Advertising
Advertising

Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons For Success (As A Scientist)

Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons For Success (As A Scientist)

These lessons come from a talk that Richard Hamming gave at the end of his university course.  He gave this talk hundreds of times and found that it generated a wonderful discussion.

In the discussion, participants agreed that although these lessons come from science, they were general lessons for success in life.

Advertising

The Path to Fame:  Do Significant Things

“Once famous, it is very easy to remain famous.  Once not famous, it is very easy to remain not famous.”
-Richard Hamming

Before we dive into Richard’s wisdom, let me give my 20,000 mile high summary:  If you want to live a life that matters, it is necessary to do something outstanding, otherwise it will all be taken away from you.  This talk is not a talk about living a happy life, nor a helpful life.  Richard himself says: “I am really trying to get you to think about doing significant things…”

Advertising

Happy or Significant?

You can perfectly well decide that a happy, helpful, enjoy-the-little-things life is your preference.  If so, these lessons must be taken with a pinch of salt.  However, if you feel that doing significant things sounds like a good use of a life, these lessons are powerful.

Richard is old enough to be brutal in his comments and judgements.  He tells participants in his course that his aim is: “…to stick a knife in your back and give it a good twist and make you say at the end: ‘If Hamming could do it, why couldn’t I?'”

Advertising

The 14 Lessons for Success as a Scientist

Hamming’s 14 lessons for success (as a scientist, but I believe easily applicable to any profession) are:

  1. Work hard – the very able people work very hard all the time, they were at the problem all the time… “Einstein, Newton did not have incredibly high IQs… they worked hard”
  2. Accept ambiguity – If you believe too much you’ll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won’t get started. It requires a lovely balance.
  3. Work on important problems – If what you are working on is not important, and is not likely to lead to important things… why are you working on it?  If you don’t work on important problems, you are not going to become important.
  4. Plant acorns to grow oaks – You have to plant small things, you have to work on small problems that can grow into important problems.
  5. When opportunity appears pursue it fully – 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.
  6. Keep your door open sometimes, closed sometimes – the guy with the door permanently open tends to work on slightly the wrong problems.
  7. Do your job in such a way that others can build on it – “Instead of attacking isolated problems, I made the resolution that I would never again solve an isolated problem”
  8. Even scientists have to sell (learn to speak well) – “the fact is everyone is busy with their own work. 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.'”
  9. Educate your bosses – It’s a hard job.  You can learn to get what you want in spite of top management. You have to learn to sell your ideas.  You have to learn to understand their priorities, politics and burning issues.
  10. How you dress matters – “The appearance of conforming gets you a long way”, “If you chose to assert your ego in any number of ways, ‘I am going to do it my way,’ 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.”
  11. Be good to secretaries – “By taking the trouble to tell jokes to the secretaries and being a little friendly, I got superb secretarial help.”
  12. Let others fight the system (you can do great work or fight the system, not both) –  You must choose.  If you fight the system, you will spend all your energy fighting the system.  If you will learn to work with the system, you can go as far as the system will support you.  Many people get drawn into petty struggles with the system.
  13. Always look for positive not negative – “by changing the way I looked at it, I converted what was apparently a defect to an asset.”
  14. Know yourself, your weaknesses, your self-delusions (we all have self-delusions) – “You can tell other people all the alibis you want. I don’t mind. But to yourself try to be honest.”

Here’s Richard Hamming himself on video

And I’d like to thank Paul Graham, the founder of Y-Combinator, who originally shared Richard Hamming’s work with me.  The full text of Richard Hamming’s remarks is on his blog here.

Advertising

Featured photo credit: Association for Computing Machinery via amturing.acm.org

More by this author

Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

The Most Important Thing You Can Do in the Next 10 days to Improve Your Speaking The 5 Styles of Being a Leader How to Start a Speech using a Personal Story 11 Differences Between Busy People And Productive People 19 Ways To Move People To Action Like Gandhi Did

Trending in Work

1 Feel like Giving Up? 16 Way to Help Entrepreneurs Stay Motivated 2 How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details 3 Make Everyone At The Office Happy By Installing This 4 10 Tools to Start an Online Business without Breaking the Bank 5 How to Become an Entrepreneur (A Serial Entrepreneur’s Advice)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on January 7, 2021

How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

Some people see the trees for the forest, and some see only the forest, meaning they lack strong attention to detail. But even if you’re one of the people who take a macro rather than a micro view, true professionalism requires balancing both.

If focusing on the fine points is not your forte, you will benefit from training yourself to pay attention to details. You will profit by saving yourself time, effort, money, and credibility.

Why Training Yourself in Attention to Details Pays Off

You add value to your organization when you make the effort to ensure that you performed your work thoroughly and effectively. This is why job postings often list “attention to details” among the required skills.

When you present your supervisor or client with well-completed, high-quality work the first time, it maximizes your value and minimizes wasted time. Detail-oriented people are also more adept at catching mistakes that could lead to costly blunders.

Moreover, attention to detail is an indicator of possessing other in-demand employee qualities, such as organization, thoroughness, and focus. In some professions, such as accounting, engineering, medical research, and more, you can only excel if you have trained yourself to pay attention to details.

In other professions, possessing strong attention to detail is the very quality that will get you promoted to a position where you will be asked to consider the big picture.

Finally, if you are the “go-to” details person, everyone else on the team can relax a bit. They know the project is in good hands and will likely throw you more projects as a reward. This will ultimately lead to your advancement.

3 Important Aspects of Becoming More Detail-Oriented

Here are the 3 important things you need to learn if you want to remedy your lack of attention to detail:

Advertising

  1. Respect deadlines
  2. Understand the work-flow plan
  3. Build in time to mess up

1. Respect Deadlines

Deadlines lend all projects a finish line. One smart idea is to take the given deadline and work backward from it, calculating when your piece of the project is due. Then, if you stick to the proscribed schedule for completing the mini-projects that you have, you will never miss a deadline.

One important note on this: It is smarter to stick to the deadline and turn in work that merits a “B+” than to blow the deadline with “A” work. Chances are, through revision and suggested changes from others on the team, you can bring up your B+ work to an A later. But if you disregard deadlines, you will lose the respect of your boss and fellow teammates.

2. Understand the Work-Flow Plan

Your team is developing work in conjunction with other teams who have projects and deadlines of their own. When you grasp the whole work-flow plan, you may be able to either add insight to the greater project or to your own smaller piece of it that others at the firm will consider valuable.

3. Build in Time to Mess Up

You can expect that “what can go wrong will go wrong.” Don’t overpromise on deadlines. Something likely will mess up, but when it does if you built in the time to fix it, those around you won’t freak out.

Chances are, you already give your attention to several details. Take heart. You can do this! You can overcome your lack of attention to detail and become more detail-oriented.

For starters, consider this: Most people take the time and put in extra effort into the activities or undertakings that matter to them most. Training yourself to become more detail-oriented can mean adopting a similar pattern of behavior.

Apply the same attention you give to your appearance. Are you a meticulous dresser? Do you pay attention to how you pair patterns and colors, and how you accessorize a particular outfit?

This is the same system to use when you lack attention to detail with your work. Give every item careful consideration so that each one contributes to the perfectly pieced-together whole.

Advertising

Assemble the ingredients the way you do when you cook. Cooking and baking from scratch require close attention to details as you measure and add each ingredient in sequence, and you time everything so that the meal comes together at the same time.

Similarly, your work product requires you to gauge whether all the ingredients have been added and that your final product is delivered on time.

Organize your business network like you do your social contacts. If you follow a broad base of friends and acquaintances on social media, you can apply similar skills to stay up-to-date on details associated with business acquaintances.

When you meet somebody who could be influential to your career or a resource for improving your skills, follow that person on social media. Respond to their posts to keep the lines of communication flowing.

12 Tips to Help You if You Lack Attention to Detail

Teaching yourself to take note of important details involves sharpening your perceptions and thinking ahead. The following tips will help you adopt these practices. Master these habits when training yourself to become detail-oriented.

1. Learn to Listen Well

You will pick up relevant information and needed nuance when you apply the skills of active listening. In conversations, train yourself to make eye contact, give your undivided attention to the speaker, and ask pertinent follow-up questions.

Training yourself to pay better attention to details in conversations includes learning to fully concentrate on what others have to say. If you find it hard, there’s no harm in taking notes on what they say.

2. Pay Attention to Social Cues

Make a point of noticing body language and facial expressions that provide insights into how others perceive a situation. Social cues offer details that give you an understanding of how words and actions impact others. The infamous character Michael Scott of the television show “The Office” epitomizes the consequences of not paying attention to others’ body language.[1]

Advertising

3. Follow Rules

Rules and protocols usually come about from lessons learned and are put in place to avoid further mishaps—whether from a safety or efficiency standpoint. If you’re given step-by-step procedures to follow, check them off as you go. Also, return to the rules at the project’s end just to make sure you adhered to them all.

4. Take Notes

Note-taking is a way to boost your retention and gives you something to refer back to when you need to keep track of pertinent details. You will also heighten your focus as you listen for relevant information. Review your notes shortly after the meeting or conversation and highlight the content that you intend to apply.

5. Prioritize What Needs Your Attention Now

When you have a full slate of work that demands your attention, take a few moments to sort assignments from most to least urgent. Keep a calendar, spreadsheet, or project planning software up-to-date with schedules and deadlines to help you stay organized.

As you tackle each urgent assignment, give it your full attention so no details are missed. Give yourself ample time—especially if you tend to be someone who waits until the last minute—as rushing can make you overlook important details.

6. Have a Detail-Oriented Assistant Check Your Work

If you lack attention to detail, then it makes sense to seek help from someone detail-oriented. If you have this option, take advantage of it. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Just be sure to credit your assistant for their help once the project is completed.

7. Learn the Rules of Writing Well

English is a difficult language, and grammar, punctuation, and spelling can all sabotage you unless you pay attention to detail. When in doubt, look it up. Free to use website services such as Grammarly can help.

8. Proofread Before You Hit Send

Nothing is perfect in its first draft. If you lack attention to detail, then put in the extra effort before submitting things. Before you send off any written work, check carefully not only for misspellings and incomplete sentences but also for improper tone, inappropriate colloquialisms, and inconsistent formatting. When your written communications are error-free, they will have their intended impact.

9. Minimize Distractions

It is impossible to stay focused when colleagues carry on conversations nearby or your mobile notifications ding you throughout the day. Do your best to limit distractions.

Advertising

If you are working where there is a lot of noise or side activity, try wearing noise-canceling headphones or seeking out a quiet corner. Disable your notifications when you need to focus, and resolve to only check them after you have completed your assignment.

10. Take Breaks

It may sound counter-intuitive to stop and take a walk, but it’s necessary. Walk away from the screen. Moving from one task to the next across the span of your workday is a recipe for brain fatigue. Give your brain a recess time when you come to a natural stopping place or after you complete one project and before you start the next. These short pauses are necessary for sorting through all the details needed for coming up with successful solutions.

11. Make Time for Reflection

At the end of a workday, take a few minutes to go over the day’s events in your mind. What was said or relayed in conversations? What is the status of the projects you worked on? What else occurred that you should pay attention to? Could there have been any details you might have missed that you should address tomorrow?

12. Keep a Detailed To-Do List

This simple organizational tool is your best ally for getting your work done on time and for paying attention to the details. If you are pressed for time (and who isn’t?), write your list to coordinate with dayparts.

Allot a certain number of hours to complete each task, do it, and then check it off. Nothing feels more rewarding than completing all the tasks on your list. But if you can’t finish them, then carry them over to the following day.

Final Thoughts

Details may seem small, but they can become a lot larger when they are overlooked. If you know you lack attention to detail, commit to training yourself to embrace the many facets that can help you consistently excel in the tasks you set out to accomplish.

When you begin to catch your mistakes in advance or apply the tidbits of information you gathered from paying close attention, you will know that you have trained yourself in the fundamentals of becoming detail-oriented. After that, you should start hearing the phrase “Great job!” more often.

More Tips on Boosting Your Attention to Detail

Featured photo credit: Cristina Gottardi via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next