has learned from other fields about similar patterns. Furthermore, the new subjects further enrich his pattern repository.
    It’s a virtuous cycle.

  7. But the most important question remains unanswered: What is the lesson that we get tought by penguin shit? 😉

  8. Good question, Martin. It’s difficult to answer 🙂

  9. Oh I think I got it:

    And this means: There are a lot of possible answers.

    Everything can be seen through very different eyes.

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