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#60 What is idea sex?
...and some razor-sharp origami
It’s Design Lobster #60 and I want to persuade you that your best ideas are closer than ever. Get inspired with a new creative tool and a beautiful folded paper razor. It’s crisp, it’s clean, it’s design. 🪒
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Question: What is idea sex?
The writer Matt Ridley gave a TED talk in 2010 where he argued that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is not their intelligence but their ability to exchange with others. In his view, the way different groups trade goods and ideas underpins human prosperity because it allows each to specialise and get better and better at doing one thing. Thus Matt claims that modern technologies such as the mouse then emerge from the ideas of oil drilling and plastic manufacture ‘mating’ with the ideas of the transistor and the personal computer.
As such, no one individual or company knows how to make something like a mouse because they are each specialists at one step in its process. It simply emerges like magic from, as it were, an orgy of different ideas.
Since 2010, enterepreneur James Altucher has further popularised Idea Sex as a tool for individuals to combine existing ideas and come up with new ones. All you need to do is list out some familiar ideas and then have fun recombining them to see if anything of value comes up. You can even recombine the recombinations. James argues he has come up with several million-dollar ideas this way. What will you come up with?
Design takeaway: What simple ideas could you combine to come up with your next design?
Following publication, it has come to my attention that Matt Ridley’s climate-change skepticism does not reflect my own views on this subject. I believe that the ideas I discuss here stand up on their own, but I want to emphasise that this post is in no way an endorsement of Matt Ridley’s entire intellectual output. For the record I am firmly of the view that man-made climate change is an urgent problem. 🙏
Object: Paper razor
This beautiful folded paper razor brought me a lot of joy this week. Designed by the Japanese blade manufacturer KAI Industries, the razor is being launched for Earth Day on April 22nd. KAI are positioning it as more environmentally-friendly than conventional razors due to the fact it is made from only paper and metal.
Captivated as I am by its satisfyingly crisp edges I can’t help but have some questions about this positioning, as well as its broader practicality. I wonder how well the paper resists water for example and if it is truly better for the environment given the paper is disposable and the metal must still be regularly recycled.
Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing thought exercise to imagine other everyday objects folded out as flat. Up to now I’ve thought of origami as a decorative activity but my mind has been opened this week to ways it can be deployed to make useful things too.
Thanks to reader Leonie for the heads up.
Design takeaway: What would your design look like flattened out?
🔖 These Australian TikTokers will teach you to make other useful things out paper.
Quote: “With complex, ill-defined problems, you’re better off writing a prototype as fast as you can, seeing what turns out to be wrong with it, and then changing your definition of the problem accordingly.”
– Paul Graham
I linked to Paul Graham’s writing on design a few weeks ago which a lot of you wrote back to say you had enjoyed. So I couldn’t resist including another quote from him this week.
Paul reminds us that it’s very easy to overthink design problems and lose momentum. More often than not, the better approach is to test your first idea, even if you don’t think it’s great and then evolve it based on what you find out. Less time in your head, more time on iterations.
Whatever you do, keep discovering.
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