The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius
by Paul Graham
- “Everyone knows that to do great work you need both natural ability and determination. But there’s a third ingredient that’s not as well understood: an obsessive interest in a particular topic.” — Paul Graham
- Bus ticket collectors have an obsessive interest in the smallest details of what they collect. This kind of obsession often has no point to it. They don’t do it to impress, to get rich, but for the sake of doing it.
- “When you look at the lives of people who’ve done great work, you see a consistent pattern. They often begin with a bus ticket collector’s obsessive interest in something that would have seemed pointless to most of their contemporaries.” — Paul Graham
- “If I had to put the recipe for genius into one sentence, that might be it: to have a disinterested obsession with something that matters.” — Paul Graham
- “An obsessive interest will even bring you luck, to the extent anything can. Chance, as Pasteur said, favors the prepared mind, and if there’s one thing an obsessed mind is, it’s prepared.” — Paul Graham
- How do you know what matters? You can never be sure, but it’s usually difficult. Especially if it’s more difficult for others than it is for you. Also, this may not be true, Paul says, “it may be that to do great work, you also have to waste a lot of time.” This may be true because in order to find work that matters, you’ve got to be able to spend effort on things that turn out to be unpromising.
- “If the recipe for genius is simply natural ability plus hard work, all we can do is hope we have a lot of ability, and work as hard as we can. But if interest is a critical ingredient in genius, we may be able, by cultivating interest, to cultivate genius.” — Paul Graham
Paul finishes by saying, “It’s exciting to think there are still discoveries to make about discovery. If that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in.” If you have an interest in something, go deep. You never know where it might lead. Right or wrong, it’ll lead to something new or a new interest.
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