Make a Better Wheel

The Best Become the Best By Making a Better

This idea surfaced in the article 'How Richard Feynman Thought', which can be summarised from 2 extracts:

"Once you know something, it’s hard to unknow it. Once you learn a way of thinking, it’s hard not to keep falling into that way of thinking at the expense of finding new ways of thinking." "Before an idea could contribute to [his] worldview, Feynman wanted to turn over the idea, to see why it was true, from any angle that he could find."

Which jointly imply that "creating the cutting edge" is achieved by slowly molding ones mental models through an idiosyncratic process that converges towards empiricism (how things are).

In other words, you're not just reinventing the wheel, but simultaneously making a better one (often grounded in more robust principles previously not conceived).

As with all things, you learn the rules so that you can break them, and getting to this stage takes years of knowledge accumulation, which is then consolidated around a single purpose (sometimes more). For Feynman, this was quantum mechanics.

While knowledge diffuses slowly, purpose and vision can be developed while one is still relatively young. Call it foolish naivete, but it's those who never lose their idealism that make it to middle-age with marks of achievement.

So I think it's wise to keep the dream alive, bouncing between bouts of necessary pragmatism and seemingly pointless stretches of agonising over "reinventing the wheel", if only ever for yourself. Eventually, you'll be able to make a better wheel for everyone else as well.

But don't forget that the people who are the best in their fields have the capacity to "make a better wheel" along side the wisdom to know when not to; for all of us newbies, when in doubt, don't reinvent the wheel!


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