Precocity

Here is Steve Blank touting a youngster’s project that impressed him:

Max and his partners interviewed and analyzed over 650 early-stage Internet startups. Today they released the first Startup Genome Report— a 67 page in-depth analysis on what makes early-stage Internet startups successful.

Interesting stuff. According to Steve, it sorta passes the Ariel Rubinstein test for interesting sociological research: it gives the answers you already knew but didn’t necessarily formulate so crisply in your own mind. Introspective validation is the gold standard here.

Anyway, moderately interesting research conclusions aren’t the story. The story is that Max is (was at the time?) 18. Steve’s reaction:

Holy sx!t [sic]… Max set the record for smarts divided by age… I can’t wait to see what [he] does by the time he’s 21.

Precocity. It’s a fascinating subject. I’m often very disparaging of my own abilities and achievements when I was much younger and when I evaluate younger people, I typically compare them to this view of myself.

I think this is a bit of a flawed approach for two reasons. First, people are terrible evaluators of themselves.  Two, linear extrapolation, implicit in the last quote from Steve up there, is nuts.

People tend to not have very many truly interesting achievements waiting for them in their futures. I don’t know why this is, but I can offer this alternative view of young Max’s achievement:

‘Wow, pity this kid blew his load so early on a moderately interesting project. Imagine what he’d have achieved if he waited a few years, met some more people and channeled all that experience into a truly extraordinary achievement.’

The one-and-done model makes precocity a tragic flameout rather than an awe-inspiring prophecy.

PS I tried to make this post sound less negative than it wound up. I don’t mean to say that Max is doomed to mediocrity, nor to I mean to advocate deliberate repression of the entrepreneurial instinct. For most people, a bias for inaction is what screws you over. I mean this as observation rather than advice.

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