Intellectual debt

Software projects can accumulate technical debt: the work you need to do to fix the work you’ve already done.

I think it’s possible to accumulate “intellectual debt”. Thoughts and ideas that you’ve had, worked on, developed, talked about, but have not written up and published. You can have an idea, but until you’ve tried to write it up properly such that someone else could read and criticise it, you can’t be sure that it actually makes sense. Of course, there can be a mistake in your write-up, but the process of writing up will force you to confront a lot of the potential problems with any idea.

Having huge amounts of intellectual debt means that you’re sitting on a bunch of ideas which may not be correct, and that no-one has proper access to thoughts you probably wanted to share. Ideas are composable: one can depend on another, and if your unpublished ideas depend on a vast chain of your other unpublished ideas, you could be compounding your mistakes. Additionally, you could be rendering your thought too far from the mainstream: if you’re right but radically different because people haven’t assimilated your earlier ideas, considered and criticised them, then your bigger ideas, composed from the earlier ones, will be harder to promote.

If you could bear reading this far, you should follow me on Twitter:

One thought on “Intellectual debt

  1. Pingback: Shipping Stuff | Do I Smell Burning?