Famous Quotes & Sayings

Paul Graham Quotes & Sayings

Enjoy the top 100 famous quotes, sayings and quotations by Paul Graham.

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The most important thing is not to let fundraising get you down. Startups live or die on morale. If you let the difficulty of raising money destroy your morale, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. — Paul Graham

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The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about. — Paul Graham

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Paying attention is more important to reliability than moving slowly. Because he pays close attention, a Navy pilot can land a 40,000 lb. aircraft at 140 miles per hour on a pitching carrier deck, at night, more safely than the average teenager can cut a bagel. — Paul Graham

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People are bad at looking at seeds and guessing what size tree will grow out of them. The way you'll get big ideas in, say, health care is by starting out with small ideas. If you try to do some big thing, you don't just need it to be big; you need it to be good. And it's really hard to do big and good simultaneously. So, what that means is you can either do something small and good and then gradually make it bigger, or do something big and bad and gradually make it better. And you know what? Empirically, starting big just does not work. That's the way the government does things. They do something really big that's really bad, and they think, Well, we'll make it better, and then it never gets better.
Building Fast Companies for Growth, Inc. September 2013 — Paul Graham

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People who write about politics, whether on the left or the right, have a consistent bias: they take politics seriously. — Paul Graham

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Sometimes the current even starts to flow in the other direction: sometimes, particularly in university math and science departments, nerds deliberately exaggerate their awkwardness in order to seem smarter. — Paul Graham

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If I had a choice of living in a society where I was materially much better off than I am now, but was among the poorest, or in one where I was the richest, but much worse off than I am now, I'd take the first option. If I had children, it would arguably be immoral not to. It's absolute poverty you want to avoid, not relative poverty. — Paul Graham

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I'd like to propose an alternative idea: that in a modern society, increasing variation in income is a sign of health. Technology seems to increase the variation in productivity at faster than linear rates. If we don't see corresponding variation in income, there are three possible explanations: (a) that technical innovation has stopped, (b) that the people who would create the most wealth aren't doing it, or (c) that they aren't getting paid for it. — Paul Graham

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In the startup world, 'not working' is normal. — Paul Graham

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Most makers make things for a human audience. And to engage an audience you have to understand what they need. — Paul Graham

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You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. — Paul Graham

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If you want to make money at some point, remember this, because this is one of the reasons startups win. Big companies want to decrease the standard deviation of design outcomes because they want to avoid disasters. But when you damp oscillations, you lose the high points as well as the low. This is not a problem for big companies, because they don't win by making great products. Big companies win by sucking less than other big companies. — Paul Graham

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I don't predict the demise of object-oriented programming, by the way. Though I don't think it has much to offer good programmers, except in certain specialized domains, it is irresistible to large organizations. Object-oriented programming offers a sustainable way to write spaghetti code. It lets you accrete programs as a series of patches. Large organizations always tend to develop software this way, and I expect this to be as true in a hundred years as it is today. — Paul Graham

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The right way to collaborate, I think, is to divide projects into sharply defined modules, each with a definite owner, — Paul Graham

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If you could replace high-school yearbooks, that could be a lot of money. It's so clearly waiting for someone to come along. — Paul Graham

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And for the same reason, as a bunch of guys who get together to go hunting. They don't actually hate you. They just need something to chase. — Paul Graham

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Being strong-willed is not enough, however. You also have to be hard on yourself. Someone who was strong-willed but self-indulgent would not be called determined. Determination implies your willfulness is balanced by discipline. — Paul Graham

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Like painting, most software is intended for a human audience. And so hackers, like painters, must have empathy to do really great work. — Paul Graham

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In hacking, like painting, work comes in cycles. Sometimes you get excited about a new project and you want to work sixteen hours a day on it. Other times nothing seems interesting. — Paul Graham

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You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people you have to do things that are arbitrary and believe things that are false. — Paul Graham

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You need rich people in your society not so much because in spending their money they create jobs, but because of what they have to do to get rich. I'm not talking about the trickle-down effect here. I'm not saying that if you let Henry Ford get rich, he'll hire you as a waiter at his next party. I'm saying that he'll make you a tractor to replace your horse. — Paul Graham

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Looking at things from other people's point of view is practically the secret of success. — Paul Graham

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What I tell founders is not to sweat the business model too much at first. The most important task at first is to build something people want. If you don't do that, it won't matter how clever your business model is. — Paul Graham

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Small-business customers are very conservative and very cheap. We don't have to explain ourselves for the most part. — Paul Graham

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Likewise, in any social hierarchy, people unsure of their own position will try to emphasize it by maltreating those they think rank below. I've read that this is why poor whites in the United States are the group most hostile to blacks. — Paul Graham

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The standard to compare your software to is what it could be, not what your current competitors happen to have. — Paul Graham

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This is a good plan for life in general. If you have two choices, choose the harder. If you're trying to decide whether to go out running or sit home and watch TV, go running. Probably the reason this trick works so well is that when you have two choices and one is harder, the only reason you're even considering the other is laziness. You know in the back of your mind what's the right thing to do, and this trick merely forces you to acknowledge it. — Paul Graham

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Get a version 1.0 out there as soon as you can. Until you have some users to measure, you're optimizing based on guesses. — Paul Graham

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Someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly. — Paul Graham

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Who thinks they're not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she's open-minded. Hasn't she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they'll say the same thing: they're pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid "wrong" as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like "negative" or "destructive".)

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don't know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite. — Paul Graham

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A startup is like a mosquito. A bear can absorb a hit and a crab is armored against one, but a mosquito is designed for one thing : to score. No energy is wasted on defense. The defense of mosquitos, as a species, is that there are a lot of them, but this is little consolation to the individual mosquito. — Paul Graham

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The difference between design and research seems to be a question of new versus good. Design doesn't have to be new, but it has to be good. Research doesn't have to be good, but it has to be new. I think these two paths converge at the top: the best design surpasses its predecessors by using new ideas, and the best research solves problems that are not only new, but worth solving. So ultimately design and research are aiming for the same destination, just approaching it from different directions. — Paul Graham

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There are few sources of energy so powerful as a procrastinating college student. — Paul Graham

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Object-oriented programming offers a sustainable way to write spaghetti code. It lets you accrete programs as a series of patches. — Paul Graham

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If you can imagine someone surpassing you, you should do it yourself. — Paul Graham

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A programming language is for thinking about programs, not for expressing programs you've already thought of. It should be a pencil, not a pen. — Paul Graham

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In business, there is nothing more valuable than a technical advantage your competitors don't understand. In business, as in war, surprise is worth as much as force. — Paul Graham

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If you're in a job that feels safe, you are not going to get exceptional, because if there is no danger there is almost certainly no leverage. — Paul Graham

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Users are a double-edged sword. They can help you improve your language, but they can also deter you from improving. So choose your users carefully, and be slow to grow their number. Having users is like optimization: the wise course is to delay it. — Paul Graham

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It's hard to say exactly what it is about face-to-face contact that makes deals happen, but whatever it is, it hasn't yet been duplicated by technology. — Paul Graham

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If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble. — Paul Graham

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At every period of history, people have believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you risked ostracism or even violence by saying otherwise. If our own time were any different, that would be remarkable. As far as I can tell it isn't. — Paul Graham

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Empathy doesn't necessarily mean being self-sacrificing. Far from it. Understanding how someone else sees things doesn't imply that you'll act in his interest; in some situations - in war, for example - you want to do exactly the opposite. — Paul Graham

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A restaurant can afford to serve the occasional burnt dinner. But in technology, you cook one thing and that's what everyone eats. So any difference between what people want and what you deliver is multiplied. You please or annoy customers wholesale. The closer you can get to what they want, the more wealth you generate. — Paul Graham

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There is all the more reason for startups to write Web-based software now,
because writing desktop software has become a lot less fun.
If you want to write desktop software now you do it on Microsoft's terms,
calling their APIs and working around their buggy OS. And if you manage to write something
that takes off, you may find that you were merely doing market research for Microsoft. — Paul Graham

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If you disagree with something, it's easier to say 'you suck' than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation. In this respect trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world. — Paul Graham

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Some people just get what they want in the world. — Paul Graham

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If a writer rewrites an essay, people who read the new version are unlikely to complain that their thoughts have been broken by some newly introduced incompatibility. — Paul Graham

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Don't ignore your dreams; don't work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy. — Paul Graham

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It's hard to do a really good job on anything you don't think about in the shower. — Paul Graham

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The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true. — Paul Graham

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There are plenty of smart people who get nowhere. — Paul Graham

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People who do good work often think that whatever they're working on is no good. Others see what they've done and think it's wonderful, but the creator sees nothing but flaws. This pattern is no coincidence: worry made the work good. — Paul Graham

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I'm not saying there's no such thing as genius. But if you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right. — Paul Graham

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The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eighth rewrite. — Paul Graham

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I suspect few housing projects in the US were designed by architects who expected to live in them. You see the same thing in programming languages. C, Lisp, and Smalltalk were created for their own designers to use. Cobol, Ada, and Javawere created for other people to use. If you think you're designing
something for idiots, odds are you're not designing something good, even for idiots. — Paul Graham

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Those in authority tend to be annoyed by hackers' general attitude of disobedience. But that disobedience is a byproduct of the qualities that make them good programmers. — Paul Graham

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Attacking an outsider makes them all insiders. — Paul Graham

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If you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you. — Paul Graham

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Venture capitalists have a list of danger signs to watch out for. Near the top is the company run by techno-weenies who are obsessed with solving interesting technical problems, instead of making users happy. — Paul Graham

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We don't have to go that far to sell our beer because our immediate accounts sell so much. Places that sold 10 cases before, now they're selling 30. — Paul Graham

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Empirically the way you get a product visionary as CEO is for him to found the company and not get fired. — Paul Graham

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The recipe for great work is: very exacting taste, plus the ability to gratify it. — Paul Graham

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I get a lot of criticism for telling founders to focus first on making something great, instead of worrying about how to make money. And yet that is exactly what Google did. And Apple, for that matter. You'd think examples like that would be enough to convince people. — Paul Graham

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In a big company, you can do what all the other big companies are doing. But a startup can't do what all the other startups do. — Paul Graham

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Dressing up is inevitably a substitute for good ideas. It is no coincidence that techincally inept business types are known as suits. — Paul Graham

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No art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it. — Paul Graham

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Many people feel confused and depressed in their early twenties. Life seemed so much more fun in college. Well, of course it was. Don't be fooled by the surface similarities. You've gone from guest to servant. It's possible to have fun in this new world. Among other things, you now get to go behind the doors that say "authorized personnel only." But the change is a shock at first, and all the worse if you are not consciously aware of it. — Paul Graham

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If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies. Like a lot of American kids, I read this book in school. Presumably it was not a coincidence. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world. This was too subtle for me. While the book seemed entirely believable, I didn't get the additional message. I wish they had just told us outright that we were savages and our world was stupid. — Paul Graham

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We need a language that lets us scribble and smudge and smear, not a language where you have to sit with a teacup of types balanced on your knee and make polite conversation with a strict old aunt of a compiler. — Paul Graham

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When Bauhaus designers adopted Sullivan's "form follows function," what they meant was,
form should follow function. And if function is hard enough, form is forced to follow it,
because there is no effort to spare for error.
Wild animals are beautiful because they have hard lives. — Paul Graham

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If the hacker is a creator, we have to take inspiration into account. — Paul Graham

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In England, at least, corruption only became unfashionable (and in fact only started to be called "corruption") when there started to be other, faster ways to get rich. — Paul Graham

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You can't trust the opinions of the others, because of the Blub paradox: they're satisfied with whatever language they happen to use, because it dictates the way they think about programs. — Paul Graham

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Part of what software has to do is explain itself. So — Paul Graham

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If you want to create wealth (in the narrow technical sense of not starving), then you should be especially skeptical about any plan that centers on things you like doing. — Paul Graham

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If you really understand something, you can say it in the fewest words, instead of thrashing about. — Paul Graham

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When Facebook first started, and it was just a social directory for undergrads at Harvard, it would have seemed like such a bad startup idea, like some student side project. — Paul Graham

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If Lenin walked around the offices of a company like Yahoo or Intel or Cisco, he'd think communism had won. Everyone would be wearing the same clothes, have the same kind of office (or rather, cubicle) with the same furnishings, and address one another by their first names instead of by honorifics. Everything would seem exactly as he'd predicted, until he looked at their bank accounts. Oops. — Paul Graham

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Just fix things that seem broken, regardless of whether it seems likes the problem is important enough to build a company on. — Paul Graham

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For the most ambitious young people, the corporate ladder is obsolete. — Paul Graham

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Keep your identity small. — Paul Graham

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Wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity. Navy SEALS and neurosurgery residents seem slackers by comparison. — Paul Graham

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One startup I dream of funding is the one that kills the record companies. — Paul Graham

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To become more popular, you need to be constantly doing things that bring you close to other popular people, and nothing brings people closer than a common enemy. — Paul Graham

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Why Europe grew so powerful. Was it something about the geography of Europe? Was it that Europeans are somehow racially superior? Was it their religion? The answer (or at least the proximate cause) may be that the Europeans rode on the crest of a powerful new idea: allowing those who made a lot of money to keep it. — Paul Graham

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In our world, you sink or swim, and there are no excuses. — Paul Graham

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If you'll laugh about something one day, you may as well start now. — Paul Graham

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Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?
If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told. — Paul Graham

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Like having a child, running a startup is the sort of experience that's hard to imagine unless you've done it yourself. — Paul Graham

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You have to be able to see things from the user's point of view. — Paul Graham

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Across industries and countries, there's a strong inverse correlation between performance and job security. Actors and directors are fired at the end of each film, so they have to deliver every time. Junior professors are fired by default after a few years unless the university chooses to grant them tenure. Professional athletes know they'll be pulled if they play badly for just a couple games. At the other end of the scale (at least in the US) are auto workers, New York City schoolteachers, and civil servants, who are all nearly impossible to fire. The trend is so clear that you'd have to be willfully blind not to see it. — Paul Graham

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I suppose I should learn Lisp, but it seems so foreign. — Paul Graham

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If you can keep hope and worry balanced, they will drive a project forward the same way your two legs drive a bicycle forward. — Paul Graham

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The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. — Paul Graham

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It's important for nerds to realize, too, that school is not life. School is a strange, artificial thing, half sterile and half feral. It's all-encompassing, like life, but it isn't the real thing. It's only temporary, and if you look, you can see beyond it even while you're still in it. — Paul Graham

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Everyone by now presumably knows about the danger of premature optimization. I think we should be just as worried about premature design - designing too early what a program should do. — Paul Graham

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Startups often have to do dubious things. — Paul Graham

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So if you can figure out a way to get in a design war with a company big enough that its software is designed by product managers, they'll never be able to keep up with you. These opportunities are not easy to find, though. It's hard to engage a big company in a design war, just as it's hard to engage an opponent inside a castle in hand-to-hand combat. — Paul Graham

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Empathy is probably the single most important difference between a good hacker and a great one. — Paul Graham