Re: Competent Elites

One of the major surprises I received when I moved out of childhood into the real world, was the degree to which the world is stratified by genuine competence.

[T]hese people of the Power Elite were visibly much smarter than average mortals. In conversation they spoke quickly, sensibly, and by and large intelligently. When talk turned to deep and difficult topics, they understood faster, made fewer mistakes, were readier to adopt others’ suggestions.

No, even worse than that, much worse than that: these CEOs and CTOs and hedge-fund traders, these folk of the mid-level power elite, seemed happier and more alive.

Competent Elites by Eliezer Yudkowsky

This is 100% true.

The first time I felt like I was talking to cognitive equals was at the Y-Combinator interview pool when I met a pair of Nigerians (this is not a joke) who were attempting to monopolize the entire African financial system.

The second time was when I met someone on Less Wrong who runs his own hedge fund.

Advice for High School #2 by me

Differences between geniuses are hard for non-geniuses to measure. You can understand everything that’s going through the head of someone dumber than you. When someone is smarter than you, you cannot tell if they’re one level above you or fifty because you literally cannot comprehend their reasoning.

General intelligence, measured relatively against your age cohort, tends to be stable over a person’s lifetime. I had a teacher take me aside and tell me “I’d cure AIDs or something” when I was nine. It was that obvious.

Isn’t this a contradiction? I just said you can’t tell if someone is smarter than you. Then I said that my teacher (who, while smart, was not a genius) could tell that I was off the charts.

Note the qualifier “relative to your age cohort”. My 4th grade teacher could tell how smart I was because I could be much smarter than a class of 4th graders while still being dumber than him.

I have observed this phenomenon in a wide variety of contexts, especially job interviews. People dumber than me can quickly tell within two minutes of conversation I’m smarter than them but it is hard for them to figure out how wide the gap is.

I once hired a technician to solder circuits. He knew my brother and I were smart because we had started a consumer hardware company in our basement. The shock came when he heard us playing an impromptu puzzle game based on our knowledge of US history. That was when he realized we weren’t specialists at consumer hardware. We are that good at everything.

This, I suspect, is one of those truths so horrible that you can’t talk about it in public. This is something that reporters must not write about, when they visit gatherings of the power elite.

Because the last news your readers want to hear, is that this person who is wealthier than you, is also smarter, happier, and not a bad person morally.

Competent Elites by Eliezer Yudkowsky

The smartest people tend to be ambitious.

Ambitious people are rare, so if everyone is mixed together randomly, as they tend to be early in people’s lives, then the ambitious ones won’t have many ambitious peers. When you take people like this and put them together with other ambitious people, they bloom like dying plants given water. Probably most ambitious people are starved for the sort of encouragement they’d get from ambitious peers, whatever their age.

The Anatomy of Determination by Paul Graham

How do you find fellow ambitious people? Not randomly. Fierce nerds are too rare to bump into by accident.

There are three ways to meet these kinds of people.

  • Reaching out. This works better the younger you are (high school age is optimal) or if you have something else to offer.

  • Join exclusive communities. Prestigious colleges aren’t exclusive enough. Also, their entry requirements are too easily gamed. Think “at least as difficult as Y-Combinator”. One way to get into exclusive communities is by volunteering. This is one way Tim Ferris got contacts when he was starting out his career. (It wasn’t his only funnel. He blogged too.)

  • Create media. Write a blog. Film YouTube videos. Record a podcast. Draw a webcomic. Compose your own songs. Art is my favorite for many reasons. It scales. It’s humbling. It builds capital. It attracts serendipitous opportunities. It cultivates your credibility with strangers. Try out lots of different mediums. Drill down hard on whichever suits you best. The dumber you are the more you should compensate with artistic craftsmanship. The smarter you are the better you can get away with just a blog.

The best way is to combine all of these. Create art for an exclusive community. Reach out to others. Make it easy for others to reach out to you.