Traits of Great Employees & Founders

Paul Graham has another great post this month on Earnestness. You should read it in full. (It’s not long.) There were a few specific parts that caught my attention, however:

The highest compliment we can pay to founders is to describe them as “earnest.” This is not by itself a guarantee of success. You could be earnest but incapable. But when founders are both formidable (another of our words) and earnest, they’re as close to unstoppable as you get.

He goes on further:

When you call someone earnest, you’re making a statement about their motives. It means both that they’re doing something for the right reasons, and that they’re trying as hard as they can. If we imagine motives as vectors, it means both the direction and the magnitude are right. Though these are of course related: when people are doing something for the right reasons, they try harder.

Warren Buffett often says he looks for three things in people he hires: intelligence, energy, and character. Jeff Bezos says he looks for resourcefulness and an ability to make good decisions. How might we synthesize and reconcile these things? I think it probably looks something like the below:

I think the question of motives and energy is an interesting one. Some people (like my wife) tend to be high energy in general: she is able to work for long periods of time and is incapable of “relaxing” – watching TV or reading, say – for more than a few hours. In contrast, I am very lazy in general… except when the effort required aligns with something I value. For example, I value building companies and being fit. So I have no problem working for twelve hours and then running six miles. But taking 10 mins to get up from the couch to put away some groceries? Now that takes real effort.