Before they had even met – much less conceived him – World War II played a significant role in the lives of his parents. In July of 1941, Ed Nye, the man who would become his father, left San Francisco and set out for Wake Island, just east of Guam in the Western Pacific Ocean. Once there, he began his new job as a canteen clerk. Four months later, Wake Island was invaded by the Japanese on the same day that they attacked Pearl Harbor. That day he enlisted in the Navy and became one of the ‘Wake Island Defenders’. The invading forces were overwhelmingly, took control of the island – Ned became a prisoner-of-war for the duration of the war.
The woman who would become his wife and mother to the boy became involved in the war movement in an entirely different manner. Jacqueline Jenkins was one of a dozen incredibly intelligent women who were recruited from Gaucho College by the “intelligence sector” and put to work as code breakers. They were tasked with deciphering coded Japanese communications. One of their most noted accomplishments was breaking the code that enabled U.S. fighter pilots to shoot down and kill Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After the war, Ned and Jacqueline met and married – their second son was born on November 27, 1955 in Washington, D.C. Their experiences had a big impact on the boy. From his mother he learned cooking and sewing, but more so the importance of education, perseverance and never accepting societal limitations. His interest in science was fueled in part by his dad’s love of sundials, developed while a prisoner. A variety of other things – like hearing that bees can’t fly – further stimulated his skeptical, scientific thinking.
His parents worked incredibly hard to pay for him to attend Cornell University – he responded by graduating in 1977 with a degree in mechanical engineering. With that degree, he moved to Seattle to work for the Boeing Corporation. There, he invented something called a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor for the 747 aircraft – which is still used in planes to this day.
He was clearly smart and driven – but there was another side to him. He had a passion to be an entertainer – he entered a Steve Martin look alike contest – but didn’t win, he spent his evenings performing stand-up comedy at any Seattle venue that would have him and he was hired as a comedy writer for a local NBC show Almost Alive. He contributed quirky ideas and became known for his keen interest in science.
One night there was a last minute guest cancellation and the host had to fill a six minute slot – he was desperate before asking his writer if he could fill the time with a funny (hopefully) science demonstration. He used liquid nitrogen to freeze and shatter an onion. He used it to ‘cook’ a marshmallow, which he then ate and blew steam out of his nostrils. His appearance on the show was a hit – so much so that rather quickly he quit Boeing and went full-time into the entertainment business.
His six minute ad-lib appearance led to a show of his own which was nationally syndicated and also aired on PBS Kids. Directed primarily at teens, the show was both educational and entertaining. It ran for five years producing 100 episodes and winning 28 Emmy awards. His unique knowledge of both science and entertainment led to him being a consultant for some television shows, hosted others and landed roles in several movies. He is a serious and intelligent scientist, contributing to the Mars Exploration Rover project, lecturing to educate on topics such as environmental issues and earning honorary doctorates from several universities. His interest and talents are quite diverse – he owns several patents including one for ballet pointe shoes, teaching himself to surf and being a contestant on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and has authored several books.
These accomplishments don’t define a fearless brand – they are the result of Bill Nye – The Science Guy being a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands align, rather than segregate, their professional aspirations with their personal interests
The moniker Bill Nye – The Science Guy came from Ross Shafer, the host of Almost Alive on that desperate night when Geraldo Rivera cancelled his appearance. Bill Nye’s personality and unique combination of talent, knowledge, creativity, skeptical curiosity and genuine interest in educating people about science is what made this ‘brand’.
He is very open about the influence his parents had on his life. He has a framed copy of his mother’s 7th grade chemistry test on his wall – her grade was a 100. It was his father’s influence which led to his contribution to the Mars Exploration Rover – adding sundials to the two rovers in order to measure the time. Another strong influence was Carl Sagan – who taught Nye astronomy while he attended Cornell.
That football frisbee interest he had as a child in D.C. tled an obsession with flying discs. Nye became an avid fan of Ultimate – a limited contact sport played with a flying disc – ‘frisbee’. While playing he dislocated a shoulder and broke his nose. Why does he play? He finds it elegant and loves the science represented by flying discs.
He isn’t one to shy away from his beliefs – and he has many beliefs. Today he lectures on global warming (he believes strongly that it exists and is an issue), UFO’s (he is skeptical of virtually all sightings) and evolution (he believes creationism is a hindrance to scientific advancement).
It’s not unusual for a fearless brand to be controversial to some degree. When it comes to learning how to build your own brand, it is wise to look beyond any philosophical differences and look for the lessons.
Combining passion with your skills is essential – Bill Nye has been driven by his interests – his passions – since childhood. He is very aware of his skill set and continuously seeks to improve those talents. That is the key to becoming a fearless brand. Embrace your passions. Know your skills. Continuously seek ways to align the two and you will deliver tremendous value to others – and you will attain personal satisfaction and peace of mind and soul.
Never stop learning – Remain teachable – always. Be a seeker. Be open to receiving. Think of it as a continuous branding upgrade.
You don’t have to wear a lab coat and a bow tie to successfully become a fearless brand. You don’t have to be one of the more intelligent people in this world. You don’t have to swing dance, surf, play Ultimate or eat marshmallows ‘cooked’ with liquid nitrogen. What is essential is to be authentic, embrace your passions and engage your skills.