Ideas Are Worthless

Controversial title. Here's what it means:

Value vs Price vs Cost

In the English language, the term 'worth' refers to value, which is very different from price. As it happens, we are so inundated with bad ideas in software that they have zero price; nobody pays attention to them. Coupled with an inability to distinguish bad ideas from good ones, for no excusable reasons, and the bad ideas have driven down the price of good ideas to zero as well. However, this doesn't mean that ideas are without value. Rather, it merely means that you can't rely on the market to say anything about their value. The fact that software ideas are ignored says nothing about their value.

That's a bunch of crap. The success in the marketplace may not be able to say everything about the value of an idea, but it does say lots of things. The failure in the marketplace also says a lot. It's only losers, wannabes and delusional people that like to think that their ideas are invaluable, but deny marketplace and competition any say in these matters while they search explanation for failure anywhere but where they should look first.

In the end, it is only successful implementation that validates the value of ideas, not to mention that ideas are refined and improved in the process.
A software implementation is proof of an idea. Ideas sometimes improve during the implementation process because implementing forces one to think critically about it, not because implementing makes it better. Implementing a bad idea, e.g., a pseudo spell checker that marks random words as "spelled incorrectly", does not add value; it is a waste of time.

As a group, we would probably waste less if others could evaluate an idea before implementation. Unfortunately, we cannot share an idea via telepathy; we must communicate in another way. Spoken language is imprecise and ambiguous; thus, we implement the idea to communicate it better. IMO that doesn't change the value of the idea.
90% of ideas are crud

Yup, SturgeonsLaw strikes again. So what? 90% of everything is crud. 90% of software is crud. 90% of programmers are crud. A lot more than 90% of development is crud. The question is whether ideas are any more amenable to being crud than other things like concrete actions. So far, nobody has argued that they are.

(FreeSoftware projects are notorious for reinventing the wheel. For example, Linux was a wholesale reinvention of the wheel. As a consequence, one shouldn't go looking for good ideas in free software projects.)

Turn, Turn, Turn

 A time to be born, a time to die
 A time to plant, a time to reap
 A time to kill, a time to heal
 A time to laugh, a time to weep
There is a time for action and a time for thought. When it's time for action and people are still thinking, we would like to claim that ideas are worthless. My advice then would be to go ahead and say that.

Conversely, when action isn't finding its sweet-spot, when we start AddingEpicycles to compensate for our lack of thought, my advice would be not to say it. Simple. -- ChrisSteinbach

If you're willing to ever categorically state that ideas are worthless then you ought to be equally prepared to say the same for actions at the proper time. You know such a time has long since come to pass for Unix when a trivial project like 3Dsia, whose simple goal was to provide a uniform visual representation for everything in the system, lies dead, torn asunder by Unix's incoherence and outright contradictions.

So let's say it: all Unix development is worthless!! (I've only been saying it for the last 10 years.) -- RK

And you can keep saying it for another 10, nobody will notice you. And of course, you can't keep repeating such idiocies on Wiki unchallenged.

What's the value of an idea?

In one view, software ideas only have value in the here and now, as measured in dollars and hours they can save people. Thus, ideas by themselves have no value but only acquire it when implemented and deployed. (This is not a strawman, it is an actual view held by many programmers, whether explicitly or implicitly.) In this view, ideas should be dismissed from consideration until they have at the very least been implemented. (This would imply that ideas should never be implemented, because if they haven't already been implemented, they're not worth considering to implement. Therefore we should all be programming in IBM 704 assembly language, because CeeLanguage shouldn't have been invented, because it was an unimplemented idea at the time, unworthy of even thinking about)

However, that view is simply false. There's a reason we remember Socrates for his idle conversations and forget his masonry. There's a reason corporations are working hard to control intellectual property. Ideas should be considered on their own merits. Demanding implementation before considering something worth implementing instantly sentences a field to stagnation, in ComputerScience as much as anywhere else. That's a vicious catch-22 which prevents things from being done. Moreover, it's one that many people rely on ("where has that worked before?"). Saying "come back when you've conquered the world" is a cop-out, a way to ensure nothing changes for worse or for better. Bad ideas can be dismantled, they don't need this sort of implicit censorship. -- JoshuaGrosse

Ideas are the result of creative thinking. IdeasAreCreation?. That there is a steady flow of them does not reduce their importance. There is also a huge and steady flow of energy from the sun, most of which is never used on Earth. That doesn't mean sunlight is a huge waste.

Man can't live without sunlight. Man can't live without ideas. Many ideas serve only as the seeds for other ideas, but this does not devalue them. That an idea never achieves an enactment is not an indictment of thinking.

The day you stop having ideas is the day they bury you. So have as many as you like. I think even the physicists who are fixated on conservation of energy won't mind if you produce more ideas than man can use. At least, if the idea stream is at least *there* then some of them can be harvested.

I will grant that it is possible to improve the quality of ideas through clarity of thought and observation, but until I get better at that I'll keep spewing out more than I can use. It's what creation is all about. -- GarryHamilton

I concur. Physicists value ideas, the weirder the better. And they don't require their ideas to be full-fledged theories nor to have testable predictions before giving them their consideration and support. Physicists foster ideas, not merely dismiss them out of hand under the banner of refraining from judging them.

And physics is a field where implementation matters at least as much as computer science. It's just that physicists are tired of their many successes, whereas computer scientists are afraid of repeating their many catastrophic failures. -- rk

Physics is an interesting case among the sciences. It's easily the most mathematical and quantitative of the sciences (of course, I'm excluding pure math, as well as disciplines that essentially are math, such as much of ComputerScience). It also has the property that conducting actual experimental research is difficult and expensive - such endeavors require access to things like particle accelerators and other exotica. For that reason, the normal Baconian notion of the ScientificMethod - whereby one conducts experimental research than tries to find models which explain such research - is turned on its head. In physics nowadays, one often devises the models first (often when confronted with the failure of an earlier, simpler model) - and does so employing rather advanced mathematics (so much so that physicists routinely push the state of the art in math). Eventually, models are found which are consistent with themselves, and with experimental data - then do physicists devise experiments in order to demonstrate or falsify the model.

If, in fact, Ideas are worthless, all the ideas on this page are are not worth spending time reading.

If, however, it is found that they have value and are worth talking about, this page has the wrong title.

Success takes these three things working together. By themselves, you could say each is almost worthless, but that's true of almost any single step or part of systems or organizations. Three things have to work together in harmony:

1. Good idea

2. Ability to recognize/filter-for good ideas

3. Ability to execute the idea to its potential

See SturgeonsLaw RecordOfNotions

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