This ended up to be a long comment on YC.news, now turned Hacker news. I figured it was worth reposting here on my blog:
When I was working at an engineering job at a research lab, I was told what had to be accomplished. Of course, the degree of freedom, amount of creativity, and problem solving you can do varies from project to project, but in the end, I went to bed happy knowing in the back of my mind that someone, somewhere asked for whatever you’re working on–that’s why you’re getting paid. When you’re a startup founder, however, you aren’t even sure of that, mostly because of the nature of startups and the markets they decide to persue.
A startup can be successful in an already crowded and proven market–especially if the market sucks (online dating comes to mind). But often times, where startups shine is where others fear to tread, and that’s in potential markets, unproven markets, and useless markets (until you prove that it isn’t).
But how do you figure that out? And given that you see a potential, how do you find a creative solution to build a business from it?
I don’t think anyone can tell the future when it comes to these things. But you can certainly learn to get a good intuition for it. One of the ways to do that is to constantly read broadly about interesting things that are going on in the fringes of any number of industries. By interesting, I mean, things that you didn’t know that stretchs your understanding of the world and perhaps your imagination a little bit more. When you start to get your finger on the pulse of possibility, you’re able to see blooming solutions where others only see wilting dead-ends.
In addition, when you dig deep enough into any topic, it gets quite interesting. You’ll start to find that all subjects are intertwined in one way or another. The way all subjects are compartmentalized in school is just so students don’t get confused. But really, all subjects are inter-related. Sociology’s studies on coordination and biology’s study on social insects actually relates to optimization. Weather phenomenon actually relates to crytography. This inter-relatedness works to your advantage in finding creative solutions to make a business out of your new market, because creative things are usually a combination of old things put together in new ways.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t often completely out of nowhere, just as masterpieces don’t just materialize in front of masters. For every masterpiece you see hanging in the galleries, there are hundreds of sketches and throwaway paintings that you don’t see the master artist practicing on. By the same token, a creative solution for a startup isn’t just a stroke of inspiration from nowhere. It’s a culmination of a slow absorbing of interesting tidbits that you’ve gathered and processed in the back of your mind until you’ve put the relevant pieces together.
So as far as I can tell, Paul Graham views hackers that are startup founders not as just really really good programmers. He believes what makes these people good startup founders is their innate curiosity in the world around them, and the willingness and drive to keep on learning about it to produce and create solutions–which lead to profit if attacked in a business way. That not only drives their strengths as programmers, but as thinkers and builders that change the world and will make money doing so. Not trying to put words in his mouth, but that’s my best summary thus far.
Therefore, if you buy into that, then I think the direction into the new YC news as Hacker news is a good change. It will allow people to keep seeing and learning interesting things so they have a better gut for potential and emerging markets, as well as helping them along in their creativity for novel solutions. That is, at least my take on it.
Of course, we’ll see how it actually all plays out, but I for one, am looking forward to the change.