Monday, July 10, 2006

the importance of remaining marginalised

... an alternative model of education requires an organisational envelope, so that it can remain isolated and not become assimilated into the government model. Could an alternative model of education be developed in a single place? The more I think about this idea the more it makes sense. All successful innovations start in a single place. A big problem with the government model is that it is global, it is grandiose. It makes a single site look small and insignificant.
- Invitation to Immersion (1997)
I have thought this for a long time and it is reinforced by a recent Paul Graham essay, The Power of the Marginal

Paul Graham associates these advantages with being marginalised, an outsider:
LESS - work on a small scale which has more personality, is more fun, involves more learning and is inexpensive
CONTRARIAN - to be more willing to embrace variety, newness, that it's Ok to be contrarian and to risk being undignified
RISK - it's good to churn out a lot of ideas, many of them foolish, if that process generates the occasional really good idea
TIME - if you are not known you won't be bothered much by others, you have the opportunity to work for long uninterrupted blocks of time ("obscurity is good for you")
INAPPROPRIATE - when someone criticises you in this lame way you are probably doing something right!

On the other hand the eminent insider is weighed down and thwarted by:
RESPONSIBILITY - which prevents focus on real work
GRANDIOSITY - the pressure to work on large, "important" projects
FOCUS - by focusing on what they are good at, not being alert for the new innovations
TIME - the pressure is to become a manager, removing self from real productivity

I like this Paul Graham quote about the perils of the insider project:
This little thought experiment suggests a few of the disadvantages of insider projects: the selection of the wrong kind of people, the excessive scope, the inability to take risks, the need to seem serious, the weight of expectations, the power of vested interests, the undiscerning audience, and perhaps most dangerous, the tendency of such work to become a duty rather than a pleasure.
The one real insider advantage was audience. But now with the ascendancy of the Read/Write web the outsider can capture their own audience.

No comments: