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Ask PG: Can you do it again?
62 points by kuasha 1343 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments
I have done nothing significant in life yet. Have not helped anyone or improved the world at all in almost any sense. But still it took me a lot of practice to get to where I am now. I am confident I can do it again and again given same amount of time and same attitude to life from same or little more limits I had and starting from any timeline from 1980 to 2014. Only thing it takes is same amount of practice. This is probably true for 99% people living today.

I am curious if you feel the same way. If you are given back your time and energy but taken back everything else, can you repeat what have you done? Say, starting today? If yes, how much more limits can you overcome?

I have a lot of admiration for you. I consider you my mentor (book, article and other works). This is not to challenge you or anyone- just trying to understand what successful people think about luck, environment and timeline.




You are confident that you can repeat "doing nothing significant in life" again and again? Whoa, you're really setting the bar high, aren't you? :P


I have not improved the world, but I still consider myself successful in personal life.


Don't be so hard on yourself about not improving the world. I'm sure that you've positively affected someone. Even if it is a side-effect of your personal success, that allows you, for example, to leave a decent tip at a bar or restaurant. That decent sized tip helped the waitress make rent that month, and not get kicked out to the curb. Which kept her kids in a decent school district, where they learned a lot and will someday cure cancer. (Just an example).


By that reasoning nearly everyone has improved the world. Considering the negative impact we all have just existing in our society I'm sure his stance is more accurate.


In general, I think the average human being provides some good for the world. If nothing else, the average person in most[1] of the world can vote, hopefully on average stabilizing the political system. [2] They also act as an allocator for the market, enabling capital to go where needed. Each actor in the market acts as part of Adam Smith's invisible hand, helping decide where resources go. At the same time, most are parents to children enabling the whole thing to happen again.

Is your belief based on human impact on the environment, or is it something else?

[1] Better resources a Google away but this is something at least. http://www.economist.com/node/8908438 [2] http://www.stier.net/writing/demstab/demstab.htm#_Toc5203975...


You could say that my views are based on the environment but I would describe it as being on the world on a whole. All your benefits are to our societies and other related tribes. In that regard I agree that the average person provides some good but at a world level that includes the environment, other species, resources, etc I think the in most cases we are a negative force.


I think you just have a negative view of humanity.


Being successful in personal life is an achievement in my books.


[I am not PG]

In the 1980's PG got a phd from Harvard - rumors that he also helped create the internet DoS attack are however unsubstantiated. In the 1990's PG wrote two books, and started a successful web company. In the 2000's PG wrote another book and started a successful company that launched successful companies. There's fighting email spam, creating a new programming language, developing research on continuation servers, advancing our understanding of the dynamics of online communities and their discourse, and a personal life.

Two thoughts come to mind: Chance favors the prepared. If you want something to get done, give it to someone who is busy.

PG seems like the sort of person who is busy. Do you think this thread rises to the level of priority? Should he take time away from his family to participate?

My take is that PG has largely moved on from HN. In part, that's probably just his change. But in no small part I expect it has to do with the changing nature of HN - an HN that Reg Braithwaite abandoned. An HN where fluff like this question gets double digit points - do you have any idea how hard it is to write a 44 point comment?


Forums on Internet should balance things automatically. PG (or anyone) has no obligation to reply any question on any forum. Should someone ask a personal question? I don't know. Celebrities are always asked such question- I would not ask same question to someone like me.


Acting as if HN was just another forum is a behavior PG spent years trying to curtail.


The whole point of entrepreneurship is persistence, you don't need anything else. If you have persistence, then IQ, upbringing, social environment, education dwarf in importance.

If you simply never stop, try things that no one else has tried before, it's impossible to not become successful. :)


"If you have persistence, then IQ, upbringing, social environment, education dwarf in importance."

Politely disagree here. Most people who succeed in business are usually (but not in all cases) brought up in good homes, in stable social environments and receive good educations. Pull beneath the curtain and even the 'high school/college drop out' is usually from a middle class home or has received private education. There are many other things that play a role as well including race. Remember all the kerfuffle a year or two ago about the lack of entrepreneurs from ethnic minority groups namely black groups who weren't being funded. Its not part of the 'VC Pattern Recognition'. Believe me it also pained me to write about race because I've v low tolerance for it.

Furthermore, there is clear evidence across the most wildly successful companies you will see many entrepreneurs do look very similar. Many have similar upbringings, many have good educations/come from good homes, many are from specific sections in the class hierarchy and many are from specific races. Just look at most of the top venture investors most are white or jewish.

Persistence yes i agree is unbelievably important. By default telling many people you'll start a business will likely result in a mix bag of congrats but many people telling you why it is a bad idea or why it won't work.

However, please do not be so dismissive of IQ or social environment or education. All of these things play a key role.

Look at the S&P 500. The CEOs education is as follows 97% have a college degree and 67% have a further degree. Most common degrees are engineering. Stanford and Harvard have 4% of the CEO population in the 500. I will also include Zuckerburg/Gates in this stat even if he dropped out he still went!

Please do not be so dismissive of other factors it is just myopic and extremely ignorant.


Look at the S&P 500. The CEOs education is as follows 97% have a college degree and 67% have a further degree. Most common degrees are engineering. Stanford and Harvard have 4% of the CEO population in the 500. I will also include Zuckerburg/Gates in this stat even if he dropped out he still went!

There's a lot to be said about what the makeup of the S&P 500 CEO pool represents, and what it means to look at their educational background, etc.

BUT... It's also important to remember that setting the bar for "success as an entrepreneur" at anything involving the S&P 500 may be a bit excessive. Oh, don't get me wrong... many entrepreneurs (especially tech entrepreneurs, which probably includes a lot of the population here) may have goals to build a publicly traded company, be a member of the S&P 500, or the DJIA or whatever. But not all entrepreneurs fit that mold.

Depending on where you start out and what your goals are, building a company that brings in just enough income to pay you and your employees, while allowing you to avoid being outdoors doing backbreaking manual labor in 95 degree heat, may qualify as "success". Heck, for a tradesman of some sort (plumber, electrician, etc.) it may be enough to have a business that just keeps the lights on for him and his family, while leaving enough to put some money in a college fund for the kids.

However, please do not be so dismissive of IQ or social environment or education. All of these things play a key role.

They can, but don't overstate their importance either. I've seen with my own eyes the value of sheer perseverance, coupled with great work ethic, and how that allowed a man with almost no formal education, and a poor, rural, "lower class" upbringing to become what I consider a "successful entrepreneur". I don't know my dad's IQ though, so I won't comment on that bit.


There are actually some good statistics. If you look at 100 richest people on earth, 37% of them grew up middle-class households, 36% of them grew up poor households (http://fundersandfounders.com/how-much-sweat-it-takes-from-z...).

With the distribution of middle-class and lower-class of around 50-50 in the U.S. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_class_in_the_United_Stat...), it appears that it doesn't matter at all in what environment the 100 richest people today grew up.


Its possible to be both white and Jewish (in re to your comment on VCs).

Persistence is key, and I agree... The stats show a strong foundation and the right family values make a big difference.


I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but that is simply not true. You can dedicate your whole life to a task - being more persistent than anyone else has in the history of the world - and still fail. It's actually a pretty common occurrence in human history - people dedicate themselves to doing something that is impossible (i.e. turning something that is not gold to gold), and at the end of the day, fail.

While it sounds great as a soundbite, persistence alone is not enough to succeed at something. There has to be a realistic path to success. Persistence is then required to stay on that path until you reach the end.


So that sounds appealing but we don't know whether that's true.


Sorry, but what kind of fluff question is this? Have you even thought about your own question? Your question implies time travel and it comes with all sorts of paradoxes. It's like asking "Can you rewind the tape?". Yes, you can. But, can you watch the movie again in the exact same manner you did earlier?

Given he gets warped back in time and he looses all awareness of his situation, he will probably do it again (there is no "can" because he didn't do it in the future, yet). If he's warped back in time with his knowledge right now, he cannot possibly relive his same life because his state will not be the same as it was back then.

Which brings me to my question and remark: what exactly is the point of this question other than pg-backpatting?


I think you misunderstood the question:

  >  If you are given back your time and energy but taken back everything else,
  >  can you repeat what have you done? Say, starting today? 
What's being asked is basically, starting today, if everything was taken away from PG (or any successful person) and instead he (or the person) was given the same amount of time (20 odd years ?) and energy, would they achieve the same level of success, 20 years hence.

My own take on this is, yes - Most successful people would become successful irrespective of starting conditions. Of course the level of success might differ since things like luck come into play but most successful people tend to 'build' their luck (ref: every self-help book ever).


It will be pure speculation/imagination and no-one will able to confirm/deny the bias. Hence the question is fluff. It's like asking a highly imaginative question and trying to translate it to real world. It's nothing more than luring into something which will never happen. It's not bad that you think about these things, but don't waste your time with it.

"Most successful people would become successful irrespective of starting conditions." - again bias and imagination/speculation. Success is not something you are born with. You "get" it. Just because you got it once doesn't mean you are entitled to it for the rest of your life. Successful people getting more success have much more means to become more successful so it looks like they would have been successful anyway.


Exact? No. Its about similar - like affecting same amount of people - may be totally in different field. Personally I am not concerned about money (after a certain threshold)- but other people may be interested.

If I had an option I would ask on the bottom of his essays. What PG is doing is little different than other successful entrepreneurs. It seems to me what he is doing is doing repetitively. But its just a question- it could be bad one though.


I think that Paul Graham has great powers of observation. He seems to know what makes businesses successful and what problems in the world need to be solved. I am sure he spends a lot of time thinking and analyzing (whether consciously or unconsciously, I do not know). It is apparent in his essays that he is a brilliant person who enjoys making observations (and he is an artist, which involves like 99% observation).

Paul Graham is really great at what he does. I am sure that you have personal qualities that are great as well. You should try to leverage those. It is good to admire others, but you must forge your own path to success. Words of wisdom can only do so much. In the end, it is the effort and strengths of the individual that matters.

I don't think that you should care so much about helping people. Before you label me as a bad person, I think that if you think too much about helping people, if you believe that you have a social obligation to do so, it can be very exhausting to the heart. Doctors sometimes face "compassion exhaustion." You should strive to be a good person, give when you can, but to over-exert yourself by making yourself feel guilty for not having helped people or improved the world is counter-productive. I say this because I went through the same thing. There are many small ways you can help people and have a big impact on their lives.

I strive to make myself into a person that I would admire.


Taking back everything else? Does that include knowledge, experience and lessons learned? Because that greatly affects what pg would start doing today.


Yeah, exactly. If we could go back in time with just a few pieces of information, we could be gods. Predict and invest in every major startup success, write about it and look like a prescient guru, make even more money from speaking engagements, etc.

If you can't take back your knowledge and experience, then it's kind of a boring/null question- you're just back to where you started, and you'll just be affected differently by the roulette of random encounters. (Which could make a bigger difference than we might realize, but there's pretty much no way to predict whether this will turn out better or worse.)


The question is about starting today though, so it's not about going back in time with knowledge of future events.


Still, the knowledge and experience you gained via circumstance are important.


If you have all the knowledge and experience, you are who you are already.


Isn't your question then the same as: did you think you got lucky?


Luck could one factor yes- but its mostly a question about with enough work can everything man has done be repeated?


He could invest in the stock market with that information.


Not just the stock market- he could hunt down and invest in every would-be-successful startup, and give them precisely the prescient advice they'd need to avoid making any mistakes. His success rate would shoot through the roof and he would seem like a god.


Success and significance is relative and it is important that you see why it is so. I don't know where you are from but opportunity is a big part of the story. A majority of the world does not have the same level of opportunity as the western world. Being in the bay area, being born with the right passport, being around with the right people, right education etc are really big influencers of success and have nothing to do with individual itself.

This is not to take away anything from what many people like PG have done, but it is for you to realize that sometimes lots of energy is spent by other people just trying to achieve basic things which are usually taken for granted.

As an example, I wanted to travel on a business trip to this country. My partner could go immediately because he didn't need a visa. My visa processing is still stuck and it's been a week now. Lost opportunity and no amount of hardwork and perseverance from my side can fix it. yeah, this is part of the reason that I am writing this comment. I feel terrible about my passport :)


Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, was born in a tiny village in Ukraine, grew up without a father, worked as a cleaner in a grocery, and was almost homeless. Today he is worth $6.3 billion.

You'll find a way if it's important enough to you.


That's not well reasoned. A world in which there is always a way available is certainly consistent with the anecdote, but so is one where there generally is not a way except awarded at random to one otherwise hopeless person in ten million. You need to explain why this isn't isomorphic to "just keep buying those lottery tickets".


I suspect the fact that he was fortunate enough for his mother to choose to migrate to the software capital of the world just before the dotcom boom probably had more outstandingly positive influence on his chances of starting a successful software business than any negative impact a part-time job as a teenager or his father choosing to remain in the Ukraine could manage.

Trust me, as determined as he's undoubtedly been as an adult, a teenage Jan Koum didn't cause the Iron Curtain to fall or the US to be accepting Jewish Ukrainian refugee families at that time and offering them welfare, and the average wannabe immigrant to the USA has absolutely zero chance of repeating that feat




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