This seems to happen to me all the time. I’m wrapping up whatever I’m working on and I have a plan for what comes next. Then, before I have finished the current project but after all the real decisions have been made, I start coming up with all sorts of new projects. I haven’t really analyzed this behavior before, nor even reflected too much on it (although it does bear a strong resemblance to how I envision software development in general – but that’s a separate discourse), but I suppose it’s because the part of my mind that’s involved in creative problem solving gets antsy when it’s idle and starts coming up with things to do.
Some of these things might actually be really cool and worth pursuing, but most of them are, I think, the equivalent of sudoku or crossword puzzles. They’re engaging and require mental effort but in the end they just don’t produce anything good or useful. They’re intellectual busywork. That’s not bad if one is just trying to stay sharp, but it can be really distracting if there is real work to be done. To me, being able to tell when it’s appropriate to follow up on these fun side projects and when it’s not is a skill that I prize and try to develop. Acting on that decision is discipline.
I commonly talk about startups being, “resource constrained,” and use that as the starting point of my analysis of how a startup chooses technology, human resource policy, and other business decisions. Given that you want to do lots of things but you only have the ability to do a few things, which things do you choose to do? How you answer indicates, in some fundamental ways, what kind of a person you are; it reveals what you hold to be really important. What’s most important, people or money? Who’s more important, yourself or your family or strangers or shareholders?
It’s a common observation that ideas are cheap; that it’s execution that is expensive and valuable. So here’s an idea that has popped up to the forefront of my mind; it’s been kicking around for a while, but I don’t claim any kind of proprietary interest in it. It is certainly in the category of distraction to me since it is nowhere near the projects that I have coming up. I’ll write it down here so that if any of the three occasional readers wants to pick it up and run with it, they can be my guest. And if not, then the next time I’m actually idle and trying to stay sharp, it’ll be there for consideration.
Think about LACS; the idea was pretty nifty. An app that discovered other instances without being told explicitly by the user where those instances were; it exchanged data with the discovered instances without really interacting with the user, and the user got to see what was going on and to inject new data into the mix. That was cool. What if the messages had some extra metadata, like how reliable the author considers the message, or the repeater does; when the message was created, maybe other stuff. But really just playing urban legend, right? How interesting would that be? This is almost like Twitter, except that with Twitter (and Facebook, and G+, and the like) you have to choose what you see. You explicitly follow people, and they explicitly retweet (or like or repost or whatever) items. That gets you the water cooler conversations, but it doesn’t get you the snippets you overhear at a restaurant or in line at the grocery store. What if your phone communicated with the phones around you, collecting messages and offering messages and then the results of those exchanges came up in your Twitter feed? We all have these explicit networks – our friends, our families, our coworkers, our congregations and classmates – but there are also these implicit, loosely defined and weakly bound networks based on where we stop for gas, where we shop for butter, and where we go for burritos. Social networking apps try to emulate the explicit networks and extend their reach, sending messages out farther than we normally do in personal interactions. What about the others?
I hate the idea of foursquare because I think it’s creepy (and more than a little stupid) to advertise your specific, personal location at any and every moment. “Hey, Internet, Charles Emerson Winchester III is at Taqueria Vallarta in Felton right now and therefore a good hour and a half away from his house full of expensive and easily fenced consumer electronics. Also, please let his psycho stalkers know this.”