I’ve been frustrated lately with the quality and quantity of my work. I haven’t produced as much here at Money Boss as I would like — due largely to the fact that I’m selling one home and buying another — and what work I have produced isn’t as good as I would like. This lack of productivity has put me in a funk, which in turn makes me even less productive than before. It’s a vicious circle.
How nice, then, to stumble upon the transcript of a 30-year-old talk from Richard Hamming, a former math and computer professor and researcher. (Hamming was also part of the team that worked on the Manhattan Project during World War Two.) Hamming titled his talk, which he presented on 07 March 1986, “You and Your Research,” but his actual subject was how to do great work.
I read the transcript this morning during my flight from London to Portland. (I spent the past week in London, in part to give a talk of my own. I spoke to other financial bloggers about the importance of community.) Although it discusses the work of researchers and scientists, I found much of the advice applied to me and to writing. I suspect that many of you will find its lessons valuable too.
It’s a long talk, though. I know how tough it is for me to sit and read a computer screen most of the time. (On a ten-hour flight, I’m perfectly happy to devote a chunk of time to wading through pages of text though!) In order to make things more palatable — and in order to help me remember more of this material — I’m going to summarize Hamming’s message. I hope you find it useful.
What Greatness Isn’t
Most people think greatness is achieved by luck, Hamming says. They’re wrong.
Yes, great ideas and achievements all contain elements of chance, but hard work and preparation are the necessary groundwork to bring about this luck. “Luck favors the prepared mind,” Pasteur once said. And the brash Newton argued that, “If others would think as hard as I did, then they would get similar results.”
Hamming would agree that luck is no accident. Unexpected good things are more likely to happen when you do the work needed create favorable conditions for them.
Nor is greatness achieved solely by genius. Sure, there have been many brilliant scientists. But there’s been more great work done by folks who were less gifted yet willing to put in the time and effort to achieve the results.
Finally, it’s never too late to be great. Yes, many researchers did their best work when they were young. But plenty of others produced greatness later in life, after they’d had a chance to accumulate knowledge and experience.
So, if luck and youth and brains aren’t pre-requisites for great work, what is necessary? Let’s take a look. [Read more…]