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How Smart People Sabotage Their Success (hbr.org)
737 points by apress 67 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 210 comments

> 4. Smart people get bored easily. Being smart is not exactly the same as being curious, but if you have both these qualities you might find yourself becoming easily bored with executing the same behaviors over and over. Some types of success stem from creativity, but other types come from becoming an expert in a niche and performing a set of behaviors repeatedly. If you’re smart, curious, and have a love of learning, you might find you quickly lose interest in anything once you’ve figured it out. The execution side of performance might bore you, and you’d rather constantly be learning new things. This can end up being less lucrative than finding a niche and repeating the same formula, but that might seem too boring or unchallenging to you.

I've been wrestling with this for most of my career so far. I think it's all about striking the right balance. If you're not constantly learning you will stagnate. At the same time, jumping continuously from learning one new thing to another (esp. if the things are not very inter-related) can spread yourself too thin: you need to "go deep" on some things to become an effective/valuable contributor.

I sometimes feel resentful of the amount of time I've spent as a software engineer dealing with what I often feel is boring or pure B.S. (e.g. almost everything other than designing/building some novel complex system from scratch). But in reality looking back I see that a lot of that sh*t-shoveling has actually made me much better and wiser at my profession, despite how mind-numbing and boring it often was. So I'm trying to keep that perspective to get me through those really dull days when I want to just rage-quit and move to a rural commune :)

I think going deep on something is the key. It lets you keep learning without getting bored and needing to jump ship. One of my pet peeves is how programmers think "keep learning" means "learn another programming language". Not that that's bad, but after the twentieth or so, . . . instead try learning something "adjacent" to what you enjoy & do well. For example for a Ruby+JS web developer: read some HTTP RFCs, play around with SSL certificates, learn some admin/devops skills, get really familiar with some part of modern JS/HTML like your framework or build system or HTML5 canvas or video, read the Rails Github issues list and fix a couple bugs, try writing your own gem, try writing your own gem with some C/Rust implementation, go fix all the n+1 query problems in your app, learn how to use CTEs and lateral joins, learn some plpgsql, write your own Postgres extension, etc. Or pick something adjacent-but-non-technical, like marketing or SEO or sales or financial statements. Remember that careers are long, and learning pays compound interest. There is no reason to get bored!

This really resonates with me.

I'm a marketer who has become more and more technical over my career. The amount of opportunities that has unlocked have really been worth it for sure, but it also simply lets me be better at my trade than those who do not have those skills because I see connections they may not, and I can implement those things independently or with fewer resources than others.

It also frankly just makes things more interesting, because when I think I've reached the bottom of a rabbit hole and risk getting bored, suddenly there's this new tunnel branching off of it that I can explore, and before I know it, I'm delving into expert-level problems of a part of my industry I've never considered before.

This article makes fundamental errors. School performance is NOT a great indicator of intellect. The most successful people I know did just enough to get by decently in school and spent the rest of their efforts on activities that made them happy or were more productive. People who drove themselves crazy working as hard as they could in school generally didn't get anywhere in the real world.

>People who drove themselves crazy working as hard as they could in school generally didn't get anywhere in the real world.

I think these are the people the author is referencing. These students did amazing if measuring by GPA, but did so through hard work and a lot of thinking. Got praised for GPA related achievements which reinforced their over studying/thinking behavior, which leads to the scenarios the author describes.

The most successful people you talk about likely wouldn't have the issues the article addresses.

Anecdotal evidence. Data shows success in school correlates with career success.

Its mindnumbing to learn the extraneous details about something that's basically understood. I dont want to master x86 assembly when I already get the concept of what it represents. I want to learn new concepts. Make a lambda based computer for example.

Browser development is the worst. Hacks and compatibility details galore. I hate the fact that to get into front end development I would have to master how to get around someone elses mess.

I would piggyback on your answer to say that learning those adjacent skills will also help you work on your process of learning in general.

You're less likely to get stuck and give up because they're adjacent, and then when it comes to learning something not adjacent you're already a more experienced at learning and organising your thoughts when it comes to tackling a new problem.

The problem I have with this, is that if you don't get to use your new shiny tech in your job, over the years you tend to forget the knowledge, at least that's the case for me. Does everyone else have eidetic memory?

I found myself having to look up syntax and idioms of languages I was productive in a decade ago.

This part was also key:

"Solution: Try taking a 30,000-foot view of when it’s worth tolerating some boredom to collect easy wins when it comes to your overall success. Instead of attempting dramatic change, decide when tolerating short periods (a few minutes or hours) of boredom could have a very beneficial impact on your success. For instance, devoting 5 hours a week to an activity that’s monotonous but lucrative. Additionally, make sure you have enough outlets for your love of learning across the various domains of your life, including your work, hobbies, physical fitness, understanding yourself etc."

Doing work that's lucrative yet monotonous is one of the biggest struggles. I have in front of me a great strategy that I know will work, but I'm avoiding putting in the elbow grease.

Anyone know of a book that goes into this in detail? I know I'm procrastinating more by looking for a book to solve this, but at the same time, when I understand something thoroughly, I do it more often!

Not quite exactly about "lucrative yet monotonous", but The War of Art is definitely an extended meditation on "putting in the elbow grease". It's not a manual of techniques about how to get things done, but it is inspirational for getting out of your own way, shutting up, sitting down, and writing.

It's written by someone who mostly writes movies, but it applies to anyone who does anything remotely creative, where your project has a lot of uncertainty and many opportunities to stall or talk yourself into giving up.

Highly recommended.

Great book - I love that one, anyone who creates should read it (code, writing, art, marketing) - I agree!

Agree that it's a meditation/mantra-like book that can be read monthly to refocus.

hey thanks for suggesting this, based on what I've read so far it's extremely applicable to my situation and is the sort of thing I've been needing to read for a while. hopefully i can intuit the wisdom at this point in my life.

Persistence is a skill that needs to be trained just like all skills, intellectually gifted people tend to get little training in it because they learn stuff fast and thus don't get the usual amount of training in it like others, so what you need to do is pick a thing you want to do that's boring and then measure the time of how long you manage to do it in one day, then you reward yourself with something, next time you try to do it for longer than last time and if you manage that then you give yourself another reward. It's just a skill, it's hard to train but train it you must if you want to be good at it. There is nothing more to it sadly, its a simple problem with a boring simple solution, you just have to put in the hours and train that skill.

This was painfully visible during first year at university - all the gifted people who during high school didn't have to learn at home at all hit the wall. They simply couldn't manage like that anymore.

Many somehow switched and started learning/working on assignment, those who didn't didn't make it.

> Anyone know of a book that goes into this in detail?

As cheesy as it sounds, the best book I've found on this topic is Getting Things Done.

I struggle with a lot of the issues in this article, and resisted that kind of thinking for years, but learning how to break up the insane overload of ideas and things in my head and bring them into manageable chunks, living in an outside system, has really really helped.

Great recommendation and good to be reminded. Have been reading it here and there but need to finish it and get it done.

Check out "Time Management for System Administrators" by Thomas A. Limoncelli.

It is showing it's age technology wise, being published in 2005, but a lot of the fundamental principles still apply.

Sounds niche, but that could make it even more useful - will check it out!

I haven't read but just a summary of the book but even that was helpful in letting me reframe some of these issues that I struggle with.


The key message that stuck with me was that the early stages of the mastery slope are exciting because of how much new knowledge we gain. However, most of life is spent in the plateaus, and learning to love the plateaus is key to finding persistence and self discipline.

Great recommendation, going to buy it.

From what I’ve read on it, seems to take a Zen-like approach, which I appreciate.

Try book "Mastery" by George Leonard.


All jobs have some amount of grind. Being able to acknowledge its going to suck and push through it quickly can be super beneficial to your career. It's also one of the reasons why I encourage those in high school or college to try a non technical job first. Learn to appreciate doing monotonous tasks well.

As a manager of a dev group, I've migrated away from trying to hire "10x developers" and now optimize for "intelligent and persistent".

The "10x" developers are seductive, and can supercharge a project into getting version 1.0 off the ground in months instead of years. However, each one we've hired has left us worse off than before once they got bored and left us in the weeds trying to piece together what they had done.

Most of them suffer from "shiny ball" syndrome and are constantly dismayed by the complexities of the real world. The real world is a grind, filled with edge-cases, filled with needing to make 1-off exceptions, etc. These types of developers tend to hate that, and prefer the abstract beauty of their elegant and simple solutions....and when the real world crashes into their elegant creations, they get 'burned out' and jump ship.

I'm not blaming them, its just an observation. These 10x developers can be a godsend to a brand new startup, but past a 1.0 product, they can subtly turn into a liability fairly quickly.

I think there's "10x" and then there's real 10x.

Fake 10x: Turns out lots of stuff quickly but it crumples under edge cases and has non-obvious tight couplings that keep biting you. No one else can make changes to their code. None of their stuff can really be used when they leave the company, but they can fix it really fast.

Real 10x: Is able to explain what they did and why bugs happened. Easy to follow along in their code, you get the impression the job was easy. You constantly find yourself turning to their old solution, when it really matters, rather than the new way everyone's trying to migrate to. Suggests ways their existing system can handle new business use-cases with only a trivial modification. You keep trying to improve upon their work but keep concluding that there was a good reason for all their decisions.

Depending on the context, someone might be referring to one or the other.

Exactly. There are cowboys and then there are master crafters. Both will rapidly produce awesome results, but the cowboy's results are messy, fragile and temperamental, while the master crafter's results are robust and easy to understand.

This. I understand 10x as a kind of person who creates MapReduce and writes very convenient abstraction around it that anyone can use and become 2x.

It takes repetition: code is a liability. The less code you produce to solve your problem, the better.

OTOH there is a cycle I see everywhere, all the time:

* A first generation of anything is bare-bones, with multiple deficiencies and corners cut, with important parts held together by duct tape.

* A second generation of the same thing tries to fix everything, adds reams of missing features, and ends up being an over-complicated, bloated monster [second system].

* A third generation of the same thing builds on the knowledge gained so far, refines the ideas, throws away all the unneeded parts, and organizes the few necessary parts elegantly and reliably.

(I use indefinite articles before "first", "second", and "third", because each may take much more than one iteration.)

Your hyper-productive developers likely produce the first two varieties. This may still be very useful, if they allow the business to grow. They as well may introduce too many technical problems and operation costs, and thus be detrimental to the business, too.

[second system]: http://wiki.c2.com/?SecondSystemEffect

(Edited: typos.)

That's not a 10x developer if they don't know how to write maintanable software, you just thought they are.

The dev you describe sounds like a junior who can crank out code at high velocity.

This is why the 10x is a unicorn. HN likes to shift the definition every time it's found to have some quality we don't like. In the real world there is a broad spectrum of devs and their capabilities. Each one has strengths, weaknesses, areas of expertise, and character flaws. You'll basically never find one that just blindly produces 10x the code of the rest of your team without some downside.

They are Unicorns but you know them when you see them. Cranking out code at high velocity that looks and feels right. When they don't know how to do something they actually research and look at the field. If no prior art exists at all (they frequently find themselves in this situation) they're already on their third iteration before anyone else has a prototype - even they can't get it perfect the very first time.

E.g. If they previously wrote compilers and you tasked them with graphics you'd see a book explaining affine transforms on their desk. Or parsing theory for the reverse transition.

A key part however is the ability to switch between fields. I've seen people I thought were 10x completely fail when tasked with something new.

I reckon that if there's such a thing as a 10x dev, they'd act as a force multiplier rather than a faster assembly line worker. Fixing architectural problems early raises the productivity of everyone who ever has to touch the code, as does setting up practises like code review and automated testing, and as does culling bad features early on.

I agree and it might not be possible to recognize such a person as a 10x dev.

Imo, the whole concept is idiotic and serves nothing.

Of course it is possible for one developer to be better then other, but it is not necessary fixed. It changes during lifetime of same person, depends on technology, experience, type of project and other factors.

Meanwhile the typical use is to look at some stereotype you have in head that has nothing to do with the project or position at question and then wonder why it did not worked out.

I've met someone who I'd call 10×. I've worked with him. He once wrote a usable spreadsheet, with a fine set of formulae and an entirely plausible UI, in an evening and a night.

His code had major issues, but that's not to say that he couldn't write software. He could, in a manner completely different from me. Amazingly well, yet frustrating.

Above a certain level, one developer isn't universally better than another. It's not linear any more.

He's a CS professor now.

This is so interesting. I have met many people that others considered "geniuses" because they solved hard problems and got things done fast. And then 3 years later, people still complain about having to deal with "[Name of Developer] Code". I guess if you move fast and write code that others can't read, it's easy to get labeled a genius.

Yeah, I kind of moved of definition of good code from cool-smart-novel approach to something as simple as possible, that almost anybody can pick up, maintain and improve. This has various aspects - cleanness of the code, comments of algorithms/edge cases, overall structure, modularity etc.

Syntactic sugar can't impress me anymore, unless it comes with significant performance gains or compress the code significantly without sacrificing readability to average Joe coder (this is important part). Actually I prefer 1 page of simple clean code to 1/2-liners that do it all, until they don't. I guess I am getting old.

> And then 3 years later, people still complain about having to deal with "[Name of Developer] Code"

You're saying their code was so good it survived 3 years of real world use and project evolution. That's extremely rare.

Counter intuitive, like the "put the armor where the bullet holes aren't" story about WWII bombers.

The best way to get a 10x developer is to have a productive senior closely mentor 10 juniors - pair programming, code reviews, testing strategies, deep dives into architecture, bi-directional knowledge sharing.

It's a case where the whetstone sharpening the knives also gets sharper by virtue of what they learn from the juniors they mentor.

Unless you can coach and pivot someone from that "must make everything perfect" mentality to one where they can take a more pragmatic approach to things.

This is really hard. Really hard. It can take years to get an engineer to that sweet spot.

When I build teams I usually select "builders" and "improvers." Improvers can't create new systems because they spend all day theorizing edge cases and what-ifs. Builders can't improve systems because they spend all day theorizing new systems to replace the legacy one they see as imperfect. You also have to get the right ratio of those two. Too many builders gets you a lot of brittle systems and a huge JIRA backlog; too many improvers creates stagnation.

This is part of a larger spectrum of developer preferences: openers, sustainers and closers.

Openers want to create new things, they love a blank canvas. Where some people are scared of this, they thrive in a place where you can lay down rules, define parameters, and create structures that are a good fit for the problem domain.

Sustainers like to work within a project that's evolving, but largely defined, where they can get a lot of things done and move the ball forward. They may create more work along the way, go on excursions, but the overall direction is roughly towards the goal. They have to make many compromises along the way.

Closers like finishing things, closing out bugs, wrapping up features, taking care of a myriad of loose ends and "TODO" type tasks. They're interested in completing work, not creating more work. This is where you have to make harsh judgement calls, implement ugly hacks, anything to wrap things up.

It's rare you'll find someone who excels at or even likes to do all three. We often have our bias.

I disagree that "closer" is a distinct class. It's a necessary aspect in any class. In most companies if you don't "close", you get fired or put on a PIP (and you don't get coffee). There is another class that at some companies where closing isn't necessarily expected: "tinkerer". They just mess around with various projects to learn and make suggestions, but they don't have to close to keep their job.

I'm trying to distinguish between responsibilities and obligations, which you're forced to adhere to, and affinity.

Anyone can close if they're forced to, but some people actually like it. Clear objectives, solutions need to be focused, etc.

I've never heard it stated that way, but I can strongly identify with this. After 18 yrs in the industry, I am finding more and more that I enjoy improving much more than building.

"All jobs have some amount of grind"

Almost all real jobs are mostly grind.

Even startups ... a good one, is 99% stupid, annoying details, some of which would be fun if you were not so busy.


What a cool app! In the news today.

"But I have to get fing xyz done fing now, so abc can ship out to Hong Kong before 5 hurry up!"

So there's not time to search, explore, try it out, it's just a very rapid short query to figure out the essential basics and move on.

Early stage is all a grind and there's nary a moment in between.

Apologies for the language.

learning to appreciate monotonous tasks is too zen/enlightened (like someone in another thread weeks ago saying they enjoyed washing to dishes) and therefore sets the bar too high. but learning to persist and endure (by way of coping mechanisms e.g. music, short breaks) is very possible.

I definitely don't want my team to appreciate boring tasks! I want them to persist, endure, and then automate.

The person who grinds through the boring stuff while thinking about how to automate it so they don't have to be bored anymore, is the person I want to hire.

The nature of the work doesn't allow that. Coding takes all your thought - even when it's boring and monotonous.

The comparisons being made to washing dishes aren't realistic.

Sorry for the ambiguity: I didn't mean literally at the same time like washing dishes while dreaming of dishwashers. I mean, like, do some boring coding drudgery one day/week/month, and then the next day/week/month do a bit of dreaming and whiteboarding of how to automate a better world, and then we can prioritize and make time for the automation work to make the better world a reality.

The important part is noticing and recognizing things that are ripe for automation, rather than accepting the shitty world as it is and continuing to suffer through repetitive work that could've been automated.

I agree with this, boring & monotonous code tasks are basically excruciating because you've got to concentrate on them hard and yet you'd rather be doing just about anything else.

I've done some refactoring work that didn't take any more mental effort than dish washing.

Sure. Is most work like that, though?

There's also different kinds of boring/tedious though. I'd argue it's much easier to learn to enjoy washing your dishes at home than it is to enjoy slogging through trying to grok horrible legacy code. Maybe that's just me though.

I agree. Especially if there are other teammates who defend the bad codebase because of their association to it.

Nobody should claim washing dishes is inherently wasteful or pointless. Legacy code on the other hand, comes with a lot of social pressure to just layer on more debt.

Maybe I’m just weird but I’ve never really defended my code because I never found defensiveness to be helpful for moving projects forward. In fact, most of the code I’ve put out in my career has been rushed under pressure to deliver something fast so most of the time I’m distancing myself from the work usually saying “that wasn’t written by me, it was my evil twin that comes out at 2 am.” Trying to fix the problems of the past that keeps your codebase from improving at a better pace isn’t something shameful to me as much as a matter of pride - that you have learned from your mistakes and are not above reproach. The best stuff for me is what I do after iterating many times without fear of breaking anything though and that’s exactly what you would hope from a codebase matured through TDD.

That's fair. When I say appreciate, I mean the results of the grind. Washing Dishes or any type of cleaning isn't fun, but finding coping mechanisms (zoning out, music, etc...) you can enjoy the results.

I agree. A lot of the devs I know who had non tech jobs have a better appreciation for business decisions and management than do those that just went into a dev job.

My conclusion to the BS inherent to any job is this: get your "brain food" outside your job. Start today if you haven't been doing this. It's fine that sometimes we get to learn interesting things while on the clock, but we have way, way, way less control over what we learn. I have followed this strategy for some years:

1) Look for a low-stress job with manageable time. In tech this doesn't mean "low-pay" as well. I'm being paid quite well and I will never do more than 40 hours a week.

2) Treat that job as your day job to pay the bills, and learn whatever you want during your (relatively abundant) free time. Learn a new programming language, learn about any other topic of computer science or software engineering, get any skill not related to your job, get a new degree, whatever. It is up to you whether you want to learn something that will make you more money in the future or not. Beware: open source projects are nice but, unless it's a project of yours and yours only, you have less control over what you do, and in that sense it's a bit closer to a job.

It's also true that mundane tasks will make you much better at your job, but TBH, while that's helpful (and helps building a career more than most young people would think), it's not something that important to me. I'd rather be good at things that are important to me. A job is there to pay the bills and nothing more; anything else is a bonus which I won't take for granted, and this includes the social aspect of the job.

I used to think like that but worked towards getting a better job.

My work has millions of dollars of DNA sequencing equipment, lab experts and a states / nations worth of patients data. No side projects for 7 years and I am ok with that.

I can also take days/weeks off to read or experiment but have been grinding lately.... with a family and meetings etc running a team of 3 I basically have to take any chance I have to crank out code.

I hate to say this, but I've been finding Nicotine to be very useful for dealing with anxiety, restlessness, and boredom with rote tasks.

I've had some issues with depression and anxiety that I've been managing with my doctor, but there are still times where extreme stress can cut through the drugs and still give me some issues (work has been very political lately).

I started craving a cigarette, which is weird because I was only ever a cigar smoker, very infrequently at that, and gave it up (very easily, given I usually went months between cigars) years ago.

So under the guise of "if you're craving potato chips, maybe you're low on sodium", I bought a small, very low dosage, disposable e-cigarette at a convenience store. And the last two weeks have been some of my most stable, calm, consistently productive weeks in a very long time.

Now, I know Nicotine is very addictive, and I have no plans to go back to smoking. I'm planning to switch to a nicotine patch, as the vapor is irritating to my throat and there is still some concern of increased lung cancer risk. I think a patch will be easier to meter out the dosage, too, rather than puffing on a pen every time I feel like it. Sum total, I think I'm receiving a net benefit right now (it has also calmed my snack cravings and my blood pressure is now at a 5-year low).

Anyway, it's dangerous to self-medicate, but most people do anyway, whether it's with alcohol or bad relationships or the internet, and it's not my job to tell you what you can or cannot do. Just trying to relay that there might be some decision tradeoffs that might leave you with a net benefit.

Nicotine was one of the few nootropics that had real measureable positive effects in gwern's testing. Unfortunately it's addictive as hell, but nonetheless, you'd think that as much as we research into opiods and other narcotics, there would be more effort to find safer forms of nicotine or nicotine derivatives.


Genuine question based on personal experience, is nicotine itself addictive or is it nicotine + method of delivery?

Cause as someone who smokes cigars (don't inhale, do absorb nicotine via the mouth lining) I really don't find them addictive at all, that seems broadly the case with most cigar/pipe smokers we generally aren't addicted to them.

And yet cigarettes are obviously super addictive, so is it something else in cigarettes that's adding to the addictive nature? Or inhaling into the lungs, where presumably you'd get a much faster hit or higher dose?

I've been a daily nicotine gum user for years, and I'd say I'm addicted. I've tried to quit several times. I'll kick it for a couple of months, and then I'll have a stressful week and I'll buy a box. Then I'm back on it for a couple of weeks until the box runs out. And sometimes I just go buy another box.

For me, it's not addictive in the sense of "I experience withdrawal symptoms", but I have very strongly conditioned habits with specific triggers. Nicotine spikes my dopamine, and also improves my concentration and memory when I'm using it. Which makes me like it, and also chemically encourages situational cravings.

As an example, I chewed it when I was driving to work every day for a while - and now I think about it almost every time I drive anywhere. It's not really an "I need a piece right this second" kind of feeling for me, but more like a "Man, some nicotine would be awesome right now" kind of feeling.

One aspect of the addiction that I think many nicotine users would agree with - it's not an instant process. I knew I was developing the habit long before it was a full-blown addiction. I kept telling myself I wasn't going to get addicted, that I was stronger. Turns out maybe not so much.

Another Gwern link: https://www.gwern.net/Nicotine

Highlight: "Wikipedia summarizes Guillem et al 2005 as "Technically, nicotine is not significantly addictive, as nicotine administered alone does not produce significant reinforcing properties" - the addictiveness coming from MAOIs (eg. Khalil et al 2000, Khalil et al 2006) & possibly other compounds present in tobacco"

So I'd expect cigars and pipe smoking to be addictive. My personal experience is smoking cigarettes occasionally (average less than one a day), and I wouldn't say I was addicted either.

My current hypothesis for why cigarettes seem more addictive is frequency. Searching "cigarettes per day average" turns up estimates mostly around 15 per day; most cigar/pipe smokers aren't anywhere near that.

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or scientist.)

As Pete_D linked below there is now some evidence questioning the addictiveness of pure nicotine, however for ethical purposes these studies are generally done using animal models, most commonly rats so YMMV. Animal studies don't always correlate 1:1 to human studies. The majority of studies I have read still find nicotine more addictive than placebo. Definitely traditional cigarette products, many of the manipulations done in treating most brands of cigarettes (the exception being brands marketed as natural i.e. American Sprits) made them more addictive by adding additional constituents and potentiators. In the combustion of tobacco products as well you have the active constituents bound to the smoke molecules, which are larger and therefore more absorbed in the lungs. So yes you would be getting more effect from lung-inhaling a combusted product. Vapor products have a much smaller particulate size so are mostly absorbed by the mouth and upper airway and much less lung-dependent. The other issue that may help to influence addiction is that there is some evidence that exposure to nicotine while the brain is still developing, leads to a tendency to use higher doses as an adult. This may translate to developing brains get used to this powerful nootropic and are more addicted as adults, as speculation, it would be hard to design a study to test this. In terms of vapor, freebase nicotine has traditionally been used in vapor products, these tend to show slower absorption and more even blood levels over time. What Juul innovated, and why their product is so much more effective that previous electronic cig-alikes (like Blu) that use freebase nicotine is the development of nicotine salts that allow for increased peak absorption more mirroring the absorption curve of a traditional cigarette. The relative addictive potential of nicotine salts vs. freebase nicotine has not yet been scientifically investigated. The World Health Organization and other health organizations that tend to prefer harm-reduction and scientific objectivity estimate vaping is at least 95% less harmful than tobacco as a nicotine delivery system. (Source: can cite links, RN who reads journal articles for fun. Smoker since 14 y/o switched to vape full-time almost a decade ago.)

Since you say you're on a very low dose, may I suggest gum or lozenges? I tried nicotine patches for focus a while ago and found that even the weakest ones were far too strong.

Did you try cutting the patches in half?

I didn't - I'd heard it was dangerous since breaking the membrane meant you'd absorb the contents a lot more quickly at the cut edge.


I don't think that is a helpful comment, especially considering I did say I am working closely with my doctor to monitor my health and mood.

The practice of medicine is not actually that hard. It's all about risk profiles and benefit tradeoffs. The Lexapro I have been prescribed for my anxiety and the Advair for my asthma could very well be more dangerous for me than any trans-dermal Nicotine patch might be.

Our Food and Drug Administration has decided that it's relatively safe for me to buy Nicotine in whatever amounts I want without any more restriction than me being more than 18 years old. They've decided that Advair and Lexapro have risk profiles worth forcing me to go through my doctor before allowing me to have any.

We have thousands of years of data that shows Nicotine doesn't just randomly make you want to kill yourself. We have a lot of evidence that smoking tobacco can increase risk of cancer, and that the additives in commercial cigarettes can increase that risk a lot, but that doesn't apply to Nicotine specifically. There is some evidence that any sort of lung irritant can increase the risk of lung cancer, so even vaping might not be completely safe, but neither do we know the magnitude of that risk, especially separate from the many other irritants we're exposed to on a regular basis.

I'm not trying to advocate for using Nicotine. There is a risk of smokers pointing to information like this and saying "see, my disgusting habit is not that bad". That's not at all what I'm saying. But just because I don't have MD after my name doesn't mean I can't make informed decisions on my own about my own treatment. I'm just sick of this infantilizing concept that intelligent adults can't figure out a few things on their own.

While I whole heartedly agree with your logic and opinions on this: have you met many adults? They are awful at critical thinking. It strikes me that this is indeed a good chunk of why health/medicine is hard. Some people literally can’t be trusted to evaluate complex decisions effectively. So you end up with highly regulated practices, and those people who have the mental capacity are left out.

I’m a cancer patient undergoing treatment. Please be careful, you don’t want this.

I’m seeing how a few sprinkles of VBA can make an .org so much more efficient than trying to bend management to green light an entire new web app system written in a ‘real’ programming Lang

Totally. When you're new to the profession it's like you have this huge shiny new hammer and everything looks like a nail, so you want to build new custom software to solve every problem, because it's fun.

But I feel like after working on enough legacy systems you come to appreciate how crippling technical debt and over-complexity can become to an organization. What was an exciting and fun project for the creators is now the daily hell for a whole department of people.

The downside is I feel like the maturation of software as a whole is at a point now where it's diminished my ability and desire to pursue entrepreneurial ideas. There's so many powerful existing systems that can be glued together that the hassle of making something from scratch rarely seems worth it when you can get something "good enough" without custom code. On the one hand that's great for business efficiency and non-tech companies but kind of shitty for us developers who love to build stuff from scratch.

I concur. The tedium of maintaining somebody else’s crap code in an obsolete language is an invaluable learning experience for new devs. Also, it’s hilarious to listen to the whining.

Sometimes I feel like whining about someone else's crap code is enjoyable in itself.

Until you realize it's code you wrote. Happened to me when our children were little. There were large parts of a system I'd written, sleep deprived, that I had no recollection of writing. Version control said I did, but I didn't remember it.

That can make it even better, particularly if you can remember why you were making the decisions that you did.

Yes! It's actually great -- you can rant as hard as you want because you know the author won't be upset.

Oh but the author is upset, just with themselves

The property of finding their complaints hilarious would make me deeply question your technical judgment & maturity while also being certain you lack leadership skills. I’d also worry you would dismiss ideas of junior team members regarding how adopting new tools could better solve business problems, which is critical even in situations where you’re constrained by stability requirements of a legacy system.

parent comment could be interpreted many ways but heres my take.

there are many types of humour one can appreciate: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/07/19/there-are-nine-...

If someone can't lighten up and find humour in life, i'd say they are mature enough to graduate life and go on to the next realm lol.

> But in reality looking back I see that a lot of that sh*t-shoveling has actually made me much better and wiser at my profession,

I agree with this to the point that I seek out the stupidest, most concrete, least automated solution as a point of reference before I build anything smart.

Im a chem engineer by degree, worked in a factory.

After got a job designing in Mechanical Engineering, got another job in a different product, finally I'm in Electrical Engineering.

Being a self taught programmer for 10 years, I've found this variety in experience allows me to engineer pretty much everything from embedded to packaging.

I might have been very talented at making airbags, but I would not be controlling electricity if I stayed in that one job.

I felt the harder things to convince someone(including self) is to spend lot of time to learn the "other skills" (mentioned in the article). People do try to improve their "other skills" to some extent but that may not be enough. Feedback loop for seeing the impact of the "other skill" is long and it is harder to measure. So one doesn't know if one has learnt enough.

Regarding boring. I have found that sometime if we zoom out too much things are boring. Life is boring if we think everyday we just wakeup, work, sleep. When we zoom in and look at the variety and try to understand life becomes more interesting.

Zooming in too much also can cause boredom. Zoom into the coding too much and think I am just typing another ifThenElse or while loop or some keystrokes it can be boring too.

Usually I have found, for management work zooming out makes it interesting for me. Technical work usually is interesting at the level I see it.

Like some people mentioned listening to music, doing something else when the work look boredom can also keep one going with passion.

The other challenge is once the work becomes routine, one starts feeling anyone can do it. One starts feeling am I justifying the money I get for it?

I spent most of the day trying to get access to the new Instagram API when all I wanted to do was getting some data for my ML model.

I've found that probably over 50% of my work as a developer in bank was about dealing with security:

- Getting credentials to some external system with which we need to integrate

- Learning how their authentication scheme (Kerberos etc.) works

- Finding workarounds to not having admin rights on my laptop

- Finding workarounds to bank's firewall (a lot of package repos were blacklisted)

- (the biggest one) Having to deploy the app into dozens of separate unix accounts, because, according to security "no one account should have access to all this data"

Over my admittedly not that long career, I've found that minimizing the overhead that the daily grind creates in your productivity is by itself an art form. The grind isn't avoidable, but you can be more or less productive despite it.

As an example, I recently had a project where most of the drudgery was changing one line, testing the whole thing (including manual tests), realizing another one-liner was needed, doing it all again, etc.

Automating testing wasn't a good idea at the time (high risk code, so you don't want to pile a refactor on top of a risky change), but I figured out approximately how long the builds would take, so I started setting timers on my phone. Kick off a build, switch tracks, come back when the alarm hit. By doing that I was able to context switch more efficiently to an unrelated project rather than twiddling my thumbs for twenty minutes every time I needed to wait for the build.

Ditto to all you just said: Figuring out how to strike the balance between "filling myself up" learning new things - while becoming an expert at repetitive drone work (cough cough documentation) was the hardest thing I've done. Still working on it.

Previously I had no balance - always was at one extreme or the other.

Not everyone can find the right balance and that is the issue. This is the reason why we need to strike the right balance when forming a team. Having too many "rockstars" can actually sound good on paper alone.

In my experience the people who actually focus on shipping are the real rockstars.

> performing a set of behaviors repeatedly

I suspect there are some wins to be had by thinking on how to automate or otherwise delegate well-understood repeated behaviors, while still collecting the proceeds from them.

This is something that could interest a smart and curious person for some time, and actually benefit from the intellect and curiosity expended on it. The person can also reframe the "repetitious monotonous task" as "learning the best way to execute and then automate the task". But learning with any confidence takes a lot sampling for any statistical significance!

This is the most succinct description of my experience I’ve seen. Thanks!

That 4th point strikes very close to home.

Maybe the problem is that this kind of personality should be working in R&D instead of regular code-for-money types of work.

These are the types of people that belong in research.

Until they get bored writing grant proposals and lose all their funding.

It would probably be optimal to have a business that can sustain itself in the background so a researcher can be self-funded.

boredom is part of the human condition. It has nothing to do with being smart.

Here are two tips:

1. get sleep

2. drink coffee

It's ironic that if you do 2 too much you can't do 1.

Though you can try to substitute #2 for #1. It works... sort of... for a little while.

Boredom is part of living a sedentary life. Not the human condition.

Check and check. Coffee definitely help me with grinding through boring mental tasks.

I would risk number 2 and replace it with exercise (not too early or too late)

I remember reading once that students who excel in high school (valedictorians and salutatorians) are underrepresented as successful company founders, meaning that they occur at a lower rate than one would expect from chance alone. I think the hypothesis was that these people tended to develop a perfectionistic (or even people pleasing) approach, and that this strategy works really well for "doing what you're told". So they might often end up as a lawyer or a doctor, but they won't start the next big company.

As someone who did well academically early on without putting in much effort, I constantly try to avoid this trap of a "successful", but boring life. I think the problem with a lot of these people is that the first sign of failure total demolishes them, because their identity is strongly tied to "being smart" (like the article mentions). I know two people who became valedictorians in high school, mostly on natural talent. The first became a lawyer at one of the best law firms in the country, but she mentally cracked after a few years. She ended up quitting her job on the spot and stays at home now (and drinks way too much). The second finished his PhD and hasn't applied for a job in over a year. No one is really sure why.

I've had some personal hardships in my life (chronic injuries and death of close loved ones) that I think has put failure into perspective for me, otherwise I would probably respond the same way.

It's anecdotal, but I've noticed this a lot in the years since I've graduated from a "top-ranked" school.

I worked on Wall Street after graduating from school and burned out very quickly. I had a very high estimation of my own ability and importance and a desire to accumulate visible markers of success. I saw this in my peers too.

I've been working through these feelings personally and now feel much more well adjusted and resilient, but it's not been an easy journey, and sometimes I feel like I'm working through the baggage of being a former "top-performer" in a world that's just too big to really care about me (or most anyone).

Happy to share specifics if it'd be helpful to anyone.

The exact same thing happened to me. Went to a top-ranked school; did internships in finance every summer, despite loathing every one of them; and once full-time came began spiralling down.

I think the main issue that propels high-achievers into these careers is simply peer pressure. I was never happy in finance, my stomach churned as each summer internship approached, but I did it all because I couldn't imagine what people would think of me if I didn't get the next big internship or full-time offer. Did he get cut? Did he fail the interviews? Is he not smart? The pang of euphoria from getting the offer had to overcome the everyday loathing of the work and, of course, it never did.

Even if you don't believe most work in finance to be difficult, enjoyable, or even that lucrative you cling to the prestige attached to the name of your employer like in no other industry. When you ultimately work up the hutzpah to leave and see your friends moving on gaining new titles, different employers, etc. you still feel pangs of their relative prestige increasing despite all your internal protestations that you don't care anymore. It's insidious and comically absurd to try to explain to people (as I'm sure you've noticed). These vaunted colleges really do a number on many of their students.

Would be happy to hear more specifics of your story.

I chased the opportunities in finance for the money and the prestige. Once I got there, I realized that those things were less important to me than meaning in my work, work-life balance, relationships outside of work, etc. They were still important to me, just less.

I ended up accepting an offer with a more prestigious finance firm shortly after beginning work in my first job. When I quit my job, I also renegged on that offer, and remember feeling very free. I went through some depression after quitting, but it was hard to recognize it as that at the time.

I then took a strategy job in another city. I liked the day-to-day work, but was still not motivated by the industry we were in, mission of the company, etc.

I took some time off (which allowed me to reset somewhat) and then started searching for work at an early-stage mission-driven company. I was lucky enough to find one that was a good fit. I'm much happier now working with a purpose in mind, but the work is still stressful and uncertain at times. It's not my company, so I won't see as much upside in a liquidity event, but I also feel like my work volume/stress is more reasonable than the founders and I've got more freedom to leave in a bad situation. Given my early work experience, it feels very important to me to keep that freedom to move on (run away?).

Since leaving finance and my job immediately after, I've focused on the following things which have helped quite a bit: - Reducing alcohol consumption - Finding exercise activities that I enjoy and am willing to do several times per week - Eating healthier - Striving for 8 hours of sleep (which I rarely stick to) - Meditating daily (which I rarely stick to) and with a group weekly (which I am pretty good about) - Therapy as needed - Seeking out mentors outside of work - Communicating my wants/frustrations/observations sooner with people in my personal/professional lives - Reducing work hours (I'm ok about this) and work stress (I'm not very good about this)

When I'm not doing these things, I definitely notice it. But I generally feel much better knowing the things that I can do to cope with stress, burnout, depression, etc.

Would love to hear what you are doing now and how you've moved away from those expectations. Going through a similar phase (worked in IB, now work in corp fin and do not like it).

Check out my response to your sibling comment.

Its not just that - being successful in high school is very different than being successful in the real world.

High School is a very structured environment, where success is easily and narrowly defined - in addition following the rules alone can often lead to significant success alone.

In the real world, bucking the system may be (and often is) a requirement for success.

I like your theories, and the other theories here.

There are lots of possibilities.

People who do well in school may require structured settings and feed off the sense of accomplishment. Maybe it backfires in less structured jobs for those people.

People who overly care about meet the expectations of others may not be as good at establishing expectations for themselves.

People who do well in school may have something to lose (money & social status), and because they're smart, they are good at risk analysis, so they choose less risky paths.

OTOH, contrary to popular belief, high school and college dropouts are also underrepresented in the group of successful founders (and many other groups of people considered successful). People with a college degree is overrepresented relative to the population. Also overrepresented are people who attend elite schools and people with wealthy parents... http://theconversation.com/the-myth-of-the-college-dropout-7...

I think all of your listed possibilities sound very plausible. I'd add one more thing: That if you breeze through school, you never have to learn mechanisms for dealing effectively with difficult things. Everyone has a limit to what they can handle on innate talent alone, and the higher that limit the harder you hit it. Keeping detailed notes, organising and filing your paperwork, methodical study methods, even down to getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthily etc. are all things that 'smart kids' often don't need to do in order to perform well at school, but adults need in order to excel at high level in the real world. If you learn to use them early then you'll perform better than someone 'smarter' but with less discipline.

I coasted through high school, I wouldn't do homework or study and I'd just rush through work so I could muck around. Despite this I had amazing grades, I was placed first of 350 in my year in maths and was voted most likely to succeed. I went to university and I hit a hard wall at second-year chemistry, which led to me dropping out of university rather than learn proper habits.

Years later I'm back at university and I'm studying properly and it shows. I"m halfway through my CS degree and I'm smashing it. Discipline trumps intelligence.

I think it's actually that individuals with high levels of academic success don't need to start a company, they already have very good high paying career options. And so starting a company has a high level of opportunity cost.

Do you think most founders didn't have decent career prospects before starting a company? Are you suggesting that people start companies because they think being a founder is likely to be a high paying job? What founders are trading up in salary when they're starting their company?

in his first sentence : s/need/dont want to

There seems to be anecdotal evidence. I've read about and talked to founders who have said things like "They just could't get hired" or "couldn't handle working for someone else" and "had no other option but to start their own business".

that said - very likely a survivor bias in those samples..

I have no doubt that those founders exist, the question is whether or not they're more common than founders with other options.

> I remember reading once that students who excel in high school (valedictorians and salutatorians) are underrepresented as successful company founders, meaning that they occur at a lower rate than one would expect from chance alone

I've tended to notice that as well. Perhaps it's because being a startup founder is a financially irrational choice. If you're extremely smart, you can go into medicine/finance/law/comp-sci and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, potentially over a million. You don't ever have to shoulder significant risk or periods of "poverty". You would spend your entire post-college life enjoying the social status and perks associated with having a high-prestige job and boatloads of money. Why would you give that up to be a founder?

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

My theory would be that those people have demonstrated they can succeed within the system. So they remain in the system. I'm sure they're well represented as CEO's or leaders of established organizations.

I would argue you don't have to be a successful company founder to avoid leading a boring life.

There's a simpler reality: if you are really smart, there is less of a need to take the kind of risks and invest the kind of effort involved in a founding a company in order to achieve the lifestyle you want.

I think a certain type of person is attracted to being valedictorian, generally people who seek approval from others and society. On the other hand I knew a person that intentionally got a B in a elective because he didn't want to give a speech. Personally I follow the 80/20 rule, I could get A's and B's with no effort while getting a 4.0 would have taken quite a bit more effort. I was able to learn about the things I wanted to learn outside of school. Result of that was only having a 3.4 GPA but having the highest standardized test scores in my class, to the surprise of the teachers and admin when their dutiful valedictorians were surpassed by the slacker.

TLDR: the type of person who actually cares about being valedictorian typically isn't the type to go outside the lines set up for them and create startup or business

Currently working my way through "Grit" by Angela Duckworth, it has some interesting things to say on smart people and why they can often grow up into underachievers. In school, the more average kids have to study hard to achieve good grades and thus learn a strong work ethic. Smart kids can often "coast" through school and thus don't pick up the same attitude to working through boring, hard, or long-lasting work.

It's an interesting book and I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the topic.

Interesting Idea: Find the smart kids that were up against massive cheating.

A local HS near me had a HUGE cheating scandal. It ended up on the front page of the local Big-City paper and some episodes of Dr. Phil. The story, as I heard it, was that the kids made a wiki for their classwork and tests. It worked ok the first year. But in the second year, all the kids found out that none of the teachers ever changed a single question on a test or HW. Hence, all the answers were already in a wiki, ready to be applied. This went on for a few years before they were found out. I think there were about 300 kids in the racket, but I'm not sure. HSs here are about 3k kids, so ~10% of the school.

I always wondered about the kids that were up against those cheater-kids. The smart ones that were trying to get into college (a huge motivator) yet were never clued into the cheating wiki. Likely, most of the smart kids just gave up in the face of near-perfection and massive cheating. But I imagine there were a fair few that kept on plugging away. I can't imagine what that did to their psyches, especially in those very formative years.

EDIT: Found the citation:


Honestly, I don't see why the smart kids would care. I knew plenty of people who cheated frequently, some even got better grades overall than me. I didn't hold it against anyone though. I was lucky enough to be able to do most of the same assignments very quickly without much effort because it came easy to me. I'm not going to begrudge others the same thing.

The real problem is that most high schools provide a completely worthless education. They don't genuinely challenge gifted students or most anybody, at most they just a larger volume of work at them. High schoolers who can pass the entrance exams should just be able to go straight to community college. Community college, even for talented young people, can actually be a humbling experience for a whole host of totally different reasons.

I haven't read the book or really know much about Angela Duckworth's research. I just recall reading somewhere that much of her conclusions have been found to be incorrect. Quick search results from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/05/25/479172868/angela-...

having read your linked article, it doesn't seem so much that her conclusions were incorrect but that she exaggerated (intentionally or unintentionally) their impact. Expanding on the subcomponents of big five traits like conscientiousness seems like valuable work to me. Nonetheless when I'm reading self-improvement books I always take the claims with a pinch of salt because most of them over-hype their contents anyway. I'm still finding the book interesting and educational nonetheless.

I second this. These concepts were a reality check for me.

> 5. Smart people sometimes see in-depth thinking and reflection as the solution to every problem. Bright people are accustomed to succeeding through their thinking skills, but can sometimes overlook when a different approach would be more beneficial.

This really resonated with me.

One of the "problems" with over thinking things and "figuring out all the potential problems" is that when presenting the ideas/concepts/solutions one doesn't leave enough room for response by the target audience. You end up with responses like "well - you're really smart - you seem to have thought of everything". Often we really do want and need the audience to have a chance to respond, poke holes, describe what they find to be useful / not useful.

I disagreed with that point, thinking through things means not making the mistakes later.

Presenting your data should spark questions or proposals or agreement regardless how much time you put into it.

I agreed with the first 4 points, but the last one seemed weak.

I read that point as sort of analysis paralysis where you just end up spending a lot of time researching and thinking through and not enough time taking action. For me, I've noticed there are times when I use thinking as a crutch to avoid actually doing. Often, doing, making a mistake, and then correcting is more expedient than analyzing all options to find the optimal one.

AB test have humbled me many times in the past and now accept that careful planning is overrated.

Instead of spending time trying to come up with the perfect idea, I work on finding the best way to test many half baked ideas.

Thank you for the AB test metaphor on this. I’ve been working through some overthinking recently, and I like the idea of trying to find the best way to test many ideas quickly.

This is pretty spot on - I hate to be the one arguing for "less thought" on a subject/concept etc. But I've definitely gone too far too often .. so I try to stop earlier more often now - for feedback (and implementation as you suggest) knowing I can always go deeper.

I find that asking one's self this question is helpful : "Are the barriers to believe for concept ________ technical or something else?"

If the answer is that there aren't deep technical barriers - its a good time to stop and start collecting feedback.

> Presenting your data should spark questions or proposals or agreement regardless how much time you put into it

Step back and take a look at that statement again.

If you put too little time into it, it'll spark questions - about you, and your process, and the lack of completeness.

If you put too much time in, it'll also spark questions about your productivity; or it will overwhelm the audience and put them into that sort of compliant/bored state where they somewhat shut down and don't engage.

There's an art to answering just enough potential questions while leaving room for people to feel like they're contributing, which builds engagement and really helps turn bored listeners into real stakeholders.

It seems very open to interpretations but my take on it is a combination of the addages

"Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away"

"Perfection is the enemy of good"

which in the context here relates to smart people wanting to overdo or over-complicate things restated as

"premature optimization is the root of all evil"

recognizing simply that it is possible, easy, and more frequent for smart people to do worse solving problems by trying too hard to do better.

The last one is probably the hardest to relate to because we live immersed in a ideology that values reason and rational thought above everything else. That's the best tool a human has and can solve every problem if used properly. That's what we inherited from a 300 hundred years old cultural movement that today feels outdated. The whole premise is faulty, a good amount of people got over it already, but not society as a whole and for sure not engineers, because supposedly they are good at analytical thinking. It's hard to willingly let go your position of power by saying: "well, the thing I'm good at maybe it's not the most important in the world".

Reading that I can’t help but think most people in the modern knowledge work classes probably identify with a lot of it. Doesn’t everyone have these feelings?

This all seems very normal to me, but I’m definitely the target audience. High IQ that was praised from a young age, hated school but did well with no effort, hated team work all my life, value deep thinking as the solution to almost any problem, successful in my career by objective measure, and I feel like a failure.

I’d argue that everyone sabotages their sense of success by having poorly calibrated expectations. It isn’t easy to honestly assess and accept your own capacity.

I think the article was written in such a way as to trigger the Barnum effect [0], since most people think of themselves as "smart".

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnum_effect


I agree. Reading those articles sometimes resembles reading a horoscope given that probably everyone can relate to these issues to some degree. Likely many of us think of themselves as smart, yet not reaching their true potential.

With that in mind, I wonder if that isn't a misleading assessment, a soothing, relieving conclusion that is all that uncommon at all. After all we can't all be above the median smartness line. What if you or me are actually unknowingly performing below that threshold while mistaking ourselves for a precious exception to most other people?

By the looks of your self description, seems you're my long lost (evil?) twin.

I didn't hate school though. I hated some people in it.

/me feels the unsettling presence of a doppelgänger

Read about Belbin team roles if you've never done so.

If you're someone that thrives on finding new things and learning them, revel in it, don't beat yourself up - that's valuable.

Others thrive on crossing 't's and dotting 'i's - and good luck to them, the whole point is that teams succeed with the right blend of people.


Bottom line if you try to be perfect at all dimensions, you're going to probably be unhappy: play to your strengths!

I feel like all too often that leads to an outlook where you assume whatever job you end up in must meet your preferences in all things, and it's a pretty brittle way to conduct your career. Sure, from an individual standpoint that would optimize your short term happiness, but I've found the ability to know what the role requires and be that person is a skill that's rewarding in it's own way (and often, but not always, requires a lot of growth to do it well since roles change over time).

And from a system level view, business needs don't necessarily match those roles in whatever ratio people happen to naturally occur at. I'm going to go out on a limb and say there is a gross oversupply of people who like starting things but not finishing them.

As someone who hires and manages people, if I could somehow tap into a foolproof supply of people who are primarily motivated to grind away at any problem given to them until it's finished, and have just enough sense to be effective, but not enough to start solving problems just for the sake of the novelty I could probably take over the world in about 3 weeks.

Luckily those kinds of people are almost completely absent from the human species and it's fairly difficult to organize and achieve arbitrary goals without a lot of politics and people skills in addition to simple coercion and/or funds and a plan.

Agree 100% - if you as an individual decide you're clearly a "Plant" and so don't need to take care of details, that's bad. Or if you decide you're an "Implementer" and will never do well in a more creative, explorer style role, that's also bad.

I think the Belbin stuff's explicitly designed for managers though: if you have a team of "Implementers" and you know the concepts here, you might go out of your way to blend in a "Plant" to open the team's ideas up.

Much as an extravert might bring a nice element to a team of introverts. Although that could also backfire terribly depending on the personalities.

Obviously all of this has the same limitations and caveats as any other kind of pigeon-holing excercise but I think it's a worthwhile "stretch goal" when it comes to hiring, e.g. I need an accomplished JavaScript person and as a bonus let's look for one that complements and rounds of our current team.

Also agree that team members who can grind away without fuss or drama and finish things are just generally worth their weight in gold. More of those please!

I think its M&P grades i.e. Professionals as well as as Managers.

When I did it I was Plant Shaper Chair for my top 3, later I did it at British Telecom the course leader said so you work at the Labs (aka UK version of bell labs) :-)

Reply to myself - found it interesting to revisit this stuff again so I put a quick post together on it -> https://mcconnellsoftware.github.io/build-better-teams/

The phrase that comes to mind is: A students become professors, B Students become executives at large corporations. It is the C students who--perhaps lacking the traits to succeed in the previous two pursuits have no choice but to endure the risk/hardship of entrepreneurship--endow professorships and name buildings.

Examples of this:

1. Founder of Kinkos (failed in school and had to repeat two grades)

2. Billionaire Flavio Briatore

3. Almost Billionaire founder of Jimmy John's subs

Another phenomenon I see often is what I'd call "The Video Professor". The founder of that company reaped a massive fortune teaching "dunderheads" how to use computers and operate simple programs like Word and Excel. Many of my techie friends would sneer and dismiss it as being "too easy" and fail to recognize the business opportunity therein or other many similar opportunities.

On the other hand, Jeff Bezos, the richest individual in modern history, graduated high school valedictorian and summa cum laude from Princeton. Anecdotes abound!

Totally anecdotal, but I have 2 friends from the time of doing my PhD in Germany. The first one is a brilliant person, hard-working, always determined to get to the bottom of things, but is not very charismatic. The other one is totally relaxed, doesn't care about what he's doing at all, but is extremely pleasant, cheerful and willing to agree with everyone just to make them happy (and will forget what he said 5 minutes later).

5 years after graduation, the first one tried several positions from an architect to a senior researcher, couldn't stand the politics and infighting and ended up as a software engineer in a fairly conservative enterprise. The second one started as a sales consultant in a smaller place, shook a few hands and is now a project manager in a Fortune 500 company.

> 5. Smart people sometimes see in-depth thinking and reflection as the solution to every problem.

This one really rang true for me when I was less experienced... yet for me, the solution isn't what they list.

For me it was to talk to people. Don't solve things too much on your own.

Spend at least as much time communicating as you do thinking, because it turns out 1) assumptions you'd never think to question turn out to be invalid all the time, and 2) other people suggest solutions you'd never come up with because they have a different thinking style and different experience.

Over-communicate even when it seems pointless, especially when it seems pointless, because other people will point things out where you never imagined.

honest question, has anyone ever improved their lives by reading articles of this flavor ? (e.g 10 things successfully ceo's do, 10 ways to increase your chances of building a successful company)

Not necessarily directly. But perhaps indirectly, like how reading a useful novel or non-fiction book can help channel your thinking later.

In other words, reading the piece might not alter your behavior today and you might forget 98% of it if quizzed later, but next time you're presented with a decision to which it applies, you find yourself behaving somewhat more wisely than you would have if you hadn't consumed these articles.

Maybe. Or maybe these articles are no more useful than reading the backs of shampoo bottles. Tough to measure.

Yes. It's often a short article that piques my interest enough to do a deeper diver on a subject. It was articles like these that introduced me to meditation and fasting and machine learning.

Almost 20 years ago articles about David Allen and his Getting Thins Done book were popping up in my feed. That led to me reading the book and it has had a big impact on me.

I once heard a saying: "All self help methods work." The reason is that they all make you more conscious of your own behavior, at least temporarily.

Maybe not one particular article but reading the same messaging over and over again until it eventually sticks with me and then my brain is the one that reminds me of it rather than the article.

Articles on a subject also lead me to the books and videos on the subject as well.

I'd say that what you get out of these pieces is what you're willing to put in. For example with this HBR article (which is pretty good) there are some actions you could take and if you wrote them down, re-read the piece periodically and practised its recommendations then sure you'll get a lot out of it.

Some of those '10 habits of successful CEOs' fluff pieces don't really have many actionable insights so you're not going to get much out of them no matter how hard you try. But a good book like 7 Habits, GTD, Richest Man In Babylon, etc. - you re-read those and study even one and you'll probably get a lot.

I disagree lumping this type of article with "10 things successful CEO's do." I don't think you can reject all lists because of the majority are garbage "listicles."

Personally, I think there's a lot of actionable information in this article, for example about intelligent people having greater difficulty handling situations when they feel threatened than non-intelligent people.

Often, they act as jumping points to look at things differently and get the ball rolling. If you see enough of the same theme, you might start changing your behavior or at least looking into it. This article reminded me of some of my weaknesses that I need to work on.

It's like advertising. A single ad probably isn't going to get you to go and take action, but lots of ads over time sway your opinion.

It depends really. Personally, I find that explaining/reading doesn't work for me until I experience it. So, if you tell "sugar is bad", I don't get it. But then once I experience I will come back to you for advice.

So, most of the time I tend to save these article (pocket archive) and refer it back once the realization hits. And it most of the times it happens within a week.

I first heard about spaced repetition and Anki from some "Best Study Habits" listicle a few years ago and it has had a profound impact on my ability to retain information.

Skimming the list in the article and then reading the reactions here on HN have been pretty helpful for me in identifying some of my own problems. E.g. annoyance with diplomacy.

No, you are right: generic advice is garbage.

There are no silver bullets or precise instructions to life.

Most things must be dealt with generic advice (and it's still surprising how many get generic advice wrong, and do the opposite).

And most of what we do as people are not that unique anyway, to require any non-generic advice.

The hard part is sticking to the generic advice and making it work.

But there are no, or very few, shortcuts and precise step-by-steps procedures to success.

The alternative to generic advice isn't "precise instructions", it is specific advice.

Generic advice: if you want your startup to succeed, work had and focus.

Specific advice has to do with a situation. "I have trouble meeting my sales targets." Advice: "Hire a sales person." Q: "I don't know how?" Advice: "Do you have an HR network?" etc.

The hardest part is definitely not sticking to generic advice. Generic advice is contradictory, obvious or both. (Stay focused on the big picture, vs. be detail oriented. They are both true at different times).

>Generic advice: if you want your startup to succeed, work had and focus. Specific advice has to do with a situation. "I have trouble meeting my sales targets." Advice: "Hire a sales person." Q: "I don't know how?" Advice: "Do you have an HR network?" etc.

The second advice is only useful if you've learned (or naturally follow) the first generic kind.

If you can't sit down and wort hard when its needed (but e.g. instead expect success to come easy once you've launched your startup) or if you can't focus (but instead try to do everything at once, or you're over the place, easily distracted, etc), whichever "specific" advice you're told to meet sales targets wont make much difference.

>The hardest part is definitely not sticking to generic advice. Generic advice is contradictory, obvious or both.

It being obvious doesn't preclude it being extremely important or it being hard.

The best advice for diet can be summarized as "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". All obvious parts, all very beneficial if followed. And yet, tons of people fail to follow through, and want magic "specific advice" ("do the avocado detox", "eat 80% protein and less of 50 grams of carbs each day" etc).

Seems survivor bias explains why many ostensibly successful people are boring. What is the anti-pattern in our organizations that produces leaders who lack competence and charisma? It's like somehow we've managed to collectively optimize against producing people others might actually admire.

Arguably much of what the author calls "relationship building," manifests in many organizations as "ability to conspire to undermine more talented and honest people."

Perhaps highly intelligent people do not belong in large organizations precisely because that particular talent is optimized for explosive growth and change that large orgs are necessarily structured to suppress in favour of stability.

One should recognize whether they are more of a fox or a hedgehog, and then decide where they belong. If you are really that intelligent, you should feel obligated to take outsize risks, because the success that comes from anything other than your talent will feel empty and dishonest. I also find that feelings of failure, shame, and regret are inversely proportional to the amount of risk I took. I wonder if that's generally true.

Easy to say "take risks", but many of the talented ones can not really afford to take any risks, those from poverty.

I'd say if you can afford it, it's not real risk.

This is a problem only if the person is bothered by their lack of "success".

For some, being a dilettante may precisely be the life that they want. The problem is that if you are perceived as "smart" people all around you will push you to "succeed" in traditional ways, either because they want a share of the profits of such "success", or because they see someone not doing the boring grind as a moral failure, or out of concern that the dilettante is "throwing away their potential".

I'd say that if you are "smart" then it should make your life freer and not more constrained.

I don't like to think about it in terms of smart. I see supposedly smart people do stupid crap all the time. A better word for describing people with potential is focus.

Been there. Done that. Have been trying to change my thinking by more thinking or some actions given prescriptions. It just doesn't work. Energy is neutral. It's how and where you use it makes the all difference.

All that this article is providing is prescriptions about how not to misuse it. The solutions given are just a prescription not really a solution. Few people might follow it successfully for few days or months and eventually get back to their conditioning. Or if they succeed in through the prescription given, they will attract other problems in their life. That's what Psychologist do, they help retrospect your life in little depth than you can and then help you persuade that you understood the problem and recognise the solution for it. But essentially what they have done is, either suppress it for the sake of ethics, morality etc. And convert the problems into some other problems unconsciously which errupts in your life after few months or years.

The very thing we are asked to drop through prescriptions or advices becomes difficult to let go of. In the very attempt of forgetting you have to keep remembering it, just to forget it. It keeps coming back to your mind. In order to forget, the more you will need to remember it the stronger that memory becomes.

What essentially they are suffering or fail to recognise is that "Knowing the path is not synonymous to walking the path". But it's easier said or understood by reading it than done.

If you seek permanent transformation, something fundamental has to be changed. Something which is the very root cause of it. Only inner transformation can help.

Dynamic meditation given by OSHO is dynamite to realease the mental and body energy blockages which cause such and various other types of hurdles. It helps you energy center to move from Body to Mind to Heart to Being.


Before adopting this meditation I have asked thousand questions about it's genuineness and how it works but none of that help. It is only by actually trying for few weeks I could see the change in my character.

Note: I am not associated with any OSHO's meditation centre or their work. I am just someone who tried it and found it useful.

I've said that ambition beats smart any day of the week. I have seen it in my life multiple times. (Of course, ambition plus smart is a killer combo.)

I've a colleague who can barely put a sentence together much less conduct and understand a complex analysis, yet this person has twice the umber of QUALITY papers as me..HOW? This person is really good at getting other people to do the work. Once I realized this I disengaged from this person's schemes, but I found it frustrating.

devalue relationships, frustrated with team-mates, ego, boredom and over-reliance on one's thoughts.

It seems smart people sabotage their success in exactly the same way as dumb people.

They're just more clever about it

I'm smart, but wouldn't say I am super smart...but I am pretty damn tenacious to perfect whatever I am doing...this makes people impressed with my work but frustrated at my slow pace...to the point where the latter is interfering with my career.

I've have the exact same problem. My tenaciousness has given me the ability to understand concepts and obtain skills beyond my "natural ability". But it doesn't make me fast at them.

Anyone out there successfully overcome this problem?

Perfect is the enemy of good.

So I guess know when it is important to perfect, but allow yourself to be mediocre when it doesn't matter...So I guess I work on determining whether the thing I am working on really needs perfection or not.

Note: I am a researcher.

My brother is a perfectionist who works in tech (as do I). I tell him that everyone needs at least 2 working speeds, and one of those speeds needs to be "quick" (aka "emergency").

I don't see it as a binary thing. You can be meticulous in the things that matter that they are done right, and quick for the things that need to be done. The metric for success in those things are different. Quickness is perfection in an emergency.

I see the boring work as the way to finance the fun stuff. Helps a lot.

Of course everybody here who isn't successful assumes it's because of their intellect...classic Hacker News.

I highly recommend Marshall Goldsmith's What Got You Here Won't Get You There. https://www.marshallgoldsmith.com/product/book-2/

Great book on overcoming smart people faults.

The title is wrong. It should have been: How Intelligent People Sabotage Their Success.

But is all filler anyway. Current western societies are amoral. So dumb vs intelligent is out of the question. If you don't have any regrets about f.u.c.k.i.n.g people and luck is on your side, you win. And big.

1 and 3 are the focus of Carol Dweck's book Mindset, which I'm really enjoying. It's all about how valuing intelligence over effort is counterproductive.


Contains a typo... someone should just figure out the top queries related to 1. Fear 2. Guilt 3. Shame

And generate random buzzword articles... LOL ... that's a unicorn folks!

"Develop relationships with people who you trust to give you help constructive feedback."

> people he outperformed at school who have now achieved more

This matter-of-fact tone irks me. It implies that the reader must see life as a competition ("outperformed", "achieved more") just to understand the sentence.

Trying to beat the stock market, when it's incredibly difficult. Even actively managed mutual funds fail to consistently beat the market average.

That's called "thinking you're smarter than everyone else." That's not the same as being intelligent. You can read about and learn how to intelligently invest your money over the desired time period for the goal you have. And if you have a long time period, you can read that you're most likely to succeed by dumping it in a total stock market index fund!

I still think it's a trap that a lot of smart people fall into. I know a lot of really smart people who try to beat the stock market.

I feel like the suggested remedies are rather thin on details. It would be nice if the author provided some citations for further reading.

Develop relationships with people who you trust to give you help constructive feedback.

Contains a typo... Don't listen to their pontifications folks!

5. Smart people sometimes see in-depth thinking and reflection as the solution to every problem.


Which of these five patterns do you identify with the most? Try rank-ordering them. Are there colleagues or other people in your life who seem to fall into these traps?

Err...how ironic.

More to the point, it seems like #5 should actually be about thinking and reflecting poorly. Taking a break from thinking about your career decision to solve a puzzle might help you think better when you pick it up again. It won't solve the problem directly.

#5 is basically an overclocked mind running DFS.

Title should be: How people who think they are smart sabotage their success.

I kinda agree. I've seen too many people using their self-diagnosed over-intelligence to excuse some of their surprisingly non-smart behavior. Behavior that leads to failure in their enterprises.

This kind of article always make me uncomfortable because I feel smartness/cleverness/intelligence does not seem to be objective enough a quality to lead to such analysis. And some people may identify with such patterns and declare themselves as "too smart" and not try harder, believing the problem is from the other side of the table.

Because no true Scotsman would simultaneously claim to be smart while acting as their own saboteur. The two concepts are, of course, mutually exclusive, incontrovertibly.

I’d title it...How to Justify and Frame Your Success as Meritocracy In Light of People Much Smarter than you Not Succeeding Because They Lack Your Connections

or "Why it's your own fault you aren't successful despite your abilities and skills."

That’s just it’s...IMO it’s saying if you are smart and not successful you have no ability or skills.

Which we all know isn’t true. The lack of social mobility in the US has nothing to do with lack of ability or skills. Power and wealth are to concentrated and “success” is more dependent on access to those than being smart, having abilities or skills.

Are you suggesting that if they were somehow truly smart they would know how not to sabotage their own success? Because that's some serious fallacious thinking right there.

Sounds like it, and I agree. How else should you judge this?

And what should you call it when people are less successful than they could be, and can't see that the cause is their counterproductive habits and apparent lack of self-awareness? - because 'smart' isn't the first word that springs to my mind.

This is a bit of a silly semantic game.

There's "smart" in the sense of "general mental ability" (ie, skill in cognitive tasks), which is usually what the word is used colloquially to mean, and then there's "smart" in the sense of "making the optimal choices for long term happiness and success", which, being correlated with the first definition is often conflated.

Now, sometimes these definitions come apart, ie, people who are "smart" in the first sense fail to be "smart" in the second sense. That doesn't mean the first definition is inherently meaningless. In fact, g factor ("IQ"), the psychometric concept that maps most closely to that first definition is extremely well studied, and well established as coherent and measurable.

Why these two attributes come apart in some people is an interesting question, because they're usually so correlated, and that's what the article is in a sense about.

That's actually a very sensible way to put it.

If you're not happy with where you're at in your career, don't worry, it's totally because you're too smart.

As an aside, the font(and size) they've chosen for the copy in this article looks dreadful on a Win10/Chrome setup. Chrome tells me it's: "Garamond,Baskerville,"Times New Roman",serif". I don't know if it's using an embedded version of Garamond, or the one that ships with the OS, but I could barely get through the article.

Looks like your browser isn't picking up the web-fonts. Having disabled the web-font, the font-stack they've chosen is definitely a lot harder for my to read.

"Smart" had nothing to do with any of this, other than to flatter the reader.

This is why drugs like adderall are popular among people who get bored easily.

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