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Incompetence as Encouragement (naftaliharris.com)
57 points by naftaliharris 1548 days ago | hide | past | web | 20 comments | favorite



There a couple of ways to look at this. Either incompetent people are successful because the barrier to success is quite low; in which case this is encouraging for competent people.

Or incompetent people are successful because the barrier to success is highly arbitrary and only somewhat correlates to competence which is much less encouraging.

Maybe you lose out on funding to a much less competent crew because you were launching a B2B Web-based SaaS product on a month when everyone was crazy about B2C mobile products for example.


> Or incompetent people are successful because the barrier to success is highly arbitrary and only somewhat correlates to competence which is much less encouraging.

I think this is the case, which on the surface can be depressing. But it can also mean that if you can just stick it out longer than most other people do, and plant more seeds, it's only a matter of time until you get lucky.


Yes, but the question is should you optimise for scattershot by planting many low quality seeds or concentrate on quality?


Plant a bunch of high-quality seeds :)


The question assumes that it's either not feasible or practical to do that. That may or may not be the case, depending on the definition and context of "high-quality".


Or perhaps the seemingly incompetent people really aren't, and you just can't judge them well enough.

I see this happen quite a bit - someone derides company X because they are still using asp or php. What they're missing is that company X's customers don't care a whit what tech is used, they care about the solution. Therefore the company is judged as incompetent but really they're laughing all the way to the bank.


Maybe I'm just in an overly defensive mood for no apparent reason, but the hubris in this post is somewhat off putting. Not up to your task does not mean "incompetent." Hell, poorly written doesn't even necessarily mean that.


I wouldn't say you are being overly defensive. The post made the author come off as extremely arrogant.


Had the same reaction. A package that doesn't do what you want in exactly the way you'd like it and not coded to youre standards does not signal incompetence. Someone built something that was probably suitable for their immediate needs and shared it in case someone else could use it and perhaps build on it or, gasp, even improve it.


> and not coded to youre standards does not signal incompetence.

You are incompetent at making this determination. Dunning-Kruger in full effect, here.


Mis-application of Dunning-Kruger.


It's turtles all the way down.


I used to think this way, to a certain extent. These thoughts go away once you realize why other variables besides skill have strong effects on the success equation. Most are related to emotional intelligence: your ability to convince others, to make them feel comfortable following your lead. Sadly what gets you ahead the most are the soft skills many of HN users lack (stereotypically at least). Remember not everyone has the same perspective: most of your interactions occur with a computer - a machine without emotions. People are different, they have kids, problems, and most importantly, feelings.

I agree, these things are important only because people aren't rational, most times I just call them stupid. There's nothing you can do to change that. You can only learn how to play the game and make sure you promote meritocratic ideals through your work and any initiative under your responsibility. Create a company and engrain these ideals in its culture. Try to be objective. Teach others how to do this.

The most important actionable I think is this: polish your managerial skills. Learn how to deal with people and you will become orders of magnitude more resourceful. Managing people allows you to reap the benefits of becoming specialised in several fields without having to spend the time needed to benefit from such diverse proficiency. Im not saying you dont need a core competence, my claim is that this is the only way to benefit from having 'several' core competencies without acquiring them.


Your post is arrogant! That's okay though - I used to be arrogant too and assumed my code was "wizard like" while other people's projects were crappy and half-assed.

Quality is often subjective. These days software is scratching an itch and is rarely done to the author's own standards of quality due to personal time constraints!

I would rephrase your thought from: incompetence as encouragement to improvement as encouragement (the desire to improve something as encouragement).


If you think that the world is basically a meritocracy, as I do, then seeing successful incompetents is actually very encouraging. Have you ever seen a startup with the world's stupidest idea raise million of dollars? Well if you have an actually decent idea, then it will be even easier for you to raise millions as well.

I was actually reading a post by Patrick McKenzie the other day and I think his commentary on this was one of the best I've seen. While it's encouraging and optimistic to think like this, the reality is that 90% of the time, mediocrity (or worse) is good enough. One example- most businesses run on poorly-engineered, shitty legacy software systems stitched together over time as a lineage of sucky-to-great programmers have come and gone and inherited each other's garbage amid changing requirements. Early in my career I noticed this and was brazen enough to think that there was obviously a much better way to engineer the software, so why didn't the executives see it? Over time I realized that I was naive- business managers care about increasing revenue and profits. Quality code and engineering doesn't even register on the radar.

Incompetence in engineering is just one area of incompetence. It is important to remember that incompetence in selling or networking, while probably a lot harder for one to see in oneself, can be just as detrimental to one's chances of success (perhaps more so). The point is that a crappy idea getting funding does not in any way indicate that a better idea is more likely to get funding.


>If you think that the world is basically a meritocracy, as I do, then seeing successful incompetents is actually very encouraging. Have you ever seen a startup with the world's stupidest idea raise million of dollars? Well if you have an actually decent idea, then it will be even easier for you to raise millions as well.

If only this were actually the case...


I hate the tone of this whole post, for the following reasons:

1. He contradicts himself: first he says he believes the world is a meritocracy, but then he says it can tolerate a staggering amount of incompetence,

2. Someone put up their package for free, perhaps it wasn't great, but incompetent?

3. Startups with stupid ideas still raised capital and are attempting to make money. Not incompetence.


Poor attitude from the author. I'm reminded of this incident a while back:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5106767

It's good have confidence in your "competence". It's even better if you can do it without being downright rude to the people who came before you.


The world may be a meritocracy asymptotically. But life is a small sample. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good ...


Agree and disagree.

I worked for a startup once where a mouth-breathing incompetent was promoted to the top of the technical food chain to punish the unofficial VP/Eng with the humiliation of a younger boss. The guy was promoted for literally no other reason and everyone knew it. This made everyone suffer, and his "rearchitecture" almost killed the company. It certainly didn't make me think, "It could happen to me."

When I see idiots getting smothered with praise and rewards while someone like me suffers, it reinforces social status and that I am, for whatever arbitrary and pointless reason, not as high as the smiling imbecile getting showered with gold while the rest of the world gets a golden shower.

That's where I disagree.

Now here's where I agree. I have a lot of performance anxiety and perfectionism. Actually seeing what the state of the art is on many problems is encouraging, insofar as (a) it's not hard to spot improvements, and (b) you feel less embarrassed when you realize that everyone makes mistakes and misses things. I avoided open source for years because I was afraid of showing code to the world, even though I'm objectively a good programmer. I didn't even like to use my real name on the Internet before 25 (although, based on what of my early history is public, that was a good policy.) I'm getting better at that as I get older.

I wouldn't use the word incompetence. There are a lot of trade-offs that result in mediocre software or process and that's only one of them. But it can be refreshing to realize that everyone else has warts, too.




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