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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Notable Read: Technology and Courage by Ivan Sutherland

I read the essay titled "Technology and Courage" by Ivan Sutherland recently. Its one of those essays that you wished you'd read earlier. This one offers plenty of perspective into how to take on research risks, have the courage to stand by your ideas, and more importantly, the courage to stop working on them when the need arises.

Ivan Sutherland, winner of the ACM Turing award, is a noted entrepreneur and researcher in the field of computer graphics. I highlight a few interesting points from his essay here. I'd have to write down the whole essay here before I can do it justice and so I highly recommend you read it on your own (again, you can download it here).
  • There are several ways of mitigating research risk and entrepreneurial risk. One effective ways is writing things down e.g. a thesis outline or a business plan. This brings up some concrete future plan - one that you may not follow - but something to bolster courage and start working toward a goal
  • Being ignorant of the risks is good, at least in the beginning, because then you try to solve problems deemed "hard" or "unsolvable" - this is where young researchers have an advantage over their experienced counterparts
  • If you aren't failing sometimes you are not doing challenging things
  • Teamwork is important in research as it is in starting up new businesses
  • Hiding an idea by not getting it published because you are unsure of its merit is foolish because you'll never be sure if you did the right thing; science and technology has progressed at this remarkable pace in recent times only because people risked their reputations by working on ideas deemed "risky" at the time
  • Overcome the fear of starting a new research problem or a new start-up company by breaking down a big problem into many smaller sub-problems.
  • Doing familiar, low-risk things instead of trying to do genuine new stuff - like starting a company or new thread of research - may seem easier but remember the opportunity cost of doing something inane instead of investing your time and resources in the new stuff that may have a much higher payback

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