One of the greatest benefits of graduate school that I truly appreciate is the ability and time to go off on tangents. Unlike industry where you have financial driven deadlines, graduate school blesses with a slower pace of life, which gives you more time to think. These tangents remind me of the Matrix. Once you've taken the red pill, you have no idea how far the rabbit hole goes. Ready to jump in?
I've most recently been thinking about sociology and psychology, specifically the tangent of how do you find good intelligent people? I've been thinking about such ideas for years, especially during undergrad when I was figuring out how to interview for jobs. This has become especially important since we've been discussing how to get more grad students, and I've been thinking of a startup. I've always had a few questions about what intelligence is, and is it natural or something trained? However, I could never really define it or pin point a solid definition. This weekend however, I found quite a few gems that picked at what I was getting at.
First, I thought that Joel's Smart and get things done was a good mantra. I even found the best job I had as an undergrad through Joel's pearls of wisdom, and his job board. Then here came Steve Yegge with Done and Get things smart, a twist which basically defined what I called the godlike. Someone so intelligent, that they run laps around you. I know only a select few with this quality, and every time I see them in action, I'm left dazed and confused. These are the people you want to do a startup with.
On a totally different tangent, while reading psychology, I finally started to read Malcom Gladwell's books The Tipping Point, which discusses why some things become epidemics and others don't, and Blink, how our subconscious mind usually knows whats right. The thoughts enshrined in Blink have been alluded to many times, even by Steve Jobs.
The thing that finally made it all come together, were two talks by Malcom Gladwell at the New Yorker Conference. The first video discusses hiring in the modern world and how the metrics we currently use to hire people are basically useless. Steve Yegge had said this many times, that no matter what test you have, what kind of interviewer a person is, the bottom line is that it is not an accurate predictor of how successful they will be on the job. The same can be said about school admissions with the GRE and SATs. Really most of the best and smartest people I know really didn't care about college that much, or were already doing something outside of college and going through the ropes to get that piece of paper. In reality, the only way to actually find out if someone is a good employee, is to work with them for a limited time.
The second talk redefines what a genius is. Our society always thinks of a genius as Albert Einstein, or someone who locks themselves up in a room, things long and hard, and some magical insight occurs where the solution came into their head. Malcom argues that a modern genius is someone who isn't necessarily a genius in the traditional sense, but that a genius is someone who spends a lot of time collaborating with others to finally hit the solution to a difficult problem. You can see this phenomenon with open source software. Therefore, it is better to have 10 smart collaborative people than one super genius. Again, Steve Yegge also reached the same conclusion. Even this post exemplifies the collaborate approach, as it is just stepping on the shoulders of others.
The most interesting thing Malcom said, was that to really become an expert in any field, it takes roughly 10,000(around 10 years or so) hours of concentrated effort. This fact really amazed me because the friends that I consider super good.. have all already hit the 10 year mark. Thus in the modern day, practice really does make perfect.
So what does this all mean? I'm still not sure and haven't reached any conclusions, I think I'm just jumping into a different hole.