I couldn't decide which of these spoke the most to me this morning, so what the heck. Here are two quotes from Edward de Bono. These are things that I read and think "of course". Yet do I hold this in my head while I am writing a grant, or designing/modifying experiments or thinking about/writing a paper?
One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity.
Yes, you can jump on the latest, sexiest, bandwagoniest methodology. Or NIH dictated Area of Importance. Many times those are promulgated by the BSD's who have a need to be right. Sometimes the breakthroughs come from BSDs with huge labs and money and people to make them go. On the other hand, some are from people who actually saw something different. In a small lab. Working and thinking by oneself or with a few other people pounding ideas around a table. One can train oneself to see different things, to think about different things. Often that gets lost in the shuffle and the urgent and the need to finish this paper, get a position, get a grant.
The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas. [It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always right by having no ideas at all.]
I thought about not including the 2nd sentence, the one in brackets. Of course it's an overkill. We don't have no ideas.
But, the first sentence is spot-on. It's very hard to be able to be wrong. But some of my best ideas, best projects, best science came from being wrong and being able to look hard at why the idea was wrong. We all know the stories about penicillin and the mistakes that generated other great science. I guess I never thought that those stories would be me.
Its tough to balance the urgent vs. important, and tough, when being pressed by the urgent, to admit error. This paper must go out before I can submit the grant. I must finish these data before I can defend my thesis. These two quotes are related because taking time to be creative and taking time to do things correctly, and taking time to see when one is wrong are all very very hard in the current environment. The pace is brutal, but the cost of not taking time is worse.