Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

You can subscribe to this site via RSS (the humanity!) or .

The Big Idea of Growing Ideas

As I was writing and updating yesterday’s post on the two new del.icio.us features, I started to think seriously about this idea of creating a social networking site from the ground up (for lack of a better term). This is what Flickr did. As Eric Costello, client development lead for Flickr explains:

Flickr was really envisioned initially as an organizational tool for an individual who has this huge collection of photos. The social network was built in just so that you could restrict access to your photos. But what has really taken off with Flickr is that it’s turned out to be a great platform for sharing with the masses, and not just with your small collection of friends.

This is huge. Enormous even. These sites are showing people that when you start small, by providing people with a specific service they want, there are lots of opportunities to get big. This is an essential idea that many people in the world (both online and off) fail to understand.

Big ideas do not hatch, they grow.

They evolve. They change. They adapt. They are affected by the environment.

In many cases prior to the web, this was not possible. You can’t really slowly build a store. What are you going to do, but 10 square feet at a time? Are you going to slowly build your inventory and identity? Change your goods or services based on demand? Nope. Probably not. Can’t afford it. Space is too expensive. At least real space is.

That’s the beauty of the web, it’s the long tail at work. Everyone has access to everyone else and there are million of niches waiting to be filled. You don’t need to try and be everything to everyone because you can afford not to be. It’s a luxury that didn’t exist up to this point. Now we have an opportunity to grow organically. We can build something for a specific need, attract people who are interested in it for that purpose and then slowly add elements that add to their experience. That’s why it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur (I guess, I can’t really say because I’m not one).

But this is bigger than just the web (as usual). This is about people beginning to understand that ideas evolve. The more people that understand that big ideas do not appear out of thin air, the more people will be encouraged to think. It extends to nearly all parts of life. You don’t need to understand everything about a topic. You don’t have to understand every page of that book. Those people who are most successful are usually not the ones who are solely focused on one thing, but the people who have lots of little focuses that they can tie together. The 21st century is all about being a polymath (a word I learned from Eide Neurolearning Blog that means “a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning).

Steve Jobs defines creativity like this:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask a creative person how they did something, they may feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after awhile. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people have. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they en up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.

The 21st century is all about interdisciplinary education and introspection. It’s about recycling and remixing. All of these notions become a whole lot easier to understand when people get that ideas don’t just show up. In other words, being open to the notion that great ideas stem from evolution lets all these other things in the door.

Together they’ll push us all to new heights, both online and off.

August 16, 2005