They Say “Ideas are the New Oil,” I Say Bullsh*t

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Product Minting

And I’ll tell you why.

Naval Ravikant was probably the first person, if not the loudest, to declare “ideas” as the new oil. In his podcast, he famously says:

The new oil is ideas. It’s all digital. All the new fortunes are being created in ideas space.

At this point, you might be wondering: who the hell is making money by trading ideas? Naval has an answer to this:

..if you’re starting out today as a young, ambitious person, you don’t learn real estate; you don’t learn coal and oil mining; you don’t go into the extraction of physical resources to create wealth. You go into ideas space. You go into programming, books, movies, blogs, and podcasts and building robots, which are mostly intellectual property underneath.

Before I dissect this, I’d like to define what “ideas” entail. Ideas are simply thoughts pregnant with action.

So when Naval says fortune is in the ideas space, he’s hinting at the various mediums for knowledge transfer and inventions with tangible value. Or, put simply, "creations” you can monetize.

Just look at Joe Rogan’s massively popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. From Elon Musk to Quentin Tarantino, he got some of the most notable figures to engage in conversations with millions of listeners tuning in. The revenue from the podcast is also crazy good. He recently signed a $100 million deal with Spotify, giving up the show’s exclusive rights to the company.

But unlike oil, ideas are not finite. They’re as diverse as the people who come up with them. Oil was valuable because it was scarce and expensive to dig. Then what about ideas? You have to attach a tangible value to ideas if you want them to work.

Not every podcaster can get famous people like Elon Musk and Quentin Tarantino to share personal opinions, controversial or not. But Joe Rogan can, and that makes the entire difference.

How Ideas Become Valuable

Ideas we deem revolutionary today, for example, wheel, light bulb, mobile phone, or Internet — originated from a place of need. Can we say the same about the ideas of today? I believe we've now slowly moved on from ideating for “needs” to ideating for “convenience” and even for “nice to haves”.

The technology space — a space brimming with ideas is a perfect example of this.

If you look at the last couple of decades, most technological advancements like 5G, video calling, Learning Management Systems, eCommerce, AI, voice recognition, IoT, and cloud computing have only enhanced the connection and convenience in human life. But they’ve also made us lazier and fanatical in other respects.

In his thought-provoking article on Rolling Stones, How Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg Distort Reality to Sell Fantasy, Jonathan Taplin talks about the absurdity of investing “$20 trillion in fantasy worlds (missions to Mars, cryptocurrency, and the Metaverse) when real-world solutions to the critical problems of our planet are currently available?

I mean, the goal of SpaceX is to “reduce space transportation costs and to colonize Mars.” It has definitely achieved the former, but the latter is a far cry for anyone, if at all achievable. In any case, the Tony Stark-like stature has surely raised the net worth of Elon Musk, earning him the interest and the finances from all around.

That said, Musk’s idea with SpaceX took off because there was a real gap in the market that SpaceX filled with their inexpensive launches.

But the thing is, most ideas don’t have any inherent value. It’s the execution, the making it happen part, that actually matters. How well the idea is shaped, developed, and monetized determines its true value. That’s why ideas that never take off are deemed fads, no matter how glamorously marketed.

And the most glorious of them all? Metaverse, which was widely publicized with a lot of fanfare. But ever since ChatGPT set the stones of generative AI rolling, everybody seems to have declared the technology dead, if not downgrading its value.

On a side note, tech journalists have been their sarcastic best, with some going as far as to call the technology a “low-quality, cartoon concert.”

The Metaverse, the once-buzzy technology that promised to allow users to hang out awkwardly in a disorientating video-game-like world, has died after being abandoned by the business world. It was three years old.

RIP Metaverse, Ed Zitron

Then again, if you’ve seen that video Facebook released, can you even blame them?

Some final thoughts

People who dug oil made fortunes like no other. But there were also people who tried and failed. And let’s not forget the widespread corruption and exploitation prevalent in the sector.

I’m afraid similar violations are going to come up with generative AI on the scene.

As you know, Generative AI doesn’t produce things out of ether. Already, AI tools like Midjourney and ChatGPT have unfairly stolen the hours of creative and mental labor put into creations by specialists across the fields. Yet there are no legal frameworks to protect the rights of the original creators.

If what Naval claims is true and ideas are indeed the path to fortune, we’re at a tipping point in history with generative AI. Because now, machines will be ideating together with humans.

This is going to complicate the legal setup for intellectual property and might even be exploitative to those standing on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic class.

And I truly hope that’s never the case.

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