Paul Graham: Six Principles for Making New Things

Feb 25, 2008   #diary  #Paul Graham  :



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.

As with contrarian investment strategies, that’s exactly the point. This technique is successful (in the long term) because it gives you all the advantages other people forgo by trying to seem legit. If you work on overlooked problems, you’re more likely to discover new things, because you have less competition. If you deliver solutions informally, you (a) save all the effort you would have had to expend to make them look impressive, and (b) avoid the danger of fooling yourself as well as your audience. And if you release a crude version 1 then iterate, your solution can benefit from the imagination of nature, which, as Feynman pointed out, is more powerful than your own.

Six Principles for Making New Things