Harriet Zuckerman, a sociologist, was investigating the roots of scientists who do top-class work leading to breakthroughs and discoveries.
After researching and digging in, the answer she came to was that the scientists who did the most groundbreaking work were not necessarily smarter or harder working, but rather built up an "accumulation of advantages."
By getting slightly ahead earlier in their careers, they'd get more opportunities to make interesting connections, present at events and conferences, get onto interesting research projects, connect with luminaries, find mentors, receive funding and grants, etc.
Any one of those, in isolation, wouldn't make the difference. But over 20 years, the gradual accumulation of advantages put them into places where they had the skills, connections, mental models, resources, credibility, etc, etc, to be working on the right problems with the right people and the right resources/tools at their disposal. And so they'd do breakthrough work.
If you buy the hypothesis, it suggests that it's not any one major point that leads to breakthroughs -- it's about gradually accumulating important, relatively small advantages, and watching them stack up and work as multipliers for you.
Any link for further reading?
Sadly no, it was a find on Wikipedia. I'd be interested in reading more too.
On her, found just a paper on how to interview high level people (she also has a book). Probably useful tips to reaching high level people through email too.
The Accumulation of Advantage is written about by Virginia Valian with regards to women in the workplace. http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/gendertutorial/aboutus.html
This one really resonated with me Sebastian. I've found this to be true in my personal life even with very limited life experience.
Share some examples? You've certainly done some interesting stuff Taylor.
(And where's the ice photo from? Awesome)
If you're going to call me out Sebastian...
In the past year and a half I've gone from an aspiring "wantrepreneur" to being in a unique and privileged apprenticeship position where I'm able to work for and around other motivated, intelligent entrepreneurs above my level. I still have a long road ahead of me, but the progress I have made is, in retrospect, much faster than I expected.
There wasn't any one incident that lead to that. It was the aggregation and accumulation of relatively dull tasks that led to the acquisition of useful skills. Building niche sites taught me SEO and WordPress basics which was enough to get me a job at a small marketing agency in the U.S. That let me work on bigger projects and learn about project management, content marketing, managing clients, and copywriting. That experience led me to the position I'm in now.
The biggest thing that I take away from this post and something that I've been thinking of lately is the ability to see value in seemingly mundane and boring tasks. I've spent a lot of the last month researching and writing about a specific industrial product that I'm not inherently passionate about. That's allowed me to improve my research, copywriting, process writing, and productivity skills. All of which I think are small advantages that I can build on.
However, the day to day reality of that doesn't look very sexy. It means I get up, put on some mashups and jam out a few thousand words about the product. It keeps me motivated though because I can see the value in doing that. I'm accumulating advantages that are going to put me in a position to breakthrough work.
Photo is from Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina.
I find this post very freaky. I knew that the academic world is slow to change and new ideas are hard to come by. And that they are prone to make a peer crash and burn when his/her ideas are too... shocking. Just to realize after that person's death that he/she was right...
But linking advancement of ideas to the fact that one was there early shrugged the back of the old ones earlier and for a longer time... then licked his ring for long enough to get published and recognized and all.. while there's may be some one some where with a great idea to cure cancer or something like that but since that person is either not part of the "intelligentsia" or came later to the party, his/her thoughts will remain in the dark?
This is plainly freaky.
We call ourselves civilized but our behavior has not changed one iota. There is the alpha gorilla and then there is the others... And one must follow the alpha's orders, way of thinking and beliefs on the world or else!
No wonder why we are so slow in evolution (even thought we think we're going fast).
Isn't this the principle behind the 1% improvement concept from Million Dollar Consulting? http://sebastianmarshall.com/1-improvement-per-day The same principle is true in finance. Earning incrementally more and/or spending incrementally less accumulates and makes a large difference over time, which leads to having cash to invest in quick win deals, savings on interest,etc.
I've been thinking about this for a while. I fancy myself a scientist, which means I use the Scientific Method to figure things out. So I make a hypothesis, and try like crazy to falsify it, and at the end maybe there's some interesting not-yet-falsified ideas.
I train myself in all sorts of science, I keep real genuine article scientists as friends and compatriots. But y'know, I probably wouldn't be called a Scientist by the vast majority of people in this day and age.
So I started thinking. What is someone who does science who doesn't have impressive scientific credentials? And I came to - a Cowboy Scientist.
Cowboy Science is trying to figure out how things for practical reasons or for curiosity, not for academic or institutional prestige.
A rancher who tries to figure out what the best mix of water and grazing and movement for his cattle by takes notes, making a guess at what'll work, and testing that guess - he's doing science. But no one would call him a Scientist with a capital S.
UPDATES: Stargate is Live! | Also, see SimpleGeo's Implementation
We recently expanded PointAbout from its office in Washington DC, opening a new office for AppMakr in San Francisco (as an aside - interesting personal-interest story about the move here).
One problem with geographic separation is that the people in the other office are very abstract. You might see work coming from them in the form of code, releases, email, etc., but it's very hard for the actual people between offices to make a connection. And that inter-personal connection is very important to us as a company, so I set out to figure out a way to solve it.
My co-founder Sean aptly named this project "Project Stargate," after the science fiction Stargate movie in which shortcut paths to the Universe are opened up through a round, glowing portal (really wanna geek out? More details on Stargate here), so the name has stuck.
I'll be adding to this blog as we figure things out, and I'd really like to have your thoughts in the comments section below, especially if you've done any work to solve this problem (any Y Combinator startups out there working on this vexing issue?). Just to be clear, we all have AIM, or Gtalk, or Skype call & video chat abilities - that's not the problem. The problem is that to initiate a call or IM chat requires effort. And while it may be a very small, minimal amount of effort, nonetheless it's effort, which means that the magical moments where someone turns to another person and says "hey, I have an idea" or "can you look at this for me" are lost. And that's really, really significant. Since effort is required to establish a connection, the serendipitous connections are lost. That's what I'm trying to bring back through "Project Stargate".