A Lesson in Productivity from the World’s Greatest Scientists

How can you increase your productivity? How can you improve the quality of your work?

What are the secrets of productivity in the scientific world?

The world’s greatest scientists generated a flurry of creative ideas and produced them at lightening speed. They focused on fluency and their ideas flowed like a river.

The academic world is obsessed with quality. The universities want to climb up the ranking system and get recognition. With recognition comes increased funding for research. Most academics think that quantity and quality don’t go hand in hand. To produce high quality work which has impact you need to focus on less. This is the mantra in academia.

Is it really true to say that if you generate lots of ideas they will be poor quality. If you write lots of books they will be average. Does writing a lot of papers means that they won’t be that good.

Does increasing quantity mean that the quality will suffer?

Let’s examine the greatest thinkers and scientists of our generation. Do they produce less? Do they focus on doing only a few things?

When I looked at the greatest scientists, writers, poets and business people what struck me like a lightening bolts was the sheer volume of high quality work they produced in their lifetime.

Here are some examples

George Whitesides, Professor of Nanotechnology, Harvard University

 Whitesides has authors more than 1000 papers and is named on more than 50 patents. We now measure impact of research by citation. Even here Whitesides is most highly cited Chemist in the world over the last 30 years. He has founded over a dozen companies with a market value of over $20 billion dollars. Whitesides has supervised over 300 research students, post docs and visiting scholars. He has won numerous awards and prizes. Whitesides focuses on doing world-class research without restricting his volume of work. He has produced huge volumes of work of very high quality. I met Whitesides at a conference in Washington and was impressed by his humility and friendliness. It’s nice to know that great scientist also have an endearing human side to their personality.

Sir Harold Kroto – Nobel Laureatte

Coming from a poor background Sir Harold was awarded the highest accolade by winning the Nobel Prize for his discovery of a new form of carbon C60. He has won numerous prestigious awards, published hundreds of research papers and supervised numerous PhD students. He has given hundreds of lectures and presentation. Sir Harold’s standard and quantity of achievements serve as inspiration to scientists all over the world. He has also been highly supportive of our work in the institute of nanotechnology  and bioengineering at UCLAN.

Albert Einstein

Einstein was the most famous and the best scientist in the world in the last century. His achievements were phenomenal. He published over 250 research papers, won Nobel Prize for Physics and known as the inventor of the atomic bomb. Einstein contributed many theories and ideas to the scientific community.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” Albert Einstein

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s inventions, painting, engineering concepts and insights are legendary. It’s hard to imagine one man who had mastered so many disciplines and have major achievements in all the areas. His most famous paintings the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper are regarded as master pieces.  He was a scientist, engineer and inventor. His studies included physics, engineering, optics, zoology, mathematics, chemistry, medicine and biology. His inventions are legendary some were too expensive and others were made. Leonardo’s ideas were years ahead of his time. He came with up with concepts for a helicopter, tank, solar power and calculator. He linked art to science with a single work to represent Renaissance Humanism.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci 

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison registered 1093 original registered patents issues. He also completed 350 notebooks for work and ideas. He did thousands of experiments to produce the electric light bulb. He did numerous of experiments to invent the battery. The volume of his ideas and patents were astounding. However the quantity and the impact of his work is even more outstanding. For Edison speed and quality are twinned together.

In a conversation, M. A. Rasanoff asked: “Mr Edison, please tell me what laboratory rules you want me to observe.” Edison; ” There ain’t no rules around here. Were trying to accomplish the something” – Thomas Edison

What can you learn from the great scientists?

The answer is simple. Generate a lot of ideas. Do this as quickly as possible. Use a mind map to capture them. Leonardo di Vinci used mind maps and diagrams to stimulate creativity and record ideas. When you increase the quantity of ideas, concepts, investigations then surprisingly the quality of your work increases.

Ideas, concepts and designed come from the creative right brain whilst the analysis and logic come from the left-brain. Most of the population and researchers are trained to rely heavily the left-brain. The schooling system encourages and rewards this approach. However, You must think outside the box. You need to be unconventional in your approach. You must use both sides to tap your full potential.

Generate a lot and then filter out what you don’t need and keep the great ones and work on them. If you only have a few ideas then you don’t have much choice to select from to focus on the best.

It’s a common misconception that geniuses only produce a few ideas and run out quickly. The opposite is true, they are prolific and then select carefully. Their productivity is amazing and they have made a huge difference to our lives.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and it looks like work.” Thomas Edison

Take some time daily to pour out as many ideas as you can at great speed. Don’t worry about quality for now. You can select the ones best later. Pick out the gems. Some idea will be diamonds amongst the rubbish. Focus on picking out the golden nuggets from the dirt.

10 Steps to gold mining

  1. Generate ideas at great speed. Think rapidly and write as fast as you can. Focus on generating more and more ideas. Be lightening fast like the sprinter Bolt. Practice as much as possible and you’ll get faster.
  2. Your ability to generate ideas is unlimited. You have infinite capacity. Conservatively estimated we use only 1% of our brain. By generating ideas quickly and easily accessing the other 99%.
  3. Find relationships between your ideas. Can you link some of them together to make them more powerful?
  4. Work on your vocabulary. Even if you learn one word a day then in the year you will learn 365 new words. Having more words in your vocabulary generate more ideas. You’ll become a better writer. This practice alone will increase your speed and volume of the ideas that you can generate.
  5. Brainstorming on you own is valuable to generate ideas. Generate as many as you can, as quickly as it can, without any judgement or whether there would about, whether practical and practical, until you have finished. Brainstorm in a group. Work with your colleagues and friends and try and generate as many ideas together. Without criticising them at all. This is the creative stage. You need to separate the creation of ideas from evaluation of ideas. If you don’t then one part of our brain is generating ideas to accelerate your success and the other part trying to slow it down so that it can analyse. The two can’t work at the same time.
  6. Relax physically and mentally and slowdown in order to speed up your creativity. Get into a calm state of mind. When you are calm and relaxed you will generate lots of ideas. Don’t judge them.
  7. Whenever you go have a notebook with you. Write down anything you think that may be valuable. Use mind maps to capture. Some people you their personal assistants and that’s fine as well. Use anything device that will help you capture your ideas. If don’t imprison the ideas in place you can find them they will fly away from your mind.
  8. Challenge your self to generate 20-40 ideas a day. In a group go for 100 ideas in a short space of time. By having these demands you tap your creativity on demand. Don’t wait for inspiration.
  9. Evaluate the best one. Put a plan in action to test your ideas. Design experiments and studies you need to carry out to prove your theories and concepts.
  10. After doing the experiments then evaluate these and see if you can improve them. Generate more ideas. The great scientist spent a lot of time generating ideas however, they spent even more time an effort to work on the ideas and concepts to bring them to life. Creativity and practical applications are inseparable twin in outstanding success.
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