Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hamming's advice

There are frequent discussions at coffee and at lunch
about research and its quality, and how to improve it,
and of course what the role of the individual is. These
are, of course, imponderables and no one really knows
the answers to these questions. It is true that a lot
of great research took place in times of great ferment,
during war-time and during the cold-war, and it is
probably as much to do with socio-politico-economic
conditions as with the drive of individuals that leads
to truly exceptional results. But there really are,
and sadly, no short-cuts.

Many years ago someone forwarded a file containing the
transcript of a talk given by Richard Hamming. I have
never found a better discussion on the subject. Of course,
it is anecdotal and talks about many specific instances
but there is a lot to learn from this talk. There are also
questions that come in about the relevance of a given
individuals work and the circumstances in which he or
she finds himself or herself, the historical times, the relevance
and so on. But there are some inescapable points in this
talk that stick in my mind:

  • work on important problems
  • work very hard as it has a compounding effect
  • change problems

All this, of course is easier said than done.

No comments: