Protagonist rule #11: Give back

In science, there’s an interesting pattern few people talk about. It turns out that inventions often occur at the same time or almost the same time in multiple research groups. These inventions aren’t struck-by-lightning insights by a single scientist; they tend to be ideas that evolved and emerged in a research community for an extended … Read more

Protagonist rule #10: Study Stoicism and Buddhism

In many ways, I view myself as a philosophical modernist in that I believe the world we live in is getting better all the time. In virtually any metric of human quality of life, from the number of people living in abject poverty to life expectancy, things are generally improving dramatically. Contrastingly, most people like … Read more

Protagonist rule #9: Take care of yourself

Especially during my time in industry, a common saying among my a-type, hard-driving colleagues was “I can sleep when I’m dead.” The idea communicated was that the things you’re now spending time on are so important that you’re willing to give up everything else. Especially young, ambitious people, for some reason mostly men, have this … Read more

Protagonist rule #8: Use data

One story that keeps fascinating me when it comes to science is how people in the early 20th century insisted on the existence of aether for transferring light. The general belief was that similar to how sound was mediated by air, there was another medium that would allow light to flow. This was important to … Read more

Protagonist rule #7: Change your mind

When I worked as a young professor in the 1990s, one of my main research areas was software architecture. The prevalent view at the time was that the architecture of a software system was virtually immutable once you had committed to it and consequently, you had to be very careful during the initial design phase. … Read more

Protagonist rule #5: Hell yes or no

Recently, I read a book by Oliver Burkeman entitled “4,000 weeks: time management for mortals.” The essence of the book is that as humans, we have 4,000 weeks in our lifespan. Of course, part of that is spent in our youth and another part in retirement, leaving us with about 2,000 weeks in our working … Read more

Protagonist rule #3: Compete intentionally

For almost all of human history, we lived in scarcity. We lacked food, housing and safety and lived in small communities that could easily be wiped out by competing tribes. It’s hard to imagine for most of us, but famines occurred regularly. Warfare between tribes was the norm in many regions of the world. And … Read more