Inventor & 21st Century Rennaissance Woman, Ann Makosinski – Ep. 58

About Ann Makosinski:

Ann Makosinski has been called a child prodigy, a wunderkind, and other titles she’d seriously object to me mentioning.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me however that those monikers are only slightly hyperbolic, as she accomplished more before she turned 15 than I did… well, let’s not talk about that, ok? In 2013, she achieved international recognition through her patented invention of a flashlight that’s powered by body heat, bringing exciting new technology to a practical application that can benefit countless people around the globe without access to power. 

Ann Makosinski has been on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, on Time Magazine and Forbes lists, won the Google Science fair, and more. Today we talk about dealing with the expectations of being labeled a child prodigy, about having and pursuing multiple interests in our lives, and about being true to our authentic selves. In short, this 21st-century renaissance woman is a perfect guest for this show.

Full Audio Conversation:

Ann Makosinski links

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2:59 – “When I was growing up, my first toy was a box of transistors and other electronic parts.”

4:17 – “None of my classmates knew anybody that I talked about most of the time.”

7:15 – “…at my young age to learn that a girl that was just like me but in a different part of the world didn’t have something as simple as light really shocked me. And I wanted to do something about that.” (edited)

12:43 – “I never saw myself as someone who was really good at science or a genius. I think my parents and all my friends would laugh if you said that to them. I think I’m just a really creative person who had an idea and followed through and made it. And in today’s society, that’s really rare.”

15:11 – “I think we’re all really creative beings and to stunt or ignore one side of ourselves because society says we have to have a label of what we love to do or title, I think is really old fashioned.”

19:37 – “I was really lucky to be given a platform and a voice all of a sudden. So I was like, ‘Oh my God, what do I say?’ And then my parents obviously always wanted me to be well-spoken and set a good example, and all that. So I always already had a lot of pressure in that sense.”

22:17 – “I feel like nowadays you have to be a little bit of an entrepreneur, no matter what field you’re in.”

35:01 – “I made some bad business decisions and that is completely on me. But I’m glad I made those big mistakes then, when I was young, so I know exactly what not to do in my coming years.”

40:05 – “I personally, yes, I want to get some sort of product on the market or my flashlights, but I don’t want to spend my whole life doing that.”

49:00 – “…failure in your personal or professional life is always a difficult thing to deal with and to acknowledge, and to also acknowledge that you can’t always blame it on the other person. Sometimes it’s your fault as well.”

51:36 – “I feel really lucky to have had such wonderful parents and such an interesting upbringing that helped me prepare for [my career after the Google Science Fair].

57:25 – “I think the most important thing that kind of runs through my life and has since I was a kid is how precious time is.”


Access to light/electricity 

Impedes business

“Between 60-70 percent of business owners in Sub-Saharan Africa say that a lack of power is the number one factor stunting their growth. Access to global markets is also restricted because businesses must shut down after dark and thus cannot network with parts of the world in different time zones.

“As Michael Elliot, CEO of Bono’s nonprofit ONE said, “For us, life does not stop after dark. For 550 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa and many more than that around the rest of the world, it does.’”


Written by Celestina Radogno

Can cost lives

According to Sr Mathilde Mubanga, trained nurse and national health coordinator for the Zambian Bishops conference, “When health facilities don’t have power, they can’t pump water for patients or use life-saving equipment.”

“Women can go into labour at any time. So at night, light is needed for delivery. Can you imagine delivering a child using a candle at night? Emergencies cannot be attended to if there is no power. This can cost lives.”


Impact on studying or school performance

“Makosinski, a high school sophomore at St. Michaels University School in Victoria, British Columbia, initially thought of the idea after learning that a friend in the Philippines, who didn’t have electricity, was failing in school because she didn’t have enough time to study during daylight hours. Her friend’s dilemma is surprisingly common among a growing number of people in developing regions that either can’t afford or don’t have access to a power grid.” 


Written by Tuan C. Nguyen

Access to solar lanterns

“There were many difficulties in providing healthcare at night,” said Myint in a social impact survey report for Panasonic’s 100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project. “Now solar lanterns help us a lot in our daily activities. We can also use them for emergency situations, as [we live in] a high-risk area for natural disasters.”

“For populations for whom electricity and lighting at night is a distant reality, kerosene lamps are the next best way for them to continue activities at night. However, these lamps provide little illumination and strain the eyes, while purchasing kerosene fuel takes up money that could be otherwise used in better ways, such as food or education for families. Smoke produced from burning the fuel is also harmful to respiratory systems.”


Access to light increased share of women working in the market

“As work in the home reorganised around the new technology, electricity also affected how much women worked in the market. Electrification likely relaxed women’s time constraints in the home for two reasons: it enabled more efficiency in home production (cooking is faster with electric stoves), and it extended the hours available for home and market work (as home production can be undertaken even during night hours with electricity).”


Written by Taryn Dinkelman

What makes someone a  polymath

“I define a modern polymath as someone who becomes competent in at least three diverse domains and integrates them into a top 1-percent skill set.” 

“The idea itself drew on a coffeehouse of different disciplines: to solve the mystery, he had to think like a naturalist, a marine biologist, and a geologist all at once. He had to understand the life cycle of coral colonies, and observe the tiny evidence of organic sculpture on the rocks of the Keeling Islands; he had to think on the immense time scales of volcanic mountains rising and falling into the sea… To understand the idea in its full complexity required a kind of probing intelligence, willing to think across those different disciplines and scales.”


Written by Michael Simmons

Cognitive flexibility 

“Cognitive flexibility is most often associated with “polymaths”–humans of exceptional versatility who excel in multiple seemingly unrelated fields. Think Leonardo da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin; or today perhaps the likes of Nathan Myhrvold, Story Musgrave, or Mae Jemison. Such polymaths demonstrate exceptional cognitive flexibility in a manner that allows them to draw on multiple bodies of knowledge from different disciplines in order to make a creative contribution to a particular field or to address a multifaceted, complex problem.

“Making novel connections is also important. The systems approach, which sees the world as a network of connections rather than as segregated pockets of knowledge, is a common worldview of the polymath. It enhances CF because the switch between domains comes naturally and seamlessly. In fact, it ceases to be a switch in the mind and more of a process through which one situation or field flows organically into the other.”


Written by Waqās Ahmed 

Power of multiple disciplines or interests

“In reality, there is some evidence that developing diverse disciplines can fuel creativity and productivity. So while the pursuit of a second or third interest may seem like a distraction, it can actually boost your success in your primary field.

“As David Epstein has also reported in his recent book Range, influential scientists are much more likely to have diverse interests outside their primary area of research than the average scientist, for instance. Studies have found that Nobel Prize-winning scientists are about 25 times more likely to sing, dance or act than the average scientist. They are also 17 times more likely to create visual art, 12 times more likely to write poetry and four times more likely to be a musician.”


Written by David Robson

Different branches share the same foundation

“Reality is categorized in our mind by words. That’s how specialization is born. We move from a general observation through our senses and then we divide this observation into specializations like philosophy, psychology, economics, and art. 

“The tree trunk is reality, and the branches are the different disciplines, which then become their own trunks of knowledge with branches.

“What polymaths realize by studying the different branches is that many of them have the same foundation, and if this foundation is deeply understood then all they need to do is apply that ingrained knowledge to a different context rather than do the work of surface-level specialization.”


Written by Zat Rana

Not a jack of all trades

According to Author Waqas Ahmed: “Jack of all trades’ is not synonymous with the ‘polymath’. Many polymaths I’ve researched were ‘masters of many trades,’ not because they were superhuman, but because they had a different mindset and approach to knowledge, work and life. 

“Insights and skills obtained from one field often allowed them to develop unique insights into the others. So they excelled at rates unimaginable to the narrow-minded specialist. The idea that pursuing various fields is inefficient or ineffective is therefore a myth designed to socially engineer and maintain a status quo that works only for those at the top of the hierarchy. Yes, specialisation is extremely important, but my definition of the ‘specialist’ is markedly different to the one commonly accepted today.

“The specialist is not someone who delves deeper and deeper, closing themselves off to the wider world, but in fact someone who looks further and wider to better understand the complexity of their specialism. In this way, the true specialist is actually always a polymath.”    


Interviewed by Sadek Hamid

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