Frank Mitchell

Never ask a wizard if you can read his spell book

All the really good wizards keep spell books. These little tomes, usually Moleskines, sometimes composition books, are filled with phone numbers, snippets of code, records of conversations, and if you’re really lucky, a password or two. In short, anything a wizard might want to remember.

The best wizards use their spell books not only as a memory aid, but also as a record of the magic they’ve performed. When it comes to solving a new problem, or trying out a new piece of code, they hypothesize and observe, keeping a record of what works and what doesn’t. This lets them learn from their failures, advancing their craft even further.

Wizards like to talk about magic

Ask a wizard about a piece of magic, and he will gladly talk about the data structures and algorithms behind it, sharing freely of his insights and observations. In fact, entire communities have sprung up based around the concept of wizards sharing magic.

Wizards know that ideas are worthless. Thanks to the internet, finding a piece of magic that will bring your idea into reality is just a search away. However, what you find will only get you 90% of the way there. Getting the last 10%, binding multiple spells together and actually shipping something, that requires insight.

Insight is what you find in a spell book.

Spell books are best kept private

Ask a wizard if you can read his spell book, and you’ll be refused. It’s not that the wizard doesn’t want to share what they know. It’s that they know you don’t have the framework to understand what they’ve written.

Because spell books contain records of le expérience, both the experiment and the experience, they are intensely personal things. They hold a record of the labyrinthine thoughts in a wizard’s mind at the moment he brings something into reality. Such maps are not easily translated, and attempts by others to follow them often lead to misunderstandings.

So wizards keep their spell books secret.

You can’t walk someone else’s path

Any experience worth having is one you have to chart yourself. The instant you try to compose insight into a map for others to follow, the insight is lost. The map becomes worthless.

You can give people tools to draw their own maps, but most people don’t want that kind of work. They want checklists and steps, recipes and instructions. Human nature makes us crave rules and fear freedom.

Computational wizardry doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts to having insights. You just have to put in the time, fail again and again, and eventually you’ll wind up with something brilliant.

Of course, there are shortcuts to failing faster.