Wednesday, July 27, 2005

1% inspiration, 99% perspiration

Yesterday I was writing about one reason I'm not keen on software patents. I thought today I'd tell you another one.

One of my favourite software writers, Joel Spolsky has written an article on interviewing developers for a job. The article boils down to "Hire people who are smart and get things done." This maxim has served me well so far.

All cultures place a value on being smart and getting things done, but differ in how much relative value they place on them. I've lived in North America and the UK, and have noticed that the British seem to place far more value on being smart than working hard. You will often read articles in the British media praising an inventor's brilliant idea, but very rarely praising his hard work. The hard work is often presented as a surprising thing, or an unfortunate setback.

I personally think that good ideas are easy, in comparison to the hard work needed to make them a success Thomas Alva Edison is reputed to have said "genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.", and I suspect you'll find anyone who has made a financial success out of a good idea will agree.

I think this especially true for software. Software very rarely becomes successful because it has a unique, patented brilliant idea. Usually successful software has many hours put into it to make it exceedingly usable, and continual improvement keeping it that way. It isn't from a new idea with no competitors, as Eric Sink comments.

Software patents encourage the idea that having an inspirational idea is the hard part, and the hard work into making a great product is easy, and anyone can do it. When a company like Microsoft copies the idea of a spreadsheet from Visicalc, and do it so well that we get the current Excel, that should be congratulated, not be treated like a stolen idea. Otherwise, be probably wouldn't have a spreadsheet as good as Excel.

Especially in the UK, I think we should be encouraging people to take their good ideas and make them public and freely available, not advising them how to protect them. Then we will learn that the way to successful entrepreneurship is through hard work, and my country might have an economy approaching America's success. This is just basic economics. I am a reasonably intelligent person, who is also quite busy. Occasionally I have a good idea for a business or software product. I have three options.

  1. I can quit my job and start trying to make the idea a success.
  2. I can keep the idea secret, and plan to do something about it in the future.
  3. Or I can publicise the idea as widely as I can, and hope someone else makes a successful business out of it.

In the first case, I run a very risky path, but have some chance of success. In the third case, at least I get the benefit of the product or service provides, so my life will be better. Only the second case does nothing at all to make my life better, and so is almost certainly the worst course to take, and yet the patenting system encourages this precise course for risk averse people.

I'm going to put my money where my mouth is on this one. I have ideas that I think would be successful on a fairly regular basis. I'm going to start putting them up on this website. That means:

  • If someone takes the idea and uses it, then I have a new product or service that I wanted
  • They might give me credit, which will make me feel good
  • They might feel generous enough to share some financial success with me
  • No-one can then patent the idea, which removes the chance of someone patenting it and stopping an entrepreneurial person from actually working hard to use the idea
  • If people think it is a good idea then they might well me, which means I have more evidence if I want to proceed
  • If people think it is a bad idea then they might tell me and I am less likely to work on it myself and hence waste my time

No comments: