Mastery And Mimicry

The Internet is an amazing place. Last weekend an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line "Hello From MIT". That got me to open it. Turns out it was from Sep Kamvar, a faculty member at the MIT Media Lab, and before that the Stanford computer science department. I don't know Sep and was not familiar with his work. I am now.

Sep pointed me to a series of essays he has written called Mastery and Mimicry. He describes them as:

In this series of vignettes, I describe some design principles for technologies that follow nature. In short, such technologies would be self-limiting, accessible, cyclical, and purposeful. My hope is that technologies that follow these principles will lead to a greater unity between art and science, between intuition and reason, between nature and machine. Each would nurture the other.

I am particularly fond of a principal Sep calls cyclicality:

Every tool should nourish the things upon which it depends.

We see this principle at varying levels in some of our tools today. I call them cyclical tools. The iPhone empowers the developer ecosystem that helps drive its adoption. A bike strengthens the person who pedals it. Open-source software educates its potential contributors. A hallmark of cyclical tools is that they create open loops: the bike strengthens its rider to do things other than just pedal the bike.

Cyclical tools are like trees, whose falling leaves fertilize the soil in which they grow.

I read all of Sep's essays this weekend. It didn't take me long. But they have touched me and stayed with me. They speak to me. Maybe they will speak to you too.

I emailed Sep back and thanked him for his work. He replied and called USV a "cyclical VC firm." That's quite a compliment in the context of his work and it made my day, week, and month.