Relativity or the Atom Bomb?

The differences between Paul Graham and Joel Spolsky (both of whose writings I tend to follow) according to Techbert:

“PG: Great hackers plan themselves when stuff happens. There is no need to plan stuff.

JS: Plans for everything. Painless schedules, painless bug tracking to be followed at a very early stage in the company.”

I think the point about planning indicates a core philosophical difference between Paul and Joel. Both believe it takes smart, motivated people to build a successful company. However, where they most crucially differ is in how to drive said individuals.

Paul believes motivation comes from a desire to build great things – that breakthrough moment. Everything else can take care of itself. Joel suggests by building the proper framework (i.e. process, schedules, specs) you can make it easy to have incremental rewards that further reinforce an existing motivation. I still haven’t figured out where that initial motivation that is used to bootstrap Joel’s process comes from, but I think it has to do with wanting to work in the great environment created by his framework.

It’s worth noting that in a successful endeavor, these two paths converge. They’re simply different starting points. A smart, talented, and dedicated person could be happy with their work either way. The question is: what are you trying to build?

Both the development of relativity (and moreso, special relativity) along with the resulting first nuclear weapon (more important, the ability to induce fission) were landmark moments in human history. The smart, talented, and dedicated Albert Einstein was involved deeply with both.

Relativity was a breakthrough, ah-ha, build something great Graham-esque moment.

The atom bomb was the result of an applied process designed to accomplish a particular, practical, Spolsky-an goal.

Both resulted in something great being built. The process was radically different at first. However, anyone who’s studied a modern physics course knows that eventually, the process and paths converged.

Summary: there are lessons to be learned from both initial approaches. The question is do you want to discover relativity? Or build a nuke? Maybe, even both. 🙂

Techbert on Website development and marketing.: 10 differences between Joel Spolsky & Paul Graham.


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