At some point, all fads were satellite ideas pursued by one more independent groups. As a fad grows, so does the size and number of groups associated with it. Eventually a fad achieves a non-trivial adoption rate (becomes a fact) or fades away (becomes an artifact).
The relationships of groups pursuing an idea at all of these stages is well studied, especially with respect to collaboration and competitionThese are four separate links . In this cc, I wish to briefly discuss the consequences of each of these stages on individual productivity and efficiency. Let’s start from the back.
Intuition might suggest that productivity is lowered significant after a fad becomes a fact. But while there may not be a lot of effort required in growing the fact to a greater level of adoption, maintenance is non-trivial. For example, the upfront cost of building a new house is high, but this cost is marginal relative to the maintenance costs required over the better part of the next centuryMaintenance requires both individual contribution (time) and transient contributions (e.g. via money paid for services) of productivity..
An individual may expect a consistent maintenance cost associated with a fact. This cost is likely to be small compared to an individual’s other responsibilities, and an increase in maintenance costs incites an individual to develop optimizationsE.g. a system that requires a lot of manual tuning is likely to be superseded. (read: new satellite ideas). This can lead to a cycle of individual effort invested in an idea.
When a fad becomes an artifact, an individual has two choices:
Invest more time in the artifact. This boosts individual productivity, but is inefficient when the fad has been shown to be flawed. For example, untyped tensors.
Pivot to another idea. This may lead to a loss of productivity in the short term due to ramp-up investment, but increases efficiency in the long term.
Aside these considerations, the productivity invested in an artifact is very similar to that of a fact.
Okay, so here’s where it gets interesting. I’m not convinced that being involved with a fad is productive.
What’s the hot thing right now? Whatever it is, I’m sure there are a lot of people working on it. Realistically, if any one individual working on that fad ceased their contribution immediately, whatever they could have discovered would be independently discovered in the next 15 minutes of fame.
Don’t get me wrong – 10% contributions add up. But for the individual, 10% isn’t always enough. This seems like a degradation in individual efficiency.
Naturally, satellite ideas require a large efficiency investment. Whether this translates to heightened productivity is largely dependent on personal motivation.
Satellites are lonely. Work on divergent ideas must be self-motivated, as invested dependents are often lacking. When a road map is unclear (as is often the case for satellite ideas), it can be difficult to convince oneself to be going. So a satellite must be really into it.
I feel that this facet is often overlooked. Revolutionary ideas are good ideas, and they are also incredibly unique and obsessively pursued. In fact, uniqueness and investment are the primary factors that can promote a satellite into a fad. The soundness of an idea becomes more important only later on.