Hardy and Littlewood were mathematician who worked together in Cambridge in the first half of the twentieth century. They had a long and harmonious mathematical collaboration based on the following rules:
- Axiom 1: It didn’t matter whether what they wrote to each other was right or wrong.
- Axiom 2: There was no obligation to reply, or even to read, any letter one sent to the other.
- Axiom 3: They should not try to think about the same things.
- Axiom 4: To avoid any quarrels, all papers would be under joint name, regardless of whether one of them had contributed nothing to the work.
The interesting thing for me about the rules, is that they’re all about trust.
In any creative work you have to be able to make mistakes; you can’t do anything really good if you’re fearful. The first rule codifies this “when we work together mistakes are OK, you can trust me not to criticise”. The second and third rules say to me “don’t feel obliged by our collaboration, I trust you to work on something interesting, so work on it and don’t worry about what I’m doing.” The final rule cements the trust, “I know you will contribute something useful, so don’t worry about it – we publish together no matter what”.