Cognitive Distortions Among People in Silicon Valley

According to Michael Dearing’s lecture from Stanford’s Leadership for Strategic Execution course, there are five recurring thought patterns among the people who get extraordinary stuff done in Silicon Valley. E’s notes as follows.

1. Personal Exceptionalism. “I am special.” And I am running a billion-dollar company.

    A macro sense that you are in the top of your cohort, your work is snowflake-special, or that you are destined to have experiences well outside the bounds of “normal”; not to be confused with arrogance or high self-esteem.

    Benefits: Resilience, stamina, charisma

    Deadly risk: Assuming macro-exceptionalism means micro-exceptionalism, brittleness.

2. Dichotomous Thinking. “X is sh*t. Y is genius.”

    Being extremely judgmental of people, experiences, things; highly opinionated at the extremes; sees black and white, little grey.

    Benefits: Achieves excellence frequently

    Deadly risk: Perfectionism, closed to criticism and contrary opinions

3. Correct Overgeneralization. “I see two dots and draw the right line.”

    Making universal judgments from limited observations and being right a lot of the time. Not necessarily “correct”, but executed in such a way that it becomes correct.

    Benefits: Saves time

    Deadly risk: Addiction to instinct and indifference to data

4. Blank-Canvas Thinking. “Painting by numbers isn’t art. And I want to make art.”

    Sees own life as a blank canvas, not a paint-by-numbers. People who make cool stuff for the sake of making cool stuff. Think Elon Musk.

    Benefits: No sense of coloring outside the lines, creates surprises

    Deadly risk: “Ars gratia artis,” failure to launch, failure to scale

5. Schumpeterianism. “I am a creative destruction machine.”

    Sees creative destruction as natural, necessary, and as their vocation. Here we have the tech companies pricing out the lower-income locals who made the Bay Area an inviting place for startups in the first place.

    Benefits: Fearlessness, tolerance for destruction and pain

    Deadly risk: Heartless ambition, alienation

Remember, kids, correlation does not imply causation. Some of these attributes are borderline antisocial and may be a byproduct of the quest for achievement, not contributing factors to excellence.

Full lecture notes here.

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