Entrepreneurial lessons from Great Mathematician Ramanujan

He did something extraordinary, something that really shocked the whole world. He was a ‘God gifted genius’, the world says… But what really made him a genius wasn’t the god gift but something worth reading…

Ramanujan in the center ( 4th from left.)

1. Rather, he did it just to do it. Ramanujan was an artist. And numbers- and the mathematical language expressing their relationships-were his medium.

2. He was like a species that had branched off from the main evolutionary line and, like an Australian echidna or Galapagos tortoise, had come to occupy a biological niche all his own.

3. Ramanujan was doing what great artists always do-diving into his material. He was building an intimacy with numbers, for the same reason that the painter lingers over the mixing of his paints, or the musician endlessly practices his scales.

4. He was like the biological researcher who sees things others miss because he’s there in the lab every night to see them.

5. But the problems Ramanujan took up were as tough slogging to him as school problems were to them. His successes did not come entirely through flashes of inspiration. It was hard work. It was full of false starts. It took time. And that was the irony: in the wake of his failure at school, time was one thing he had plenty of.

6. A determination to succeed and to sacrifice everything in the attempt.

7. why waste one’s time and energy in activity so divorced from the common purposes of life? Didn’t his father, working as a lowly clerk in a silk shop, do the world and himself more good than he?

8. It’s freedom not from but “to do something specified or implied”

9. Ramanju,” he said, “they call you a genius.” Hardly a genius, replied Ramanujan, “Look at my elbow. That will tell you the story.” It was rough, dirty, and black. Working from his large slate, he found the quick flip between writing hand and erasing elbow a lot faster, when he was caught up in the throes of his work, than reaching for a rag. “My elbow is making a genius of me,” he said.

10. Ramaswami pictured him lying on a mat, his shirt torn, “his long hair carelessly bound up with a piece of thin string,” working feverishly, notebooks and loose sheets of plain white paper piled up around him. A friend from Pachaiyappa’s who met him in Madras a little later, T. Srinivasacharya, recalled that, for want of paper, Ramanujan would sometimes write in red ink on paper already written upon.

11. Janaki would later recall how before going to work in the morning he worked on mathematics; and how when he came home he worked on mathematics. Sometimes, he’d stay up till six the next morning, then sleep for two or three hours before heading in to work. At the office, his job probably i’ncluded verifying accounts and establishing cash balances. At one point, some months after he started, he replaced another clerk, on leave for a month, as “pilotage fund clerk.” In any event, the work was hardly taxing, and soon he was being left alone to work on mathematics, being tolerated in this, if not explicitly encouraged, by both Narayana Iyer and Sir Francis.

12. Sometimes, after they had gone to sleep, Ramanujan would wake and, in the feeble light of a hurricane lamp, record something that had come to him, he’d explain, in a dream.

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