Delimited Options

Highlights from Talent (Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross)

Nov 20, 2022

On Peter Thiel

In a venture capital context, Peter realizes that our moral judgments are some of our most penetrating and motivated sources of insight, and that helps him bring extra faculties to bear on talent judgment issues. In our view, Peter actually asks whether you deserve to succeed, as he understands that concept, and he derives additional information from that interior and indeed deeply emotional line of inquiry. It is often moral judgments that call forth our deepest and most energetic intuitions.

On what tone to take as an interviewer

As noted, a key benefit of avoiding phoniness from the start is that it helps you get the candidate into the conversational mode as quickly as possible, and this is a critical principle of interviewing. By this we mean how people relate to each other directly, outside of interview settings, when they just say things. It sounds spontaneous, and indeed it is spontaneous. In the conversational mode, you are getting a much better look at how that person will interact with others on a daily basis on the job. We’re not saying that it shows “the real person,” whatever you might take that to mean. The conversational mode still involves a lot of conscious and subconscious presentation of the self to the outside world. It reflects that person’s signaling, airs and affectations, feints, and conditioned social habits. Still, at the very least, you are getting “the real version of the fake person,” and that is still more valuable than trying to process prepared interview answers.

On (wasted) chess talent

Tyler, for instance, is struck by many of the chess players he met as a teen. Many of them were smart, indeed brilliant, and they also had the ability to work on their own. Of course, they understood the idea of winning and losing, and winning and losing rating points, but it was hard for many of them to look outside the chess hierarchy and see that they weren’t really headed anywhere fruitful. They saw only what was right before their faces. Chess gave them short-term positive feedback and a set of chess friends, and so they continued to pursue it locally, but too often they ended up at age forty-three with no real job, no health insurance benefits, and a future of steady decline. In contrast, Ken Rogoff was a great chess player but at some point left the game to become a Harvard professor and world-class economist—for much higher rewards, of course.

On (wasted) tech talent

When it comes to the start-up world, Daniel sees too many young people who are content to go to one conference after another, receiving positive feedback because they are bright and articulate and seem to have promise. They also may play around on Twitter, building a profile and garnishing likes and retweets. But which useful hierarchy are they actually climbing? The best prospects are more focused on their actual projects and the building of their companies. If they meet a famous founder, they are more likely to ask “How did you find and hire your first five employees?” and less likely to inquire about their attitudes toward meditation or Yuval Harari.

On managing ADHD

For instance, accept for just a moment the oversimplified popular caricature of ADHD and assume it impels individuals to be switching their attention all the time. Well, being impelled to do anything is actually a great potential motivator. If need be, just set up your two projects next to each other, and keep on switching from one to the other, whenever your attention is distracted from the one you are working on at the moment. It is so often the workers who are not impelled to do much of anything at all who are the problem. Have you ever wondered how so many people can just sit there in the airport waiting for their flights, doing nothing? It astonishes us, and it is also a loss of productivity. Or let’s say you have ADHD and wish to read a long book. Is that impossible? Well, no. You might find a way to treat the next, forthcoming page as a “distraction” from the previous page, and that will keep you reading. When compensatory mechanisms are in place, an apparent disability doesn’t have to be a disability but can become an advantage. The reality is that a lot of ADHD individuals seem to develop mechanisms that allow them to take in enormous amounts of information while staying motivated the whole way through, or perhaps being super-motivated.