Roxanne and Jefferson thinking about the world’s big ideas.
I have three children and my house is loud, my attention often divided. This weekend my eldest daughter, Roxanne, and I flew from Boston to Richmond to spend the weekend together. Three days of uninterrupted time with just one child is a wonderful luxury. Roxanne loves history, especially presidential history (she memorized all of the presidents in order before she could read) and the focus of this trip was visiting Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville.
We had 9am tickets on Saturday morning and spent five hours touring the home, the grounds, the slave quarters, and the graves. We lingered over Jefferson’s double-side bed alcove and marveled at his system of dumb waiters that brought bottles of wine up to the dining room from the cellar below. We also battled with what it meant for the author of the Declaration of Independence to own hundreds of people and to father children with his slave. It was intense.
Jefferson was clearly interested in optimizing things in his day-to-day life. He put the double doors of his house on pulleys so that when you closed one the other would close at the same time. He soaked his feet in cold water for 20 minutes each morning to increase circulation. Roxanne and I joked that Jefferson would be a lifehacker if he was alive today.
Jefferson valued ideas. At a time when books were rare and expensive, he had hundreds and he read in seven languages in order to access them all. He was an avid correspondent and devised a sort of copy machine so that he could retain a copy of every letter. He would have been a great blogger.
What impressed me most about this glimpse into Jefferson’s life was his strongly held belief that ideas should flow freely. Rather than hording them away on his mountain top, Jefferson felt compelled to share what he knew and to create systems that would allow all of us to live better lives.
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself, without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. – Thomas Jefferson
This statement struck me so deeply, especially on the way home when, facing a two hour flight delay, I bought How Google Works in the airport bookstore. Written by the company’s Executive Chairman and former CEO, this book explains how Google came to be one of the largest and most valuable companies in the world. While Roxanne watched a movie I read the book, including this:
Many incumbents – aka pre-Internet companies – built their businesses based on assumptions of scarcity: scarce information, scarce distribution resources and market reach, or scarce choice and shelf space. Now, though, these factors are abundant, lowering or eliminating barriers to entry and making entire industries ripe for change.
Jefferson would have loved the internet, and he would have especially loved Google. We live in a time where ideas flow more freely than ever before. Rather than relying on control of information or a stranglehold on distribution, brands of all sizes (from the big 4 sewing pattern companies to the indie designer in her home studio; from major media outlets to the lone blogger) compete based on the quality of their product and the experience they’re able to provide.
We made it home on Sunday night facing a week jam packed with school assemblies and ceremonies. This weekend of connectedness with one another and with big ideas past and present is carrying us through the hecticness that the end of the school year brings.