May 7, 2024



Hi Zooliners,

Did you know that if you lick an aspirin every day, you can prevent a heart attack? Ok I have to be honest; I can’t say for certain that this claim is true, but they are the kind of nuggets of information that you never forget – and willfully share.

Our boss Tom has had the pleasure of working alongside Nobel Prize winners for more than three decades. Not only are Nobel laureates some of the most recognized, celebrated, and respected researchers and thinkers in their fields, but they are also some of the best storytellers he’s met. Whenever we interview a laureate, we ask them if they have any advice they’d like to share. There are some more modest responses, like from Robert Solow, who won the prize in 1987 for his contributions to the theory of economic growth. Sadly, Solow passed away this past December but he lived a long life, a rich life, passing away at the ripe age of 99 years young. When we asked him if he had advice to share with the younger generation, he said “I’m not good at that, I think the main advice is to elect intelligent people to important posts in the government.”

We last saw him in 2017 and the most recent American presidential election was still on his mind. As we enter the next US election cycle – oddly enough, with the same candidates as in 2020 – his words feel worth repeating. And it isn’t just the US. Taiwan, Russia, India, Mexico, the UK, and South Africa are just a few of the whopping 64 countries who are holding national elections this year.

“The biggest shock to me was to realize how deeply split the country is between the cities and the rural areas,” Solow had said. “A substantial part of the population lives in small places that does not have the advantages of living in a big city and, to take a simple example, doesn’t have medical care nearby. I guess I knew that intellectually, but it wasn’t part of my everyday thinking. It is now.”

When asked for advice, Angus Deaton, a microeconomist who won the prize in 2015 for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare, pointed to what he felt was his own luck more than anything. “I think it’s the ultimate arrogance in some ways to give other people advice,” he said. Modesty, abound! But he did elaborate. “Luck is very important, and I was able and fortunate enough to follow what I was interested in, to avoid being told what my life should be like. I would tell young people to follow what they are passionate about and not worry too much about the meticulously planned life because at some point you’re going to have to go off that track.”

This is a lesson Tom has learned many times in his life. It often happens right when you think you have it all figured out and then bang, life throws a curveball. Remembering what you’re passionate about and what really excites you can keep you moving forward no matter the distractions, detours, or deviations.

Another laureate who echoes this sentiment is Thomas Sargent, who won the prize in 2011 for his empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy. But Thomas had no qualms sharing advice because he was so sure of the validity of his advice and we have to say, we agree. “The main thing is to have fun every day,” he said right away and matter-of-factly. His only caveat? Don’t hurt yourself or anybody else.

Find your version of fun, find your magic!

His version of fun is physics, looking at the beauty of it, exploring people like Kepler and Newton and learning about what they did, their struggles, and their work. “It’s pretty amazing, you know. How some stupid little mathematical equation, which you can actually understand, can explain how the planets are going around the sun. That's magic.” 

If you clicked on this article hoping for some career based advice, we can help there too. When Paul Romer, an economist who went to Burning Man – yes that Burning Man – to explore urban planning was asked the question, he spoke to the future scientists. Paul won the prize in 2018 for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis and he says pursuing something that feels bigger than yourself is key.

“For people who want to go into economics or any science, one thing you’ll get is a clear sense of being part of something that's bigger than yourself. You're contributing to something which will outlive you and leads to progress for everybody. And there's huge satisfaction in drawing meaning from participation.”

Michael Kremer, who won in 2019 for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty, had a similar answer. “Do research that you believe in,” he said firmly. “Do the work that you think is important for the world and that you enjoy doing. And I think in the end the rest will usually take care of itself.”

It can be easy to compare your successes to others, even friends and close colleagues can be sources of envy at times. And while yes, we’re all human, we love this idea of focusing on progress overall and putting meaningful work out into the world that isn’t just for yourself, but for the world at large. 

Would we vote intelligently and compassionately, be prepared to go off script, have fun, try to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, and do good work that the world can benefit from without this advice? Probably, but sometimes hearing wise words from a person you admire just hits different. So here’s hoping you find a bit of inspiration in these lessons in the same way we did.

Greetings on top, from Zoo Kid On The Blog

Nobel-worthy advice

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