“You and Your Research” Major Bullet Points
By Richard Hamming
Become very interested in the difference between those who do and those who might have done.
Why shouldn't you do significant things in this one life, however you define significant?
“Luck favors the prepared mind.”
I want to dispose of this matter of luck as being the sole criterion whether you do great work or not. I claim you have some, but not total, control over it. Newton on the matter. Newton said, “If others would think as hard as I did, then they would get similar results.”
Great work is something else than mere brains.
One success can bring confidence and courage.
Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. You WILL
Who but a man of infinite courage could have dared to think those thoughts? That is the characteristic of great scientists; they have courage. They will go forward under incredible circumstances; they think and continue to think.
Most mathematicians, theoretical physicists, and astrophysicists do what we consider their best work when they are young. It is not that they don't do good work in their old age but what we value most is often what they did early.
On the other hand, in music, politics and literature, often what we consider their best work was done late. I don't know how whatever field you are in fits this scale, but age has some effect.
When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems
They were superb before they got there and were only good afterwards.
People are often most productive when working conditions are bad.
What appeared at first to me as a defect can force you into automatic programming very early.
What appears to be a fault, often, by a change of viewpoint, turns out to be one of the greatest assets you can have.
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.
You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this.
Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” He may have been exaggerating, but the idea is that solid work, steadily applied, gets you surprisingly far.
The misapplication of effort is a very serious matter. Just hard work is not enough – it must be applied sensibly.
Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory.
If you believe too much you'll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won't get started
Those who don't become committed seldom produce outstanding, first-class work.
If you are deeply immersed and committed to a topic, day after day after day, your subconscious has nothing to do but work on your problem
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
“What are the important problems of your field?” And after a week or so, “What important problems are not important, and if you don't think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?”
If you do not work on an important problem, it's unlikely you'll do important work
It's not the consequence that makes a problem important, it is that you have a reasonable attack
The average scientist does routine safe work almost all the time and so he (or she) doesn't produce much. It's that simple.
If you want to do great work, you clearly must work on important problems, and you should have an idea.
“What will be the impact of computers on science and how can I change it?”
I thought hard about where was my field going, where were the opportunities, and what were the important things to do. Let me go there so there is a chance I can do important things.
Most great scientists know many important problems. They have something between 10 and 20 important problems for which they are looking for an attack. And when they see a new idea come up, one hears them say “Well that bears on this problem.” They drop all the other things and get after it.
If we had reduced that data we would have found fission.” They had it in their hands and they didn't pursue it. They came in second!
The Great scientists, when an opportunity opens up, get after it and they pursue it. They drop all other things. They get rid of other things and they get after an idea because they had already thought the thing through. Their minds are prepared; they see the opportunity and they go after it.
If you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most.
He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important.
Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, “The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.” I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing – not much, but enough that they miss fame.
“It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.”
By changing the problem slightly, you do important work rather than trivial work.
“If I have seen further than others, it is because I've stood on the shoulders of giants.” These days we stand on each other's feet!
By changing a problem slightly you can often do great work rather than merely good work.
The business of abstraction frequently makes things simple.
“It is a poor workman who blames his tools – the good man gets on with the job, given what he's got, and gets the best answer he can.”
And I suggest that by altering the problem, by looking at the thing differently, you can make a great deal of difference in your final productivity because you can either do it in such a fashion that people can indeed build on what you've done, or you can do it in such a fashion that the next person has to essentially duplicate again what you've done.
It isn't just a matter of the job, it's the way you write the report, the way you write the paper, the whole attitude
It is not sufficient to do a job, you have to sell it.
You must present it so well that they will set aside what they are doing, look at what you've done, read it, and come back and say, “Yes, that was good.
I suggest that when you open a journal, as you turn the pages, you ask why you read some articles and not others. You had better write your report so when it is published in the Physical Review, or wherever else you want it, as the readers are turning the pages they won't just turn your pages but they will stop and read yours. If they don't stop and read it, you won't get credit.
There are three things you have to do in selling. You have to learn to write clearly and well so that people will read it,
you must learn to give reasonably formal talks,
and you also must learn to give informal talks
Master that form of communication as well as prepared speeches.
Good people, very talented people, almost always turn out good work. We're talking about the outstanding work, the type of work that gets the Nobel Prize and gets recognition.
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.
Learn to work with the system, you can go as far as the system will support you.”
If you want to do something, don't ask, do it. Present him with an accomplished fact.
You pay a small steady price throughout the whole of your professional career. And this, over a whole lifetime, adds up to an enormous amount of needless trouble.
By realizing you have to use the system and studying how to get the system to do your work, you learn how to adapt the system to your desires
Able people is that they don't get themselves committed to that kind of warfare. They play it a little bit and drop it and get on with their work.
Which do you want to be? The person who changes the system or the person who does first-class science?
Let somebody else do it and you get on with becoming a first-class scientist. Very few of you have the ability to both reform the system and become a first-class scientist
There are times when a certain amount of rebellion is sensible.
Follow and cooperate rather than struggle against the system all the time.
Look for is the positive side of things instead of the negative
Know how to convert a situation from one view to another which would increase the chance of success.
Learn to give speeches smoothly or I would essentially partially cripple my whole career.
The technical person wants to give a highly limited technical talk
Paint a general picture to say why it's important, and then slowly give a sketch of what was done.
Once you're moderately successful, there are more people asking for results than you can deliver and you have some power of choice, but not completely.
It is very definitely worth the struggle to try and do first-class work because the truth is, the value is in the struggle more than it is in the result.
The struggle to make something of yourself seems to be worthwhile in itself. The success and fame are sort of dividends,
The people who do great work with less ability but who are committed to it, get more done that those who have great skill and dabble in it,
Be honest to yourself.
Know yourself, your weaknesses, your strengths, and your bad faults, convert a fault to an asset.
Change the viewpoint and what was a defect becomes an asset
Go forth and become GREAT
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