Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Does Hard Work Stifle Innovation?

So yesterday I was at a cookout(which is different from a barbeque in case you did not know) at Stochastic Labs(more about Stochastic Labs soon) and I was tasked with making some fresh squeezed lemon juice for an alcoholic drink. After a few attempts to find or develop a work free method I gave up and just started "hand squeezing" the lemons by using the bottom of a glass as a pommel to press the lemon juice out.

This started an interesting conversation. If labor is free or when it has been inexpensive during times of slavery, did this stifle innovation? It would stem from the "Why develop something new when inexpensive labor will always be plentiful?"

Then this started me thinking about my own life and graduate school and academic Science and Science in general. Does working hard actually lead to more innovation? To the development of new and better things or creative solutions to problems? What if working too hard actually inhibits this process?

It seems to me that there is a point when the pressure to produce something overwhelms the pressure to actually accomplish something interesting or cool or productive. I know during graduate school I worked my ass off and did accomplish some stuff but none of my Scientific body of work would I describe as interesting or cool or innovative. The goals of Science are very insubstantial. Everything is based on the perceived impact of other Scientists and has little to do with the actual outcome of the work.

When is the last time you talked to someone about all of your crazy ideas and they didn't judge you from the outset?

Last night I was chilling at Stochastic Labs and talking with a bunch of well known Scientists and Artists, including Nobel Prize winner Saul Perlmutter who is pretty fucking cool. I never would have guessed. Anyways, the ideas and conversations were interesting and varied but I have never experienced conversations like that in an academic environment. There was no pressure, people's crazy ideas and thoughts were constantly being put out there. Including mine, haha.

I think that graduate school really inhibits genius. The goal in graduate school is not to be a genius. It is to work hard and accomplish something. Maybe that is the problem. Pressure to be viewed successful in the eyes of your peers and mentors anddirect pressure from your peers and mentors does not allow one to actively develop new ideas and try out new avenues of experimentation. Instead of figuring out better methods than a western blot people run hundreds of them. Instead of learning to program you manual input all the data.

If schools truly want to train genuises they need to do that instead of forcing graduate students and post docs to be cheap labor for someone who probably acquired a job as a professor based mostly on good fortune and nepotism.

"I want you to work on your idea." should be a more frequently used phrase in graduate school.
"I want you to take your time." should be said more often.

At least in my life I have learned that a good Scientist.Artist.Technologist needs time to think. Whether it is going for a walk or run or driving around. Maybe it is just sitting and relaxing and thinking. Working isn't the best way to solve a problem, it is thinking and then working.

So I wonder if it is true. Does long work hours and pressure inhibit innovation? Are the best Scientists and graduate students the ones with ample free time?