Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Way Forward

There is something to be said for slow, steady, plodding, gradual, progress. This is the way most science is done. Very few people can reinvent the wheel and reap the rewards that it enables. There is a lot of emphasis in our society on “thinking outside the box”. “Think different” you say? Well, what about thinking only very slightly differently, making it fit in with what we already know, and then releasing it to the world? Most progress is incremental. In many ways this gradual approach is more difficult than punctuated bursts of perceived brilliance because it requires background knowledge and working within constraints, but still emerging with something novel.

Among my mother’s cadre of wise sayings is: “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel”. It was applied to everything from my wedding invitations to my dissertation topic.

Maybe in response to this, and in accord with the silly inspirational sayings like “think different” (of which I fell for like a fool), I have staged my share of petty rebellions. So much of my life has been in response to some kind of perceived oppressive force. It has gotten me nowhere really.

As I race to finish my dissertation—which was meant to forge new ground, but essentially dug its own grave—I am reminded that reinventing the wheel is not always best the way forward. My Mom was right, again.