The news that stroke me in recent days was that of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos divorcing. It’s because their marriage was quite a story and it is sad to see a great thing go.
MacKenzie met Jeff after she graduated from Princeton and took a job at D. E. Shaw (a hedge fund), where Bezos worked. In 1993 they married, and by 1994 they were driving to Washington, with MacKenzie reportedly at the wheel of the car. The couple gave up a really comfortable lifestyle and successful careers to move across the country and start something on the internet. The only reason Jeff Bezos was able to do that is because he had an extremely supportive spouse. It was an incredible risk and one that they both took on jointly. There is a clip of the net where Bezos explains how he held over 60 meetings to try to rise the first million dollars. And he had to give up 20% of Amazon for that.
It’s interesting to try to imagine the mindset behind it.
Intel’s founder Andy Grove wrote the book “Only the paranoid survives”’ with his opinion on what it takes to make it big – one needs to be a little crazy, often antisocial, and what he meant by this is not falling into cliché thinking.
If you are antisocial by the age of 5, there isn’t an intervention that is effective, they say. Male aggression peaks around the age of 15, and then declines and normalizes around the age of 27. Basically, if you have someone who is a real trouble, throw him in the prison until he is 27. Then they age out of it. Problem is, that the worst thing you can do with anti-social people is to group them together, which is what we do in prisons.
The troubled people all show a deficit in problem solving ability, or so the thinking goes. But there is more to it – they have problems in accepting reality as they see it. They have their minds set and will not bend. Extremely successful people seem to have the same personality trait. Like a structural engineer sees his life as concrete, square walls, and everything has to fit between them. It’s for them “my way or the highway” as the American saying goes. The others will hear, and react, to what they choose and want. Which may likely define the IQ, it’s just that not everyone is comfortable with it.
If your job is simple, which means you do the same thing every day, then IQ predicts how fast you learn the job but not how well you do it. But if you job is complex, which means the demands change on a regular basis, then the best predictor of success is general cognitive ability. That’s fluid intelligence, or IQ as I understand it. Another big one is freedom from negative emotion, as is openness to experience which means creativity.
All these dynamics result in the creation of social hierarchies, which are a feature of our environment, not just purely based on social contract and this is a huge thing to understand. This is where Karl Marks and the likes of him went wrong. Our institutions may be malleable, but our biology is much less so. In every century people were surprised that the life goes on the same way – and so are many today.
Male testosterone level is about 20 times that of women, so there is no surprise that prisons are filled with mostly men. Women are wired for cooperation, men are wired for individual performance. If you find your match, you’re the luckiest guy in the world. If you don’t, life gets bumpy fast.
It’s quite possible that Bezos had his chance and just blew it big time.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler