🔓 This is a free preview of a Member’s Only post 🔓
“The first step to a new cosmogony is a step back” — Paul Feyerbend, Against Method
Raise your hand if you’ve murdered an idea.
I have. It’s a very strange habit.
Our ideas are like infants: they are small and precious. But while humans are biologically equipped to be parents to our children we are not biologically equipped to be parents to our ideas.
Rather than care for and nurture them we often kill them shortly after they’re born.
We do this because we conclude that the idea isn’t good enough after all. We look at what’s already out there and conclude that our idea can never measure up. We often justify this from a rational perspective:
“I’m just being realistic,” we say. Then we ball up the idea and toss it into the trash. We cross it out with bold red ink in our notebook. We let it collect dust on our hard drive. We wish it away like an old ex; we block it on social media and think to ourselves, “I’m glad I escaped that.”
What’s interesting about this is that we’re actually correct. Our ideas arebad.
The mistake is thinking bad ideas aren’t worth pursuing.
One of my most consistent intellectual obsessions for the last 10 years is mapping how the history of science and the history of business interact.
I first started getting into it in college. It was an interesting time for me: I was a full-time student majoring in philosophy and I was also running my last business, Firefly.
Being in college and running a business felt great to me. I was doing sales calls with large clients who had no idea I was a student, I was spending late nights at the office coding the product, and in between I was going to class, taking tests, and writing essays.
I actually really liked this split: working incredibly hard in the real world and then using school as a way to step back and reinterpret what was happening to me from a different, academic perspective. And while I think it’s easy to say that the ivory tower has nothing to offer to entrepreneurship — and vice versa — this weird marriage of two worlds early in my career actually helped me a lot.
One of the classes that was most helpful for me was philosophy of science. In philosophy of science we ask questions like: What is science? What is a scientific fact and how is it different from other kinds of facts? How does science progress towards the truth? Does it progress towards the truth at all?
These questions felt really relevant to me as I was running my company. We’d talk about running an experiment on the product and then I’d say to myself, What actually is an experiment?
It turns out, there’s actually a lot to be learned in the philosophy of science that applies to business. In fact, if we look deeply at the history of science we’ll find that a lot of the theories about the way science progresses looks strikingly similar to theories about how businesses win.
In short, both fields thrive on new ideas. And understanding more about how new ideas work in science and in business might help us become better parents to our own new ideas. It might help us stop killing them so early.
Because if we look back at how ideas work we’ll find that some of the biggest ideas in history looked bad at first. And often were bad at first.
But that actually didn’t matter too much — because bad ideas have a habit of becoming good.
Let’s start with science.
Copernicus was a Polish astronomer and mathematician who lived during the Renaissance and is credited with discovering heliocentrism — the theory that the earth revolves around the sun.
There are a bunch of Greek and Arabic astronomers that also posited heliocentrism before Copernicus but we just kind of ignore that for some reason. My apologies to them.
You might think that when Copernicus came up with heliocentrism that it was a good idea. You might think that Copernicus had a lot of good empirical evidence for it, and that’s why he was confident enough to push forward with his research and publish his findings rather than throwing them out.
But that’s actually wrong. Here’s what actually happened.