Explorers, Alchemists, Wrestlers And Detectives

December 10, 2015

An interesting article from the mathematician David Mumford:

“I think one can make a case for dividing mathematicians into several tribes depending on what most strongly drives them into their esoteric world. I like to call these tribes explorers, alchemists, wrestlers and detectives. Of course, many mathematicians move between tribes and some results are not cleanly part the property of one tribe:

  • Explorers are people who ask — are there objects with such and such properties and if so, how many?
  • Alchemists, on the other hand, are those whose greatest excitement comes from finding connections between two areas of math that no one had previously seen as having anything to do with each other.
  • Wrestlers are those who are focussed on relative sizes and strengths of this or that object.
  • Finally Detectives are those who doggedly pursue the most difficult, deep questions, seeking clues here and there, sure there is a trail somewhere, often searching for years or decades.”

It makes you think about how you and others go about their work, particularly in a research setting. Just what are the aspects that most fascinate you and why and can you think of a catchy word to summarise your approach.

The detective connection, in a more general setting, is also mentioned here.


Procrastinating Day By Day

December 10, 2015

From Lifehacker:

It’s easy to procrastinate doing something when you know you have a whole year to get it done, but a recent study suggests that telling yourself you have only 365 days instead, can get you into gear. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science and led by Neil A. Lewis Jr. and Daphna Oyserman, suggests that people feel like events and deadlines are closer when they think of them in smaller units. For example, when participants were asked when they would start saving for their retirement—30 years out or 10,950 days out—participants with the days scenario planned to start saving four times sooner than the those told to think in terms of years.

Relevant to my planned resolutions for 2016!


Cooking Up Failure

December 7, 2015

I’ve been developing my cookery skills over the last few months and (fortunately for all concerned) it’s starting to pay off. As part of this I’ve been reading lots of books and articles for tips and insights.

As an interesting link to R&D (which I’ve spent most of my professional life doing), here’s an illuminating quote from the well-known chef Jamie Oliver:

Some people think I am a businessman or massively strategic,” he said, speaking with PR chief Richard Edelman at the Cannes Lions festival. “[But] I worked out the other day, I took a little review of my 17 years – we’ve done all right, I’ve sold a few books and we’ve made a few quid – I realised that I think I wasted and fucked up about 40%.”

Oliver, who the Sunday Times Rich List estimates is worth £180m, said while the failures have been “painful” he has come to consider the learning curve as research and development.

“I don’t know if that is acceptable or not acceptable,” he said. “That 40% is quite painful. But then I sit back and look at it: Would I change anything? Did the mistakes not teach me powerful lessons? I’m trying to turn those mistakes into what maybe you guys call R&D. What is the percentage of turnover that is right for innovation? What is healthy? Is it 10%, 20%? Is 40% reckless?

It’s a really interesting question. Of course, fixing the budget to a set number is not the point, it’s more it’s use as a rough indicator and to motivate people to think and talk about ‘sustainable innovation’ (even if that goes against vested interests).