Graham on "Resourcefulness"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Venture capitalist Paul Graham considers why it is that, in hindsight, the most successful and least successful start-up groups stand out in two seemingly unrelated metrics:

[T]he startups that did best were the ones with the sort of founders about whom we'd say "they can take care of themselves." The startups that do best are fire-and-forget in the sense that all you have to do is give them a lead, and they'll close it, whatever type of lead it is.
[T]he least successful startups ... all seemed hard to talk to. It felt as if there was some kind of wall between us. I could never quite tell if they understood what I was saying.
Graham resolves his conundrum by making the following connection:
It turns out there is, and the key to the mystery is the old adage "a word to the wise is sufficient." Because this phrase is not only overused, but overused in an indirect way (by prepending the subject to some advice), most people who've heard it don't know what it means. What it means is that if someone is wise, all you have to do is say one word to them, and they'll understand immediately. You don't have to explain in detail; they'll chase down all the implications. [italics added]
Equally interesting are Graham's and one of his partner's thoughts on why some people are not wise (or, as Graham calls it "conversationally resourceful").  Graham sees the absence of wisdom as denial, while his partner sees a more passive, semi-automated process at work.

I think either or both can be at work in any given situation, with active denial being a moral flaw and the semi-automated process falling into the realm of the psycho-epistemological. Some of the unwise may well be unaware of that aspect of their thought process, but they can be made aware of it, and they can change their habitual mode of function through effort and self-monitoring. That said, someone who, "desperately tries to munge [possibly good advice from a clearly good source] into something that conforms with [his] decision" will have his work cut out for him.

-- CAV

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