Innovation, Coffee and German Philosophers
I’ve been thinking about coffee lately. And innovation. And, of course Nietzsche. Who doesn’t, after all?
Coffee has two roles in innovation. The obvious one is in keeping people awake so they can think of new ideas. The mathematician Alfréd Rényi called a mathematician a “device for turning coffee into theorems.”
But it also has a historical role. By the late 17th Century coffee had taken hold of Europe, and with it came the coffee house: a place where people of different backgrounds get together and talk, argue, exchange ideas, and pass the sugar. When Hobbes, Voltaire, Madison, Paley broke the intellectual ice with their startling new ideas, coffee houses were the perfect place to spread and refine them. The British called coffee houses “penny universities,” since you could rub shoulders with prominent people for the price of a nonfat caramel macchiato.
I’m not sure what Nietzsche’s drink was, but he proposed that truth was relative – what is true depends on a person’s perspective. Different people bring different perspectives. What the coffee house did was bring those perspectives together.
The power of open source is that it brings people with different perspectives together. Sure, Eric Raymond said that with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. But it’s not the numbers, it’s the perspective – a million identical eyeballs won’t make a dent in a problem – they need to contribute from their own context.
The moral – when you’re innovating, bring in not just more people but ones with different perspectives. And don’t forget the coffee.