On Harry Nyquist…

tags: harry-nyquist, culture, knowledge-sharing

I’ve become fascinated by a guy named Harry Nyquist. He was a Swedish scientist who immigrated to the US and worked for Bell Labs for three decades from the 1920s on. He’s known for multiple breakthroughs – lots of things are named after him.

However, it’s this quote that has me really interested. It’s from “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” –

[An internal study revealed that] workers with the most patents often shared lunch or breakfast with a Bell Labs electrical engineer named Harry Nyquist. It wasn’t the case that Nyquist gave them specific ideas. Rather, as one scientist recalled, ‘he drew people out, got them thinking’

I looked through the notes of the book, and the source was a personal conversation with the author. I’ve looked around, and I can’t find any other documentation for this quote. Nyquist’s Wikipedia page has it, but it’s sourced to the Bell Labs book, and so is another reference in a David Brooks book I was reading.

Brooks labeled people like Nyquist as “Illuminators.” He writes that Illuminators possess tenderness, receptivity, active curiosity, affection, generosity, and holism. They make people feel seen. They inspire people.

I just LOVE this quote and this idea. I love that Nyquist was a force multiplier for other people. He was smart, no doubt (he held 138 patents), but he was equally good at making other people better.

There’s very little history to go on, but I’m assuming Nyquist helped people put form around ideas, he asked good questions, challenged assumptions, and did it in such a way that the other person wasn’t threatened or beaten down, but inspired and energized to go deeper.

I would LOVE to be this for someone. I’m not sure if this is innate or if it’s a personality trait you can cultivate, but at 52-years-old, I’m wondering if my biggest future contribution to my professional community is helping other people move their projects and careers forward.

I can think of worse ways to finish up.

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