Big Brain Ideas

Learn More, Think Better

I feel like I’ve been duped.

In 2013, I moved to Silicon Valley and started working as a software engineer to do important work that makes the world a better place. Over the next seven years, I worked at different companies on different products and projects, but they all had one thing in common: I don’t feel like my work mattered.

Now that’s not to say that no one in Silicon Valley is doing useful work. Self-driving cars have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year in the U.S. alone. Remote communication tools like video conferencing and instant messaging have been literal lifesavers this year because of COVID. Financial technology companies are making financing available to small businesses that have historically been ignored by large banks. These things are critical. All I’m saying is that my work was such a small cog in the machine that it felt meaningless to me.

I left my most recent job in May of 2020, and since then, I’ve been relaxing and thinking about what I want to do next. The idea of going back to working on tech products that largely serve tech problems and dealing with the overload of meetings and politics and solutions-in-search-of-problems and so-on is unappealing to me. And so here I am, still wanting to make the world a better place but without any obvious means to do so.

What skills or knowledge do I have that make me uniquely qualified to achieve such an audacious and arrogant goal? What do I have to offer that would contribute to the world around me? In the wise words of Hank Moody, “Fuck if I know, dude.”

But I have an idea. Actually, calling it an idea is too generous. It’s more of a thought, really. An unfounded, uneducated, intuition-based guess as to what’s wrong with the world. But here it is anyway: Many of the problems in the world, in one way or another, are the result of a lack of knowledge and understanding or poor thinking. More knowledge and better thinking may lead to good solutions.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. — Albert Einstein

Now ideas are great and all, but what matters is what we do with them. An idea that sits in your back pocket is useful to no one. So what can we do with the idea that what the world needs is more knowledge and better thinking?

Again, I have an idea. And this one is more of an actual idea than a few pithy words thrown together into a sentence.

What if I try my very best to improve the quality and quantity of my own knowledge and thinking? And what if I share what I’ve learned with others? Will they then be able to take their increased knowledge and improved thinking out into the world and do something useful? I think so. I hope so. Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know. But it doesn’t seem like a crazy idea to me, so it’s worth a shot.

The pen is mightier than the sword. — Edward Bulwer-Lytton

That’s the reason I chose to start writing Big Brain Ideas: to learn more, think better, try to make the world a better place along the way. And, in all likelihood, I will fail. I’ll write for a bit, and no one will read it, and ultimately it won’t matter. But I figure, even in that happens, improving my own thinking and ability to learn new things is useful in its own right.

And so I will leave you for now with the hope that I am using my time wisely and a fun, childish quip:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can change the world.

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