1. Don't marry to your beliefs.
This is always a delicate balancing act because we do have to have some belief to make a decision, we just don't know if it's a right.
2. Don't predict the future.
Can be derived from #1 so I suppose redundant.
3. Bet on people instead of ideas.
I think this is great advice for VCs but have been covered many times by pg.
4. Make friends/Surround yourself with smart people.: Not extremely practical unless you are a famous VC but even then not trivial.
It would have been great essay if pg shared some stories and shared non-trivial insights that makes us better at doing above. BTW, I did got tripped at this line:
Another trick I've found to protect myself against obsolete beliefs is to focus initially on people rather than ideas.
Ummm... what was the first trick?
I think it's quite practical to surround yourself with smart people without being a famous VC. I've done it. it might even be easier without being famous, unless by smart, you mean "Smart, tall and well-spoken" or "Smart, tall, and able to hold the right kind of conflicting ideas in your head without emotional distress" - which is often what VC seem to mean by smart. I mean, don't get me wrong, a lot of the ycombinater kids I've met really seemed pretty smart, but they also had the social bits you need to be good business people, and if you demand those social bits along with the 'smart' - and you should, if you are looking for business people and not just technical people - those people become dramatically more difficult to find, and when you do find them, they're difficult to be friends with, as you said, unless you are very high status, because they are very high status.
If you just want someone with a high G, though, and are okay with people who are short or shy or fat or who have emotional issues, as you should be if you are looking for people who can become good technical people, G alone does not confer much by way of status in this society. I've hired more than one person who tests two standard deviations better than I do by that measure. hell I've dated a few people who test two standard deviations better than I do.
Now, PG, I imagine, when talking about making investment decisions, probably is talking about "vc smart" - people who are smart, but also good looking, who have good attitudes and who have the other business person attributes, so in the context of this article, you're probably right. but I'm just saying, smart people usually aren't high status people. It's not hard to get smart friends, if you are willing to skimp on some of the status-granting attributes.
It's not absolute, certainly, we can all come up with the names of successful short men, just like we can come up with the names of successful black men and successful women. It doesn't mean those things don't put you at a serious disadvantage when talking to VC or trying to get a job.
I started this conversation, a couple messages back, in response to this quote from sytelus:
>4. Make friends/Surround yourself with smart people.: Not extremely practical unless you are a famous VC but even then not trivial.
Which I read as someone claiming that it is difficult to become friends with high-G individuals, unless you are a high-status individual.
My argument was that G, in and of itself, does not confer status, and thus high-G individuals who aren't high-status aren't going to have any more people competing to be their friends than people of similar status who are more average.
If you want smart friends, go find them. There isn't much competition. That was my point.
I don't think you took issue with any of that. I think the problem was that I said:
>unless by smart, you mean "Smart, tall and well-spoken" or "Smart, tall, and able to hold the right kind of conflicting ideas in your head without emotional distress" - which is often what VC seem to mean by smart.
And you taking offense to this, really, is pretty reasonable. I'd take it as an insult if someone claimed people like me hired on irrelevant personal biases, too.
One way to make this seem less insulting is to say that I lump in the "tall and well spoken and able to hold the right kind of conflicting ideas in your head" with "social and business skills" - because in the work world, this has been my experience.
It's possible that things are different in the VC world.
I like your point by point analysis. But I guess you cannot look at such articles solely through the lens of analysis.
On an unrelated note - I know a lot of successful professionals and entrepreneurs (mostly non tech and some tech). Surprisingly they are not that analytical as one would expect. They have great drive, self belief, instincts, people skills, adaptability, negotiation skills, ability to bounce back and perhaps several other skills. I realized at some point in my career that great intellectual / analytical ability is just one aspect required for a successful career and there were several other important skills / traits.
Warren Buffet famously said (I think in reference to stock analysts who pore through and analyze stocks endlessly)
"Wall Street is the only place that people ride to in a Rolls Royce to get advice from those who take the subway."
The title is pretty accurate.If you want to be an expert you need to pay attention to fresh perspectives that might not be colored by the same filter.
whereever change happens, experience becomes a handicap. Unless you keep an open mind.
By the way, the first trick was "The first step is to have an explicit belief in change."
Maybe, it's just a title issue, and "How to be among the first investors to spot an exploitable change" or something similar would have set my expectations properly, but I was hoping to get some useful tips that would apply to a significantly broader definition of "expert".
I think we are expecting a lot of pg here - to be a successful entrepreneur, gain insight into what made him successful, write about it, become a successful VC and now we want a second honest and well written set of searing insights?
I think once was impressive enough. It is us who need to do a bit of the insight gathering now.
"The world changes, and when that happens you must change your beliefs accordingly. Yep, you knew that, so now go practice it."
What's a great message to receive from time to time. Yep, everybody knew that, that does not mean the message is useless.
How can you be dynamic?
you have to be watchman of the society.
if anything wrong in my perspective, please correct me
"...to focus initially on people rather than ideas"
I see "beliefs" as an optimisation that avoids having to return to first principles for every single decision.
That speeds things up, but is obviously dangerous.
Sometimes it's possible to have two beliefs that contradict each other. Usually this means they need reevaluating, but sometimes it means there is context in which each is true.
Reasoning in the face of contradictory beliefs is one of the most interesting things about "knowledge", and something that humans can do surprisingly well - at least until we realise we are doing it.
1. We have some initial beliefs
2. We use it to make decisions
3. We receive some new data
4. Given the new data, we confirm/change the beliefs
5. We can make different decisions
6. Go to 3.
A better algorithm would be to ask other systems beliefs and compare it to ours too (eg: neuronal network).
Do you adjust your beliefs or do you staunchly adhere to them?
Her learnings from talking to 'expert entrepreneurs' are that
1. they do not believe the future can be predicted, esp in the early stages of a new venture
2. they prefer to create the future in areas with high uncertainty by forging partnerships with people they know already, and who are also investing in the same areas
3. they go to the customer at a very low 'acceptable loss' as they can, building as little of the product as they can, investing as little as they can, and getting the first initial set of customers as partners.
4. they jump in to a fast iteration of execution/sales that helps them discover/create the market, relying on sales as market research.
5. they find pleasant surprises along the way that shape their execution/market/venture and they change to fit the new reality - and they shape that reality along the way
Finding great parallels with PGs essays here.. See http://effectuation.org/learn Read also http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110201/how-great-entrepreneurs... and the original paper at http://www.effectuation.org/sites/default/files/documents/wh...
I understand that it is about a lot of uncertainty, coping with trial and error, and getting information from the business black box as fast as you can.
One thing not addressed here is the importance of your location and your status / credentials. Not everything is about your personal skills.
> When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
> Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
beliefs, like stereotypes are shortcuts in cognition. We should always be applying the most powerful tool we have developed in the history of humanity, the scientific method.
I guess it takes somekind of rebel todo it, no matter what kind of human group you are talking about.
Well, yeah. My strength is that I'm always right. I thought I was wrong once, but that was a mistake.
(note the paradox)
We always need to show our work. The fact that an expert can crutch on the Markovian Weather doesn't mean I should trust them in any way based on their word. Trust me, says the expert, I am always right. There are those who are right and there are those who are right with proof.
The outcome doesn't make argument, the argument and the outcome does.
I like though how he circles back to two fundamentals. One, human nature doesn't really change, and Two, betting on people is a better indicator of the future than betting on ideas.
Probably the biggest mistake people make is looking for confirming evidence instead of using evidence to determine the relative likelihood of competing hypotheses.
Even a large body of confirming evidence doesn't prove anything because that same evidence could be consistent with other hypotheses you never considered. You need to evaluate the diagnosticity of that evidence. (i.e. a patients high fever has almost no diagnostic value in determining what is wrong, because so many illnesses are consistent with that evidence.
Whereas, one shred of evidence can disprove a hypothesis completely. Which is why good doctors rule out things to identify the most likely problem.
These ideas PG is talking about are, IMO, some of the most important things for founders to understand.
Don't look to confirm your theories, look to disprove them. Don't accept lore, challenge everything. Most importantly though, always evaluate competing hypothesis to prevent you from just trying to confirm what you are looking for.
I use this framework, though learnt it by reading Fenmayn's writings, when there's a debate as to use tool A or tool B to get X. And it's been very effective so far. I have a vague sense that B is better and a colleague is particular about A. Earlier I used to look deeper and deeper into how B is good at doing X. But realized that I wasn't convincing enough. Then I remembered Feynman's saying to the effect "the best way to prove something is to try very hard to disprove it". This has helped quite a lot in coming up with objective comparisons and use right tool for the task at hand; or in general to come up with the right solution the problem at hand.
In light of that, I suspect PG and Thiel actually live in the same quadrant of determinate optimism. I haven't read PG suggest that we should just "wait" for the future to happen--he's merely suggesting that the most common path toward building the future is on a wave. (And Thiel built PayPal that way--he recognized a version of the future that was on the cusp of being realized and took it upon himself to make it happen.)
I am assuming that many (most?) of the startup founders, when they are being interviewed by the potential investors, are 'complete strangers'. By focusing objectively on ideas than subjectively or intuitively on people doing them, they believe that they mitigate the so-called risk. I am not convinced that by judging people rather than by judging ideas (in supposedly short amount of time) the chances of succeeding go up, because if we are often wrong judging ideas, what makes us good at judging people who are ever changing too?
Of course, there is an undeniable 'credit history' part wherein if a 'successful' founder comes back with another idea, many investors are ready to 'shower money' on her/him -- I don't find anything majorly wrong with that attitude, but that alone does not guarantee success, I believe.
Ideas that grow huge look completely random, except when you happen to know the one or two details that make them promising. And you can never know if you know all of those details.
Almost all people that make something big share some few treats that most people lack, what makes this a useful filter. Of course people can change, what reduces the effectiveness of the filter, but it's still better than random.
One of the things I've noticed is that over a long period of time, the more arrogant and certain team members are, the less likely they are to deliver. Folks that are always learning have a tendency to kick ass. Not so much with folks who think they've already arrived. I read in an article on HN a few weeks back that Google calls this "intellectual humility" and looks for it as a hiring trait.
I disagree with the first statement, and agree with the second one.
Arrogance has a lot of variations. I find I know arrogant, certain people that deliver, and some that don't.
But anyone who always learns, does well.
I wish someone would write about that.
What is an expert?
What is a domain?
How do I become a domain expert?
Am I an expert at something I take for granted?
I love Paul Graham's essays but there's a lot of implied logic and jargon. Maybe he should have a few non-startup, non-business people proof read them too?
For example, I maintain an e-commerce system. More specifically, I maintain an e-commerce system built for a cosmetics company. E-commerce is a field, cosmetics is a field, cosmetics e-commerce is specifically the domain I need to become an expert in. The more I can differentiate cosmetics e-commerce from other kinds of e-commerce, the more well-tailored I can make my app. And the more well-tailored I can make this app, the better I'll be able to understand the more general case of making custom e-commerce systems for other industries.
The more I go through this process of understanding the specific needs of the industry, the more domain expertise I'm building. Domains can subdivide as much as industries subdivide. Say the cosmetic industry started to split along product lines, then I might start gaining insight into how lipstick companies operate, and be able to tailor a product offering straight to them.
The domain doesn't have to mean commercial industry. You might have domain expertise, say, in XML parsing. Then you could wax poetic on the differences between Nokogiri and say, Chrome's internal parser.
So, essentially, it just means "expertise". More specifically, the type of expertise that allows you to customize a software system around it. Which can be in practice quite different from normal expertise. The guy who devises our makeup formulas is definitely an expert.
But he can't design the system to actually manufacture it. The guy who writes those systems might not understand the actual formulas, so the two types of experts have to work together.
When startups talk about the need to be a domain expert, it means getting out of just pure programming and into the actual meat. Rather than hire an expert, to become one yourself. This not only allows you to reduce staff, it also makes it easier to make better, more custom solutions. The Soylent guys have to make the system to manufacture their product, but they also must understand nutrition, food, the regulatory environment of the food market.
So as soon as there's money to hire programmers, I'm getting out of the coding biz and hiring others to do it. I want to focus on working with my customers, understanding their needs better than I already do, and guiding programmers to build for those needs.
I would even go as far to argue some level of domain expertise is almost required to make solutions. Even with perfect requirements (oxymoron I know), a programmer still has to make a ton of tiny domain driven decisions while writing a piece of software.
As you mentioned, software on its own isn't very useful. A programmer who learns even general business is much more useful.
A set of disciplines, or majors, other than computer-science (or alternatively something other than core programming/software-engineering skills). The word is typically used in CS/sofware-engineering circles.
An (arguably crude) example:
Think of who designed an mp3 encoder/decoder? A programmer? Does becoming a good programmer and/or getting a typical 4 year CS degree, sufficient to come up with an audio encoder/decoder?
No. You have to understand audio signals, their properties, learn how to analyze them, etc. That requires knowledge from the disciplines of physics, and electrical engineering (e.g., digital signal processing), maybe even some biology of sound. And if you learn that, you become a part-programmer, part-acoustic-engineer. That "acoustic-engineer" bit is your "domain expertise", i.e., something you need to know beyond CS to get your work done.
You might say, "why do I have be an acoustic engineer? why can't I, as a programmer, work with another guy, who is not a programmer but an expert acoustic engineer?". Yes you can. In that case, you're being the software guy, and he's being the domain-expert.
Sometimes collaboration between a software-engineer and a domain-expert works. Sometimes it helps if the software-engineer himself develops domain-expertise (so one guy playing two roles).
Domain expertise is not limited to one domain only. It could be no-domain (a pure CS programming, like database, web-development etc, although you could call them domains within CS), or a domain consisting of multiple disciplines (audio-processing comprising physics, DSP), or multiple domains (acoustic-engineering plus submarine-engineering, for example), and so on.
What is an expert: Someone or something recognized as such by other recognized experts and trusted by a significant number of those who are not.
What is a domain: A limited area of human knowledge small enough that it can fit in one person's memory but wide enough that when applied it solves multiple useful problems.
How do I become a domain expert: By doing. First learning. Then making. Finally advancing. Unless of course you are creating a new domain which skips to step 3.
Am I an expert at something I take for granted: No. Most US adults know how to drive and do it semi-(un?)consciously. They are not expert drivers.
expert is used in the sense of the standard definition in any English dictionary
one could be an expert at programming, and though that's a valid topic and craft to have expertise in, its not a domain in the sense of "domain expert" you're asking about
Ok its sucks if English is a second language for you but that is what dictionary's and thesauruses are for.
But humility that stems from ignorance is at odds with popular expectations of an expert. The problem is what worked in the past may not work in the future. Being sensitive to changes in the world around you, requires you to momentarily stop being an expert and look at the world from the eyes of a novice or beginner. This is not only hard but sometimes impossible to do because of how we change as we acquire new knowledge. 
So the trick is to be somewhat schizophrenic - being able to simultaneously view the world as an expert with the fresh thinking of a beginner or a novice.
You already mentioned this, but this is extremely at odds with how experts are valued, especially by non-experts. People want answers -- not necessarily painful truths -- and ostensibly that's what they pay for. "What do you mean you're not sure? You're supposed to be an expert!"
This trick might work when you're a Jobs figure (or a Paul Graham, or a YC company) and you don't have non-experts to answer to. For everyone else, staying hungry and foolish means you'll be seen as hungry and foolish, and the market values you as a hungry fool, not an expert.
I feel like we both took the same things from the article, but we come at them from very different paths.
Sadly there's one rather important setting where this does not work at all :
Interviewing with a non-technical interviewer. Like one has to do for pretty much any non-individual contributor job at all but the very largest companies.
I keep having this impulse and I find it actually convinces people you don't know what you're talking about. The more algorithms you've seen fail spectacularly at prediction, the more capable you are (especially if you figured out why), but the less capable you appear.
Furthermore people always believe they can do better by just looking at the data and going with their gut feeling. This is not true, I've only seen people do that in a few cases. And I've seen people screw it up royally in more than a few cases. I think the successes were lucky guesses, because while they looked like they knew what they were doing, I could never get a decent response to the simple question : your arguments work just as well for 5 other predictions one might make, so why this one ? So I'm forced to doubt there. Either they knew more than they were willing to admit (one was also a political figure, so ...), or they were lucky guesses.
- Warren Buffet has always believed that companies should be valued based on their profits, not their share price performance. Thus he didn't invest in the tech bubble of the 90s, and was forced to under-perform the market significantly for many years whilst everyone thought he was getting too old for the new way of things. Yet he stuck to his beliefs, and it turned out that he was right - the Nasdaq bubble evaporated and he again out-performed other funds in the long term.
- Steve Jobs always stuck to his belief that computing devices for consumers should be fully integrated and beautifully designed. After getting kicked out of Apple and loosing the OS war to MS, he could have easily told himself his approach was wrong. But whether he is right or wrong became irrelevant - his belief was so powerful that it was contagious.
- Zuck, Brin, and others have succeeded because they stuck to their beliefs instead of selling out early on.
- Darwin stuck to his unorthodox beliefs until his theories became accepted.
All of these people have/had a belief - a model of the universe which they passionately believed in. Having such a model means that predicting the future becomes possible, even though one can't predict exactly when that future will come, the same way Warren Buffet will never tell you what the market will do tomorrow, yet he certainly has a belief in where things are going long term. Jobs was too early with the Newton, yet his continued belief caused him to strike gold later on with the iPhone.
There is an interesting difference between fundamental beliefs and "expert knowledge". The later constantly needs to adapt to take new information into account, but it is our fundamental beliefs that determine how we interpret that expert knowledge.
For what it's worth, my startup investment belief has always been to: invest in companies that are run by great people that have created the best product in a growing market that has profitable competitors. I'll leave it up to the "experts" to speculate on which markets will grow most, or which competitors will win out. If Warren Buffet can't do it, I won't bother either. All that we can really judge to the best of our ability is the quality of the product and the team.
There are a great many "startup mantras" which seem contradictory at a glance:
1. Founders should insist on product excellence, but release early (be embarrassed by the first version).
2. Startups only die when their founders give up, but founders who don't cut their losses at the right time lose credibility.
3. [The one at hand...] The best founders are driven by a secret about the world that other people don't know yet, and yet good founders are never married to an idea.
None of those things are actually contradictory, though:
1. An MVP is not a shitty product, it is a minimal product (founders should be embarrassed by lack of features, but the ones that are there should work well).
2. Both statements are true, even if uncomfortable. Add to the list of difficult balances founders must achieve.
3. Both statements are true here, too. I suspect that the best founders are actually driven by a family of secrets ("hypotheses" in the essay at hand) and yet would not think twice about adapting them in the face of new evidence. (Your example of Darwin is a good one to consider here--he stuck to his beliefs because he had strong evidence for them, and he would have changed his beliefs had new evidence presented itself. The prevailing opinion of society did not factor into that process.)
1. Experts as people with unusual technical competence in one or more related fields.
2. Experts as 'big picture' prophets of the future.
3. Experts as 'small picture' refiners of future tech.
4. Experts as packagers, innovators, and marketers who create new markets for the work of 2 and 3.
5. Experts as investors who look for all of the above and try to work out if they can make money from them.
Aren't these mostly unrelated job descriptions? There's no reason why a brilliant academic who understands compiler design would have anything useful to say about the future of consumer electronics.
Likewise, I wouldn't have expected Steve Jobs to contribute much to (say) research into room temperature semiconductors. Steve Jobs was brilliant at packaging and selling stuff, not at theoretical physics.
PG's real point seems to be that if you 'hire' smart, creative, hard-working people, they're more likely to do something useful for you than people who aren't smart, creative, or hard-working.
Which is surely true (if they're not difficult) but doesn't have much to do with expert predictions about the future.
It's kind of a retread of Spolsky's 'smart, gets things done', with a more entrepreneurial twist and an implied 'has original insights'. (Spolsky being an excellent example of all four.)
My proudest creations all came from these weird ideas. Now I listen to them very carefully and nurture them. They're starting to cohere and turn from random ideas into an ideology. It will be fun to make that real.
> "The winds of change originate in the unconscious minds of domain experts."
I would also add that domain expertise is when one's internal model / map matches the territory. When this happens, one's intuition is accurate and one can notice patterns that other people can't, or one can make predictions that turn out to be right.
Of course there is: P(A) = 0.5 and P(~A) = 0.5. Don't be silly.
Of course there is and the situation in which you find it is called Cognitive Dissonance 
> Within Y Combinator, when an idea is described as crazy, it's a compliment—in fact, on average probably a higher compliment than when an idea is described as good.
Yet, outside the walls of YC, sounding crazy means you don't get in.
> But we could tell the founders were earnest, energetic, and independent-minded. (Indeed, almost pathologically so.)
How is it possible to discern this in a YC application?
This is all reminiscent of the talk Gabe Newell, CEO and founder of Valve, gave on the hiring practices at Valve. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8QEOBgLBQU#t=1291 Here he mentions the following: (paraphrased) "One of the first programmers of the company was the manager of a waffle house. He was one of the most and still one of the most creative people in the industry" So what made them take the risk? What makes Valve turn away every waffle house manager that applies today? What made YC take the risk on Chesky, Gebbia, and Blecharczyk?
They interview applicants in person, too.
But a population is much slower. To the point where "human nature doesn't change" is an extremely useful heuristic. If you look for counter examples, you'll find a few changes that took only a century or two, but in practice you'll probably never see one of those changes.
Old people in general are such experts, or some "fundamentalists" or "conservatives" - those, who are trying to "preserve" the world they grow up in, everyone who follow and worship a "ritual", a "process", stuck up "creationists" or "froidians", "public static void" guys - the list is surprisingly long.
Some "teachers" said millennias ago "be the change", others said that "we are never the same". Perhaps, they have tried to capture this notion of "an ever changing process" - us (we are processes, not entities, they said) in a "beginningless and endless change" which they call "That" or "Tao", and we call Universe.
It's interesting that on one side you try to avoid the pitfalls of your own beliefs (by smartly adopting meta-beliefs and techniques that sidestep the problem, like believing in change and focusing on people)
but at the same time you are suggesting that you somehow accept, or decide to trust, the worldview of "energetic" founders.
You might not mean it, but this connection is somehow untold in the classical narrative of the driven founder: there is a fine line between "energetic" and "passionately convinced", which also suggests that they might have and communicate strong beliefs in their success or their idea.
Of course I understand that "strong beliefs" aren't forcefully connected with being an expert, which is your main argument.
PG, Where do you stand on this? do you believe in founder's beliefs? Do founders who passionately believe in something convince you?
I feel very sympathetic to the argument of your essay, for many reasons, and have grown to use the same meta-belief of believing in change; however, instead of sidestepping the problem, I tackle it heads on, by incorporating Doubt and Relativism in my decision making.
I feel, and strongly believe ;), that Relativism is the cure to many cognitive biases; if you doubt yourself you can't be affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect; I think everybody should train themselves in managing the unavoidable cognitive dissonances of day to day life, it would make the world a better place. Relativism is also an important tool for creativity: the moment you doubt your frame of reference, you start seeing the picture outside of the box, new possibilities open up.
Of course Relativism has it's shortcomings, and beliefs, which are rooted in emotions, command our behaviours more powerfully that the logical reasonings of Relativism.
However, I believe, there are ways for us to be both "passionately convinced" and relativistic at the same time;
I try to be like Cezanne, who would ask himself: "is this what I see?"
I frequently wrangle with challenges related to finding other people who are open to listening and helping me explore these less-than-complete ideas in an unbiased way. It's always an enjoyable moment when someone listens and then adds to the conversation, instead of immediately trying to negate the kernel of the idea based on the fact it's in a chaotic state at the time.
"It seems to me that beliefs about the future are so rarely correct that they usually aren't worth the extra rigidity they impose, and that the best strategy is simply to be aggressively open-minded. Instead of trying to point yourself in the right direction, admit you have no idea what the right direction is, and try instead to be super sensitive to the winds of change".
> protecting yourself against obsolete beliefs is exactly what you have to do to succeed as a startup investor
This statement is not only true for startups, but for life in general.
Expertise today requires that you start to think and operate at a higher level of abstraction in order to cover what you know, and where your knowledge might go. Or it might require you to make connections between old ideas that are still valid and new ideas as they appear. You might even be able to change career paths entirely, but things you learned as an expert in your old one might make you special and unique in your new one -- somebody with rare and unique talents. Like automating business processes in a non-technical career.
I've been thinking a lot about beliefs and belief systems recently. I'm not quite sure I have any meaningful or concrete conclusions yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm going down the path of thinking that beliefs should generally be treated and handled with extreme caution, that they're some kind of holdover from an earlier evolutionary stage -- a vestigial kind of proto-thought process wedged somewhere between pure animalistic instinct and enlightened reason.
They aren't inherently bad just like instincts aren't inherently bad, the instinct to pull your hand off a hot stove is good for example. Perhaps they some kind of optimized way of thinking that evolved when we had less hardware to compute with. An estimation system that got us through hundreds of thousands of long cold nights, alone in the world of beasts...when we couldn't quite think through everything. But now we can, and this old wetware technical debt kind of gets in the way now and again.
It tends to make us rigid and lazy in our thinking...why think when believing is less work?
Maybe it's possible to hack our beliefs be believing in the right things, by believing in reason, or believing that things should be changing, believing that we should evaluate and challenge ourselves from time to time, believing that we should feel like we're just on the edge of discomfort and force us to use this new better and harder to use equipment we've been gifted with.
That may be true in programming, but that's not the only field. Much of my mechanical engineering knowledge dates from the 19th century and earlier and is still valuable. Even my FEA knowledge (which relates heavily to programming) is still good. Practically all my undergraduate knowledge is still valuable, let alone my Master's and PhD knowledge.
It's quite clear that you're approaching this strictly from a single viewpoint. If you really want to think, you need to broaden your view.
Even in programming there's still things that change at a slower pace. Sure there's a lot of things changing in regards to the web, but areas such as numerical methods change more slowly.
If you approach things very shallowly, learning how-to-set-up-technology-stack-X type bags of tricks, those become obsoleted quickly, but lots of technical expertise is quite durable.
So while I'm pretty sure the basic physics you use is largely unchanged, I'd bet that a mechanical engineer for even a generations ago would have trouble recognizing much of what you're doing today. We have materials, measures, testing and production methods available to us today that would have looked like magic to somebody in the 60s. It's like comparing a flint-lock musket to a modern rifle. A gunsmith from the flint-lock era would know the basics, but his expertise would be obsolete.
Even in software, most of what I learned in my undergrad CS program has stayed refreshingly relevant, but the act of writing software itself has completely transformed a half dozen times since I graduated. It means I can sit down in a new environment and learn the syntax, practices and idioms of a language and dev environment relatively quickly. But in many cases you quickly start to feel like you're treading water at the same time, having not 20 years of experience but risk having 1 year of experience 20 times unless you carefully cultivate your expertise to prevent that.
My civil engineering friends seem to have similar feelings, lots of the physics and basics they learned are still relevant, but the theory and implementation, especially the huge changes in Urban planning are having tremendous impact on their ability to cultivate expertise.
I have a landscape architect friend who graduated hoping to design golf courses and parks and who now spends most of his time working on energy efficient certifications (LEED) and planning for new construction and retrofits. Something that didn't even exist when he entered his line of work. Instead of becoming an expert in park design, he's become an expert in LEED certification.
Even my pastry chef friend left pastry school, where she intended to make traditional French pastries, and entered a world expecting innovative techniques and ingredients catering to the allergen/wheat sensitive/low carb/vegan/no GE/whatever crowd of the month. She doesn't just make scones, she has to make 6 kinds of each scone suitable for everybody's special dietary decision.
You're right in that they're all still doing mechanical physics, looking at water management, and baking things in an oven. Expertise in those subjects transcends. But being an expert in their fields is impossible because the expression of what their entire fields are are being redefined almost every day. What they're becoming experts in, and something their predecessors didn't have to do, is riding the wave of change.
This is a fundamentally different kind of expertise that maybe only ever existed in human history during times of war, or great societal upheaval. "May you live in interesting times" is a curse, not a blessing. It's to be seen if this is simply the new state of things from now on or a time of upheaval that we can't recognize and things will settle down at the other end.
In my experience, a world that rapidly changes makes it very easy to become an expert. There are so few in whatever is new, and all it takes is 1 year of effort to become an expert in that field.
Having the expertise remain valuable is more about luck and intuition, but I don't really care one way or the other if what I spend my time on remains valuable. The valuable part is being able to learn something, and developing the skill to learn tasks. If you repeat this with a different thing for every year of your life, you will become an expert at becoming an expert, a skill that far exceeds knowing any one domain.
I don't, and have never desired what you seem to desire, learning an expertise that lasts generations. Which means, learning a domain that lasts for generations.
The very act of being an expert at becoming an expert makes you impossibly valuable to any corporation that exists. The actual details of the domains is completely irrelevant.
I think we may have a deep disagreement of what constitutes expertise. 1 year of effort in anything is at least an order of magnitude less effort than what I'm talking about. I would consider a smart person with a year of solid effort "functional" but not even capable of sniffing what it takes to become an expert. That level of grokkiness is simply not attainable in that short of a period of time.
But maybe you bring up a good point. Maybe the word has simply been redefined these days to a much weaker definition. Maybe a year of practice, in this sound-byte, short attention-span laden world, is good enough and our collective standards have fallen. After all I see job listings for "senior this or that" job all the time requiring 5-7 years experience in the field.
> The very act of being an expert at becoming an expert makes you impossibly valuable to any corporation that exists. The actual details of the domains is completely irrelevant.
I agree, and I think this meta-expertise really is a new thing. A new kind of paradigm of thinking that really had little analog in the past. Even the idea of a Renaissance Man, being an expert in multiple fields simultaneously, isn't quite the same thing.
I think it's existed as long as there has been a large hierarchy. I know people inside every corporation I work with that do this job, including myself.
At some level, every executive needs someone like this. The new paradigm is how much this person can be expected to possibly know. That's what's changed.
Learning has been accelerated so much that you can become fairly adept at most topics in a week or 2.
"In practice "sufficiently expert" doesn't require one to be recognized as an expert—which is a trailing indicator in any case. In many fields a year of focused work plus caring a lot would be enough."
I'm glad you wrote this, because so many people bemoan the first quoted bit and don't take into account the second. Sure, FooFramework is out of fashion, but the underlying knowledge that a good programmer, one I'd consider an "expert", persists. The knowledge that makes a person a good programmer, the real skills involved rather than the minutiae and the whatevery bits involved in translating that knowledge and those skills into a particular use case, have personally served me well (so far) in web development, mobile development, devops, and game development.
The meta of Buddhist philosophy (sans religion, spirituality, etc.) appears to be one of the most honest of the major, religion-derived belief systems.
i wonder what the bar here is - certainly more than blog posts / self published websites as those are fairly close to casual conversation imho.
glad to see pg picking up the pace on the writing!
I wonder if what is additionally required is : "someone you respect asks you to write on a topic". In PG's case, his audience might substitute, for others an employer or publisher might be what it takes.
Apart from that, how can something (confidence) increase in a static world? PG has clearly tossed this essay off without serious thought or discussion. A waste of time.
Exactly, and it's common to see that in many fields. People are persuaded by things that were bad ideas when they were new, and aren't swayed by new evidence to the contrary.
To further improve your beliefs you might need to become less certain.
Isn't that sort of the point of the essay?
Apart from that, how can something (confidence) increase in a static world?
I don't understand. Didn't your previous point argue exactly how hill-climbing could happen, and isn't that a (bad) example of confidence changing?
Or are you really arguing over the semantics changing beliefs in a static world? I hope you aren't; otherwise, like you said: A waste of time.
The second point is that drawing a line between the "world" and your beliefs about it is a pretty dopey dualistic way of thinking. But hey, Graham doesn't care that there might be real knowledge and valid experience of these matters in the accumulated history of philosophy or psychology, he just shoots from the hip with some flaky positivistic analogy with computation... Ridiculous.
You can explore ideas that you don't hold, and these can be quite varied from your current beliefs. Once you find an idea that you put more confidence into that your current beliefs, then that idea becomes your belief.
The local optimum from high-climbing doesn't constrain you in a world where your beliefs can teleport from one hill to another.
>"Until this point, I have been describing the stereotyping process as a
negative force for individual and team functioning. However, this
process actually stems from an adaptive, often functional psychological
process. Mental heuristics and cognitive shortcuts enable us to process
information without conscious deliberation: they fill in the
informational gaps we often experience when making decisions. In other
words, habits of mind help us to save brain power for more difficult
tasks. Joseph Pieper's classic "Leisure, the Basis of Culture" sets
out this theory well. In the 1980s, people thought we could create
expert systems by interviewing experts like brain surgeons or oil
exploration specialists, and creating a rule chaining prolog environment
that would recreate their decision-making ability. The problem was the
experts did not know how they knew what they knew. That is, experts are
creating associations between disparate experiences and pieces of
knowledge, using the subconscious brain." 
The quote above reminded me a bit of the previous "How You Know" essay
by Paul Graham [2,3]. At times it's disheartening to realize the
discrepancy between how much I read, and how much of it I can actually
remember, but it's nice to know at least some of it manages to stay with
In this new essay, pg says:
>"When experts are wrong, it's often because they're experts on an
earlier version of the world."
Stereotyping and similar classification are essentially heuristic
modeling based on past experience. Some substantial part of our mental
models are based on "Unknown Knows," or better said, our mental models
are based on experiences we cannot consciously recall but still somehow
know unconsciously. Even if we keep the models updated to have a
"current version of the world" through seeking new experiences, we are
still often incapable of either anticipating or handling new surprises.
Maybe people who regularly succeed as startup investors (i.e.
anticipating and handling surprising exceptions) have learned to retain
some degree or form of suspended disbelief when applying their models
to the world?
It's trivially easy to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment
like enjoying a fictional story. Intentionally escaping reality for a
while is an established habit for most people. On the other hand,
intentionally suspending a bias, belief or model in the real world seems
to take more effort, but that's possibly due to my own lack of practice.
For most people this seems to be the case, but I have found a way to do it regularly. I evoke empathy before logic.
By being empathetic and transporting yourself into another person's values, you then use your logic to deduce the answers and details from their point of view. This allows you to escape your own details.
I use this often. But I can never start with logic, I have to start with empathy. From there, I can then calculate.
You can do this as a thought experiment, and you'll find it becomes trivially easy.
I work with customers often, and when I work with them I just pretend I work for them. My desires and goals change dramatically from what I would suggest for them if I didn't pretend in my head that they hired me.
I also tend to distance myself from... caring?.. about outcomes. The less I care about what the result is, the better I am at changing my perspective.
This suspension of disbelief, and the practice of it allows you to quickly shift your entire world view. The shifting isn't really the hard part, the allowing yourself to shift is.
I hope this is clear, I feel like this is difficult for me to communicate well. I think a back and forth conversation would make more sense for this topic.
So I agree that it's important to protect against obsolete beliefs it's also important to consider when the belief is really wrong and when it was just overloaded with confounding events.
You seem to have read the title and just spouted your vomit onto your keyboard then hit send. That's not really a good path to constructive criticism there, is it?