I went to a blog salon. We ate oysters, drank champagne, and argued about Paul Graham’s article You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss. People focused on different parts of the essay but generally agreed that Paul Graham writes to a very specific audience and his ideas don’t really scale outside of that group (programmers).
Mr. Graham argues that “a normal job may be as bad for us intellectually as white flour or sugar is for us physically.” He goes on to demonstrate this by sharing his experience with programmers and explains that a normal job is a big company where you do the same thing all the time. For Graham, and his stable of Y Combinator startups, the answer to happiness (Graham rarely refers to it as happiness. He uses the analogy of a lion in a zoo compared to a lion in the wild. Graham uses the term “natural”.) is to work hard and lean for intense amounts of time on good ideas with the hope that there will be a big payoff in the end.
Just recently Anil Dash posted a quote from Dave Winer, “I tried to solve the problem by leaving Silicon Valley, and writing software I believe in, and doing the best I can. For me it’s never been primarily about money. I like money, up to a point — but I’m really in it for the wonderful things you can do with the tech. It’s an end in itself, not a means to an end.”
Graham wants to create value, and his method for creating value is to create a system that more closely mimics a “natural environment” so that programmers are able to make better products (and then more money). Graham’s article helps define a better way to make money, but not why we should bother. (The why is a much more interesting discussion!)
It was great to talk with nine other smart people about someone else’s essay, but in the end I found it a little frustrating because no one was especially invested in the idea being presented. No one was defending Graham’s idea because no one really believed everything he said, but there was also truth in the essay, especially in the context of who Graham is and who is audience is. I would rather argue and discuss an idea by someone in the room so that the idea could be re-shaped and made stronger.