Quote of the Day from Cormac McCarthy

Continuing the James Ellroy theme of talented people being obsessed, here's writer Cormac McCarthy in a rare interview with the WSJ:

I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

The pointer is from Roger Ebert's very interesting Twitter feed. Elsewhere in the interview McCarthy explains why he doesn't travel.

Of course, most Americans are not working on activities that drive them to suicide. The average American spent nearly five hours a day watching television in last year's TV season. It's the highest ever — up 20% from 10 years ago.

7 Responses to Quote of the Day from Cormac McCarthy

  1. Justin Wehr says:

    That’s one extreme: Doing big tasks that are extremely difficult and have a low probability of success. The other extreme is doing only simple things that have high probability of success — this is hedonistic pleasures like TV, sex, cliff jumping, etc. I think where people fall on this continuum is one of the most important things you can know about a person because it has so much predictive power, but interestingly very few people seem to know where they fall on the continuum or why. Some don’t even know there is a continuum.

  2. Kevin Burns says:

    Great thought, Justin. And if you were going to bet on who on that continuum would be the most successful, would that person not be somewhere very close to the middle? Not necesariliy balancing simple things with extremely difficult things, but rather doing things with medium difficulty with a medium chance for success? What is the optimum for successes?

  3. Krishna says:

    *Fox and the Hedgehog* retold?

    I think it’s got a neural twist. Not many are wired to focus on one thing. Some are born multi-taskers and guess what, they do a damn good job at it. Imagine the role of a conductor in an opera ; is that inferior to the actual performer on stage? They are master synchronizers. They don’t waste too much time or attention on one thing, just give it what is necessary and move on. Their focus is on the overall effect and the ultimate outcome. I think it’s a great skill.

    Mostly the flak they get is from people that envy their versatility, those that are not equipped to deal with macros with requisite levels of efficiency.

  4. Ben Casnocha says:

    The optimal point depends on the person, I think. I don't think there's a
    universal optimal point.

    Good thought Justin.

  5. Justine Musk says:

    I think it also depends on how you define ‘success’…People who get big success are not generally middle-of-the-continuum type of people. So the odds of success are low, so what? Often the way to beat the odds is to stay in the game long enough — put in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours — which not a lot of people seem to do (or else they put in the same hour 10,000 times) — and even if you don’t get the moon, you get the stars, or perhaps a shooting comet or unidentified flying object or something.

    I see your point, Krishna, but I also suspect conductors are a lot more obsessed with their art — and that conducting itself is an art — than that analogy would seem to indicate. People who are truly obsessed with what they do, do not envy more ‘well rounded types’ because they’re too in love with whatever they’re obsessed with. They feel privileged and rich to even have that obsession in the first place, and if the rest of their lives are a bit of a mess because of neglect, well, that is simply the price to be paid.

    What well-rounded types can do is figure out how to bundle their different interests and skills together in a way that makes them unique. If obsessive types tend to do one thing better than most other people, than the foxes can figure out how to do something that hardly anybody does at all. Although — cough — it would help if they got totally obsessed with it. :)

  6. Luis C. Lujan says:

    Hey Ben, my name is Luis Lujan. I attended your awesome presentation today (11/20/09) over at the University of Texas at El Paso. Congratulations! You did an excellent job (I’m sure you already know it.) sharing with us you entrepreneurial wisdom. In fact you did such an awesome job, I decided to buy your book today. That way some proceeds would go to my beloved and ambitious college (they are raising tuition again!) and I could get it signed by you. As I walked out of the building and I carefully looked I started to look at the book, I wondered: Why in the world did he pick a white cover? Is it just that you want me to wash my hands every time I want to read it. Good measure for these epidemic times though! Ok, ok…I guess I’m not “supposed to judge the [fabulous] book by the cover.”
    Now, I’m sure you are extremely busy. And you will probably not have time to answer more questions. However, I remember during the presentation you mentioned how you preferred working in “rich” countries since you do not have to spend valuable time figuring out how you’ll get to places (the example you mentioned); and instead you can use that time developing potentially profitable ideas. Now, my question is because even if you were working at a developing country with so many “structural problems” that you can’t work peacefully… Wouldn’t those same problems represent potential opportunities for business/entrepreneurial activity (you know how they say it is better to be part of the solution than being part of the problem)??? Sorry, its one of those questions, that just didn’t seem to come when they should.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Absolutely, poor countries with problems also
    represent good opportunities. I'm just interested in other kinds of
    opportunities.

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