The phrase “Facebook Idea” has been coined a number of times, most recently (to my knowledge) by me. Others who coined it have defined it in terms of money alone: a Facebook idea is one that will make someone rich. I believe the metaphor has a better use than that, and I want to outline it.
Some people believe that human nature is to be lazy. This common and mistaken idea probably stems from the principle that natural processes follow the path of least resistance. It is more likely the case that human nature causes us to prefer things we enjoy over things we don’t. While there may be more effort in those, we are biologically driven toward effort (survival and reproduction being the two fundamental biological drives of organisms) and will go to a great deal of trouble to follow the path of least psychological resistance. That is the path that we enjoy the most, or more likely, the one that seems most rewarding. In mature minds, those two constraints often coincide: we enjoy the most fulfilling parts of life the most.
It’s true that part of the reward I’ve suggested is a financial one. Why would we work at all if it didn’t provide us with means to live? And why would we take low-paying work if we could have higher-paying work that is equally satisfying? So part of the definition of the Facebook Idea is that it offers great financial satisfaction. I don’t believe it has to be on the same level as Facebook itself. But it has to be more than even a good salaried position to qualify. The compensation should allow one to determine one’s life with fair independence within the incident natural constraints.
In addition to being financially rewarding, Facebook was a project with broad appeal and high potential for success. I believe those principles apply to the abstract concept. A cheap and clean alternative to paint thinner is not a Facebook Idea. A cheap and clean alternative to gasoline might be one, but I also add something of a technological constraint with the notion of the choice to work. The choice to work is important to people pursuing their dreams. I believe no one really wants a boss. A Facebook Idea, if successful, can free its user from the command of a boss permanently. Someone who benefits from a Facebook Idea should be able to choose when, where, how, and even whether he works on a given day.
Final and perhaps more important is the element of personal interest. Scott Adams describes passion using unflattering terms, holding that we are passionate about whatever project or activity in which we find success. I believe that is too simple an expression to encompass the true value of what we call passion. The opposite of passion for a thing is called “burnout”, a psychological barrier to further work, arising as a consequence of any of a variety of causes. These can range from obnoxious obstacles such as office politics to years of failure, but I believe that those who become burned out most quickly are those who don’t really care about the work in which they’re involved. Resilience against adversity requires caring. And a really worthwhile idea often meets with a lot of adversity.
When using the phrase “Facebook Idea”, I am thinking of more than wild success or plenty of money. To condense the matter, I describe as a Facebook Idea any idea for a thing or service that’s interesting and enjoyable to work on, the result of which is interesting and enjoyable for others, which is consequently profitable. It can only be known for certain in retrospect, but some ideas may stand out as rare opportunities. I believe the trick to finding the right one is to pursue those rare opportunities when they come up. As Scott Adams points out, “luck” happens when you’re in the right place long enough for the right time to arrive.
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