Embracing ideas is how new things happen
Ideas are everywhere. Embrace them. Criticizing an idea is a sport on the web—snarking. Sometimes the very web that craves innovation and newness steps on the dialog with unrelenting and utterly irrelevant snark. In practice, turning ideas into products is the amazing, miraculous, thing that is product development.
Products get developed pulling from the same ideas, tools, and even skills available to a broad set of people. Mere inches separate just products from breakthrough products. Part of a breakthrough product is about embracing new paradigms and those new paradigms should be debated and discussed, but most of all embraced. It takes a brave person to question the existing and put forth new paradigms.
Paradigm to dialog
In a recent op-ed piece a concept was put forth, a potential new metaphor for computing by the highly regarded and widely published David Gelertner. It was a thought-provoking essay. I think that is what the author intended.
In fact the essay argued for a new metaphor by establishing the importance of metaphors in the evolution of computing. Metaphors are how we interact with computing—from two digit numeric displays, to line printers, to command lines, to GUI, to the web, and now social and mobile. Beyond that, the details of these metaphors matter greatly and are worthy of much dialog and debate.
Regretfully as we have all come to expect, the comments on the post quickly devolved into meaningless snark and commentary unworthy of the packets and storage they consumed. There were even tweets about the commentary. What was an essay that could provide the foundation for an interesting dialog among those that build products became, in part, a snarkfest.
Some claimed the idea was not new. Google reader is in fact the worldstream. Some claimed that we live in a stream every day with Facebook and twitter. Some said the idea won’t work.
My read is that this was an essay about metaphor, not a spec and certainly not an app you can try out and comment on. The very “desktop” I am writing this on was envisioned in an essay in 1945, As We May Think, by then head of Office of Scientific Research. Let’s not forget that the web itself once started off as an essay on a metaphor of hyperlinking by Ted Nelson in 1965 which was not implemented until 1967 or until 1993 depending on how you count.
Would these essays have been the subject of such snark? Maybe they were and history has rightfully forgotten those expressions. We should all be clear that essays like these are what change the face of computing.
Read them. Join the dialog. Ignore them if you want. They are not all great or even good. But to criticize them in a content-free manner or to debate them as though they are product specs misses the point completely.
Dialog to product
Taking the dialog around a paradigm shift and turning into a product is magical. Few people can or do make this happen. It is very hard.
A product of a new paradigm is by definition different, but not every aspect is different in every way. In fact the most amazing part about a paradigm shifting product is how much of a derivative work it turns out to be.
Every new product and every new paradigm product are the result of taking the ingredients of the world and pouring those into the primordial soup of product development. Out comes a new product. It is never exactly the same as what came before.
What separates one plain old new product from one that changes our view of technology is a set of choices separated my mere inches. What’s the difference between Facebook and Myspace or Friendster (or a dozen other services)? Were there touch phones before the iPhone? MS-DOS was one of many command line program loaders.
I stumbled across this view of turning an idea into a feature in an app. I love how it characterizes the amount of work and number of choices it takes to do so. How Software is Built Today.
Taking an idea and turning it into a product is incredibly fun and challenging.
Picking the ideas to push to a product takes a lot of guts and sometimes a leap of faith.
Essays that challenge the status quo and push us to think about our world differently are the very source of breakthroughs that we all want.
Embracing that dialog is the start of paradigm shifting products.
Today is a big football game. As Al Paccino’s character, Tony D’Amato said in Any Given Sunday one of the all-time great locker room speeches in film:
You find out life’s this game of inches, so is football. Because in either game – life or football – the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the f***ing difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying!
Ideas are everywhere. Ingredients for new products are everywhere. It is mere inches that separate run of the mill from great to paradigm shifting. The one certain thing is that if you build products you should embrace ideas wherever they come from.
PS: This blog is also available on http://snarkfree.com