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Tuesday, 27 May 2003

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There's one distinct advantage to building on the ideas of others: presumably they haven't broken yet, so you have a reasonably sturdy foundation.

Given your A and B choices for approaches, I'd be more inclined to pick C, which is somewhere between the two. Innovation is good, new ideas and information are good, but that doesn't necessarily mean old information is inherently bad. If I was going to rest 15,000 pounds on a slab of a certain material, I'd really appreciate seeing examples of earlier attempts to do so in related situations that did or did not work.

Alternately, perhaps there's a problem with the definition of A and B. If the past can be learned from at all (putting too much weight on this sort of block makes the block break, for example), then looking at the solutions to related problems (B) is part of finding the information required to solve your problem (A). So there is no B, since it's a subset of A. B only comes in when the solution one comes up with is sufficiently similar to solutions to similar problems that someone could say, "Hey, you just copied that guy!"

If that works, let 'em say that. Can't argue with results.

Yeah, I know it's not as clear cut as I pretended it was, and it's definitely not that easy to tell if you're using A or B without really thinking about when. One thing I may not have said though is that when trying to solve a problem, the only difference between A and B is that B tries to find answers to similar problems. A might look for answers to small parts of the problem (like choosing the right type of block), but presumably the problem they're trying to solve isn't "Which type of block doesn't break under too much weight?" If it were, then obviously they'd be using some version of method B to solve this problem and they should not expect any new information or value to come from the solution to this problem.

That said, I guess there are a lot of problems that aren't designed to create new value, and so method B will work fine for them. For the purposes of this entry, I was assuming that people wanted to create new, valuable, products.

you linked to your wishlist !

There's a standard toolset for solving problems in the world of mathematics. One of the most common is to rely on isomorphisms, or analogies across problems which at first would seem to have no relation.

Kaluza-Klein theories were constructed on the premise that Einstein's general theory which likened gravity to curvature in space-time might be extended to other forces such as electromagnetism. These KK theories are the forerunners of modern day string-theories which also rely on extra dimensions.

I do believe however that A is the path towards greater innovation. Whenever I hear stuff like "Here's this swarm theory which mimics how ants solve problems" I think, bah, what other sorts of metaphors are there in the world, undiscovered by evolution, which, if we apply pure force of intellect and discard our preconceptions about the world and our worn analogies may allow us to truly surprise ourselves.

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