MacArthur fellows I spent the weekend with included everyone from an urban farmer to a short story writer to a science sculptor to a deep-sea explorer to an engineer obsessed with old buildings.
The thing all seemed to have in common was this: They took the road less traveled.
Will Allens job sounds like an oxymoron. He is an urban farmer.
Recognizing the unhealthy diets of the poor in the inner city, he started a nonprofit, Growing Power, that grows fresh fruits and vegetables on city land in places such as Milwaukee.
George Saunders started off as a geophysical engineer, and his first job was a field seismologist in Indonesia.
Thankfully, he proved inept and pursued a different career. Today he writes short stories for the New Yorker .
Ned Kahn began by working at the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. Before long, he was designing exhibits that incorporated the forces of nature.
These days, he designs dramatic exhibits around the world, from a seven-story tornado in Germany to his dramatic uses of wind and water at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, which took $5 billion to build.
Here is his Wind Arbor that is part of the hotel:
More of his work can be seen on his website.
Edith Widder was 11 years old when she visited Fiji with her parents. What captivated her were the creatures she saw on the reef, such as giant clams, blue starfish and lionfish.
Her career as a deep-sea explorer took another turn when she made her first deep dive. When she turned off the lights, the sea was lit up by the lights from the creatures.
I was hooked, she said. The experience changed the course of my career.
She has since helped develop devices to measure bioluminescence in oceans as well as a remote camera to capture these scenes of underwater beauty.
John Ochsendorf became a structural engineer, but by his own admission followed an entirely different path.
He focused his energies on trying to figure out how certain buildings had stood for hundreds of years when computer software insisted such a structure couldnt stand.
If a building has stood for 500 years, and the software says it cant, the software is obviously wrong, he told us.
Ochsendorfs study might have seemed impractical to some until a small part of a stone building in Britain fell in the place where Englands Queen would have been sitting the next day.
Today his work is in demand, helping people use native products to construct sturdy, lasting buildings.
These are but a handful of the amazing MacArthur fellows I met and talked with a weekend ago.
I also happened to notice that nearly everyone of them used a MacBook. (Full disclosure: I bought my first Mac in 1991 and have been an Apple fan since.)
The more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of an Apple advertising campaign years ago called Think Different, which featured photographs of Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, Yoko Ono and others.
I went online and found the text from the original campaign:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.