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googling and giving up

In his recent article, Neal Stephenson talks about how having access to too much information prevents us from working on big ideas. He theorises that big ideas are often discarded because these days it’s too easy to discover others are working on the same problem. Let’s say you have a new idea, and you’re excited about its prospects. Before you start building, there’s one thing that can make you stop dead in your tracks: googling your idea.

So when you see someone else has also worked on your idea, or something that sounds close to it, do you freeze in your tracks? You started out excited and enthused, and felt like nothing in the world could stop you from working on it. And then like a deflated balloon, your enthusiasm wanes and you start to doubt. Is your idea less original than you thought? Can your design come close to what this other company did? Is it even worth investing the time to start this project when someone else already has something out there that’s similar?

It’s worth it to work on your project. There’s this prevailing attitude that the internet functions like a virtual land-grab; that whoever gets to a new idea first automatically wins everything. I believe this to be untrue. You don’t search the internet with Altavista anymore do you? The first mover has an advantage, but what unaccounted advantages might the later players have? What niches can your idea fill that aren’t currently being met?

When we’re looking at other companies, we know there’s room for more than one player. Yet how many project ideas do you have that never started because you found out one other person has already started working on it? My mind is littered with projects that I never started because I made the mistake of googling and giving in to fear.

So I’m starting to ignore everyone else. After all, big problems don’t get solved with just one project. I’m starting to work on projects that have been done before, and focusing on adding my own personal touch. Instead of focusing on the land-grab, the quick trip to the top, I’m focusing on building ideas that have lasting value. I’m focusing on building ideas that are going to meet people’s needs, and then hopefully exceed them. I want to explore the adjacent possible as much as I can.

You can only go so far with an idea by thinking about it. Eventually you have to start building something in order to continue with your creation. Who knows where the work from a project might lead you? What started as an idea that you thought to be completely unoriginal, could turn into something new and exciting from the simple dedication to the work. By actually building the thing, you begin to understand it, and your simple idea has a chance to mature into something bigger and better. It would have been nearly impossible to arrive at a better place if you had to get there right away. Remember that the journey of a real artist involves taking the long road. It means being willing to take bold steps in building, creating, and exploring the adjacent possible, even in the face of competition.



about the author

Blake Smith is a Principal Software Engineer and leads the Infrastructure group at at Sprout Social.

Blake Smith

create. code. learn.