Richard Hamming: You and Your Research
*In order to get at you individually, I must talk in the first person. I
have to get you to drop modesty and say to yourself, “Yes, I would like
to do first-class work.” *
One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode’s office and said, “How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?” He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, ‘''“You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.” ‘‘‘I simply slunk out of the office!
What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity — it is very much like compound interest. I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.
*but the idea is that *solid work, steadily applied, gets you surprisingly far
*Darwin writes in his autobiography that *he found it necessary to write down every piece of evidence which appeared to contradict his beliefs because otherwise they would disappear from his mind.
This is actually interesting. The subconscious works only on problems you=it find important!
- And so you wake up one morning, or on some afternoon, and there’s the answer.' For those who don’t get committed to their current problem, the subconscious goofs off on other things and doesn’t produce the big result’. So the way to manage yourself is that when you have a real important problem you don’t let anything else get the center of your attention — you keep your thoughts on the problem. Keep your subconscious starved so it has to work on your problem, so you can sleep peacefully and get the answer in the morning, free.*
- I finally adopted what I called “Great Thoughts Time.” When I went to
lunch Friday noon, I would only discuss great thoughts after that. By
great thoughts I mean ones like: “What will be the role of computers in
all of AT&T?”, “How will computers change science?” *
You should do your job in such a fashion that others can build on top of it*, so they will indeed say, “Yes, I’ve stood on so and so’s shoulders and I saw further.” The essence of science is cumulative. By changing a problem slightly you can often do great work rather than merely good work. Instead of attacking isolated problems, I made the resolution that I would never again solve an isolated problem except as characteristic of a class. […] Yes, I can attack the whole class with a far superior method than the particular one *because I was earlier embedded in needless detail."
“Look, if you adopt the present method and do what you can do single-handedly, you can go just that far and no farther than you can do single-handedly. If you will learn to work with the system, you can go as far as the system will support you."
I know enough not to let my clothes, my appearance, my manners get in the way of what I care about.