I heard this mentioned somewhere a while back (it may have been Twitter), and I feel it’s a statement that deserves a bit more reflection. It’s simple enough to be considered a truism: it’s a lot easier to destroy something or knock it down, then it is to build something up.
This is so universal that we can start with physics. It takes a lot of time and perseverance to build a tower of blocks. Yet that tower can be knocked down by almost anything: wind, dogs, cats, toddlers, and more could all knock that tower over in an instant. More things can destroy much more quickly than those who can create. Heck, the second law of thermodynamics teaches us that things will naturally revert to a mass of atoms someday. The structures all around us are aberrations, not the norm.
Even this basic tower is much harder to build than it is to destroy. So to it is with ideas!
This is also true with ideas, companies, products, governments, and policies. Every idea has some holes, and it only gets worse from there! Every company has many flaws that they constantly patch as new ones arrive. Governments have even more flaws, and individual policies are often even worse and run the risk of being downright harmful. That’s the messy reality we live in: perfect is an unobtainable target.
As ideas are the most pure item listed there, let’s focus on that. To say that any idea has holes sounds like post-modernist nonsense. But there are very few ideas that reach the realm of theory. Even Einstein’s theory of relativity has some known breakpoints that have physicists searching for ways to explain more of reality. Once you start bringing humans into the fold, it gets *a lot* messier. Look at economics or psychology: anyone even with basic training in either of these can point to the exceptions most of the common rules or theories within the subject. Supply and Demand find the right market price – except when it doesn’t.
But the point we’re making here is that it’s fairly easy to point out these flaws or gaps. But all of these ideas still hold their place for a simple reason: no one has come along and been able to suggest something better! By critiquing these ideas, you are more or less a dog or toddler (trying to) knock down something that actually took a lot of work to build and presumably still adds value.
If you want to see this in action, just browse political Twitter for a day. Almost all of it is a critique of the current system or current parties involved, and almost none of it is actively proposing new solutions to the real problems we face. And yes, I’m sure I’ve been part of the problem once or twice (or more)! Worse, whenever someone does propose something (anything) new, it’s very often met with a hostile takedown rather than a “hmm, let’s consider that!”
To some degree, this seems to be a cultural phenomena that seems to be tied into an increasing belief that success is a zero-sum game and that one person’s (or group’s) success comes at your own detriment.
On the latter front, we haven’t seen our economy shift back into that zero-sum state that we did see prior to the Industrial Revolution. And most evidence suggests that the pie is still growing for everyone and can continue to do so. On the former, it is something that we desperately need to snap out of in order to ensure that the pie still does grow! If our culture continues to have the desire to cut down anything new, then we will reach a stagnant state and revert back to that zero-sum economy that we most certainly want to avoid.
So this is a reminder to myself as much as it is to any of you: work harder to be open to *new* ideas and put in more work to put new ideas out there and help build the world of the future. Yes, it can be fun to critique the status quo, or “dunk” on someone else’s idea. But frankly, it’s intellectually basic. We can and should do better.