New Zealand’s Sir Ray Avery has a simple method for getting the most out of his life. The 65-year old Kiwi scientist and inventor accomplishes what he does by keeping tabs on the days he has left to live, and by setting and tracking daily goals to best take advantage of them.
“I’ve got about 5,625 days to live,” Avery told a group of American entrepreneurs, investors, and journalists visiting the country as part of 500 Startups’ latest Geeks On A Plane event. “When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.”
Avery compared his philosophy around living to the way some people approach entrepreneurship — that is, building something of an exit strategy. The only problem? “In real life, your exit strategy is going to look a lot like mine. But for most of you, it’s going to be a big surprise.
“For me, I can reverse engineer my life to achieve much more than you guys. Every day I do a chart on what I’ve achieved and where I want to be. And it makes you scary-as-shit clever,” Avery said. “So think about that. You’ve got 30,000 days and the clock is ticking.” (Avery admits to trying to turn his remaining 5,625 days into something more like 10,000 days by multi-tasking.)
Avery also talked about some of the problems Kiwi entrepreneurs face as they seek to compete on the global stage. One of those issues is a certain degree of humility that results in their achievements sometimes going unrecognized. Avery isn’t immune to this: He only considers himself slightly famous (which he says is terrible), despite being awarded the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year in 2010 and knighted in 2011.
His biggest accomplishment is probably introducing low-cost intraocular lens manufacturing facilities in developing markets that made cataract surgery affordable. Since then, he’s worked to make quality healthcare and equipment accessible to some of the world’s poorest nations. His autobiography, Rebel With A Cause, charts his life from a childhood in orphanages and foster homes in the U.K. to becoming one of New Zealand’s most notable scientists.
But he’s far from the only Kiwi you may not have ever heard of. Avery talked about folks like Colin Murdoch, the inventor of the disposable hypodermic plastic syringe. “What we’re not good at is telling people we’re good at stuff. If you look back at the past 50 years, most people in the world have been touched by [this] invention, and no one knows anything about it. It’s touched more people than the iPhone, television, radio,” Avery said.
In an effort to correct this, Avery recently published a book entitled “The Power of Us,” which highlights notable Kiwi artists, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders — basically people making a difference who might otherwise go unrecognized. A lot of that innovation comes from using common materials in a more innovative manner — the so-called “number 8 wire” approach to solving problems with unconventional materials. Or a bit of an irreverent attitude toward rules and regulations that are common in other cultures. Either way, it’s Avery’s way of highlighting Kiwis who “dare to dream big.”
It’s about a cultural state of mind, but it’s also about the ability to try out new things. “Stay in New Zealand long enough,” Avery said, “and you get dangerous.”