Rationality > IQ

Warren Buffett in Fortune

How I got here is pretty simple in my case. It’s not IQ, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear. The big thing is rationality. I always look at IQ and talent as representing the horsepower of the motor, but that the output–the efficiency with which that motor works–depends on rationality. A lot of people start out with 400-horsepower motors but only get a hundred horsepower of output. It’s way better to have a 200-horsepower motor and get it all into output.

So why do smart people do things that interfere with getting the output they’re entitled to? It gets into the habits and character and temperament, and behaving in a rational manner. Not getting in your own way. As I said, everybody here has the ability absolutely to do anything I do and much beyond. Some of you will, and some of you won’t. For the ones who won’t, it will be because you get in your own way, not because the world doesn’t allow you.

The good news is that science backs up Buffett’s insights: recently in The New York Times, the notion of dysrationality and RQ (Rationality Quotient) was highlighted. The low correlation between IQ and RQ indicates that Buffett is right, but, more interestingly – rationality is something we can all improve upon.

The bad news is that the list of cognitive (biases) hurdles one needs to jump over to be truly rational is pretty long.

Writing is a nightmare…

“Writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare. Coal mining is hard work. This is a nightmare…There’s a tremendous uncertainty that’s built into the profession, a sustained level of doubt that supports you in some way. A good doctor isn’t in a battle with his work; a good writer is locked in a battle with his work. In most professions there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. With writing, it’s always beginning again…”

Philip Roth cited in the fantastic book Daily Rituals


Favorite quote …

कर्मण्ये वाधिकारस्ते म फलेषु कदाचना
कर्मफलेह्तुर भुरमा ते संगोस्त्वकर्मानी॥
Bhagavad Gita, Ch 2., Verse 47.
Translation from

Srimad Bhagavad Gita Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya

You have right only to perform work and not to undertake the discipline of knowledge. While doing works, do not think you have the right to claim their fruits. Never, in any state of life whatsoever, should you crave for the fruits of your works – this is the idea. When you crave for the fruits of your works, you make yourself liable to reap those fruits; (but) you should never be the cause of such fruit-gathering, for when one works, impelled by the craving for fruits, one has to reap the fruits of such works, namely, birth in the world. ‘If the fruits of works are not to be desired, why should painful works be undertaken at all?’ This thought should not tempt you, Arjuna, to withdraw from all works, either.

Hedging risk

“Baseball, business, these are games of cycles. What you want is to minimize the down cycles. Some days you’re smart and some days you’re dumb. When you’re wrong, don’t let that freeze you. Keep going and continue to make what you think are the right decisions, even if they are tough decisions.”

Billy Beane, Oakland A’s

Jared Diamond on silo-busting in academia…

Silo-busting is exceptional in academia – one is expected to specialise. There is a lot of turf warfare,” he notes, explaining that when he first started studying ornithology he kept this secret from his colleagues in the medical department. “Luckily my [academic] papers about birds were published in journals which no gall bladder physiologists ever read. But when my review committee eventually found out about what I was doing, they voted against my promotion. In academia, working in multiple fields is not a benefit but a penalty.” So much so that he now advises young academics to “make sure you get tenure before you start publishing in a second field”. “In academia people talk about interdisciplinary thinking and run courses and programmes – but Lord help you if you try to make an interdisciplinary career, unless you are already so high that there is nothing they can do to you.”