Wil (not his real name) is likely the most inventive and intelligent person I’ve ever met. He's an engineer out of MIT who stayed home to raise the kids, and he volunteered to work with me in the engineering lab after school. For more than five years he would show up and provide engineering guidance and training to students (and me!).
The lab would be full of students working on various projects: robots, human-powered vehicles, CO2 cannons, electrolysis tanks, and particle accelerators and bubble chambers. Wil and I would talk and laugh and have fun together with the students.
Wil looks at problems from a completely different angle from the typical way of seeing things. Where my engineering solutions would often take the obvious path, his would be upside-down and backwards, and ultimately more simple, effective, and elegant than what I’d come up with. It was genius.
Eventually, Wil’s approach rubbed off on me a little bit, and I realized that though his approach was still genius, it didn’t take his MIT engineering degree to pull it off.
Wil shows up. Students would come with a question or a problem, and Wil would hear it out, ask a few additional questions to get clear on the challenge, and then guide students to seeing their own solution by asking even more questions.
In other words, Wil is exceptionally curious. He approaches every challenge as if he has no idea what is going on, and he builds a fresh new perspective on whatever shows up in front of him.
When we’re curious and engaged like that, the problems and challenges we face become much more interesting, and we’re also able to be much more creative.
It’s funny now to think about it - I always thought that Wil’s genius came from what he knew, but it actually came from his pretending in the moment that he didn’t know anything. When we don't already have an answer, we have a lot more room to be curious and creative.
Thanks so much for reading. ❤️