Monday, February 18, 2008

Recipe for something new

I've always loved that bumper sticker that says "Ignore Alien Orders." Taking a line from a post I read this morning, another might be "Ingore Contemptuous Initial Reaction."

Paul Graham apparently is a software developer who noticed a pattern to the way he approaches creation of new products. He describes in well in Six Principles for Making New Things. Here's a taste:

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.

Thanks to Daring Fireball for the link.


  1. Paul Graham is always worth reading.

    "There's a sort of Gresham's Law of trolls: trolls are willing to use a forum with a lot of thoughtful people in it, but thoughtful people aren't willing to use a forum with a lot of trolls in it. Which means that once trolling takes hold, it tends to become the dominant culture. "

    "I was trying to make the book efficient. I didn't want to waste people's time telling them things they already knew. It's more efficient just to give them the diffs."

    "Most adults... deliberately give kids a misleading view of the world....I'm not arguing for or against this idea here. It is probably inevitable that parents should want to dress up their kids' minds in cute little baby outfits.
    ...[but] as a result, a well brought-up teenage kid's brain is a more or less complete collection of all our taboos-- and in mint condition, because they're untainted by experience. "

    and, of course, The Submarine...

  2. oops, bad linkage above - meant The Submarine

  3. "To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that's in the habit of going where it's not supposed to.

    Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that's unthinkable."

  4. for balance:

    "In his essays he tends to flit from metaphor to metaphor like a butterfly, never pausing long enough for a suspicious reader to catch up with his chloroform jar."