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This chapter is from the book

Stealth Passions and the Power of Peripheral Thinking

Another potential payoff from experimenting with peripheral thinking is that it might unlock a passion that is your secret talent or even a new specialty you've been unable or unwilling to reveal until a collection of passions all came colliding together—giving you a peek at what you'd rather be doing when the world isn't watching and not requiring you to pay bills. If at first you don't pressure yourself to take them too seriously—but do them anyway—a portfolio of passions may give you a unique opportunity to look honestly at things that you care about without your harshest critic—yourself—judging or dismissing what matters to you.

It's common knowledge that it requires focus to achieve a specific objective. But blind pursuit of just one thing is like searching for El Dorado. When you exclude all other things except a single focus for your life, there is a danger that you might find it impossible to locate the real treasure. Single-mindedness forces you to sideline passions that, with further development, could come together as your genius or eventually become your organization's core greatness.

We are not suggesting that you abandon all plans, scatter your efforts to the four winds, and become a wandering philosopher. It's just that being creative in your passions has a place in your life and work, with benefits that can't be forced or predicted. Peripheral thinking has the potential to catalyze a chemical reaction waiting within you—a set of passions that could move the world we share in the direction of goodness. Honor that part of yourself. Carve out a little time each week, on the job or after work, to experiment in some way with one of your other passions.

Bill Nye's career unfolded exactly that way. When we met him in his office near the Seattle Space Needle, it was hard to find a place to sit down among all the whiz-bang scientific toys. Bill's eyes sparkled as he scooped up a bright, shiny ball and plopped it into the top of an elaborate towering maze, where it clanged and banged its way on a circuitous route to the bottom. "You could live without this, but why would you want to?" he quipped, an expression he used to describe each of his wild gadgets as if it was show-and-tell time in the classroom. These things embodied the eclectic combination of Nye's three passions: education, science, and humor. Nye was the kind of kid fascinated with how things worked. Every week, you could find him pulling apart every bicycle he could find, and rumor has it he got most of them back together. He was also intrigued with the ways people learn. His mother had a Ph.D. in education, and he found himself tutoring other kids in school, spreading his love of math and science. He majored in mechanical engineering at Cornell University and took a job at Boeing International designing airplanes.

Then, Nye decided to try his hand at a core competency that wasn't acceptable in the office at that time—comedy. He entered a Steve Martin "look alike" contest and won even though he doesn't look anything remotely like Martin. It was his deep scientific understanding of Martin's sick humor that took the prize, Nye claimed. He also started doing stand-up at comedy clubs and moonlighting on a Seattle-based TV show called Almost Live.

In his spare time, he volunteered tutoring kids struggling with math and science and gave presentations to kids at the Pacific Science Center, teaching the basic principles of science—"like how to blow liquid nitrogen smoke out your nose," he said. "Don't try this at home!" he sagely advised. "You've got to put in the hours to pull this stunt off safely."

For years, he had wanted to do a TV show that would combine his love for education, science, and silliness, but even his friends told him he was nuts. Even he admits that it was nuts—it had never been successfully done before—but he didn't see why that should stop him from trying. Nye decided to reset the priority of his passions, "Or, dare I say it? Change the world," he exclaimed with a laugh. He quit his day job and accepted a part-time role doing engineering that would help underwrite his new full-time position writing comedy. He got grants from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and gathered a creative group of friends—the kind of pals he was so close to that they even share their most intimate toys, "like telescopes." As a result, the TV show, Bill Nye The Science Guy, was born. It ended up becoming a 100-part TV series that won 28 Emmys, influenced thousands of children, and is still distributed by Disney today. Now that Nye has three passions compressed into one career, what would be his ultimate achievement? "If one of the kids who watched the show would find a cure for cancer," Nye said, pausing a moment, "that would be pretty cool."

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