What Is Shared Can Never Be Stolen

#OpenScience #CitizenScience #Curiosity

#tltr Good ideas are limited by our ability and willingness to communicate them effectively. What if we re-thought our fear of intellectual vulnerability and offered up our ideas to those with times on their hands?

Palo Alto California is sunny most days of the year, and it makes lunchtime a gathering of very interesting people. Hundreds of students, academics, and tech workers swarm out on the grass or at round outdoor tables, sunbathing, sharing ideas, typing their latest work frantically on laptops.

But mostly they eat sushi, pizza, chicken pesto salads, turkey club sandwiches — and much of their food comes in plastic containers that have no place to go but into the trash. It’s a sad state of affairs and a lot can be said about the necessity of recycling plastic and other non-biodegradable materials, because the energy and resources necessary to produce them is not insignificant.

The same is true of their wasted ideas.

The brain, at 2% of the body weight contributes up to 20% of its resting metabolism. It uses more energy than any other human organ, and it needs to be fed regularly. In energy expenditure terms the brain can easily be declared to be costly. A luxury fueled by our sedentary farming and technologically advanced society.

What happens then when the fruit of this invisible network of energy transfer is thrown away? What happens when it lingers on the bottom row of your friend’s To-Do list? In the last slide of your girlfriend’s PhD defense? As that half-finished blog post you could not muster the energy to finish?

Basically nothing.

It turns out not all ideas go to heaven. Most slide into the corners of our mind, their debris a shameful reminder that we’re probably not the best we could be, that we’ve failed to push ourselves hard enough.

Or maybe the idea wasn’t that good in the first place and, being rational creatures, we simply dismissed it. And what could be done really — sharing that idea? *snort* Someone would swoop right in and steal it from you…

I mean, you were going to do something about it, right? It was always in your plans to finish that thought, pursue that idea, raise the money and conquer the world. But that never happened. So the world had to wait another 15 years before someone else had the same thought, the right predisposition at the right time, place and context, to turn that seed into its full potential. Unfortunately they had no way to credit you for finding the beginning of that trail first.

I’m being a little hard on us here. There are plenty good reasons to want to keep an idea to yourself and I dare not presume to know or judge the many reasons driving your own decisions. But sometimes.. many times.. lost ideas scribbled on the edge of a napkins are worth sharing, knowing that we may gain nothing in return, besides the satisfaction of seeing it come to life.

The saying goes: Ideas are a dime a dozen; Implementation is key. That may be true in certain field of study, business sector, area of life, and it’s also besides the point. Keeping ideas to oneself is intellectual hoarding. It’s just filling a closet-full of things that you’ll never use.

Your good ideas are not bounded by your limited time on earth and resources at your disposal. They are constrained by your ability and willingness to communicate them effectively.

Collectively, we can go further. Academic collaborations, Maker movement, GitHub repository, Open-Access journals, even society are abstract entities serving this single idea.

And if you’re anything like me, you have a few files resting on your computer where you write down thoughts you wish to revisit after work or over the weekend. Seeds of ideas waiting for a bit of water and patience. More often than not, I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of them (not mentioning the commitment necessary to bring them to life), and need to prioritize. Most of them will never see daylight.

Some of them may be worth investigating. Most of them probably not. More importantly I’d like to think that many more others, originating from many more individuals out there, are holding much more interesting promises. I like to think those creators are just as enthusiastic at seeing them take shape.

Allow me to propose the meta-idea, of an open repository of ideas, www.lostideas.org, with a very simple goal: make the many random thoughts passing unnoticed, left to die in the recesses of our minds, discoverable and actionable. Interestingly enough, I’m certain this is also an idea someone else had before but for some reason never reached widespread adoption.

What if we re-thought our fear of intellectual vulnerability and offered up our tender ideas to those with times on their hands?

After all, what is shared can never be stolen.