Choosing Hard Problems

June 17, 2020

I was reading Paul Graham’s essay How to Make Wealth, one of the ideas that caught my mind is to always choose the harder decisions – the ones you only can go along with its consequences, the others cannot.

The metaphor is:

At Viaweb one of our rules of thumb was run upstairs. Suppose you are a little, nimble guy being chased by a big, fat, bully. You open a door and find yourself in a staircase. Do you go up or down? I say up. The bully can probably run downstairs as fast as you can. Going upstairs his bulk will be more of a disadvantage. Running upstairs is hard for you but even harder for him.

How to protect your idea? Make it difficult.

But difficulty is relative. If you’re a domain expert, picking a unique problem to work on that most people out of your domain cannot. For you, the domain expert, the problem you solve may be easy for you because you already spent a huge amount of time working in the domain – and you know everything about it.

It’s hard for other people to follow, but it’s easy for you.