Header image by Jairo Acosta Silva via
Lately I have been taken with the notion that ideas have little to no value.
Value comes from scarcity and ideas are anything but scarce. After all, everybody has them.
Some people try and gauge the value of an idea by its utility, others by some sort of innate, intangible "quality".
The former is situational because utility is determined by circumstance. You could have the most amazingly practical idea in the world, but if you are in the wrong place and/or time or the people you are speaking to are not interested in hearing what you have to say then it is effectively rendered useless.
The latter is completely subjective. It is informed by the beholder's perception of the person with the idea, their own knowledge of the world and how this influences their thoughts about innovation.
Measuring the value of an idea by how it is/was executed is way more honest and interesting I think. While not completely objective, there are metrics that can be used to gauge the impact, utility and influence generated by any actualised concept.
In a way, the execution and the final product can be more important than the seed that gave them both life.
Within this framework, almost any idea can yield substantial dividends if built and presented in the right way to the right people.
I enjoy being an idea guy - I mean, who doesn't right? People get to "Oooo" and "Aaaah" at your brilliance while you expend no more energy than is required to power your brain and control your breathing while you talk.
Being an idea person is such a low overhead way to get social currency and approval. You get to espouse all sorts of things and look clever without really having to follow through on most of it.
This is a dead end of course.
And a trap.
It is extremely tempting to just stop at just being clever instead of actually doing the work.
So, what do you do once you are done having an idea? You can sell it to others if people seem to like the sorts of things that come to you; focus on selectively cultivating your own ideas instead of sharing them or maybe even collaborating with people; Fusing your own ideas with those of others to create something new and hopefully better than the one that was originally jostling around in your head.
There is also this other way I have been looking at. The creation of an ideas platform. A company or medium through which ideas are sorted, tended to and cultivated into material products and services.
I really admire the work environments created by people like Gabe Newell of Valve, Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors or Aitor Throup. They have all founded companies that make ideas concrete and capable of providing value by both making their concepts reality and by introducing scarcity into the mix - their perspective in execution.
I am currently in the middle of trying to create a framework for something like this here in Nigeria. It is extremely difficult as I am sure anybody else that has attempted to do something similar anywhere in the world can attest to, not to mention trying to do the same in an emerging market environment with a tiny middle class and no access to credit facilities.
That tension between being responsible to one's family and status in society versus doing what you are interested in becomes more palpable with every day. It makes compromising on what you want to achieve the end state as opposed to a temporary setback, slowly killing what you are attempting to build from within. The scary thing is that by the time you notice this is what has happened, it is too late. You are left holding the pieces of something you used to want with hands that used to belong to you. Tainted and broken, looking for a way out of the mire of self-determination.
Having just typed that, I still think this is worth doing.
Life is nothing if not a battle against entropy. We may only ever win small battles, but every victory is like an affirmation of our existence. Pragmatism means nothing in the face of cosmic irrelevance after all. We must create our own meaning.
At least, this is what I tell myself every day because the alternative is too depressing.
I started this post originally as a means of working through some issues and planning the future of Stranger and some business plans I had in mind. But, an idea came out of it that I thought I might as well share and see whether it could be developed further.
All romantic notions aside, a person must eat. In a country like ours, having access to cash is essential.
How could I make this idea work? This was not the first time I had tried working as a consultant after all.
I think the answer is that more of us need to pool our resources together.
I believe that a support network of creators from various fields where skill sets and specialisations can be listed in a directory or database open to other members on the network.
Regular collaborative projects should be encouraged in order to help with the development of new skills and the honing of old ones and the creation of new material to be added to everyone's portfolios. If any member of this group is lacklustre in either the quality of her output or the reliability of his delivery then they should be called out on it immediately in order to create a harsh but fair system of vetting.
This network of individuals and companies could also be a great seed market for the products and services created by its users as one hopes that members will be both early adopters in general and also more discerning.
Something like this will need to be more than just a hangout for so-called creatives. I am hoping that the network can attract lawyers, accountants, business developers and more and even possibly allow for the creation of a fund made up of money donated by users that will be managed by a board. This fund will be used to support the financing of various internally generated projects as well as more mundane investments outside the network in order to keep things fresh, manage risk and increase the size of the fund itself.
What I am envisioning is a widely distributed network of multidisciplinary users that can draw on the resources, experience and client networks of each other in order to create new things. Whether that is fashion, film, music, software or hardware.
We need to stop being so afraid of sharing and collaborating and we need to start holding ourselves accountable to higher standards and ethics.
“Have you heard of a blue rose, Ms. Dane? Blue roses do not occur in nature. My practice tends to specialise in blue rose cases.” - Darius Dax (Supreme: Blue Rose)
It's easy to see all this as something utopian and unattainable. After all such a system still has to contend with other human beings and their own motivations, desires and weaknesses. It has to contend with a country actively hostile to individual and businesses. It also has to answer the question of why it has not been done before and if it has been, why we are not reaping the benefits of it today.
It's enough to make someone quit really.
All the images for this post are from a comic book limited series called Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay. Apart from having beautiful artwork and an interesting take on the origins of an (the?) archetypal superhero, it also put forward this idea of the human will and imagination and the power we have over our reality.
"Blue roses do not occur in nature."
We hacked nature until we could produce some.
We need to start hacking the Nigerian environment until we get one we want. We can always deal with the repercussions of our meddling later.