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Standing on Shoulder of Giants: The Power of Incremental Changes

Today I’d like to talk about my fascination for History. I think there are many good reasons to take interest in this subject, fellow giftmatker Mana mentioned already in her blog. I’d like to corroborate and add one point.

Generally, history allows you to understand how we end up where we are today. This could mean many things: learning past mistakes to not repeat them or learning past successes to replicate them. But today I’d like to focus more on appreciating the small things that are seldom noticed unless talked about. I’d like to point out the power of incremental changes, starting with the world of dance. You may consider this part 5 of why dancers are researchers series.

Last weekend, I had a long conversation with one of the most influential and respected dancers in Indonesia. She witnessed the origins of dance events in the early days and told me the struggles faced by a dancer in the early 2000s. Back then, there were barely any dance studios that offered lessons. She told me that it was difficult to organize a dance workshop in Bali. Simply put, nobody would pay for it. Dancers simply train in the streets or clubs, why pay for a lesson? But slowly, she made it happen. Nowadays, dance lessons are as accessible as supermarkets. They are everywhere with an abundance of studios on the island. If you’re a dancer and you want to teach a class, you wouldn’t think twice because you know the market has long been established. Dance has become more and more inclusive.

I could have easily taken my privilege for granted, had I not heard this story. I entered this island and immediately took a class after googling “dance Canggu”. I did not need to find a needle in a haystack to receive knowledge from an expert. Now being part of a dance group, we have hosted several workshops knowing that there was a crowd for it. I was reminded that, “it took time to get there”. How things have gotten easier.

This instantly reminded me of what I do here, specifically in the engineering team. In the past few months, I’ve been handling some engineering tasks to improve our biogas digester design. Together with Arvin, we’ve been making adjustments almost weekly. Looking back, I started realizing the struggles of the previous engineers, going through the same experiences when looking for new materials, testing out ideas. For your information, this biogas digester in the video is the seventh prototype, possibly not the last. Our digester has come far from its initial design. Then, I remember a quote Tak, our CEO, used to say a lot by Isaac Newton. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

All the small adjustments made by previous engineers has allowed us to enjoy this biodigester design. That after each small adjustment made by one engineer, a future one gets to visualize further. The horizon is constantly extended, allowing for continuous improvement.

So for one, I learned not to underestimate the power of incremental changes. That nothing amazing came from one big leap, rather hundreds of small ones. This is why I think it’s important to study history and have this discussion at the dinner table to get inspired. Inspired by the billion small efforts that bring today’s comfort, which will inspire us to do the same for the generations to come.

Of course, survivorship bias is a thing and we should not just celebrate past successes without analyzing and understanding them. But I hope you have the courage to start something new, which has been a recurring topic lately by other giftmakers including our CEO. Whether that's opening a dance workshop or developing a technology, the impact is often difficult to see from afar.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

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