Richard Hamming’s Top 11 Lessons For Creating World-Class Work

If you are like most people, then you want to change the world. You want to create something that people will remember and that can make a difference. However what do you need to do in order to do that?

Richard Hamming was a world-class scientist and a pioneer in computer engineering and telecommunications, and also worked with many other brilliant minds. He shared the lessons he learned through his lifetime of work in a series of speeches that he gave in front of future researchers.

These lessons are quite illuminating and I summarize some of his most important take-aways below:

Lesson 1: Ambition, motivation, drive. If you want to succeed, you need to be ambitious, and have the drive necessary to carry out that ambition.

Lesson 2: You need to turn failures into assets. Treat your setbacks as learning opportunities.

Lesson 3: If you can’t do a problem, try to figure out why not. Then turn it around and reframe it.

Lesson 4: You need to work hard. Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former.

Lesson 5: Hard work needs to be applied sensibly. Make priorities and focus on the right things.

Lesson 6: You need to keep an open mind. Being too rigid and stubborn can create problems, but so can being too skeptical. You always need to keep a balance.

Lesson 7: Creating important work is a matter of asking the right questions and working on important topics. If you work on unimportant stuff, you will never create anything that is of consequence.

Lesson 8: Luck is important, but luck also favors the prepared mind. You need to be able to strike when the opportunity comes.

Lesson 9: It’s not just about the brain, but other little things matter too.

Lesson 10: You need to have courage. The ability to take risk is what separates the successes from the others.

Lesson 11: And the last lesson and probably the most important is that you need to be able to sell your work. If no one sees it, it is as if it doesn’t exist.

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Appear Strong When You Are Weak

The book “48 Laws of Power” was a bestseller and a hit among many people. While an interesting read, I have always felt that the lessons were a bit cherry-picked and are very dependent on specific situations.

In order to create his laws, Green probably used such illustrious writers as Machiavelli or Baltasar Gracian as sources of inspiration. Many of these dealt with ancient history and in turn were based on sources dating from Antiquity. If you look at some of the books that still survive from that era, you can probably come up with many more laws of power.

One such interesting book, dating from the early years of the Roman Empire, is “Strategemata” by Frontinus, a Roman general and engineer. The “Strategemata” was meant to complement his more comprehensive “Art of War”, but this book unfortunately did not survive. However the book that does survive is full of interesting strategies and tactics that ancient generals used in order to win their battles and wars.

These can be a great source of lessons on strategy and tactics, and even applicable to situations in the modern world. One lesson is based on what General Minucius Rufus did in order to defeat his enemies. Outnumbered by the enemy, he used a little trick in order to make his army appear bigger and more fearceful than it really was:

“The general Minucius Rufus, hard pressed by the Scordiscans and Dacians, for whom he was no match in numbers, sent his brother and a small squadron of cavalry on ahead, along with a detachment of trumpeters, directing him, as soon as he should see the battle begin, to show himself suddenly from the opposite quarter and to order the trumpeters to blow their horns. Then, when the hill-tops re-echoed with the sound, the impression of a huge multitude was borne in upon the enemy, who fled in terror.”

The lesson here? Appear strong when you are weak.

This lesson that has its parallels in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”:

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

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All That You Need To Know To Survive In The Modern World You Can Learn From The Ancients

The 21st century is upon us and with it come many changes. Just like the Industrial Revolution brought in a new era, the Internet Revolution is bringing in another new age.

The old truths and ways of working of the 20th century no longer seem to be working in this new one. This is causing headaches for many people, who often feel lost and out of touch. This new state of affairs calls for a re-examination of how things are done. This means you need to adapt.

The Renaissance started by people rediscovering the wisdom of the ancient world. This brought about a new age of creativity and progress which led to the modern world. However in the 20th century, most people forgot about this ancient wisdom and an era of narrow specialization seemed to prevail.

The challenges of the 21st century call for a new way of working. What most people don’t realize is that the answers to many of today’s problems lie right there in front of them. In fact, they have been there for over two thousand years.

By rediscovering the wisdom of the ancient world, most people can tackle the challenges of the modern world. Just like the Renaissance was born through the rediscovery of the sages of Antiquity, today’s world can greatly benefit from the return of these old sages as well. By applying these old techniques to your life, you can make sure that you are not fazed by any challenge.

General Mindset

Two of the most well-known works of world literature are the Iliad and the Odyssey. They were composed by Homer around the year 800 BC and tell of an old war that happened way before his time. They are stories of ancient heroes, with their strengths and weaknesses, and demonstrate the power of the human condition.

They were meant not only to entertain, but also to teach moral lessons and serve as inspirations for the following generations. They are structured according to the hero’s journey framework. Especially the Odyssey is about one man, who after spending 10 years fighting, takes another 10 years to get home.

On the way, he faces many trials and tribulations, loses all his companions and learns much about himself. He gets lost during the journey, has to overcome many challenges, descends down to his innermost cave, but then rises up and at the end emerges victorious.

This type of structure is inherent in the journey of anyone who goes through life, but no matter the barriers he faces, manages to climb over them and conquer. It is basically the blueprint for the life of a hero, but one which is applicable for the life of any mortal who wants to accomplish great things.

These myths and legends served as the guiding lights for people’s lives, but the ancient world also produced some very practical methods to help deal with common problems. While the Ancient Egyptians and the different Mesopotamian civilizations served as initial inspirations, the Ancient Greeks managed to come up with very original thoughts which have served as the basis of all the progress that came after. These methods and techniques were then perfected during the times of the Ancient Romans.

Many of them were forgotten during the so-called Dark Ages, and it was their rediscovery and wider spread that sparked the Renaissance and thus built the modern world. They give practical lessons and are incredibly applicable to normal every day activities. For the Ancients, philosophy was not only a way of thinking about the world, but also informed them on how to live.

At the height of the Roman Empire, there were two rival schools of philosophy that competed for adherents, the Stoics and the Epicureans. The Stoic philosophy was very compatible with the martial outlook on life of the Ancient Romans and so gained many fans among the Roman soldiers, administrators and even Emperors.

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How Elon Musk Is Applying First Principles Thinking To All The Different Processes In His Company

Elon Musk is known as a first principles thinker when it comes to inventing new things, but he has recently started applying this type of thinking across all the different processes in his company.

In a letter to his employees, he outlined how the spending practices in the company will be reformed:

“Going forward, we will be far more rigorous about expenditures. I have asked the Tesla finance team to comb through every expense worldwide, no matter how small, and cut everything that doesn’t have a strong value justification.”

“All capital or other expenditures above a million dollars, or where a set of related expenses may accumulate to a million dollars over the next 12 months, should be considered on hold until explicitly approved by me. If you are the manager responsible, please make sure you have a detailed, first principles understanding of the supplier quote, including every line item of parts & labor, before we meet.”

He wants to have his managers apply first principles thinking to all the things they do, including how they source different components from suppliers.

In an analysis of how subcontracting works in his company, Musk found out that it is a complicated system that creates a lot of overhead.

“I have been disappointed to discover how many contractor companies are interwoven throughout Tesla. Often, it is like a Russian nesting doll of contractor, subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc. before you finally find someone doing actual work. This means a lot of middle-managers adding cost but not doing anything obviously useful. Also, many contracts are essentially open time & materials, not fixed price and duration, which creates an incentive to turn molehills into mountains, as they never want to end the money train.”

What this means is that all his employees, especially the ones in management positions, need to be first principles thinkers, no matter whether they sit in the lab and create new inventions, or sit in front of the computer looking at Excel tables all day.

Should you be a first principles thinker 100% of the time?

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Spotting Opportunities When They Are Right In Front Of You – Or What You Can Learn From Red Bull

At the moment I am in Thailand on my third Muay Thai training trip. Something that I came out of a “fuck it” moment for me has now turned into an annual trip focused on improving my martial arts skills and also my body.

If you browse the shelves of local stores (many of the small ones like 7 Eleven or Family Mart are open 24/7), you will see that there are small glass bottles of an energy drink with a very familiar logo. The two red bulls clashing has become one of the most recognizable brands in the world today. Its popularity has virtually exploded overnight.

Red Bull is known as one of the biggest Austrian companies, one with a global reach. Its products have become quite popular with people who want to get extra energy for studying, daily activities, or parties (vodka redbull anyone?). So what is this local product on Thai shelves which looks almost exactly like this global brand?

At first thought, you might probably think that it is a cheap local imitation due to lax copyright laws. The cheap price (10 baht!) seems to infer it, especially since cans of Red Bull are usually quite expensive elsewhere.

You will be surprised at the real story though. It’s not the Austrian Red Bull which is the first Red Bull. In fact, it is the Thai one!

How did this come about? The story of Red Bull is about spotting opportunities when they are right in front of you.

Dietrich Mateschitz was a toothpaste marketer who had a quite unremarkable career. It took him 10 years to graduate from university and he worked for a string of companies until a business trip in 1982 brought him to Thailand.

There he met Chaleo Yoovidhya, who owned a pharmaceutical company, but had also invented an energy drink which was quite popular among Thai day laborers. Dietrich tried this drink and found that it cured his jet lag.

Then a brilliant idea struck him. If this drink is popular in Thailand and has these energy giving effects, maybe it could become popular in his own country too? So at 40 years old, this guy with an unremarkable career up until now decided to have his own “fuck it” moment. He quit his job and started his own company.

Together with Chaleo, they founded Red Bull GmbH. Each of these guys put up US$ 500 000 in order to create the company. The company was not an overnight success and the things that Dietrich had to do in order to bring it to the global success that it is are also quite remarkable, but they are for another story.

The key lesson here is to spot opportunities when they present themselves to you. Dietrich saw a low-cost product in a far away country and realized that it had potential to be a high-cost product in his own.

Many successful business stories are just that, spotting and then grabbing opportunities when they present themselves to you.

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Your Moral Character Is All You Have – Your Actions Define You

In 458 B.C., Rome was at the edge of defeat. A Roman force led by Consul Mincius had been sent out to crush the Aequians, a nearby tribe, once and for all, but had become stuck after being surrounded by their enemies on Mt. Algidus. This left the field open for the Sabines, another tribe which had beef with the Romans, who could now march towards Rome unopposed.

In this time of dire peril, the Roman Senate decided a swift course of action needed to be done. Otherwise Rome would be wiped off the map. They agreed that only one man could do the job, Cincinnatus.

They gathered at his farm and found him working the fields. After being told of the situation, Cincinnatus reluctantly took power as Dictator and raised an army to march against the Aequians. He defeated them and successfully relieved the trapped Roman Army.

However, this is not the point of the story. What is remarkable is what he did after all this. As a Dictator, he was in a position of absolute power. Yet, after the two weeks that it took to get the job done, he relinquished all this power, and returned to his farm.

Here was a man who was in a position that other men scheme their entire lives to get, yet he gave it all up to go back to a simple life. For him, it was the duty that was important. He did what he had to do. His duty was to command the army and save Rome.

Once that was accomplished, his duty was done. Through the ages, Cincinnatus was given as a moral example of a man of character, of modesty and selflessness. His devotion to others and the greater good became legendary. The Ancient Romans were supposed to take example of him and behave in a similar way.

The moral of the entire story is that your actions define you. The ancient philosophers believed that it was not enough to do good deeds, but you needed to do them for the right reasons. It was not just the outcome that counted, but also the way it was achieved.

In our lives, we are often confronted with moral dilemmas. Do I go the selfish route or do I take the moral high route. Often, the moral route is the tough one.

Unfortunately, often it does not yield results and is not appreciated by others. Humans, by nature are selfish creatures and will try to grab things for themselves at the expense of other people. If you use the moral compass to guide you, then you will have to be swimming against this current.

This is hard to do. Often, other people will try to drown you while you are swimming. Sometimes, you might fall prey to temptation and succumb to your human nature and decide to try the selfish route, and instead of swimming against the current, decide to take the easy route and let the current carry you downstream.

Yet, then you will be reminded of your moral duty, and once again start swimming against the current.

You will have to live with the fact that this will usually not be appreciated by others. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people just look out for Number One, and don’t care about others.

Your good deeds towards them will soon be forgotten. The fact that you went out of your way to help them, will not be appreciated. You might even end up being portrayed as the bad guy.

This should not faze you. What should comfort you, is knowing internally that you did the right thing.

I already wrote about the plight of Boethius, one of the last few of the learned Romans, who in the 6th century had been wrongly accused and ended up rotting in jail. That’s where he penned his reflection on why good men suffer, while bad men often prosper.

His conclusion was that people often focus on the wrong things. They mistake the means towards the end with the end itself. They focus on money, fame or other such things, when instead they should be focusing on virtue.

What defines a person is how they behave towards others, how they do the right things for the right reasons, and how they appreciate the few people who are good to them. This last point is often lost on people.

Many times, people focus on pleasing all the assholes that surround them, and forget to be thankful for the people that have stood by them in good and bad.

These people can be your family, the few true friends that you have, or sometimes even a person who you never knew before, but who went out of their way to be good to you in your hour of need.

Unfortunately, it is these people that very frequently, you behave the worst towards. Instead what you should do is to keep them close by your side and be thankful every day that you have them. If you wronged them, try to make up for it.

Often, your pride will get in the way of acknowledging when you did wrong, but in cases like this, you really do need to set it aside and be humble. If you want to be a hardass, be a hardass towards the assholes, not towards the people who were in your corner.

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Two Questions Everyone Asks Themselves: Who Am I And What Am I Capable Of?

When Socrates was put on trial in Ancient Athens for corrupting the youth of the city, he allegedly uttered this famous phrase:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

This was derived from one of one of the most important of the Delphic Maxims:

“Know thyself.”

Whenever a visitor passed through the gates at the Temple of Delphi, they would see a set of maxims inscribed high above. These wise sayings were meant to guide their life and to show them the key elements that they should focus on.

In order to live a fulfilled life, the ancient philosophers believed that you need to constantly be examining your life and finding out about yourself. According to them, this was one of the most important tasks, ranking higher than most other things.

It is not only the philosophers that engage in this type of activity. It is a natural tendency of all humans to question their place in this world and to try to maximize their potential.

Who am I and where am I going? People’s life is a quest to find the answers to these questions.

They want to know who they are deep down and what they are capable of.

The most important parts of hero’s journeys are the ones where the hero seeks and finds answers to these questions.

The descent of the hero into the innermost cave marks their realization of who they really are, both in the positive and negative sense and is the turning point in finding out what they are capable of doing. This forms the basis of some of the most heroic actions that they do later on.

It is not only heroes that test themselves, but ordinary humans do it too, in the process sometimes becoming heroes. Especially in the modern age, when technological and societal progress has removed some of the life and death challenges that tested the humans of long ago, this push to test yourself is something that drives many.

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Applying The Thoughts Of Marcus Aurelius: A Day In The Life

What does the typical day of someone who applies the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius actually look like? Let’s imagine you put all those suggestions into practice. How would this help you to get through the day?

You are lying in your bed when the alarm clock suddenly rings. Rise and shine, you need to start your day.

You hesitate a bit, after all you still feel sleepy and the bed just feels so comfortable. You ponder staying in bed for longer, but then you remind yourself that waking up is what you are meant to do. By lying in bed all day, you don’t do any good to yourself or anyone else.

So you spring up and start your morning routine. You brush your teeth and do all the other necessary hygiene stuff, then a little stretching, followed up by a hearty breakfast.

After finishing up your breakfast you take 15 minutes to plan out your day. You sit down and think about the answers to these three questions:

1) What have I done yesterday and how did it go?

2) What do I plan to do today?

3) Are there any potential problems that I will face today?

You reflect on the things you did yesterday and what went right and what went wrong. Then you move onto the things that you want to do today.

You do a little mental visualization and then take out your little kanban board and a pack of Post-Its and start writing out your goals for the day.

You put all your chores (all the boring stuff like paying bills or answering emails) on red Post-Its, and all the goals (interesting stuff that will help you in your quest for self-improvement) on green Post-Its.

Then you put all the Post-Its into the first section of your kanban board, the To Do part. Throughout the day, as you work on these chores and goals, you will move the Post-Its from the To Do section, to the Doing section, and then finally to the Done section.

Lastly, as the final point of your short reflection session, you think about the potential problems and obstacles you will likely face today and come up with a few mitigation strategies.

After doing all this, you get dressed and head out to work.

You get to the bus stop and wait. You wait and wait and wait. You realize that the bus is very late.

At first, you start getting really anxious. You will be late for work!

Then you remember to go back to thinking about this particular situation itself. What can you control here? The fact that the bus is late is beyond your control. So stop getting anxious. It will not help the situation one bit.

You start thinking about the consequences of being late to work. You think of the worst case scenario. You could get fired!

You think of how likely this actually is. Not very likely. The most you will get is a few stares. Who cares, right? You have long ago stopped caring about what others think of you.

The bus finally comes and you get on it. After arriving at work you sit at your desk and start going through emails. Unfortunately this is a ritual that you have to do every time you get to work. You accept it.

Then suddenly a colleague barges into your space and starts shouting at you. This stokes your emotions and you are at the verge of shouting back.

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Get A New Job: The Ultimate Career Changer’s Guide

As the world turns, and AI starts taking over, many jobs will disappear. This means you might have to start looking for a new one. Or maybe you are sick of your current job and would like a change.

No matter the reason, there are many people out there that after years of working in one type of career want to change and switch career paths completely.

Recently, I was helping out a friend to totally reorient her life career paths. She was a flight attendant who was sick of her job. She started this job thinking it was going to be a jet-setting life style (after previously working customer-facing jobs in banks), but it turned out not to be what she expected.

Her goal is to get into project management, a completely different job role, and one unfortunately that she doesn’t have experience for.

Me to the rescue! I spent long hours trying to figure what she should do.

One of the reasons I was spending so much time helping her is because I really liked her. I spent long hours talking to her and I thought she was amazing.

To cut the story short, she left me heart-broken. I am always amazed at the type of men women choose, but I guess I can’t do much about it. It is beyond my control.

I did not get much appreciation for all my effort, however I am a generous person and thought that all this stuff should not go to waste and many other people looking for a career change could benefit from this.

If you want to change your career, these tips will hopefully help you to get a good start on the entire process.

General Mindset

1) The first thing that you need to do is to examine your situation and think of the worst case scenario. If you think about it, the worst case scenario usually isn’t that bad.

When trying to switch careers, you might be agitated about the entire process. You must have been fed up with your initial situation and decided that you need to try something else. The process will be hard and at times frustrating. It might even get depressing and you might feel really bad at times.

However the key here is to always look at the bright side. What is the worst case scenario here? You will just be unemployed for a little longer. You won’t die of hunger. You will also be supported by people who love you, so you won’t end up on the street. That’s actually not that bad.

2) Examine the situation and determine which factors are under your control and which aren’t. You can control the effort you put in, but you cannot control the result. That is why you need to focus on the effort and don’t let the result bother you too much.

The key to having a positive mindset in this entire process is to keep in mind what is under your control and what isn’t. What is under your control is the effort you put in. If you work hard on improving your skills, reading, learning, and also looking for jobs and applying for them, then you have done your job.

The effort you put in is under your control, the result often isn’t. So don’t let an initial lack of good results put you down. Just keep on working hard and things will figure themselves out eventually. You need to keep a positive mindset and keep working hard throughout.

Skills Improvement

3) What do you want to do? What can you realistically do now (as in jobs)?

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