I can’t stop thinking about Bret Victor’s talk, “Inventing on Principle.” Bret goes through his life and the lives of others who have done remarkable things based on a single principle. He cites Richard Stallman’s devotion to the principle that software should be free. And Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s devotion to the principle that women deserve rights, too. His talk has inspired me to consider the principle that could or would guide my life. And I’ve come to the conclusion that my guiding principle is to make people around me happier.
When I look back at the times of my life when I’ve been the happiest and most excited, I can really only think of a few different buckets to put these memories in:
- Experiences with friends — snowboarding, snowmobiling, cycling, surfing, skateboarding, bar hopping, Burning Man, Bay to Breakers, whatever
- Recalling experiences with friends
- Building or creating things and sharing them with others — software, music, tree houses, anything
- Self discovery by learning from experiences, both good and bad
When I play back these memories I realize that there’s really one commonality. I am the happiest when I’m doing something I love with people I love, too. I love being goofy, forgetting that I’m 26 and dancing like no one is watching. And I love challenging myself, riding my bike for long distances, jumping off cliffs on my snowboard. Yet none of these experiences are as fun alone. A fun experience is exponentially more powerful and lasting when others are with you, enjoying the same experience you are. Furthermore, you can recall the experiences over and over with those same people, which further inspires you to continue to do amazing things and enable those experiences.
For as long as I can remember I’ve tried to answer the question, “How can software make people happier?” It’s a hard question to answer, mostly because there’s such a broad meaning of happiness. Etsy funds entrepreneurs in the third world. Facebook lets me stay in touch with my friends. Embedded systems in cars and airplanes enable travel. There are so many ways that software moves us; I just haven’t found the path that I’ll take to make a difference.
I’ve been searching and searching for the answer to my question that rings most true. And along the way I’ve found many answers that I believe in. Bret’s talk made me realize that the inventions I want to make are on the principle that people should be happy. Yet only now I realize a great strategy for helping others be happy. I’ve been happy for most of my life, in part because of my attitude, but mostly because of my devotion to trying new things and pursuing my interests. I need to figure out a way to help others improve their attitude, and to help them pursue their interests. To help them have fun by remembering that adulthood can be as simple and innocent and fun and exciting as childhood is if you let it. You’ll see what I’m talking about soon :).