Saturday, October 02, 2004

Ecology of Ideas

by Asim Jalis

One important ingredient that's missing from my personal innovation is a lack of an ecology of ideas. I have an idea. If I implement it, or write about it, it lives. If I don't implement it, it just goes away and dies. There is no space for half-baked ideas. What I need is a space for half-baked software ideas. A space where ideas can live with no pressure to be implemented. Here is a solution to this problem that I am currently playing with. I have created a file called moving-ideas.txt. This contains a list of ideas. As new ideas occur to me I add them to the top of the file. The newest ideas get the most attention. Older ideas sink to the bottom. Over time I reorganize the file. The basic rules of organization are: 1. No idea is deleted. 2. Good ideas move up. 3. Bad ideas move down. The ideas on top always get more attention than the ideas at the bottom. Over time my perspective of goodness and badness can change. An idea that seems bad right now might look brilliant later. And vice versa. You might find this whole system seriously uninspiring and trivial. I would argue that it is not trivial. Even though this looks like a simple text file, it is a lot more. In fact this is a dynamic system that creates an ecology for ideas. Over time I expect this to lead to consequences that are bigger and more significant. I think of this as a genetic soup from which bigger things can emerge. Here is another way to look at this. This is a way to create a thread that connects the daily snapshot of life that I live, into something that is bigger than a single day. If you have seen the movie Memento you will understand what I mean. While on the surface, the movie is about a man who has no long-term memory, in a way it is a movie about everyone. We all live in the immediate. The past and the future are abstractions that we don't really understand. Frequently we reinterpret our pasts and imagine unrealistic futures. The only thing that is true and that is real is the present. It's the single day that I am living right now. Over time I see that each day I am doing the same things over and over again. And somehow the work I do each day does not leverage what I did yesterday or the day before. I have to break out of this repetitive motion somehow. However, the paradox is that I have to break out of the day from within the day. I mean I still have to live within single days. However, somehow I have to connect the days together to create something bigger than the single day. And this dynamic ecology of ideas might be one way to create something that is bigger than a single day's work.