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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

I love used bookstores; the messier the better. The owner can’t possibly know the value of all the books when they’re piled willy-nilly around the joint. I feel like a thief, pawing through the dark corners, earnestly listening for the footsteps of the owner, seeking that tattered treasure trove of lost knowledge.

PBS has a series on the Medici family that includes a scene of Giovanni as a young man, gingerly picking his way through a moratorium strewn with diseased bodies. He’s on a quest for some long forgotten scrolls hidden in a back room. And watching that I thought … that would be the coolest moment … ever.

Something about forgotten knowledge gets me going. I’d love to be some sort of geek knowledge pirate — pillaging buried libraries, discovering lost manuscripts on the back of some painting. So, when this story (via kottke) came out, I jumped right on it.

The story of the tapestries has several layers. First, there’s the tapestries themselves: the mystery, the art, the creation. Then, the riddle of how to piece together the digital photographs the MET used to catalogue the tapestries: living, water-like tapestries, billions of variables and calculations, the multitude of relationships and dynamics. Finally the story of ancient history and hyper-modern mathematics dancing together — the seemingly simple becoming the unfathomably complex.

When I was reading Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, I saw an opportunity to leverage the learning of others.

Diamond explains how innovation hot spots are scattered and constantly moving around the globe. While one economy is a wasteland of creativity another just a few hundred miles away can be white hot with new ideas.

He also briefly discusses how knowledge can be lost. Some ideas don’t make it through the peak and trough cycles of cultural innovation. As a result many of the problems we face have already been solved once or many times — we just don’t remember. We have forgotten more than we know.

– We do not know what we have forgotten.
– We have known things in our past that we no longer know.
– The sum of our historical knowledge is greater than our current knowledge.

Look up the Pyramids, the Notre Dame Rose Window, or Brunelleschi’s Dome. We don’t know how we did that.

What have we forgotten and how could we use that knowledge now?

Boil it down. What, if anything, is new to humanity? We’ve faced these same problems before … they were just in different combinations.

The same is true of opportunities. Our wants and needs vary less than the problems we face.

This all matters to an entrepreneur for several reasons. First, you are forgetting lessons you already learned. Second, you have knowledge that is useful in more ways than you realise. Finally, in your struggle to be new, you may forget that all these problems are very old.

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