In a tech industry that is obsessively if not pathologically dedicated to the Next Big New Thing, it’s hard to make the case for refining, reinterpreting, and consolidating what we already have. Bill Buxton does so eloquently in a recent BusinessWeek column, The Long Nose of Innovation, which I found by way of Kevin Schofield. You may recall Bill’s name from this introduction to our podcast interview about his book, Sketching User Experiences. In the BusinessWeek column Bill writes:
The heart of the innovation process has to do with prospecting, mining, refining, and goldsmithing. Knowing how and where to look and recognizing gold when you find it is just the start. The path from staking a claim to piling up gold bars is a long and arduous one.
That resonates powerfully with me. I’ve always been a prospecter, miner, refiner, and goldsmith who finds new value in mature technologies like NNTP conferencing, HTTP GET, and screencasting. Bill goes on to say:
Any technology that is going to have significant impact over the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old.
We might quibble. Was the web 10 years old in 1997? Yes and no. But I’ll grant poetic license because I think the statement is mostly true, and I’ve been wrestling with some of the consequences that flow from it.
Here’s one. Advocates for powerful ideas and methods that are long extant but have yet to fully bear fruit may tend to become nostalgic, appear misguided, act bitter, lose focus. These are counterproductive behaviors. So how do you avoid them? How do you stay the course, keep your eye on the ball, move forward, remain excited, and find ways to explore the same old things in new and different ways?
One answer, I think, is to keep engaging with different people in different contexts. Yesterday I was showing and discussing some things that I’ve known for so long, and documented so extensively, that I worried about sounding like a broken record. But in that context it was fresh information, a new perspective. People got excited. And their excitement rekindled my passion.