If You’re Hot and Smart You Can’t Be…

Many years ago, when I was writing my first spec for a software product, an engineer told me: Your software can be good, fast, or cheap. Pick two.

It crystallized the idea of tradeoffs very powerfully in my brain.

Ever since, I’ve noticed the “pick two out of three” rule applies in a broad set of contexts. Tradeoffs abound when traits are inversely correlated or simply rare in combination.

Here are some other examples some friends and I came up with. Pick two out of three.

  • Products generally: easy to use, secure, private
  • Your significant other: hot, smart, emotionally stable
  • Vacations: exotic, relaxing, cheap
  • Non-fiction: original, entertaining, short
  • Meals made at home: tasty, nutritious, easy to make/cleanup
  • Shoes: comfortable, durable, stylish

And as I learned in compiling this list:

  • Blog posts: honest, politically correct, concise

9 Responses to If You’re Hot and Smart You Can’t Be…

  1. Shefaly says:

    Good post. Concise, honest.

    In dealing with a business: price, quality, service – pick two.

    My own Twitter criteria for following someone (which are admittedly four but finding two or more is a tough test): informative, interesting, dialectical, original.

    I can’t believe it goes back to 2008 when Darren RTed it: link to twitter.com

  2. Andrew says:

    My view is that your perceptions change over time and that in the beginning days, you might think that your (significant other, vacation, meals made at home, etc.) possess all three of the traits.

    For example, I thought Evernote was A) Easy to use B) Secure C) Private until in March when I saw that it was hacked.

    When I’m on a date with a girl, I tend to think she is hot, smart, and emotionally stable until another girl comes along that I compare her to and she is not so hot, smart, or emotionally stable anymore.

    It’s really what you use as the basis of your comparison. Are the shoes comfortable, durable, and stylish compared to what? Walking barefoot? Yeah probably.

    Interesting post, just thought I’d add my two cents.

  3. I am reminded of David Sedaris’s ‘four burners’ theory: link to newyorker.com

    There are four burners in your life: “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

    Fits, too, doesn’t it? Kind like the Rule of Pareto, yes? Thanks for the thinking here that made me think of this. Good on ya.

  4. Andrew Lynch says:

    Here’s a couple more I’ve heard:

    Cars: fast, reliable, cheap.

    Projects: on time, on budget, full scope delivered.

  5. Engineering: “you can have it fast, cheap, or good — pick any two.”

  6. Ivan Kreimer says:

    Shoes can be durable, comfortable and stylish, if you pay what they’re worth. That’s why I would change your “pick two out of three” by saying that shoes can’t be cheap, durable and comfortable/stylish at the same time.

  7. Nick H says:

    I disagree. I have personally experienced or demonstrated counter examples that immediately come to mind on the points of people/personalities/significant others, shoes, meals (a great deal of my meals are cheap, tasty, and relatively easy to make), vacations/travel (many of the most exotic places are very cheap, whether you consider them relaxing is more a function of your overall style of mind, but they have been for me, unless you consider “relaxing” to be one in which you have quality material goods, which is a kind of circular logic and false dichotomy to me).
    Non-fiction: no, wrong again! Check out the works of Etgar Keret. To me they satisfy all those criteria. Or the short stories of Gogol, and surely more.

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