Intelligence Doesn't Always Lead to New Ideas, so What Does?
Summary of Paul Graham's "Beyond Smart" essay
Paul Graham is well-known for his essays and for starting the famous seed company called Y Combinator that seeded many very successful startups like Airbnb, DoorDash, Coinbase, Dropbox and Matterport.
He also founded a company called Viaweb which he sold to Yahoo in 1998 for $49.6 million.
I've read many of Paul Graham's essays and highly recommend taking a look here and seeing if any of them interest you.
My favorite one is: How to Make Wealth.
Being smart and having new ideas are not the same thing.
A lot of people know Albert Einstein as one of the smartest people who ever lived but what a lot of people may not know about Einstein is that he also had new ideas.
The gap between being smart and having new ideas is large.
This could be part of the reason why so many really smart people aren’t successful - because they don’t have any new ideas.
Paul Graham said that he would choose being less smart and discovering lots of new ideas over being really smart and having no new ideas.
This choice feels uncomfortable for Paul though.
He thinks it is because throughout childhood, schools can measure intelligence so they put a lot of emphasis on being smart instead of having new ideas.
Also when in adulthood, intelligence wins in conversations, therefore, it becomes a base for who is ahead in the dominance hierarchy.
Although intelligence can definitely be a precursor to having new ideas, there are other ingredients that can lead to new ideas as well.
Paul doesn’t tell us all of the ingredients but only some that he is aware of like having an obsessive interest in a particular topic and being independent minded.
There are also some techniques that Paul mentions for having new ideas such as:
1. Working on your own projects
2. Overcoming the obstacles you face in early work
3. Working hard
4. Getting enough sleep
5. Avoiding certain kinds of stress
6. Having the right colleagues
7. Finding tricks for working on what you want even when it's not what you're supposed to be working on
8. Writing ability
Paul says that coming up with new ideas is particularly associated with youth.
He then makes a really interesting point that it probably isn’t youth itself that results in new ideas. It is the ingredients that come with youth - like good health and the lack of responsibilities - that lead to new ideas.