Environments versus incentives, what moves an idea?
As mentioned here, I’ve decided to come up with a reason to annoy you — I talked about that here, so we need a project. I’ve also previously mentioned that I don’t really have any ideas of what that project should be, so we will have a “party” and figure this out. That party will be called an Ideathon.
Here’s what we know about the party so far;
- Time at the moment is not a constraint because this project is online and because I’m mostly making this up as I go along.
- It’s online, meaning we can theoretically solve a big problem or work on a big idea.
- We still have to figure out which problem to solve.
Last time, we talked about having many different people in the room. Who’s in the room is the key to a good party. You need all sorts, the loud, the quiet, the empathetic, the erratic, the people who want to build a box and others who wish to use that box as a step up to a different idea.
This party will give all sorts of people a chance to talk, and that is how our idea, whatever it will end up being, will grow. It’s my belief that’s how all ideas grow with people talking. I underscored that to make life easier for my future biographer.
That’s why it’s essential to have a mix of introverts and extroverts. Because coming up with ideas is intimidating. Especially since our immediate environment has been drained of empathy and imagination after two years of being locked up like prisoners (if you live in Melbourne, that is).
Speaking of excessive government control. I recently had a discussion about UBI — Universal Basic Income. And stick with me because I’m pretty sure it relates to what we’re talking about.
There were two arguments/points of view.
The first is a basic income that covers rent, and food means you can spend your time working on things you’re passionate about. Investing your time into problems or projects you genuinely care about, rather than attending to meaningless but necessary work to pay for the essentials mentioned above.
The second was based on incentives and consequences. A sizable reward (like making a lot of money and unlocking financial freedom) or dying of starvation (because you failed) stimulates ideas to be useful more quickly.
An example of this is Formula One; Mercedes created the superior and just world championship-winning Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance. Pulling off incredible feats of engineering because there’s a big bag of money at the end of the season. That, plus the prestige of winning in the world’s most technically advanced and expensive sporting spectacle.
To see failure, look at HAAS, Alpine, Aston Martin or… the 2022 Mercedes. It’s a difficult sport.
Along with this riveting discussion about UBI, I did another thing. I recently listened to Acquired’s episode about Sony.
[Acquired: A podcast where two massive business and history nerds do all the research that I will never be bothered to do.]
The Sony episode taught me a lot and honestly left me saddened at the end. Sony started out after the war (the big one, WW2) and then went on to invent the world of consumer electronics by bringing together engineers and giving them no brief. There was no plan or solid idea; they just had a room and let people go HAM tinkering until they came up with the handheld radio.
Throughout Sony’s history were many failures then huge successes — Steve Jobs was even a fan. Fast forward to today, and there are still good things about the company, but it also seems that Sony shares very little with its founding roots. Then again, it’s not my place to speculate on the Sony of today. Especially since I’ve just bastardized a three-hour-long podcast and a company with 75 years of history into a few sentences.
Something that did become clear, though, and a pretty common pattern across a few Acquired episodes, is that the key to success was putting the right people in a room in the early days. Sony did it, and so did Bell Labs and Google. Each of these examples manifested success by creating an environment. Plus, having brave leadership to guide everyone through uncertainty.
The by-product of this combination (of the right people in the room and the brave leadership). Took us from the handheld radio to the Walkman. This is a big deal because we wouldn’t have the iPhone without it. The transistor — also no iPhone. And Google Map — one of the main reasons you use your iPhone.
Now back to the conversation about free reign (possibly enabled by a UBI) versus capitalism (incentives and consequences), it seems these ideas need to work together. It’s not one or the other. It’s not left or right. It’s a hybrid. It’s people coming together and talking.
Going back to our Ideathon/”Party” [name suggestions welcome]. What are we missing, and what’s next?!
We now know why it’s important to bring people together but still have no clear plan or problem to solve. That’s okay. Finding a problem, let’s face it, shouldn’t be hard. But before we move on, we need to have an uncomfortable conversation.