Thought Experiments For Creators

I think about from the book Whiplash by Joi Ito & Jeff Howe almost every day. The authors set out to define a set of thought systems that will help the reader orient themselves in an age where technology moves at a rapidly accelerating rate. There are two particular takeaways that I am particularly interested in, seeing as they come up often when I am lost in thought.

Practice Over Theory

There is a huge difference between reading about how to ride a bike and actually riding a bike. I am prone to reading and outlining ideas more often then I execute them, but especially with technology and the internet, it is important to launch your experiments in order to get real world results. My sister often criticizes me for starting project after project after project, but the truth is that I have to do this in order to see which idea sticks. Through all of my experiments, the ones that I have been most excited about are my online cooking show (this project has been incrementally been getting better over the course of four years!) and my blog. I’m constantly trying to put out more prototypes of potential projects because of a bit of advice from Cory Doctorow that encourages creators to send out ideas like dandelion seeds. The more ideas you plant, the more likely some will take root.

I always have had little patience for people who talk about ideas and don’t test them out. In response, my modus operandi has been to follow through and experiment as much as possible. By getting in the habit of doing this, I expect to learn exponentially more in applied though experiments as opposed to locking myself in my study and pretending I know everything.

Emergent Systems

Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to look for the path of least resistance. When I do my regular “zoom-out”, I think about my place in the larger machine of politics, economics, traffic, and society. I am in a position of relatively low power, which means that I have the freedom to move semi-freely through existing structures in order to find a place where I can develop more sustainable cycles of monetary and personal growth.


“Emergent systems” are kind of like this. They have less to do with constructing large, world-changing services, but instead they happen almost organically like fungus in the dark corner of a room. If I have an idea and plant it in the right place, I won’t have to do very much work in order for it to take off. All I have to do is create the correct genetic code for the idea for it to survive under the given conditions.

My favorite example is a small poetry group that I was part of in Portland, Oregon. The administrators of the group simply set a time, place, and agenda for a poetry writing club to happen once a week at a local bar. In months the club became more popular than the bar was able to handle. As organizers, we didn’t have to do very much every week, but we reaped huge results in the form of fun, content, and networking. My hope is to use this incredible success to build more services and communities like this. The key is finding the sweet spots in the infrastructure around me, the places that are most ideal for planting the seeds of new projects so that they can grow into something massive.

Both of these concepts are full chapters in Whiplash by Joi Ito & Jeff Howe. If any of this is interesting to you, I highly recommend checking out the book, which serves as a compass that will help you navigate through rapidly shifting terrain. Next I’m planning to re-read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I remember that the main takeaway from this book is to “profit from your experiments”, and considering how often I experiment, I think it would be in my best interest to brush up on how to make these projects lucrative.


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