Dev Rangarajan
    Inventing on Principle
    Bret Victor's masterclass on principles

    I finally watched Inventing on Principle.

    It’s a great talk, you can go watch it here.

    I’m obviously super late to talking about this (it’s a bit of a cult classic in SV/tech circles).

    Don’t remember who exactly prompted me to watch it, but plenty of heavy hitters in the startup space love this talk.

    To me, there were two main things that I took away

    One is the obvious - that there are people who live in a very different way from the rest of us, and we don’t have a good way of describing them. Since we can’t describe them well, we do a bad job of encouraging more people to be like that.

    Bret breaks down this barrier flawlessly - he gives us language to describe a different kind of ideal.

    The second is the sheer amount of effort that he put into the demos. When Bret first started with the tree, I was impressed - he had it live updating, and then he linked between the graphical element and the line of code (something chrome can barely do for web dev today).

    He showed a Mario-type platformer with time travel (forwards & backwards), live map creation, tons of mechanical tweaks, etc.

    He had a circuit design demo that radically changed how you think about electrical engineering.

    And finally he had an animation program on an iPad that used interactions like throwing windows off the screen and momentum swiping the timeline - I’ve literally never seen that type of interaction anywhere else (okay maybe Tony Stark does it in a movie).

    My point here is that Bret put more time into conveying magic in this 1 hour talk than most people put into building anything.

    That’s amazing - and it really highlights how strongly he feels about this principle that there should be instant feedback between creator and creation.

    He gave this talk in 2012 - it’s 2021 when I’m writing this and the interactions he built are still novel. There’s a bit of live updating with things like jupyter and the concept of code notebooks, but that’s about it.

    It’s absolutely crazy that this guy just came up with 5-10 features that would all easily be billion dollar products, just to give a talk to a few software engineers.

    That’s a level of conscientiousness and intention that is incredibly rare both in tech but also in the broader world.

    I’d love to know how he prepared for the talk, but it seems so obvious that he started with this principle about creativity (that he must live and struggle with every day) and then expanded it to the metaprinciple of being so passionate about some perceived problem that you activate change.

    Then he must have realized that he needed to connect this to a framework software engineers can appreciate, so he had to come up with a progression to get people from bored audience members to hanging on his every word about Larry Tesler (as a sidenote, I found out while writing this that Larry died last February, may he rest in peace.)

    This talk is an absolute clinic on not just user experience or what software people should care about, but also on telling a compelling story and creating irrefutable proof about your passions (something most people, companies, marketers struggle with.)

    Some Takeaways

    If you care a lot about something that most people don’t think about, you can create magic.

    There’s immense value in working backwards from what you want to accomplish and building small steps for your audience to get there.

    If you can give people new language to describe something that exists in the world, you will end up creating more of that thing.

    People love this talk - not because of the time he put into it or the way he speaks (no offense to Bret, but I would say he’s a very average presenter), but because he shows them a novel way of thinking, all the ways in which the world could be better.

    For me, I’m thinking about how this can apply to the work I do and my life.

    I think broadly speaking, climate is still stuck in a very modes based paradigm - the way we interact with the planet, atmosphere, chemistry in general all seems very rudimentary. No idea what I’d do about that, but it certainly feels wrong.

    From a marketing/growth perspective - I think there are very few companies or people who really embody a principle and do it well. I think a worthwhile investing thesis would be only picking companies where the founders can talk about their world like Bret talks about creativity - they probably all win eventually.

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