Thinking, Talking And Doing

“Of the three main activities involved in scientific research, thinking, talking and doing, I much prefer the last and am probably best at it. I am all right at the thinking, but not much good at the talking.” – Fred Sanger (Nobel prize winning chemist)

This is an incredibly humble assessment of his own capabilities.

From The Conversation:

This week Fred Sanger died at the age of 95. His name is probably unfamiliar to most, but he is considered one of the greatest chemists of our age. He is the only person to have won two Nobel prizes for chemistry (only three others have won two Nobel prizes – Marie Curie, Linus Pauling and John Bardeen).

Interestingly, he went through a self-styled ‘lean period’ which provides a vivid example of how judging results from a purely short-term perspective can be very misleading. From his autobiographical note:

After completion of the insulin sequence around 1955, there followed a number of “lean years” when there were no major successes. I think these periods occur in most people’s research careers and can be depressing and sometimes lead to disillusion. I have found that the best antidote is to keep looking ahead. When an experiment is a complete failure it is best not to spend too much time worrying about it but rather to get on with planning and becoming involved in the next one. This is always exciting and you soon forget your troubles. One disadvantage of this attitude, though, is that it makes the writing of an article of this sort difficult, because if you are always thinking about the future you tend to forget the past.

Quite good advice to anyone in a similar career situation, either in science or business, especially if you regard business and projects as a series of experiments:

“Requirements are actually hypotheses and your projects are really just experiments. Realizing this should be liberating.” – David Bland


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