Good Ideas Out In The Wild

There is nothing that scales better than good ideas. A dentist can see only one patient at a time every day for all of her career but one thoughtful person with only a pencil can influence billions of minds spanning borders and epochs (1). That’s scale. That’s asymmetry. Put good ideas out in the wild and see what comes of it. Like a free-roll in poker, it’s all upside, no downside, bringing with it a small chance of a large payoff. It’s potential energy, stored. Build, trim, strengthen, then let them loose. If they matter: if they’re true, useful, or beautiful, others may find them. To the recipients they may encourage, embolden, enlighten, they may save time or money, they may cause one to help another. One short line of well chosen words from one person matters to people never met, never will meet. As David Deutsch argues in the Beginning of Infinity (2), a good idea may go on getting itself replicated in blogs, in books, in the minds of people that see its value--it may secure its own survival. And like our earliest stories from the Egyptians and Sumerians written on papyrus millennia ago and Homer’s epics from Ancient Greece, at any given moment in time they may hold the gaze of countless captivated minds. If an idea mattered then, and does now, it may tomorrow, to be valued not only by those of its era but by those to come and join the company of the eternal, infinite in reach. 

The Leverage of the Minority (3): It’s unnecessary to convince 51% of the people of an idea. A few motivated individuals can advocate their beliefs and bring change if there is minimal burden on the rest of the population. It’s why many foods, like the orange juice in the local grocery store, are kosher. The rest of the population will either pay it no attention or well receive it. Either scenario results in adoption. The theory is attested by its historical accuracy; widespread change routinely happens by a few individuals with skin in the game--those that stand to benefit or suffer a particular outcome and are passionate, courageous enough to champion it. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." (4)

Educating ourselves and having conversations about topics that matter is the starting point to leveraging the asymmetrical power of good ideas. And by putting them out in the wild, unbeknownst to us, there is a chance we have planted a seed, picked off a burr, or lit a fuse—to cultivate where once was barren. One person may tell another who in turn tells others. Someone along that cascading chain may be convinced of the topic’s importance, inspired enough to move from simply being informed to being an activist, helping another, publicizing influential work, or affecting policy to the greater benefit of a dormant majority. This is an attractive uncertainty. The idea may fan out with large reach on the currents from one small set of flapping wings, parting clouds across expanses and over distant shores.  We need only be guided by genuine curiosity and rational inquiry, engaged with open discourse and intellectual honesty, tolerant of divergent beliefs, and with humility and a healthy skepticism in our conclusions warranted by our history of this, our best, but fallible process. To help ourselves through knowledge gained and others by knowledge shared. Civilization advanced and a world flourishing. Good ideas, our lottery ticket of fortune shared.

1. N. Taleb. Black Swan. Amazon.
2. D. Deutsch. Beginning of Infinity. Amazon.
3. N. Taleb. Skin in the Game. Amazon.
4. M. Mead. Link.

Tom StewartComment