You and Your Research Summary by Richard Hamming

Mathematician Richard Hamming’s broad principles of success.

You and Your Research Summary by Richard Hamming
Photo by Annie Spratt

The lecture in one sentence: Mathematician Richard Hamming’s broad principles of success.


Essential Lessons

  1. Become a learning machine. Spend all of your time studying your field. Read, listen to lectures, talk to people.
  2. Study successful people. Steal like an artist.
  3. Learn how to speak publicly, write persuasively, and have casual conversations.
  4. Genius = constant hard work.
  5. Be delusionally self-confident. Remember: A prophet is not honored in his own country.
  6. Be bold.
  7. Get famous. Establish yourself as an expert on YouTube, blog, Twitter.
  8. Demonstrate greatness and you will be given opportunities.
  9. Be open-minded and talk to a broad range of people.
  10. Go after A opportunities, not B opportunities. Attack the right problem, at the right time, in the right way.
  11. Work on the most important problem in your field. Regularly ask yourself what that problem is.
  12. Every year, seek something new in your career and personal life.

Notes

You need to get famous. Getting famous is not just luck. Luck favors a prepared mind.

Once you become famous, you get perks and it’s easier to retain your power. If you’re not famous, others will take the credit and you don’t have power.

You need to do something that is significant by your own definition.

Genius = constant hard work. Lots of great people don’t have high IQs.

A prophet is not honored in his own country. Your local people likely cannot see that you are doing great work.

All great people believe that they can do great work. They have confidence in themselves. If you don’t think that you’re going to do great work, you won’t.

Be bold. Always attack, never defend.

If what you’re working on is not important, and it’s not likely to lead to important things, why are you working on it?

You need a vision. You cannot succeed without a vision.

You need to have your ideas checked by other people. If you are always alone, in your own world, you will be somewhat delusional and your ideas will not be as effective. If you constantly get feedback on what works, you can double down on what works in the real world.

You can only be as successful as the opportunity you go after. But you cannot initially go after the biggest opportunity. You need to find a niche and then work your way up.

Study successful people. They will give you insights into what leads to success. Galileo, Newton, etc. Don’t study failures—they will show you how to fail.

  • Study successful people and eventually, you’ll develop your own style.

You need to spend all of your time studying your field. Unless you are a first-class genius, you will have to work extremely hard.

You have to work hard, but the hardest worker doesn’t necessarily win. You need to work on the right problem, at the right time, in the right way to win.

Regularly ask yourself this question: “What are the most important problems in my field?”

  • A problem is only important if you can reasonably achieve it. Making a vehicle that goes the speed of light is not an important problem at the moment because the tech is so far away—not within our lifetime. You need to do something that you can complete or get a good chunk of it done in your lifetime.
  • You need to have an idea of how you would go about solving the problem.

Learn the fundamentals and think from first principles. What are the basic things that are true today and will be true tomorrow?

You need to be a learning machine. Read, listen to lectures, talk to people.

You need to learn how to speak publicly, write persuasively, and have casual conversations.

  • You need to be able to construct arguments instantly and persuasively convey them in a meeting (not the next day in a report).

When you listen to a talk, analyze not just the information, but how it is said. What is persuasive? What is effective? How can you implement that into your own lectures?

  • Always steal what makes other people good and take it as your own.

You have to consistently seek change. Try other methods that could be better.

Demonstrate greatness and you will be given opportunities.


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