Fragile Ideas

I love Ive’s speech on the Steve’s life celebration event they had at Apple campus in October 2011. Especially the beginning of it.

Steve used to say to me — and he used to say this a lot — “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.”
And sometimes they were. Really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.
And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

This may sound a bit too abstract to you, let me provide you with more tangible example.

Famously, when Albert Einstein was struggling to extend his special theory of relativity to gravity, he at one time imagined a man falling from the roof who is not feeling his own weight.

So what? Everyone knows that one feels weightless when falling. Well, that is why we call Albert a genius, because he was able to glimpse something important, something deep, in this piece of everyday obviousness.

The thing is, when a man falling does not feel gravity, it is really the acceleration that provides the equivalence here. And he then kept working from this perspective. He worked on it hard. Like I mean really, really hard. For eight freaking years he worked on it. He worked on it so hard that at the end he was physically exhausted and ill.

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
— Albert Einstein

The result? Total change of our view of the universe. There is actually no such thing as gravity. It is all warping of space and time.

The Takeaway

Be careful with your simple ideas, be protective of them, work on them. Work on them for much longer than others do. Stay with them beyond the easy first conclusion you might have made. You will probably not change our view of the whole universe, but you may change the world and that’s not too shabby either.

The trouble with this approach is that you have to be able to pick the right ideas or be able to recognize when you are on the wrong path with one.

Which brings me back to Steve when he answered the question “How do you know what’s the right direction?” in The Lost interview (time 01:06:20), he said (after a pause to think):

You know, ultimately it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things into what you’re doing. I mean, Picasso had a saying, he said: Good artists copy, great artists steal.

And that’s a different topic.