When I was in art school, we were looking one day at a slide of some great fifteenth century painting, and one of the students asked 'Why don't artists paint like that now?' The room suddenly got quiet. Though rarely asked out loud, this question lurks uncomfortably in the back of every art student's mind. It was as if someone had brought up the topic of lung cancer in a meeting within Philip Morris. 'Well, ' the professor replied, 'we're interested in different questions now.' He was a pretty nice guy, but at the time I couldn't help wishing I could send him back to fifteenth century Florence to explain in person to Leonardo & Co. how we had moved beyond their early, limited concept of art. Just imagine that conversation. In fact, one of the reasons artists in fifteenth century Florence made such great things was that they believed you could make great things. They were intensely competitive and were always trying to outdo one another, like mathematicians or physicists today-maybe like anyone who has ever done anything really well. The idea that you could make great things was not just a useful illusion. They were actually right. So the most important consequence of realizing there can be good art is that it frees artists to try to make it.
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If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies. Like a lot of American kids, I read this book in school. Presumably it was not a coincidence. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world. This was too subtle for me. While the book seemed entirely believable, I didn't get the additional message. I wish they had just told us outright that we were savages and our world was stupid.
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If you want to make money at some point, remember this, because this is one of the reasons startups win. Big companies want to decrease the standard deviation of design outcomes because they want to avoid disasters. But when you damp oscillations, you lose the high points as well as the low. This is not a problem for big companies, because they don't win by making great products. Big companies win by sucking less than other big companies.' - 'The place to fight design wars is in new markets, where no one has yet managed to establish any fortifications. That's where you can win big by taking the bold approach to design, and having the same people both design and implement the product. Microsoft themselves did this at the start. So did Apple. And Hewlett- Packard. I suspect almost every successful startup has.' - 'Great software, likewise, requires a fanatical devotion to beauty. If you look inside good software, you find that parts no one is ever supposed to see are beautiful too.' - 'The right way to collaborate, I think, is to divide projects into sharply defined modules, each with a definite owner, and with interfaces between them that are as carefully designed and, if possible, as articulated as programming languages. Like painting, most software is intended for a human audience. And so hackers, like painters, must have empathy to do really great work. You have to be able to see things from the user's point of view.' - 'It turns out that looking at things from other people's point of view is practically the secret of success.' - 'Part of what software has to do is explain itself. So to write good software you have to understand how little users understand. They're going to walk up to the software with no preparation, and it had better do what they guess it will, because they're not going to read the manual.
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