June 29th, 2012 · 25 comments
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Here’s John McPhee reflecting on his path to The New Yorker: “I had been continually rejected…until I was in my thirties.”
He’s not alone in fostering patience for this particular goal.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell notes that it took him ten years of training at The Washington Post before he made it to the The New Yorker. Jonah Lehrer had seven years of dues paying between his first book deal, inked as he left his Rhodes Scholarship, and earning his own staff spot.
I like these examples because they remind of a simple truth: remarkable careers take a remarkably large amount of training. If I’m not relentless in my focus, they tell me, I should not count on a life as interesting, autonomous, and respected as that enjoyed by Mr. McPhee.
It’s just enough of a push to turn me away from my latest schemes, and get me back to putting pen on paper and chalk on chalkboard.
June 18th, 2012 · 48 comments
(Image from WellingtonGrey.net via c2.com)
I’ve been writing recently about the impact instinct — the ability to consistently steer your work somewhere remarkable. We know that diligently focusing on a single general direction and then applying deliberate practice to systematically become more skilled, are both crucial for standing out. But true remarkability seems to also require this extra push.
Since writing these posts, readers have sent me an amazing collection of quotes and articles that provide supporting details for this idea. Reviewing these resources, I noticed that the following systematic strategies — let’s call them algorithms — seem to pop up again and again.
Below, I summarize these algorithms, each of which I named for someone remarkable who exemplifies it: I don’t know that they’re all right; I don’t know which work best; but they should provide nuance to our understanding of the impact instinct.
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June 12th, 2012 · 69 comments
Insight into Impact
I recently had an interesting conversation with some colleagues. We were talking about a young researcher in our field who happens to be absurdly productive — typically publishing four or five important results each year. In other words, this is someone with a highly-developed impact instinct.
As you might expect from a group of assistant professors, we were interested in figuring out his secret.
The easy answer is that he’s simply better than most people at solving hard problems. Perhaps where you or I might get stuck, he, in a flash of Good Will Hunting-style brilliance, taps the chalkboard four times and the proof is solved.
Some of my colleagues, however, have collaborated with this star researcher, and could therefore paint a more nuanced picture. He is quite talented, it turns out, but not at what you might expect…
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June 3rd, 2012 · 44 comments
A Tale of Two Applied Mathematicians
Over the past few months, I’ve been working on an interesting research problem. My collaborator and I are taking some math tools typically used to analyze computer algorithms and are applying them to human behavior. Our plan is to publish in a specialized computer science conference. Because the work is different, we assume it might be an uphill battle to gain notice at first.
By itself, this story is not that relevant to our goal of decoding how people build remarkable lives. It gains new importance, however, when we contrast it to the actions of another researcher — someone with a phenomenal talent for remarkablilty, who once faced an eerily similar situation.
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