Paul Graham’s Axioms

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In their recent episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Taylor, Brewster, and Carlisle discussed Paul Graham’s Axioms. Here’s an excerpt from the episode:

Jake: Paul Graham. Do you guys have much experience with any of his work or ideas?

Tobias: When I was a tech M&A lawyer in San Francisco, someone gave me his book, just the name of it escapes me at the moment. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it.

Jake: Is it Hackers & Painters?

Tobias: Yes, that’s the one. I’ve got that back there somewhere. I love the book. I read his website, when he puts up in USA. I found that to be pretty insightful. He’s an interesting thinker.

Bill: I have no idea who he is.

Jake: Good. All right. Well, just as a little background then, for Bill’s sake and everyone else maybe. Paul Graham, he’s a computer scientist, essayist, and venture capital guy now, he was one of the founders of Y Combinator. He’s probably doing okay, but he has this book Hackers & Painters, and it’s quite good. I mean, some of the talk about programming languages might not be as interesting for someone although, there are some cool– [crosstalk]

Tobias: He advocates Ruby on Rails over C++ or whatever it was.

Jake: That not quite right, but yeah. [crosstalk] -this one called LISP, is the programming language that he likes.

Tobias: LISP. Okay. It’s been a long time.

Jake: In Chapter 9 of the book, it’s called Taste for Makers. It’s actually available on his website too, if you want to read that section. He’s talking about, how mathematicians will call good work, beautiful, and it has its own meaning, and other domains have also adopted the idea of beautiful. Whether it’s scientists or engineers, or musicians or architects, designers, writers, and coders. He looks through all these different domains, and tries to draw out the similarities of really, “How do you make good stuff?” I thought, well, all right, we can start with where the different domains that he saw, and how do they make good stuff there, and he took it to then computer programming, and we can then take it one step farther and try to apply it to a portfolio or investing more broadly. He has 14 different axioms about what makes something beautiful. We’ll pick out a handful of them and see if we can get through them and see what interesting things come out of it.

Number one. Good design is simple. In math, a shorter proof is always better. Good computer programming is very tight. Good writing is concise. Hemingway wrote like at a fifth-grade level.

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