Shoulders of giants 13:32 on Friday

I’m not a particularly schooled individual. In fact, I never finished with school, because I was too preoccupied with work — first producing music, then working on this new thing called “the Internet” (with a big “I”). Sometimes (thankfully rarely) I feel a bit ashamed about my lack of academic experience.

The academic world works in a certain way: If you’re presenting something as truly new, it is not considered valuable because it is not grounded on something old. In research, new ideas need to be explicitly synthesized, you can’t just “come up” with ideas. To be credible, you need to list your sources, and attribute everything to someone else.

Of course I know why the academic community works this way, but nevertheless it has been quite alien to me. It seems to go against the need for self-fulfillment, a need to be seen as “clever” and to “be someone” by having original and unique ideas.

In reality “newness” is relative: more often than not, perhaps more often than you would like, what is new is only new to you. No matter how ecstatic you are about finding The Ultimate Solution to a given problem, chances are someone has already thought about it. Maybe they are lazy and did not do anything about it. Maybe they have dug deeper and found out it’s a crappy idea.

Even writing these things down feels a bit silly. Of course we know that new is not new. And the need to look clever? We are above that. Yet when I look at people around me and what ignites them, it’s often “finding the new”, and the possibility of looking, or at least feeling, more clever than the next guy.

I’m slowly starting to find comfort in the academic way of thinking. Progress is slow. Big ideas don’t happen overnight. You need to stand on the shoulders of giants. You can show your prowess “merely” by combining ideas in interesting — possibly even new — ways. Indulging yourself in all kinds of experiences, cultures, companies, books, sites, RSS feeds, art, music, they can all help you find that unique spark.

So next time I present an idea, don’t take it from me. I just put these things together.

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