Explaining the benefits of hyping up your friends’ ideas.
Amplify (ˈam·pləˌfī) verb: To make larger, greater, or stronger; enlarge; extend.
Idea Amplification (īˈdēə ˌam·plə·fəˈkā·shən) noun: Helping people see their ideas are bigger than they thought.
I was listening to a recent episode of Conversations With Tyler—a podcast where the brilliant Tyler Cowen interviews people. It’s a podcast that introduces a lot of varied experts into my worldview, and Tyler asks the best questions. Don’t believe me? Check out an episode or two.
Anyways, the episode was one with Paul Graham, a famous computer scientist, entrepreneur, and cofounder of YC Combinator. He’s got one of the best blogs on the internet.
To be honest, I always attempt to emulate his writing style. It’s very concise, worded well, and packed with insights. Naturally, I was pumped when two of my favorite people to follow were having a discussion. It delivered.
The Skill of Amplifying Ideas
The following exchange on the podcast inspired this post:
GRAHAM: Back to this idea, though, of how to get people to be more ambitious. It’s not just introducing them to other ambitious people. There is a skill to blowing up ideas, blowing up not in the sense of destroying, like making them bigger. There is a skill to it, to take an idea and say, “Okay, so here’s an idea. How could this be bigger?” There is somewhat of a skill to it.
COWEN: It’s helping people see their ideas are bigger than they thought.
GRAHAM: Yes. Oh, yes. We often do this in YC interviews.
COWEN: People say you’re especially good at that. This is what the other people say.
GRAHAM: Well, that’s why I’m mulling over what actually goes on, because there is this skill there. The weird thing about YC interviews is, in a sense, they’re a negotiation. In a negotiation, you’re always saying, “Oh, I’m not going to pay a lot for that. It’s terrible. It’s worthless.” Yet in YC interviews, the founders often walk out thinking, “Wow, our idea is a lot better than we thought,” just because of what we do.
This resonated with me for two reasons. First, I find myself doing it quite a lot. When a friend tells me an idea, my brain runs wild. I get excited and start asking them if they’ve considered all the amazing ways the idea can be applied, abstracted, or refined. The other reason is that I love friends who do this to my ideas. Some friends like Daniel Miessler and Justin Gardner stand out in particular. Both of them have taken my ideas and helped me see wider implications and applications.
Developing the Skill
Paul Graham is a smart guy and in that snippet, he called this a skill. I have to agree. Personally, I believe it’s a part of the skillset that has helped me develop great relationships with other talented hackers. It comes naturally to me, so it’s not insincere. If it doesn’t come naturally, I think you can still train yourself to do it genuinely. Here’s the process:
- Directly compliment the idea enthusiastically
- Think about other domains where it’s applicable and tell them
- Tell them about cool features or user interface ideas
- Spend a few minutes brainstorming and expanding on it
- Mention tactfully any shortcomings and ideas for overcoming them
If you do this, your friends will love it. And if you have a friend that does this for you, thank them! They’re essentially a free business consultant!
More importantly, it’s a ton of fun.
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