The value of frivolous experimentation
Why is it that in most instances we are our own biggest obstacle in the way of making progress? We tend to care only about big, world-changing, important problems. We talk about projects which we deem unimportant as if they are without merit. However, the solutions to important problems seldom have such ambitious beginnings. Instead, most important problems are solved by projects which had humble beginnings and only became important over time.
On his blog, Yossi Kreinin, a software developer, argues that we should instead work on unimportant problems:
Working on unimportant problems can create important side-effects. A whole lot of mission-critical, world-changing and even life-saving tech is a by-product of “unimportant” things - time-wasting infotainment products, or personal pet projects started without a grand noble cause.
Industries with heavy regulation are also often the ones which have the most important problems (healthcare, transportation, education, etc). Regulation is supposed to protect these industries. However, innovation is stifled due to the huge expenses and man-made obstacles in the way of bringing a solution to market. Yossi goes on to explain why so much progress in these industries has actually come from other places:
The same is happening in the automotive market, the healthcare market, etc. There’s progress, of course, just nowhere near the progress in more frivolous areas - and much of the progress in “important” areas is a byproduct of progress in frivolous areas. As in, the best system for managing patients’ records may well be Google Docs that doctors access from their iPads.
To overcome this we should hope to inspire more frivolous experimentation. When we experiment, we ask questions of the world and we try to find answers quickly. Experimentation often allows us to find answers in places we weren’t even looking. Encouraging playfulness, both for yourself and in those around you, might solve more important problems than you expect.
So if you ask me - by all means, work on unimportant problems. They’re often more fun to work on, and ultimately you never know how important they really are.
Please read Yossi’s original post on his blog: Work on unimportant problems