Finding Your Nyquist

Our economy depends on a continuous flow of innovative new ideas. National source of wealth has shifted from resources, cheap labor, land, and other material advantages to intellectual capital. Disruption of entire industries is largely based on new ideas.

At a time when the new economic order has become a reality, many of our brightest minds struggle with creativity. Why is that? Perhaps it’s the way we develop the talent of our young people. Maybe it’s because many people are risk averse. Is there something about our brains that makes some people more creative than others? The answers to these questions are not known, but one thing is clear: we need to build our national capacity for innovation. To do that, we need to find our own Nyquist.

Harry Nyquist was born in Sweden in 1889 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1907. He had B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering and a Ph.D.  in Physics. He worked at Bell Labs.

Bell Labs was the epicenter of innovation at the time, but not all of their professional staff was as productive as others. When a study was done of the most productive staff (based upon patents), the result was surprising. Productivity wasn’t based on universities attended, degrees, experiences, or any other factor that would normally be associated with intellectual capacity. The one common connector to the most productive staff was that they regularly had breakfast or lunch with Harry Nyquist.

Harry Nyquist did not give them ideas, but he asked them questions that helped them develop their ideas. He was a catalyst for exploratory thinking. When we look to expanding over creative capacity, we need to look for someone like Harry Nyquist.

What are the traits of a person who can stimulate our creative thinking? Here are some traits you might want to think about.

  • Is the person warm and caring and a good listener?
  • Is the person disciplined in all aspects of their life so that we can depend on them?
  • Is the person a connector of ideas and people?
  • Is the person full of useful questions?
  • Is the person able to expand our thinking through the questions asked?
  • Does the person have a sharing ego?

While Harry Nyquist had incredible technical contributions of his own, that wasn’t what made him so helpful to others. Likewise, you don’t need a person with expertise in your creative field. You just need someone who is able to expand your thinking beyond your initial intellectual zone.

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“Curiosity is just connecting things.” – Steve Jobs

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