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How to Identify Winners

Mustafa Sultan
Mustafa Sultan
How do you take over the world?
I think the first two steps are 1) finding the right people (co-founders, colleagues etc) and 2) money.
Yet to find any money, but here’s what I’ve learned about finding winners.
In summary: Intelligence, stamina, being collaborative, (Diet) Coke and being a night club promoter.

This seems to my first intuition. Find the smartest people possible. They’ll be winners.
But then you meet smart people who aren’t winners. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? Why Aren’t You Rich?
Then the biggest mindfuck happens: You meet idiots who are winning.
So maybe when Google ask interviewees why a manhole cover is round, or Oxbridge ask for a clean sheet of A*s — they’re kind of missing the point?
Smart people can be horrifically stupid. When making decisions, they can be just as stupid as anyone else — but they’re also more confidently stupid — with more of a drive to act on that stupidity.
So is being intelligent useless?
Well not really. You can witness an intellectual horsepower in really smart people. With years of cumulative knowledge and reasoning gains — they ‘just get things’ very quickly.
I was once told a story about Lord Simon Stevens, the former CEO of NHS England. Someone handed him a scientific paper to read. By the time the lift had reached the 10th floor — he’d read and dissected the whole paper — and picked out three flaws. 
Sounds like bullshit (kasme I heard it bro). But if I handed a watch collector a fake Rolex — it’s reasonable they would know as soon as it touched their hand.
So a V8 intellectual engine is beneficial, but doesn’t exist in isolation. As the multiplicative model of intelligence puts it—
“Final success requires a fairly tight combination of several traits—variables expressing the strength of particular traits are in some manner multiplied together to achieve a powerful final effect.”
Talent — Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross
So intelligence is important, up to a point — but to get that juicy multiplicative synergy — what else do you need?
Certainly a V8 intellectual engine without matching stamina is like a Lambo with an empty tank.
The first thing I ask my friends in consulting is: “So like what do you actually do?”. When they can’t answer that I ask: “Why are you in the office until 11pm everyday? What are you doing in 14 hours that you couldn’t do in 10?”.
The pointlessness of long hours as a junior in careers is confusing. What are you actually achieving in that time? We all know that senior people don’t work that hard.
But just like the ritual circumision practised in some tribes as a rite-of-passage into adulthood — I think sitting at your desk for 80 hours/week is our sanitised version.
An interesting framing of this sweat equity is as a stamina test. To identify people who can survive the decades of hard work, put them through a hazing in their first few years. Only the winners will remain.
(Interestingly, maybe Medicine’s stamina test worked on me — and I wasn’t really cut out for it).
I think having some form of stamina test under your belt is beneficial. Not only as a great filter, but as a stamina credential you can show people.
Being Collaborative
Stamina and intelligence are good, but then you have a hard working, intelligent crook (a Naval-ism).
The role of ethics is interesting. 
Part of me believes that ethics have no relation to career success or talent. People want to believe it does. But there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
It’s clear that people don’t like working with assholes. But I think being collaborative is more important than being ethical.
Winners run in packs. The Paypal Mafia produced: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and Keith Rabois.
From my own UK health tech lens, the Doctorpreneurs Mafia produced: Claire Novorol (co-founder of healthtech unicorn Ada Health), Vishaal Virani (Head of UK Health, YouTube) and Avi Mehra (Associate Partner at IBM).
But I distinguish being ethical from being collaborative. Take this example:
An old friend is applying for a job at your company. The application process is designed to be objective and anonymous. Your friend asks you to put in a good word for them. Do you—
1) Apologise and explain that the company’s hiring process is meant to be impartial, wish them luck.
2) Ignore the company’s hiring process, put in a good word anyway.
I’d argue that (2) is less ethical, but more collaborative. (2) is more problematic at a systems-level, but more beneficial at a personal network level.
I think winners choose (2).
Vitalik Buterin, Co-Founder of Ethereum
Vitalik Buterin, Co-Founder of Ethereum
I don’t really rate perfectly balanced people. Mainly because I think they’re boring.
If one is to find the long tails, the genetic freaks with 2.03 metre wingspans — who are born to be outliers, and achieve what outliers do — then I think some imbalance is key.
In other words, someone who’s jumped through all of the right hoops — has been to all the right institutions, got all of the right degrees, is pretty decent at everything and has a perfectly Instagrammable life. To me they stink of mediocristan
Mediocristan is where normal things happen, things that are expected, whose probabilities of occurring are easy to compute, and whose impact is not terribly huge.
Diet Coke
Tyler Cowen asked an interesting question: Why do Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Lauren Summers, Warren Buffett and John Carmack all guzzle Diet Coke?
An explanation could be low neuroticism. Diet Coke is certainly not good for you. Consensus seems to be that aspartame etc are safe but there’s probably a ?0.1% chance it’ll harm you later in life.
But the ability to look past small risks to focus on bigger things could be a useful quality. In other words, taking an L in one area of life to benefit another more important one.
Related to stamina and being imbalanced — the kind of person who guzzles Diet Coke (and other caffeinated beverages) is most likely, a little bit wired throughout most of their waking hours. I think that’s beneficial.
Russell 🦂
Got a cute new little bottle for my Diet Coke
Night Club Promoters
I think nightclub promoters are some of the most underrated people in society—
1) In a biosphere of university degeneracy – they had the initiative and drive to stand in the cold and promote events.
2) A good promoter is charming and attractive. I don’t mean physically attractive — but they have an aura/vibe which makes people want to join whatever they’re promoting.
3) It takes a lot of confidence to approach random people on the street with a high chance of rejection.
4) A good promoter will quickly scale — and start recruiting people to promote for them (taking a % of their ticket sales). I think this is quite a useful frameshift to have early in life, essentially, that your own time is finite — and to truly scale, you need to form a team.
Chris Williamson (Newcastle promoter and Love Island contestant turned podcast philosopher) is a good example.
A Final Word
There’s a real danger that everything I’ve said is just a smokescreen for what I think I’m good at, or what I’d like to be good at.
The idiosyncratic rater effect tells us that 50% of how we rate other people has nothing to do with them — but is a function of how much they remind us of ourselves.
This is also very much a working hypothesis. Hit <reply> with your own thoughts.
Cool Links
Ambitious people compete insanely hard to accumulate options for the future, instead of figuring out what they really want to do and doing it. That’s like spending your whole life filling up the gas tank without ever driving. This lets you off the hook of doing the hard work of figuring out what it is you want and what you should be doing with your life.
Khe Hy
You're 32:

- No spouse or kids
- Work 5 hours a week
- Earn 20-30k per year
- Playing World of Warcraft brings you tons of joy

Are you a genius or wasting your life away?
#091 How to Lead
With warmest wishes,
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Mustafa Sultan
Mustafa Sultan @mustafasultan

Thoughts on healthcare, human optimisation and productivity. A little taste of what I'm thinking and reading about.

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