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What the smartest people do on the weekend, everyone else will do in 10 years (cdixon.org)
210 points by mmahemoff on Mar 3, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments



Let's all pat ourselves on the back with a fluffy blog post about how jolly wonderful we are. In about 10 years everyone else will be doing the same.

Just kidding. Every profession I have even a passing familiarity with is absolutely chockers with self-congratulatory fluff. And it's usually hilarious to the outsiders who can see the narrowness of a profession's vision.

Out of the professions I've seen, who have been the widest thinkers outside of their own field?

So far: lawyers. I'm serious.


This post is brief, but not fluffy. I wish he had dug more into the forces at work here. But it is an important point nonetheless.

And we on HN could do better than merely dismiss it. We could try to dig into the underlying forces ourselves. E.g. not all hobbies consist of making the Apple I. So which do, and why? Are the things called hobbies two different types of work that are conflated by clueless observers simply because they're not the worker's day job? Or is there some amount of crossover between inventing the future and merely playing around?

Instead the top comment is the forum analogue of a fluff post: a cynical dismissal based on some presumed bad intention on the writer's part.


> I wish he had dug more into the forces at work here. But it is an important point nonetheless.

He was busy slapping all nerds everywhere on the back with reflected glory.

You're just reading in what you wanted him to say and judging your desired reading, not the original.

(Edit: and I did the same, fixating on the self-congratulatory fluff and ignoring the selection-biased hypothesis about making predictions.)

> Instead the top comment is the forum analogue of a fluff post: a cynical dismissal based on some presumed bad intention on the writer's part.

You're basically imputing to me a motive to impute a motive to Chris that in my estimation neither of us had. I mentioned Naïve Realism a while back in one of the various pitchfork debates (the Tesla test drive, I think). I think it's happening here too.

But really, this post was self-congratulation. I've read similar fluff from marketers and advertisers who see themselves as the lever-pullers of capitalism, from student politicians about their destiny as masters of all creation, from lawyers about the utter indispensibility of their ancient craft, from engineers ditto ... ad infinitum. In all such cases they could have written the same stuff about how they were shaping The Future Of The World years ago.

I'd be more interested in seeing the base rate on all the garage projects that go absolutely nowhere, achieve nothing and have no meaningful impact on the world. That would be most of them.

Which is fine. But let's not pretend that since Woz was a genius, the rest of us are also in the same category.


Which is fine. But let's not pretend that since Woz was a genius, the rest of us are also in the same category.

Totally agree. Let's see what the OP is suggesting:

1. People make awesome products/services on the weekends.

2. These awesome products/services will serve new industries.

3. So that means all awesome products/services should be built on the weekends so we can create new industries.

It’s a good bet these present-day hobbies will seed future industries.

I vehemently disagree. This is not a good bet. You know what's a good bet? That IBM's stock will continue to rise.[1] That SAP's stock will continue to rise.[2] It's also a good bet that these companies will continue (as they have for years) to create technology products that businesses want. There is a risk they won't, but it's a lower risk than the guy creating a product in his garage over the weekend.

What the smartest people do on the weekends is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years.

This is the comment that really irks me and dually why this whole post is seen as self promotion. A 'bet' is something you risk against someone else's risk. Are people willing to tell me that they'd put more money down on the weekend projects than the companies who have been doing this for 10+ years? The OP is suggesting that there will be a higher percentage of new industries created (which might be possible), but then states that these industries will cause the working population to shift to this new industry. Bullocks. What evidence does anyone have to suggest this?

Good on the OP though...he got my eyeballs. Black swan sightings sell well.

[1] - http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/echarts?s=IBM#symbol=ibm;range=5...;

[2] - http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/echarts?s=SAP#symbol=sap;range=5...;


He coined a nice epigram I will remember. That is enough for the article to be interesting.

What is the problem with being self-congratulatory? What is wrong with focusing on the positive and thinking that your hobby and life's work is worthwhile? Would anything be created if people were constantly doubting themselves and their creations? Would anything be better then?

What harm would there be in people hoping to be the next woz? And with the low base rate of garage projects going anywhere, which we are all painfully aware of, don't you think it's better to give encouragement and hope. I do, and I think a dismissal such as yours is harmful to the greater cause of creating interesting ideas, programs and thoughts.


> What is the problem with being self-congratulory?

I'd like to say here that having some perspective can prevent certain kinds of mistake. I think that's correct.

I'd be on surer ground if I point out that a person entirely satisfied with their professional perspective isn't going to improve past a certain asymptote that they themselves are unable to perceive.

But honestly? I just find self-congratulation tremendously embarrassing. I don't know if it's inherited or a self-deprecating theme present in Australian culture or just plain old jealousy. Or some combination of the above.


Well, ideas are constantly being heavily pruned and cut to the ground on hacker news.

And some of that pruning is good and necessary. Otherwise, bad ideas would proliferate and take air and light from the good ideas. But often when I read HN's comments, the field just looks like scorched earth. A complete, overpowering negativity everywhere. And I think then the pruning has lost its purpose, and is a bad thing.

I suppose, I would like that whenever an idea was dismissed it would be by pointing to a better idea in the vicinity which could then be thought about or worked on instead. That way the true purpose of criticism and pruning would be clear: To not let the bad ideas take resources from the good ones.

With regards to self-congratulatory behavior in general: well I suppose I understand you. I've been brought up that way too, as has perhaps most people. Still, I recall Russel's own adage:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”

I don't know the author of the OP, but I do certainly think that negative attitudes create even more doubts in the wise, while fools and fanatics likely are innately immune. Therefore, I don't think that unreserved dismissals usually will do anything to people's character, except for strengthening those traits you really want to see less of, in the wise.


Yeah, I think it's not only about self-deprecating humor, but as a broader approach to life, about not taking yourself seriously, ever. Those two are probably the greatest things a human being can have, and I always look for them in peers as a way to find some common ground. Are you embarassed for me?


When you congratulate yourself to more than three or four, it's an anonymous personal moment. Otherwise it's manipulation.

And with three or four, it's probably something inbetween.


Maybe I'm traveling in the wrong tech circles, but I hardly see insufficient confidence in the greatness of ourselves as the major problem facing techie culture, such that we need more encouragement to cultivate such a self-appreciation. How great and ahead of our times we are, especially compared to all those rubes who aren't techies, is sort of an axiom of the culture.


The word "smartest" in the title misses the mark slightly in a way that exposes the idea to too-easy dismissal. The way people commonly use "smart" (high IQ, basically) isn't super-correlated with what Chris is talking about. Many high-IQ people are too locked-in to Achievement to bother with disinterested play. You can redefine "smartest" to mean "those who turn out to have been most ahead of their time", but that's circular and doesn't help identify the quality.

The body of the post uses the word "hobby", though, and that's much better. Your hobby is the thing you do because you want to, whether or not anything comes of it and whether or not anyone thinks it's valuable. Hobbies are marginal, not one's main or proper thing (Woz was an engineer at HP). And they're often wild or eccentric. The main reason we wouldn't normally use the word "hobby" for important creative activity—that it seems too trivial—is actually a point in its favour. Incidentally, there's an earlier usage of the word "hobby" that was closer to what we now call "obsession" or "fixation". People would apologize for introducing their hobbies into polite conversation.

One must also insist on the fact that very often nothing does come of this quality. To imagine otherwise is to allow no room for randomness.


These two bits hit the nail right on the head:

> You can redefine "smartest" to mean "those who turn out to have been most ahead of their time", but that's circular and doesn't help identify the quality.

> One must also insist on the fact that very often nothing does come of this quality. To imagine otherwise is to allow no room for randomness.


The problem is that it is fluffy, and self-congratulatory: it just pats us on the back and says, what we do in our spare time is the future. We are the future! Our hobbies are tomorrow's serious endeavors! This is boring pseudo-intellectualism, and what techie forums always risk decaying into. The part you identify as having been left out is the entirety of what would be interesting in the analysis: any kind of specificity beyond flattering the greatness and prescience of our very-smart techie hobbies.


From an evolutionary perspective, all these side projects represent mutations in technology. Environmental pressures are acting on these mutations to select the project that is a best fit for the masses and reward that best fit by reproducing it or as the author puts it, make it into our daily lives in ten years.

So it may be impossible to build a model of what projects will turn out like the Apple 1 and which ones will never be heard of because if technology works like evolution then it doesn't have to be a linear progression forward. It's just whatever tool solves the problem today.

From a personal perspective, I work on projects because I can't help myself. I see something that I would love to use and I need to build it. It's addictive. I'm not sure if there is much more to it than that.


On the off chance anyone actually reads this... :-)

He somewhat, and you more so, get to a point that has been bothering me a fair bit recently. How much should I care about meaning in what I do in my spare time. Possibly due to my upbringing, until recently I felt that if I had spare time I should be doing things that could ultimately lead to a new career, or that at least would produce things that are important. IOW, not just play games but program them. Go out on hikes, and take photography in a way designed to allow the experience to be shared for possibly publication.

However, the last couple of weekends I have forced myself (harder the first weekend than the last couple) to just veg and to play the two games I actually enjoy playing.

In part because the critical reception to most of my "serious" stuff has been lacking, and in part because I'm wondering if trying to do "important" stuff is keeping me from refreshing like I am supposed to do on the days I'm not at my main job.

To your point specifically, I would be curious to know whether the best use of our limited time (at least until we hit the singularity and then time becomes a different medium) is to be working on different aspects of ourself - or to try and fine ways to have fun devoid of any intended meaning?


I don't know how old you are, but I'm in my mid-40s. For the longest time, everything I did was related to learning more about computers. Over the past couple of years, that changed - I found that I was no longer interested in learning new stuff so much. It's easy to pick up new skills, but I don't seek them out the way I did.

I realized that I had completely forgotten what I LIKED to do, in favor of doing what I HAD to do to keep making money. I actually had to sit down and write a list of things I liked to do, and make sure to start doing them. It's easy to lose sight of why we are hear. No one ever wished they had worked more, as they lay dying.

My point is, don't feel bad about doing what you want to do.


to just veg and to play the two games I actually enjoy playing.

Really. I try hard to keep my tech-hobby time from being "productive". What I do with computers and/or sound is -fun- and the world'll be damn lucky if anything comes out of it but my amusement. When I was a kid I'd lay on the lawn staring at clouds (hard in winter) or run around everyone's houses and lawns with kids (several reasons that's no longer an option). Got another harness, go get yourself a horse.


>a cynical dismissal based on some presumed bad intention on the writer's part

I don't think jacq presumed bad intention or dismissed the post entirely. I appreciate someone calling out the combination of 'narrowness of vision' and a little self-righteousness. Chris' post was totally well-intentioned, but jacq's meta point adds value, as now there's the human component of self-importance in addition to the original point of the post


To start, I'm thinking of tests for things that aren't cultural trends, like the fist bump:

I think some differentiators between the two types of work under the umbrella term 'hobbies' is:

It's something where people are asking the question, "What can I do with this now, that I couldn't do before?" Hobbies like stamp collecting, or star wars trivia seem to fail this test.

It's something where other people can build upon the hobby to do other things. Hobbies like being a foodie and MUDs seem to fail this test.

As far as I can gather, it's people taking advantage of a new piece of knowledge or technology to try to figure out what new things it enables them to do.


Several times in my career I have found myself learning and reading and suddenly finding that what I want to do next has no blog posts, or third party frameworks - I have reached the state of the art in one (tiny) direction.

That is where the productive hobbies take you - to the point where to play some more you need to invent. At this point skills, available time all come to bear - but I now recognise this time - and refuse to waste the opportunities.

Not easy to spot for oneself - spotting it as investment - no idea :-)


> not all hobbies consist of making the Apple I. So which do, and why?

which grain of sand, dropped onto the pile, caused the avalanche, and why? :)

Must've been the red one. Last three times it was green green yellow red. Well, if you don't count the time when most of the top was already red, that stands to reason.

> Instead the top comment is the forum analogue of a fluff post: a cynical dismissal based on some presumed bad intention on the writer's part.

Personally I think, cynical as it may have been, the article does require a counterpoint to its "brief"-ness.

I really disagree with these question/statements implying how surely there must be underlying causes why one hobby results in "inventing the future", and another does not, as if these causes have any validity outside our monkey brain's 20/20 hindsight.

By that I mean, creative hobbies are great. And they should be encouraged, for people that like that sort of thing (which is probably 99.9% of the HN crowd, but believe it or not, not all people everywhere). A tiny few of those hobbies will turn out "inventing the future" (like the term btw).

But there's two ways of going about that and there is no reason to believe that one has higher odds of being successful than the other (except for a very deep and very human desire to believe): You can either chase the dragon, imprint order onto the chaos that the future grows from, believing you can bend it to your will. Or you can just have some fun.

Can't you do both? Why yes, you can. Buying lottery tickets, some people seem to greatly enjoy imagining they can apply their will to a random process. I don't know if they have creative hobbies, though (but I'm not judging). Or maybe interpretation of Tarot cards, that's both creative, and applying your will to a random process. ... come to think of it, it is also "inventing the future", in a different sense :)


It's fluffy because it's brief.

>And we on HN could do better than merely dismiss it.

What, embrace it? I'll take self-deprecation over rejection of self-deprecation.

>We could try to dig into the underlying forces ourselves. E.g. not all hobbies consist of making the Apple I. So which do, and why? Are the things called hobbies merely two different types of work that are conflated by clueless observers simply because they're not the worker's day job? Or is there some amount of crossover between inventing the future and merely playing around?

Maybe if the article did that it wouldn't be so fluffy. It's fluffy because its terminology is closer to "Rock Star" than "Guitar Lesson."

If you are still inclined to view jacques_chester's post as fluff, consider at least that _submission quality affects comment quality._

I know you're not likely to respond to my comment. I'm partially just wondering why you're wading into the field personally to address a meta point.


No, not to embrace it. But to ask and answer the more interesting question: "How do we differentiate between hobbies that changes the way the world does things, and hobbies that don't?"

Let's say jacques_chester was right. It was fluff and self-congratulatory. What comes of it? There's nothing to take home there. But if we had moved the discussion to the more interesting question (that the OP failed to cover, but we also failed to discuss), then that has pretty wide implications of how we might tackle our life's work.


That's funny because most i've met are narrow minded about their own field. At least when I went chatting with lawyers and interviewing after I first got out of law school, every non-academic lawyer I met in the field of IP law was fairly narrow minded.

Even asking them things that their businesses depended on, like "What do you think will happen as patents on computer implemented inventions become significantly more popular?" and "If large-money companies start suing each other over these kinds of patents, do you think it will eventually cause significant scaling back in what is allowed?"

The answers I got told me that most couldn't even theorize/be visionary/plan about things absolutely critical to their current business//field.

Note: I was talking to people who were managing partners/etc, who were making significant money due to the upswing in patenting software. They were also not stupid people, just, AFAICT, bad at business. Most lawyers i've met are actually very bad at running businesses, but i'll save these stories for another topic.


My current lawyer is a technology entrepreneur on the side.

My law lecturers were variously keen observers of politics, literature, art, human nature and economics. One of the people I most admire as an essayist and thinker has three (three!) law degrees.

However, putting aside the exchange of anecdotes at twenty paces: you're absolutely right. In every profession there are people whose vision never rises above their own blinkered view of the universe.

I guess my point is that being intellectually parochial is ... well, it has drawbacks. Especially if you set out to explain why your profession is amazing and you have nothing whatever to compare it with except ... your profession.

Every time I wander out of my own field I first of all make a total arse of myself. But I always come back clutching something very useful. I never thought Olympic weightlifting would have given me useful life insights, it has. I never thought that learning muscular physiology would help me better understand software architecture, it has. I didn't think systems dynamics or fuzzy logic would upend my view of the world. They have. I didn't think that learning the basics of accounting would change the way I think about how to pick startup ideas, it definitely has.

And studying law, even though I dropped out because it made me unhappy compared to cutting code, gave me training in a model of thought that I still find tremendously useful.


You suffer exactly what you criticize. You preach cross discipline, yet make an absurd generalization that people from a single domain are the best at not being in a single domain.

Do you have evidence to back this up? Something more then anecdote?

You cannot know everything about every domain. There are people better than you at everything. The balance between specializing and diversifying depends on so many variables. This isn't something you can make a trite generalization about.

edit: And out of the professions I've experienced, the most widely diversified one is "I don't have the data to tell you."


> You suffer exactly what you criticize.

Oh absolutely. No contest.


Jacques seems to mean that as a group, lawyers are more open to other domains. This is probably because there is no domain of "the law" by itself--law is merely a reflection of society.

For example, regulatory laws must take into account political restrictions, economic theory and realities, and the goals and pragmatic realities and of the specific industry or industries being regulated. Criminal laws must do all that and take into account various socioeconomic factors. Tax law is a balance of economic theory, revenue generation, political restrictions, and pragmatic realities of accounting across thousands of industries.


That's got a lot to do with it. A lawyer might specialise in some area of law, but the clients who come in will have troubles in or questions about an unlimited number of problem domains. So lawyers get to a surprising amount of the rest of the world outside of their profession.

Some other professions off the top of my head that can't "stick to their knitting": mathematicians, programmers, philosophers, psychologists and economists.


Opened up to write a response, saw you'd already covered it. Thanks.


This isn't fluff. It's saying that what you love doing (if you're not getting paid) might be the future. If the activity has enough value on its own to be worthwhile without immediate monetary reward, then it's a good bet there's something valuable about your activity that will ultimately be recognized by the market.

It's not much different from investing. If we see company X investing in space mining even though it's not even paying off right now, there's good chance they Know it's worth the investment (or are at least confident enough to gamble on it).


If the activity has enough value on its own to be worthwhile without immediate monetary reward, then it's a good bet there's something valuable about your activity that will ultimately be recognized by the market.

Where is the evidence for that? Where are the broad data that looks at what has been done over, say, the last 20 years and examines what has been recognized by the market and what has not?

You can't just look at things that we now know to be successful, you have to (some how, if even possible) look at what was done and never became more than a hobby.


That's a good point. And in that respect, my comment and the blog post are fluff since they're not backed up by any research. And I think I overstated my point in the quote you selected.

But I think you can research it by looking at popular languages/libraries/technologies and who invented them for fun and their impact on the market. Yes, it's false to say that everything that's a hobby now is serious business in 10 years. The article limits it to very smart people. I'd limit it further to very smart and lucky people, like Linus for instance.


I see your point, but the original article is a interesting take on "how to see the future", which is a powerful thing to do if you're trying to found a startup that succeeds big.

So it's worth the read to me. Just a little mind-stretcher, but one of the things I come to Hacker News for.


Predicting the future is, as the saying goes, hard.

Humans are basically awful at it. Even the smartest and best informed humans, as Philip Tetlock demonstrated pretty convincingly.

Some forms of knowledge are profoundly retrospective. You can deduce general principles, you can load up your squishy neural net with subtle patterns to match, but ultimately lots of things can only be guessed at with a great deal of innate fuzziness and uncertainty.

The process of forming such a system of judgement is called "wisdom". It's slow, inefficient and it's still absolutely crushed by simple statistical heuristics such as "40% of the time things stay about the same".


And it's usually hilarious to the outsiders who can see the narrowness of a profession's vision.

The post list stuff like 3D printing (i.e. decentralized/democratized manufacturing). If just that one technology becomes widespread (and it's well on the way) it's going to radically alter the world. All your stuff is going to be made differently. There will be different constraints on how you can treat your stuff and who can decide what it looks like, and that's going to change how you feel about most of the things you own. How much broader a vision could you possibly ask for?


Thank you.


Careful... don't choke on that bile


It's jelly, actually.


I see where Chris is getting at, but he's not generalizing it well.

I think a better rule of thumb would be: Look at what new and upcoming technologies people with large domain expertise are excited about. Those technologies will probably be included in business practices within that domain in the near future.

Edit: It's also a rather self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously industry leaders will pave the way for their pet interests to gain more mainstream acceptance, and at the same time those who look up to said leaders often outsource the mental overhead of investigating the newest technologies to leaders who's purpose is to guide the community. This cycle is rather exacerbated when a leader creates a new technology that he/she is now interested in distributing.


Exactly. It's a bit tricky to do the attribution. Looking at a current technology and giving it a single origin isn't realistic.

In the comments Chris cites HAM being a precursor for BBSes. Maybe; but so were actual physical bulletin boards.


Ham is not an acronym. Nobody's quite sure of what it means, but it doesn't seem to be an acronym.


Thanks ;) It's "ham radio" from now on!

Just found the etymology here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_ham_radio#Etymolog...


Day in and day out there are articles on here talking about how the smartest people "optimize" their time as if just relaxing and doing stuff with your friends/family is something only the unwashed masses do. Frankly I like my weekends a lot better when I'm not subjecting myself to "time optimization" or hobbies that take over my life.


Awesome. But hardly the main point for the OP.


Fair enough. I'm just tired of seeing these articles pop up constantly and I have no downvote ability.


You can flag a post, if you feel like it's offtopic for YC. If it's on topic, and you're tired of it, alas, you just have to suffer through it. Besides, there's plenty of other submissions to make awesome with your thoughts.


Submissions can't be downvoted (only comments) :)


Which hobbyist invented the web? Blogs? It isn't at all obvious to me who he is citing, if these people are hobbyists.

Also, was "most" open source software a hobby, or a professional scratching an itch?

And the first pc? Is Chris trying to say that's woz, and he was a hobbyist?

The whole blog post is a little too pat.


It's confirmation bias of the highest order. What things have hobbyists been working on for years that we're not using? There are so many smart people doing so many different things, and most of them stay far out of the mainstream.

Hell I have a friend who's incredibly smart. He spends his weekend meticulously crafting civil war uniforms for his re-enacments. Should I be watching out for a big-time re-enactment craze in the near future?


> There are so many smart people doing so many different things, and most of them stay far out of the mainstream.

It's because the mainstream is a sewer, and you should learn to swim.


Is usenet not the precursor to Reddit? And the first blogs were certainly hobbiests. look at BBS zines as one example.


Please someone say a name or citation already. Who the heck invented usenet?



> Is usenet not the precursor to Reddit?

Debatable. Usenet is decentralized as opposed to being dependent on a single bank of computers and beholden to a single group of owners.


Tchnologically true, but I think the larger point is that there has been a long evolution based on the fundamental human desire to look at funny cat pictures.


There were these people that said "meow" a lot, on Usenet ...


> And the first pc?

The nearly-forgotten pre-microprocessor Kenbak-1:

> The Kenbak-1 is considered by the Computer History Museum and the American Computer Museum[1] to be the world's first "personal computer".[2]

> It was designed and invented by John Blankenbaker of Kenbak Corporation in 1970, and was first sold in early 1971.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenbak-1

The Apple 1 was many things, but there were personal computers before it; it was not the first in that field.


I was in a mentor talk over the summer and this veteran business-man who has turned a few failing companies into successful ones, and walked into his current company with hardly no pay and turned it around gave an interesting tid bit of advice.

He drew three overlapping circles and they were:

What am I passionate about? What can I be best in the world at? What drives the economic engine of it?

He said it takes all three to have something successful and sustaining. If it's just passion and being the best but there's no money making engine, it's just a hobby. If you have an economic engine and passion but you're not the best, it will never grow past a certain point. If you're good at it and you can make money, you'll hate it after awhile.

Now I personally like to believe that if you're the best in the world at something you're going to make money, but that's career wise, I'm talking about business wise. I feel a lot of companies are lucky that don't have a solid business plan but have become uber successful. The risk is certainly there, and it will probably tighten the gap of repeatability in the near future as well. All this to say, find your passion, be good at it, and figure out how to make money from it.


The whole "best in the world" schtick just seems like such pablum, and most people espousing it aren't best in the world at anything. The arrogance required to think you can be/are (literally) the best in the world at something is astounding. I mean if it is intended solely as an aspirational/inspirational idea you have in your own mind that is fine, but actually, legitimately, thinking that just seems to border on delusional, or seriously myopic.

I heard a great quote today that is almost the opposite of this: "There are no great men, just great challenges which ordinary men, out of necessity, are forced by circumstances to meet" - William Halsey

That seems like a much greater view than "you'll only succeed if you are the best in the world", which pretty much translates to "why bother" for just about everyone, because almost no one is objectively "the best in the world"


In an attempt to re-rail the discussion away from the somewhat fluffy and self-congratulatory tone of the blogpost, let me make a few observations.

Startups and new technologies need growth more than anything. Whether it's bitcoin or NoSQL, you need to reach some sort of critical mass or it's game over. As a general rule, if your idea is good there must be people out there who can get really passionate about what you're doing and you have to be able to find them. The earliest adopters. To them you have to provide what pg calls the quantum of utility.

You don't create these early adopters as much as you discover them. If the problem is real then the pain points are real and then people will automatically care about your solution and spread the word.

We programmers hack away at projects in the weekends, because it's what we love to do. Frequently we gravitate to projects that somehow make our lives easier. Maybe we just need a couple of scripts to grep through a music library or maybe something to reliably diff SQL table layouts. Of course it's not just programmers, it applies to makers of all sorts. For instance you'll see mechanics modify office chairs so they can work comfortably in odd positions.

These makers who hack together solutions for themselves aren't early adopters, they precede the early adopters. They're not just people who realize a some half-baked startup product prototype is useful but people who immediately see how it can potentially change the world exactly because they considered building it 9 months ago. A long time ago we learned that it's madness to market new products to Laggards. It doesn't matter that they need what you've made and that they have money. It doesn't matter because you have to persuade every Laggard individually. And that way you can't grow.

I'm thinking that in the same way targeting early adopters is madness when you can target Makers instead.

If startups are all about traction, who is a better advocate for your product than somebody who's been playing with the idea for the past year during their weekends? Nobody! If you have an army of makers as your first users and customers the regular early adopters will follow automatically. And with traction like that you'll be unstoppable. Like Stripe.


Your comment would be so much better without the last sentence. As much as we all like Stripe, they didn't invent a new technology or kick start an industry.


Good point. Thanks.


I think this post is attracting such vitriol because it has the condition reversed - rather than saying "What the smartest people do on the weekend, everyone else will do in 10 years" - it's probably more accurate to say "A significant portion of the new activities people do 10 years from now will have had their origins in a smart person's weekend project".

Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about this in his newest book Antifragile. He makes a sort of evolutionary argument - people who are actively trying to invent the future must necessarily focus on what they think will be desired or necessary. But predicting the future is nearly impossible! So the huge masses of non-teleological tinkerers - considered as a whole - who simply work on what they enjoy for its own sake, have the advantage. In other words, any particular tinkerer will probably not invent the future, but the odds are good that eventually someone will stumble onto something.


I think this is, on the whole, probably false. There are a lot of things the smartest people do on the weekend which will never catch on, because there is not much of a business case behind them. Not everything interesting is monetizable.

One example: a lot of the smartest computer scientists of the 1960s were really into algorithmic art as a side-project hobby. Was algorithmic art mainstream in the 1970s? No. Hell, it isn't even mainstream today.


The sentiment is that tomorrow's markets and innovations comes from people that are on the edges, fringes, and seemingly wasting their time. Everyone loves and applauds the idea of innovation in abstract, but few people recognize it while it's happening, even those in tech.

Usually, it's written off as being non-monetizable, too much of a toy to do actual work, "why would anyone do that?", "I don't have any friends that do that", etc.

Search was considered non-monetizable at first. That's why internet giants of the 90's, like Yahoo, were focused on being portals.

PCs were considered too much of a toy to actually do any type of work. Back then, you did serious work on shared on on mainframes.

Radios, when shown to initial investors had one quip, "Why would I want to send messages to nobody in particular?"

When TV was shown to the same innovators in radio, they didn't think it would ever catch on.

Whether large numbers are divisible by primes seems like a useless branch of mathematics called number theory, but we found it useful for encryption. Without it, we wouldn't have online commerce, for math started 2 or 3 centuries ago, when there was no online commerce.

Point is, innovation happens when people try new and different things, even if they're weird. Even if they seem useless. Even if no one else is doing them. Even if people think it's stupid. Even if it doesn't make you money. Because there's something else that's motivating you to explore.

You don't have to be smart to try new weird things, but smart people tend to not worry about what other people think and go ahead and try new things.

Perhaps your quibble is the order of the statement. It's defn true that not all things that smart people do in their free time become something mainstream. But it's defn true that everything that we do nowadays, it was, at one time, something some smart person was already doing years ago.

So if you ever spot someone doing something seemingly weird, strange, useless, non-montetizable, but defn new, then stop yourself from being a cynic because it might be something you end up doing yourself in 10 years, as improbable as that seems now.


I seriously doubt the PC, radio, and TV examples. The benefits of radio would have been immediately obvious; the same with television. Nor were PCs considered a toy; they were simply too expensive for most families and businesses to own.

And indeed, with regards to radio, an operating radio station was built merely a year after the inventor received a patent for the first successful method of radio transmission (and within a decade of the first successful radio transmission). The first television station was built within 3 years after the first working TV (capable of showing moving images) was built.

Search was not considered non-monetizable; it simply was not as monetizable as a portal based on the technology prevalent when Yahoo--or even Google--launched. Google did not invent the business of bidding for search terms--it licensed the Overture's keyword bidding technology and later bought Applied Semantics (which developed and commercialized the technology that is now known as Adsense), which is what allowed it to monetize search. (If Yahoo hadn't granted Google that license, Google wouldn't be here today.)


To clarify, when I said radio, I mean it as the broadcast medium we know today, not just the point to point wireless analog transmission. It's only obvious to you the benefit of radio as a broadcast medium, because you live in the future.

"By 1916, along with Armstrong and de Forest, [David Sarnoff] was using his newfound fame to push the idea of commercial radio, something he called the "wireless music box," although this idea was before its time. Even as late as 1920, one potential investor wrote him to say, "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" Even the Marconi Company, his employer, rejected the idea of radio as anything but a communications medium. So he went to work for the Radio Corporation of America [RCA] in 1920. -- Radio Pioneers enter story of the wire on David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in radio." http://www.radioworld.com/article/radio-pioneers-enter-story...

"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming." -- Wikiquotes -- Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Incorrect_predictions#Televisio...

As for the PC, I don't have a quote. But I remember IBM was the way "serious people" had their computational needs met, and it was not PCs.

I never made claims that Google invented the business of bidding for search terms. It is true that search was considered non-monetizable, or if you like, less monetizable. Either way, it wasn't considered fertile ground for making money, but there were people trying anyway--which is my point:

Smart people try things that don't make money, aren't cool, seem weird, etc, and while not all of them will be mainstream in the future, there's a good chance that a some of them will be.


I agree if the sentiment is just: everything which is today popular was once more of a niche, experimental activity. But that is not so exciting a claim, is it? The more difficult part is going in the other direction, and figuring out which of today's niche hobbies will be popular tomorrow. Taken at face value, the article is claiming that it will be all of them, at least if they were niche hobbies of the "smartest" people. I think that is clearly incorrect.


Well, like pg said above, I wish the OP dove into the forces at hand. However, that doesn't mean that we can't.

I don't know why cdixon wrote the article. But I suspect that it's only not an exciting claim to you because you're already at a certain place in your understanding of innovation. I think there are plenty of people that believe innovation happens when an inventor hides away in a basement and tinkers with stuff, and one day, he has a big reveal and the world says how awesome it is. That story's reinforced when you tell the story of successes looking backwards.

In reality, early innovation doesn't look like that. It looks like people doing weird things you don't understand, or seems like they're wasting their time, doing things that seem to have nothing to do with the real world. The only thing in common is that they seem to be doing it for shits and giggles, while having lots of fun.


If the idea is just that some things that now seem serious didn't seem serious in the past, sure, I buy that. But does anybody not buy that? I feel like that's the plotline of a dozen Discovery Channel shows. And it's also the justification behind many of the "why pure math/science should actually be funded" arguments, to take it in a different direction.


People always buy that looking backwards, but almost never going forward. In fact, most people are outright dismissive of new ideas yet unproven. If you do a search on HN about the viability of the currently unproven techs, like google glasses, 3D printers, you'll see plenty of evidence of that.

I'm not sure why this is, exactly. Perhaps it's just more fun to be cynical and shoot down the weird things that other people are doing. Or maybe people don't actually like change. Or maybe people don't like being wrong, and if you poo poo most everything, it's likely you'll be right, since most things aren't mainstream game changers. Or perhaps people don't like hyperbole. I know I have my bullshit flag raised when someone's raving about something.


I think there's mostly a lot of knee-jerk contrarianism, especially in the HN community. You can see the worst of that here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3466925 and http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3469453.


What's interesting to one person may have value to just that person, or it might be applicable to wider audiences.

Things that have value (to people in general) are monetizable.

That would explain why not all interesting things are monetizable.


It's more than just having value— the key element of monetization is being able to capture that value. Some kinds of value tend to diffuse in a difficult-to-capture way, while others are easier to turn into cash that goes into your own pocket. The most valuable things I've done myself are probably things where I've captured very little of the value. I've written hundreds of Wikipedia articles that have been read by millions of people, and done a lot of work on open-source projects, but I have captured no dollars from those activities. There might be some theoretical way of capturing the value those activities have produced, but I didn't avail myself of it, and on the whole I think it's difficult. But there are other things I've done, with lower value, which have put more cash in my pocket.


If you squint a little bit, video games are a bigger business than movies and such, and they went pretty mainstream circa 1980.


> Engineers vote with their time

This is a good description. We really do. It's pretty much our currency for getting what we really want.


YMMV, but I found this poisonous. At least mildly so.

My hobbies are what I do for fun. I don't give one whit if they're ultimately "successful". I engage in them because I find them intrinsically interesting.

After reading this, I feel like there is a peer pressure, however slight, to have hobbies that have "momentum" which will ultimately make them "the future". (Like, oh no, maybe I'm engaging in the "wrong" hobbies, because I'm pretty sure than in 10 years, still not everyone will be building ships in a bottle.)

This sort of pressure completely defeats the point of having a hobby, sucks all the fun out of it, and will leave me personally feeling discouraged and apathetic (for this morning at least -- until I can flush this mild poison from my system.)


i respect your perspective, but i think instead you should consider that many (all?) of the hobbyists Chris is talking about weren't concerned with "momentum".


Why is this the top voted article on HN? It's extremely short, makes a point that has already been stated elsewhere at least once, and it's entirely vapid. (See: Paul Graham essays.)


Because people up-voted it.


And its Chris Dixon.


What smart hobbyists are doing now is part of the picture. There are other elements that are needed for a "thing" to become a "big thing" that the whole world uses.

Tech hobby trends need to conspire with other trends in business and society (and also have the right timing) to become a future industry and a widely adopted technology.

Two counterexamples off the top of my head: MUDs and ham radio.

I think the original "seed" of the hobby is just one building block needed (of many).


sometimes, ideas might need a little tweaking. Perhaps MUDs inspired MMORPGs? It seems likely.

I'm not sure what the equivalent for ham radio would be, if at all.


The hard part is attribution. Hobbies are just one of the seeds that germinate into fully adopted technologies.

MUDs were definitely part of the inspiration for MMORPGs, but the success behind MMORPGs has a lot to do with commercial internet, the development of GUIs, etc...


The cell phone?


"As our own common sense tells us, Armstrong had discovered a vastly superior radio technology. But at the time of his invention, Armstrong was working for RCA. RCA was the dominant player in the then dominant AM radio market. By 1935, there were a thousand radio stations across the United States, but the stations in large cities were all owned by a handful of networks.

RCA’s president, David Sarnoff, a friend of Armstrong’s, was eager that Armstrong discover a way to remove static from AM radio. So Sarnoff was quite excited when Armstrong told him he had a device that removed static from “radio.” But when Armstrong demonstrated his invention, Sarnoff was not pleased.

“I thought Armstrong would invent some kind of a filter to remove static from our AM radio. I didn’t think he’d start a revolution—start up a whole damn new industry to compete with RCA.” [4]

Armstrong’s invention threatened RCA’s AM empire, so the company launched a campaign to smother FM radio. While FM may have been a superior technology, Sarnoff was a superior tactician. As one author described,

“The forces for FM, largely engineering, could not overcome the weight of strategy devised by the sales, patent, and legal offices to subdue this threat to corporate position. For FM, if allowed to develop unrestrained, posed ... a complete reordering of radio power ... and the eventual overthrow of the carefully restricted AM system on which RCA had grown to power.” [5]

RCA at first kept the technology in house, insisting that further tests were needed. When, after two years of testing, Armstrong grew impatient, RCA began to use its power with the government to stall FM radio’s deployment generally. In 1936, RCA hired the former head of the FCC and assigned him the task of assuring that the FCC assign spectrum in a way that would castrate FM—principally by moving FM radio to a different band of spectrum. At first, these efforts failed. But when Armstrong and the nation were distracted by World War II, RCA’s work began to be more successful. Soon after the war ended, the FCC announced a set of policies that would have one clear effect: FM radio would be crippled. As Lawrence Lessing described it,

“The series of body blows that FM radio received right after the war, in a series of rulings manipulated through the FCC by the big radio interests, were almost incredible in their force and deviousness.” [6]

To make room in the spectrum for RCA’s latest gamble, television, FM radio users were to be moved to a totally new spectrum band. The power of FM radio stations was also cut, meaning FM could no longer be used to beam programs from one part of the country to another. (This change was strongly supported by AT&T, because the loss of FM relaying stations would mean radio stations would have to buy wired links from AT&T.) The spread of FM radio was thus choked, at least temporarily.

Armstrong resisted RCA’s efforts. In response, RCA resisted Armstrong’s patents. After incorporating FM technology into the emerging standard for television, RCA declared the patents invalid—baselessly, and almost fifteen years after they were issued. It thus refused to pay him royalties. For six years, Armstrong fought an expensive war of litigation to defend the patents. Finally, just as the patents expired, RCA offered a settlement so low that it would not even cover Armstrong’s lawyers’ fees. Defeated, broken, and now broke, in 1954 Armstrong wrote a short note to his wife and then stepped out of a thirteenth- story window to his death.

This is how the law sometimes works. Not often this tragically, and rarely with heroic drama, but sometimes, this is how it works. From the beginning, government and government agencies have been subject to capture. They are more likely captured when a powerful interest is threatened by either a legal or technical change. That powerful interest too often exerts its influence within the government to get the government to protect it. The rhetoric of this protection is of course always public spirited; the reality is something different. Ideas that were as solid as rock in one age, but that, left to themselves, would crumble in another, are sustained through this subtle corruption of our political process. RCA had what the Causbys did not: the power to stifle the effect of technological change." -- http://www.free-culture.cc


Stories like this make me so mad. It's just so unfair to Armstrong. And unfairness, in my view, isn't some abstraction: fairness has real value. When we see or read stories about RCA and Armstrong[1], or the inventor of the wind-shield wiper, Robert Kearns[2] it's tempting to become resigned to this fate. Innovation is not rewarded. Do not try.

When the anger passes, the harsh light of reason prevails. Clearly, an inventor cannot succeed in disrupting large, powerful entities without friends. Innovation on it's own is naked, vulnerable, and weak. Inventors must trade the strength of their idea for the support of others: those with connections to finance, government, and the big-businesses that will be your competitors. It is access to these kinds of networks that give (some) VC's their power.

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Howard_Armstrong [2] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kearns


High Stakes, No Prisoners is a sharp, brilliant insider's account of the way Silicon Valley really works: the sharks, powerful incumbents, and old-boy networks who play hardball all the time and the geniuses who make the products that have changed the world.


Thank you for this info. Seems like pattern, every time a new technology comes along it's Kill, kill, kill it. Patents can be discarted, people in ruin by law fees and years in court... I remember something about the guy that invented windsheeld wipers for cars. Basically the same story although I think he didn't kill himself.


As bad as it is, sometime I really enjoy reading articles like this on Cracked: http://www.cracked.com/article_20286_6-inventors-who-changed...


Got it, Start up a bunch of day care centers (People seem to love to play with their kids on the weekend).


The smartest people I know are cooking family style meals using locally sourced ingredients, brewing beer, raising chickens and bees, and turning their lawns into fruit and vegetable gardens.

I sure hope everyone else will be doing this in ten years.


"Business people vote with their dollars, and are mostly trying to create near term financial returns. Engineers vote with their time, and are mostly trying to invent interesting new things."

I really like that.


What do you guys do on weekends?

I used to fiddle with some robotics (Lego Mindstorms and my Roomba) until I started InstantCab. A bunch of my smarter friends seem to be working on applying machine learning to firehoses (http://www.maaya.com/ and http://technicalelvis.com/blog/category/twitter_mining/), or on hardware projects.


I thought of it always as "What technologists, teenagers, and rap artists do, we'll all be doing in 5 years."

I never thought I'd see news anchors do an exploding fist bump.


The smartest people avoid Disneyland on the weekends...too crowded. Good to know that in 10 years, I can head back there again! Oh boy.


Whatever facile point this article had, it immediately blew it by saying Bitcoin and NoSQL are the wave of the future.


Bitcoin itself may have any number of problems - it is though, the first algorithm that allows truly distributed ownership of objects in a network.

I think that changes the game totally. I don't yet know what application of it will go mainstream first.

Agreed about NoSQL. Its vision is too narrow (scaling within one organisation, rather than truly distributed, syncing, forkable data)


Bitcoin's a cool hack for sure, but most of the hype surrounding it is just the same old goldbug nonsense.


While I don't disagree with the principle of this logic, can it be backed up some how with past examples? Were "the smartest people" really hacking on serious phone apps before iPhone and Android came out? (as an example)


While I don't disagree with the principle of this logic,

The logic seems to involve defining "smartest" as "did stuff on the weekend as a hobby that they later were able to turn into a successful business, product or tool."

There seems to be a serious selection bias going on.

Do we have any data on the stuff smart people have done on the weekend that never became anything notable?


Yes, see jailbreaking. iPhones were hacked before a native SDK was officially available.


Hobbies is not just being interested or being audience/spectator ,it is trying new things which interest you , find new ways of doing things , enjoying the process not just the outcome.

Lot of interesting things I share with friends and colleagues would be some tricks which I come up with everyday things. Each wow or awesome from my audience would make me feel proud, if it is not good enough will try more new things.


There is a difference between a hobby and business, according to the IRS and according to investors. You could also invent something awesome, and not make any money, but the world loves it. You might still get something rewarding out of that feeling.

Start a business to make money, but start a hobby to explore and enjoy. It is also possible you will start one way and the end up on the other side (biz vs hob)


You know, the truest thing about this is that it takes time and effort to really make things happen. It is the engineers and the hobbyists that are taking the time and nights to solve problems. There is a lot of good, unexpected stuff coming that is being cooked up in people's studies and garages. Looking forward to it.


I love Tim O'Reilly's quote on this phenomenon: "The future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed"


I believe it was actually William Gibson (of Neuromancer fame) who said it: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/01/24/future-has-arrived/


The problem with nerds and their hobbies is so many of them (or better stated, us) have hobbies that will NEVER be used in the mainstream. So which ones will?

Right now my guess is 3d printing is going to be massive in some way or another. It's got that feeling. People love to make shit.


Plus, nerds and design nerds both love 3D printing. That's a powerful combination.


I just can't believe that in 10 years, everybody is going to be coding 6502 and Apple ][+ emulators in Go.

Oh, wait...


I think the list of examples could do with adding hobbyist unmanned drones and high altitude balloon and rocket launches.


Right on. I couldn't have put it better than this.


It is totally worth it when a side projects gets serious, our hackathon project made more impact than our main product

However a growth hack for 3Crumbs evolved into http://Justmigrate.com We treated it as a hackathon project, had full freedom to ideate & execute. We build this after hours for a month & it was a great success. Lot of users loved it & this bought tears in our eyes :).

Weekend hackathons are important, it lets you think out of the box. Now our original product is seeing lot of evolution for better growth.




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