Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Money and Disputes

Paul Graham wrote an interesting essay back in 2010 called The Top Idea in Your Mind. He writes about two situations that can take over your thinking in the sense that they push out other ideas. One is getting money (fundraising, if you are a startup), and disputes. I had never thought about this, but it's absolutely true; fights are such a mental energy sink that the only people who do them well are those who are essentially professional fighters: activist hedge funds, litigators, certain types of real estate investors, etc.

The problem is not the amount of effort of the action you ultimately take in the dispute, but the pain of having the fight - and the implied insult - take up so much of your thoughts. In Graham's words:
Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I've found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn't deserve space in my head. I'm always delighted to find I've forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn't been thinking about them. My wife thinks I'm more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.
Why do money and disputes dominate our thoughts so much? Probably because we're just chimps (or whatever social animal you prefer to imagine yourself behind), and both of these threaten our survival. A lack of money is a direct threat; money represents resources, i.e. food, shelter, etc.; disputes threaten us indirectly through our fear that they threaten our social status, which as social animals is how we get money i.e. food, shelter, etc. [1].

If money and disputes are such time sucks, then disputes about money are the worst. Try to avoid these at all costs. Definitely something for me to keep in mind as I rev up for fundraising.

Incidentally this idea of money and disputes may explain some of the interest in Lawyers, Guns and Money. In addition to the obvious reference to money, having lawyers and guns are the two ways to resolve disputes: argument or force.

[1[ We often back up our stubbornness in clinging to our disputes with the argument that if I given an inch he'll take a mile, or some other idea that losing the dispute is a precedent for diminished social status. That may have been true when we were chimps in the wild and scarcity was a real problem, but in the modern world it's rarely true.

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