If you want to achieve goals on the same level as Elon Musk, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, or IDEO CEO Tim Brown, pursue many varying interests at the same time.
Pursuing a number of diverse interests is an effective way to gain insights, stumble on atypical solutions to problems, and stay creative.
Elon Musk is a prime modern-day example of this point. Musk works not only in the realm of digital money exchange (he co-founded PayPal), he's also heavily involved in rocket science and space travel (SpaceX), electric motors and energy storage (Tesla), and the future of high-speed travel (Hyperloop).
If you look at the histories of the greatest innovators, a similar pattern makes itself clear. Steve Jobs helped make strides not only in personal computing hardware and software, but also music and entertainment. Marie Curie developed the theory of radioactivity while also discovering the two elements polonium and radium. Leonardo da Vinci didn't just paint the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he also built conceptual machines for flight and war, worked with solar energy, and conceptualized a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics.
Having diverse pursuits helps propel creativity and momentum in three primary ways:
1. Promotes proactive procrastination
As 1926 social psychologist Graham Wallas outlined in his five stages of creativity: Incubation is a fundamental part of the creative process. When we step away from a project, not unlike when we procrastinate, it allows our minds to enter a state of incubation, mulling over ideas and connecting them. This is what I call "proactive procrastination," because stepping away from one effort to work on another actually causes ideas from each to mix, which can strengthen the work.
2. Encourages cross-pollination of specialties
Different interests involve different specialized workers. What better way to get outside of your limited scope of how things work than by interacting with an engineer or designer on one project, and then interacting with a woodworker, writer, musician, chef, or any other specialized individual, on another?
3. Keeps a "beginner's mind"
When we pursue new interests or experiments, we're forced to accept a "beginner's mind," the notion that we don't know everything there is to know. In his book Creativity, Inc., Pixar president Ed Catmull writes on beginner's mind:
"Our fear stems from the need to make the nonexistent into being ... people often try to overcome this fear by simply repeating what has worked in the past. That leads nowhere--or, more accurately, it leads in the opposite direction of originality. The trick is to use our skills and knowledge not to duplicate but to invent."
If you want to think in the same ways the creative greats do, pick up more diverse projects or hobbies.