What is the best time to plant a tree?
A popular answer to this question is that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second-best time is now.
This is often claimed to be an ancient Chinese proverb. Or an African proverb. It is unlikely to be either of these.
And obviously we are not supposed to take this proverb literally. Because if the best time was twenty years ago, the second-best time would be nineteen years ago.
But instead of interpreting this logically, we are presumably supposed to interpret it as a motivational statement. Don’t waste time regretting that you didn’t plant a tree twenty years ago, act now to make sure you don’t have similar regrets in twenty years’ time. (Do real Chinese proverbs do motivational statements? I suspect not.)
In his new book, The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly talks about the opportunities for internet entrepreneurs thirty years ago. “Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an ambitious entrepreneur back in 1985 at the dawn of the internet?”
He then looks forward to the middle of the century. “If we could climb into a time machine, journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016.”
In other words, for an internet start-up the second-best time is now.
By the way, I’m not the first person to use the pun about ‘boughing’ to the inevitable. For example, @rcolvile used it in the context of ash dieback. “Half the trees in the country were going to be torn down. He’d already had to veto a particularly insensitive press release describing him as ‘ashen-faced’ about the situation, but ‘boughing to the inevitable’. Meanwhile, Google is asking me if I meant ‘coughing to the inevitable’. Thanks Google, it’s always useful to spot something you haven’t yet mastered.
KK.org, The Inevitable
Kevin Kelly, The Internet Is Still at the Beginning of Its Beginning (Huffington Post, 6 June 2016)
On The Best Time to Plant a Tree (Reddit)
Robert Colvile, Friends: The One with the Guy in a Yellow Tie (Telegraph, 3 November 2012)