Self-direction and talented people
Entrepreneurship and Autonomy
Autonomy is a sign of talent in multiple places. It’s why entrepreneurs are more likely than salaried workers to have engaged in illicit activity as a teenager. It’s why young research scientists who narrowly miss out on funding applications early in their careers often outperform those who did get funding over the following fifteen years. And it’s why when capable school students are allowed to miss some classes and undertake self-directed study, they perform better on exams.
It’s not that entrepreneurs are natural rule-breakers. Rather, like many sorts of creative people, they want self-direction. They aren’t going to take the world at face value. They have to figure it out for themselves. Failure improves those scientists’ prospects because it gives them an increased dose of drive and perseverance. Once the system has rejected you, you are emboldened to be more autonomous. More freedom doesn’t mean capable students bunk off school: it gives them room to focus on their work.
A large recent study of artists’, film directors’, and scientists’ careers found that before they start a hot-streak of high-impact work, they take influences from a wide range of sources, which they then use to produce their breakthrough. They don’t work on the most popular topic they find or their most recent discovery. They choose what they are most interested in, where they see the most potential. Self-directed discovery is what sets-up the hot streak.
That is an extract from my new essay “Don’t Trade Your Autonomy For Stability”, published by Entrepreneur First. You can read the whole thing here.