Name your ideas

8 November 2020
8 Nov 2020
West Lafayette, IN
3 mins

A name has gravity to it. When you give an idea a name, other ideas and examples in its gravitational field begin to accrete around it, making the idea stronger and richer, giving the idea its own life apart from yourself.

Often in my writing, I want to convince the reader to look at some problem or idea in a different light, from a different perspective. My post on finding technical founders was exactly this type of post. Rather than simply calling the blog “How to find technical cofounders”, which was the question I was trying to answer in the piece, I gave my perspective a new name: Technical sympathy. This phrase became the title of the blog and the name for the perspective I took to understanding cofounder relationships.

Something interesting happened after I published that post. Other people started calling my idea by the name I had given it. People started sharing advice online incorporating my idea of technical sympathy. The idea wasn’t just something Linus talked about in a blog, but something separate, an idea that could stand on its own, referenced by its own name.

Humans have been naming things for its gravity and power for a long time. Every community has an endonym, for example – a name that a community of people use to refer to themselves. Affiliates of the UC Berkeley campus are the Bears, Purdue University students are the Boilermakers, and the corner of Twitter occupied by MIT students and faculty is the “Mitter”. Celebrities and cultural icons also have names for their communities, Swifties and Selenators and Potterheads. Even words we don’t normally think of as names can have the gravity of a name. If you call yourself a New Yorker, you don’t just live in New York. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi associated with living amongst the bustle of the city that the phrase stands for when you call yourself a New Yorker.

When you name an idea of your own creation, you release that idea into the world with its own force of gravity. A name anchors an idea in its own place in a listener’s mind, and pulls other, related ideas and stories towards it. When this happens, the idea can grow and evolve organically in the minds of new readers, taking on a life of its own, shared between new people.

Think of the most memorable ideas you’ve read about in blogs and books: the Attention Economy and the Passion Economy. No-code and Low-code. The Third Industrial Revolution. The Internet of Things. These were all at their birth just arbitrary names given to new ideas by their authors. Over time, the names have stuck, because the names provided anchor points around which new related experiences could be collected together.

Just like any other writing trick, the power of a name shouldn’t be over-used. A piece with too many new names, like a speech with too many main points, can confuse and distract rather than align. But if your writing or talk or discussion focuses its attention on a single idea, and that idea is granted a name of its own, the idea might just be able to hatch a new and exciting life within the minds of your audience.

The job of a writer

Reality whispers

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