Nobel Prize Medal

Professor Shuji Nakamura is featured in Forbes Magazine


Three Leadership Secrets From Nobel Prize Winners

Mark Murphy

Senior Contributor

I Use Science To Transform Leaders, Managers And Executives


Lesson #2: Pursue The Road Less Travelled

Dr. Shuji Nakamura won the Nobel Prize "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources."

In the 1980s, there were two materials considered as possible candidates for creating blue LEDs; zinc selenide and gallium nitride. As Dr. Nakamura told me, "Basically, all scientists worked with zinc selenide...When people learned I worked with gallium nitride, they told me I was crazy and a foolish scientist."

But Dr. Nakamura did not accept the conventional wisdom that zinc selenide was the only way to create blue LEDs. In part, his choice was opportunistic. "I saw that the zinc selenide field was publishing lots of papers," he told me. "But in the gallium nitride field, only very few papers had been published, so I was confident that I could publish lots of papers."

He saw an opportunity to boost his career (and the success of his employer) by deviating from conventional wisdom. It's tough to distinguish oneself (or a company) by following the herd, especially when you're not near the front of the pack.

In the online test What Motivates You?, we discovered that nearly a quarter of people are driven by Security; they generally dislike change and prefer continuity, consistency and predictability. By contrast, a paltry 8% of people are motivated by Adventure; they're motivated by risk, change, and uncertainty, and jump at the opportunity to be the first to do something new. However, while those numbers reflect the general population of workers, senior executives are more than twice as likely to be motivated by Adventure. You can be a successful manager by following the established path, but to be a great leader (or win a Nobel Prize), it often takes pursuing the road less traveled.