Can You Get Beyond What Anyone Else Has Done?
The world tends to reward specialists.
Nathan Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures after retiring from his position as chief strategist and chief technology officer of Microsoft Corporation. At Intellectual Ventures, Myhrvold is focused on a variety of business interests relating to the funding, creation and commercialization of inventions. During his 14-year tenure at Microsoft, Dr. Myhrvold held various positions within the company and was responsible for founding Microsoft Research and numerous technology groups that resulted in many of Microsoft's most successful products. He has extensive experience successfully linking research to product development and commercialization.
In 1986, Myhrvold’s company Dynamical Systems was acquired by Microsoft. Prior to that, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge University and worked with Professor Stephen Hawking on research in cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space time and quantum theories of gravitation. Dr. Myhrvold holds hundreds of patents and has hundreds issued or pending.
Dr. Myhrvold earned a doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics and a master's degree in mathematical economics from Princeton University. In 2005, in recognition of his distinguished career, Princeton awarded Dr. Myhrvold the James Madison Medal, the university’s top honor for alumni. He also has a master's degree in geophysics and space physics and a bachelor's degree in mathematics, both from UCLA. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Board for the Department of Physics at the University of Washington. He is also an affiliate research associate of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies where he funds and participates in paleontological research and yearly expeditions.
Dr. Myhrvold is a member of the United Way’s Million Dollar Roundtable and a regular contributor to local Seattle arts and education non-profits. In 2000, he partnered with Paul Allen and pledged $1 million to the SETI Foundation, to fund the development phase of the world’s most powerful telescope – the Allen Telescope Array.
An avid nature and wildlife photographer, Dr. Myhrvold’s work is featured in the books “America 24/7” and “Washington 24/7” where his photographs helped capture a week in the life of people and nature in the United States during the spring of 2003. His research has been published in scientific journals including Science, Nature, Paleobiology, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontologyand the Physical Review and he has contributed articles to magazines including Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Time,and National Geographic Traveler. In 2004, he provided the foreword to a book profiling some of the world’s greatest inventors – “Juice: The Creative Fuel that Drives World-Class Inventors.” He has also been named one of the most influential people in IP by several leading IP trade publications.
He is currently working on a cookbook surveying the science, technology, and techniques used in modern cuisine. “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” was released in March 2011. For more information visit http://www.modernistcuisine.com
There’s some really good advice that I’ve never followed. And that good advice is to focus on something that you’re really good at, better than everybody else at, and really put lots of focus on it because the world tends to reward specialists. The world tends not to reward as much people who are generalists or people who are trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.
That said, I have always been interested in lots of things and I’ve not been able to help myself from being interested in lots of things. In everything I do, I try to do to the best of my ability. Now, for some things, the best of my ability isn’t very good. So for those things, dabbling in them is more because I think it’s fun, because it’s interesting to me. I’ve been fortunate that some of the things where I tried to do my best, my best is good enough that other people think it’s pretty good. My cookbook is certainly a different cookbook than anybody else’s cookbook, and the research I do with dinosaurs or the photos I take, they may not be the best in the world, but they have something to offer because they’re a little bit different than what everybody else does.
So even though I have lots of things I do, when I’m focused on one thing, I try to really get in-depth with it and learn everything I can, to get out to the frontier of knowledge and then say, "Okay now, can I go beyond that? Can I push past that frontier? Can I take it to the next stage?" And I think that’s where it really gets interesting to me is when you’re trying to do something that is beyond what anyone else has done.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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