Nadia Asparouhova talks about idea machines on idea machines! Idea machines, of course, being her framework around societal organisms that turn ideas into outcomes. We also talk about the relationship between philanthropy and status, public goods and more.
Nadia is a hard-to-categorize doer of many things: In the past, she spent many years exploring the funding, governance, and social dynamics of open source software, both writing a book about it called “Working in Public” and putting those ideas into practice at GitHub, where she worked to improve the developer experience. She explored parasocial communities and reputation-based economies as an independent researcher at Protocol Labs and put those ideas into practice as employee number two at Substack, focusing on the writer experience. She’s currently researching what the new tech elite will look like, which forms the base of a lot of our conversation.
Completely independently, the two of us came up with the term “idea machines” to describe same thing — in her words: “self-sustaining organisms that contains all the parts needed to turn ideas into outcomes.” I hope you enjoy my conversation with Nadia Asparouhova.
Nadia's Idea Machines Piece
Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software
[00:01:59] Ben: I really like your way of, of defining things and sort of bringing clarity to a lot of these very fuzzy words that get thrown around. So, so I'd love to sort of just get your take on how we should think about so a few definitions to start off with. So I, in your mind, what, what is tech, when we talk about like tech and philanthropy what, what is that, what is that entity.
[00:02:23] Nadia: Yeah, tech is definitely a fuzzy term. I think it's best to find as a culture, more than a business industry. And I think, yeah, I mean, tech has been [00:02:35] associated with startups historically, but But like, I think it's transitioning from being this like pure software industry to being more like, more like a, a way of thinking.
But personally, I don't think I've come across a good definition for tech anywhere. It's kind, you know?
[00:02:52] Ben: Yeah. Do, do you think you could point to some like very sort of like characteristic mindsets of tech that you think really sort of set it.
[00:03:06] Nadia: Yeah. I think the probably best known would be, you know, failing fast and moving fast and breaking things. I think like the interest in the sort of like David and gly model of an individual that is going up against an institution or some sort of. Complex bureaucracy that needs to be broken apart.
Like the notion of disrupting, I think, is a very tech sort of mindset of looking at a problem and saying like, how can we do this better? So it, in a [00:03:35] weird way, tech is, I feel like it's sort of like, especially in relation, in contrast to crypto, I feel like it's often about iterating upon the way things are or improving things, even though I don't know that tech would like to be defined that way necessarily, but when I, yeah.
Sort of compare it to like the crypto mindset, I feel like tech is kind of more about breaking apart institutions or, or doing yeah. Trying to do things better.
[00:04:00] Ben: A a as opposed. So, so could you then dig into the, the crypto mindset by, by contrast? That's a, I think that's a, a subtle difference that a lot of people don't go into.
[00:04:10] Nadia: Yeah. Like I think the crypto mindset is a little bit more about building a parallel universe entirely. It's about, I mean, well, one, I don't see the same drive towards creating monopolies in the way that and I don't know if that was like always a, you know, core value of tech, but I think in practice, that's kind of what it's been of.
You try to be like the one thing that is like dominating a market. Whereas with crypto, I think people are [00:04:35] because they have sort of like decentralization