There are lessons we can learn from successful nerds. After all, they’re successful because they’re doing something right. For nerds it’s more than fame – it’s business practices that stem from their passions. In this article I want to take a look at some important nerds and see just what we can learn from them about business.
You’ve probably heard of most of the people on this list. In fact, there are some of them that you can’t not know. But you might not know why you should know about them and what impact they had on the way we do business.
Before we get to it, one caveat: I realize this list is comprehensive. Feel free to offer up suggestions for a second nerdy roundup in the comments but no “these nerds are wrong, let me tell you about my nerds” kinds of comments, k?
Okay, now let’s go.
“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
Bill Gates is an entrepreneur. As a co-founder of Microsoft he didn’t believe that “the money’s in the hardware.” Gates is a visionary, programmer, author, business investor, and a philanthropist. He’s also a competitor. Fred Thorlin taught him a simple game. After losing 35 of 37 games, he studied the game until he won or tied every game with Fred one month later. He studies a problem until he solves it.
His business practice is to aggressively broaden a range of products until he can dominate the market. He’s also aggressive as a business manager and leader. This aggression of course has gotten him into trouble from time to time.
Outside business ventures include:
- bgC3 – a Bill Gates’ founded think-tank
- Cascade Investments LLC – an investment and holding company
- Corbis – a digital image company
- ResearchGate – a social network for scientists
- TerraPower – a nuclear reactor design company
Gates has written two books:
- Business @ the Speed of Thought – shows how digital infrastructures and information networks give an edge to business
- The Road Ahead – describes how the future was changed by the Internet
Bill Gates is a philanthropist at heart. Gates runs a charity called Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he provides grants so children across the globe can receive an education. Gates’ plan is to give away 95% of his wealth to charity. This goes to show that our duty is to help others in our community. To give back when we can. Businesses have a social responsibility and Bill Gates puts that responsibility into action.
What can we learn from Bill Gates?
- Be forward-thinking
- Be aggressive
- Give back
Co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs was an entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor. He has influenced industries from computers to smartphones to music to movies.
He’s founded, funded, and been involved with many companies and products including:
- Pixar – the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, acquired by Jobs
- NeXT – Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer at CERN. The NeXTSTEP platform became the foundation for Mac OS X, which is part of what brought Steve Jobs back to Apple.
- App Store
He has been referred to as:
- Design perfectionist
- Father of the Digital Revolution
- The master evangelist of the digital age
- Master of innovation
Steve was primarily an inventor. He’s either the primary inventor or co-inventor in 450 patents or patent applications (141 were awarded since his death in 2011). Technologies include:
- Computer devices
- Portable devices
- Power adapters
- User interfaces (including touch-based)
Most of his contributions were “the look and feel of the product.” Most were design patents. Steve was a visionary when it came to the user experience.
Jobs had a charismatic persona that was dubbed “reality distortion field” by Bud Tribble. Andy Hertzfeld described this as Jobs’s ability to convince people to believe almost anything using his charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement, and persistence. Using this “RDF,” Jobs created a sense that the impossible was possible and motivated the people around him to create innovative products which he then marketed to the masses using the same RDF. He not only made you want it… he made you need it, and he made you want to tell everyone else about it and even fight for it.
What we can learn from Steve Jobs
- Find what people need and provide it
- Hype it up
- Over deliver on the hype
Felicia Day is an actress, producer, singer, comedian, writer, violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist and she’s been called “queen of the geeks.”
She’s starred in several TV series’ including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Eureka, Supernatural, in movies such as Bring It On Again, June, and the Internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She is the star, writer, and producer of a web series called The Guild (which is based on her life as a gamer), and the Dragon Age web series Dragon Age: Redemption. She was a member of the board of directors of the International Academy of Web Television from December 2009 – July 2012.
The Guild ran from 2007 – 2013. The first season appeared on YouTube. Day then partnered with Microsoft and the show appeared on Xbox Live, MSN Video and The Zune Marketplace. The show then went to her premium YouTube channel called Geek & Sundry for its sixth season. She expanded the merchandizing into multiple outlets, which includes a comic book series with Dark Horse Comics.
The Guild has won multiple awards including:
- Greenlight Award for Best Original Digital Series Production
- YouTube Video Awardfor Best Series
- Yahoo! VideoAward for Best Series
- 2009 Streamy Awards for Best Comedy Web Series
- Best Female Actor in a Comedy Web Series
- Best Ensemble Cast in a Web Series
Felicia is an executive producer of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop and is recurring guest on the show.
She’s written a book called You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memior by Felicia Day.
What we can learn about business from Felicia Day
- Do what you love even if it requires creating your own production company
- Partner with other companies and like-minded leaders
- Expand your brand into multiple merchandising opportunities
Wil Wheaton is an actor, author, blogger, podcaster, voice actor, Twitterer, and a champion of geek culture. He maintains a strong social media presence and he was one of the first celebrity bloggers. He’s even a little bit of a web design geek – he designed and coded his first website himself.
As an actor, some of his roles include:
- Stand By Me
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- The Big Bang Theory
- The Guild (with Felicia Day)
- Falling Skies: Second Watch (TNT. Off-camera)
- Tabletop (a webseries that he created and produced)
- And many video games and cartoons
As a blogger Wil has won or was nominated for many awards including:
- 2002 – weblog awards, “Weblog of the Year”
- 2003 – voted “Best Celebrity Weblog” by Forbes.com readers
- 2007 – nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Bloggie
- 2008 – weblog awards, “Best Celebrity Blogger”
- 2009 – named 14th most influential web celebrity by Forbes
- His blog was included in C|Net’s 100 most influential blogs
- He was named an “A” lister by Blogebrity.com
Books he’s written include:
He’s also contributed columns such as:
- The AV Club
- LA Weekly
- The Washington Post
- Suicide Girls Newswire
What can we learn about business from Wil Wheaton?
- Be everywhere – you don’t have to be stuck just doing one thing
- Blogging can be your friend
- Have a strong social media presence
- Don’t be afraid to do it yourself
- Produce high quality content that others will share and come back to
Just in case Mr. Diesel is reading this, I am officially not calling Vin Diesel a nerd. Okay, so maybe I am. But I think he’s cool enough to be okay with that. Vin Diesel made this list because, not only is he awesome, but he was also an avid D&D player back in the day.
He’s an actor, director, screenwriter, and producer. He is best known work includes:
- The Fast and the Furious film series
- The Chronicles of Riddick trilogy
- Guardians of the Galaxy (I am Groot!)
He also founded several production companies:
- One Race Films – video production company
- Racetrack Records – record label,music studio, and production company
- Tigon Studios – video games
Diesel has a sharp website and a strong social media presence. He has over 92 million Facebook fans, 7.6 million followers on Instagram, he blogs (called a Journal on his site), he has something called a VINBOOK which is a social network on his site where you can submit photos, videos, and art.
What can we learn from Vin Diesel about business?
- Creating your own companies that work together gives you more creative control
- Use multiple social networks
- Create your own merchandise
Chances are good that you’ve at least heard of Sid Meier’s work. He’s a game programmer, designer and producer of several popular strategy video games. He’s mostly known for a game called Civilization. He co-founded MicroProse in 1982 with Bill Stealey and is the Director of Creative Development of Firaxis Games, which he co-founded in 1996 with Jeff Briggs and Brian Reynolds. He’s won many awards for his work in the video game industry.
His list of games includes:
- Silent Service
- Sid Meier’s Pirates!
- Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon
- Sid Meier’s Civilization
- Magic: The Gathering
- Sid Meier’s SimGolf
- Sid Meier’s Starships
There are too many to name, but you’ve probably heard of one or two of these games.
His list of awards includes:
- 1996 – near the top of GameSpot’s listing of the “Most Influential People in Computer Gaming of All Time”
- 1996 – eighth on Computer Gaming World’s list of the “Most Influential Industry Players of All Time”
- 1997 – number one on Computer Gaming World’s list of the “Most Influential People of All Time in Computer Gaming” for game design
- 1999 – became the second person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame
- 2008 – received a Lifetime Achievement Award at theGame Developer’s Conference
- 2009 – number two inIGN’s list of “Top Game Creators of All Time”
And that’s just a few.
What can we learn from Sid Meier about business?
- Don’t be afraid to try something new and break new ground – be revolutionary
- Invest in your own company
- Find out what people like and make it better
- Drop what doesn’t work
One common thread among these nerds and Vin Diesel is multiple outlets – social networks, business ventures, and multiple delivery systems for content. Also, they’re not content to sit back and let something come to them. They’re go-getters. They have a vision. They know what they want and they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. They’re not only actors and gamers. They’re willing to take on more roles and responsibilities and put in hard work behind the scenes, too.
That’s the kind of attitude it takes to be successful on purpose. Know what you want and go after it. If it means you need to start more than one business, take on more than one role, or work harder… that’s what you need to do. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Your turn! Do you have something to add? Who’s your favorite nerd and what can you learn about business from them? I’d like to hear about it in the comments below!
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