These couple of sections deal with getting started. Getting a cool project completed requires lots of little baby steps that you might think look contemptible on their own. Don't be afraid to share them though, critics will always find room for contempt, but your fellow hackers know what it takes to make.
Don't be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that's a good sign. That's probably why everyone else has been overlooking the idea. The first microcomputers were dismissed as toys. And the first planes, and the first cars. At this point, when someone comes to us with something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest.
Organic Start-up Ideas
Here it is: I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.
When I first laid out these principles explicitly, I noticed something striking: this is practically a recipe for generating a contemptuous initial reaction. Though simple solutions are better, they don't seem as impressive as complex ones. Overlooked problems are by definition problems that most people think don't matter. Delivering solutions in an informal way means that instead of judging something by the way it's presented, people have to actually understand it, which is more work. And starting with a crude version 1 means your initial effort is always small and incomplete.
I'd noticed, of course, that people never seemed to grasp new ideas at first. I thought it was just because most people were stupid. Now I see there's more to it than that. Like a contrarian investment fund, someone following this strategy will almost always be doing things that seem wrong to the average person.
Six Principles for Making New Things
On innovation as opposed to work that is routinized.
Someone like a judge or a military officer can in much of his work be guided by duty, but duty is no guide in making things. Makers depend on something more precarious: inspiration. And like most people who lead a precarious existence, they tend to be worried, not contented. In that respect they're more like the small man of Confucius's day, always one bad harvest (or ruler) away from starvation. Except instead of being at the mercy of weather and officials, they're at the mercy of their own imagination.On innovation and bureaucracy (also touches a bit on the theme of fearlessness in the face of contempt / being thought a fool).
Recipes for wisdom, particularly ancient ones, tend to have a remedial character. To achieve wisdom one must cut away all the debris that fills one's head on emergence from childhood, leaving only the important stuff. Both self-control and experience have this effect: to eliminate the random biases that come from your own nature and from the circumstances of your upbringing respectively. That's not all wisdom is, but it's a large part of it. Much of what's in the sage's head is also in the head of every twelve year old. The difference is that in the head of the twelve year old it's mixed together with a lot of random junk.
The path to intelligence seems to be through working on hard problems. You develop intelligence as you might develop muscles, through exercise. But there can't be too much compulsion here. No amount of discipline can replace genuine curiosity. So cultivating intelligence seems to be a matter of identifying some bias in one's character—some tendency to be interested in certain types of things—and nurturing it. Instead of obliterating your idiosyncrasies in an effort to make yourself a neutral vessel for the truth, you select one and try to grow it from a seedling into a tree.
The wise are all much alike in their wisdom, but very smart people tend to be smart in distinctive ways.
Is It Worth Being Wise?
The government knows better than to get into the novel business, but in other fields where they have a natural monopoly, like nuclear waste dumps, aircraft carriers, and regime change, you'd find plenty of projects isomorphic to this one—and indeed, plenty that were less successful.
This little thought experiment suggests a few of the disadvantages of insider projects: the selection of the wrong kind of people, the excessive scope, the inability to take risks, the need to seem serious, the weight of expectations, the power of vested interests, the undiscerning audience, and perhaps most dangerous, the tendency of such work to become a duty rather than a pleasure.
Even in a field with honest tests, there are still advantages to being an outsider. The most obvious is that outsiders have nothing to lose. They can do risky things, and if they fail, so what? Few will even notice.
The eminent, on the other hand, are weighed down by their eminence. Eminence is like a suit: it impresses the wrong people, and it constrains the wearer.
Outsiders should realize the advantage they have here. Being able to take risks is hugely valuable. Everyone values safety too much, both the obscure and the eminent. No one wants to look like a fool. But it's very useful to be able to. If most of your ideas aren't stupid, you're probably being too conservative. You're not bracketing the problem.
The more complicated the world gets, the more valuable it is to be willing to look like a fool.
In principle you could make any mark in any medium; in practice the medium steers you. And if you're no longer doing the work yourself, you stop learning from this.
So if you want to beat those eminent enough to delegate, one way to do it is to take advantage of direct contact with the medium. In the arts it's obvious how: blow your own glass, edit your own films, stage your own plays. And in the process pay close attention to accidents and to new ideas you have on the fly. This technique can be generalized to any sort of work: if you're an outsider, don't be ruled by plans. Planning is often just a weakness forced on those who delegate.
The Power of the Marginal