The Bus Ticket theory of genius

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2nd August,2023

Paul Graham is an investor, especially known for having founded Y Combinator, a successful incubation platform in Silicon Valley, having incubated companies such as Airbnb, Drobox, Door dash, etc.

In a particularly insightful blog he wrote in 2019 (

Paul highlights “Everyone knows that to do great work you need both natural ability and determination. But there’s a third ingredient that’s not as well understood: an obsessive interest in a particular topic is a  key ingredient for success, especially the creative kind of success.”

He uses the example of people who collect bus tickets as a passionate interest, where there is clearly no tangible benefit. Yet a collector of old bus tickets collects tickets simply because he/she is deeply interested in this.

And such deep interest can be attributed to success elsewhere in other fields as well.

People who have interest in a topic or subject learn better and remember more than those who have more natural ability but no interest.

Collectors of old Bus ticket, for instance, can retain information about bus tickets that you and I would never be able to retain. Because we don’t have any interest.

In a famous study measuring kids’ reading ability, the kids read a short piece about baseball. It turned out that kids who liked the game of baseball were able to read better and comprehend more than kids who didn’t like the game of baseball.

This is why we can be very dumb about things we don’t care about and we can be extremely smart about the things we do care about.

Jeni Britton Bauer was asked if there’s one thing she’s learned repeatedly throughout life. She said, “I say it over and over again in my head, ‘don’t give a shit about shit you don’t give a shit about.’ Focus on what you care about. Let everything else go.”

Thomas Carlyle famously said, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” Paul Graham adds: “The source of an infinite capacity for taking pains is infinite interest.

A bad meal at a restaurant & we never go back. A bad meal at a girlfriend’s & no big deal.”

The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius essentially says:

-to cultivate motivation, cultivate interest

-to cultivate intelligence, cultivate interest

-to cultivate determination, cultivate interest.

And If you’re interested in something, don’t care who cares that you care.

You actually have to waste a lot of time looking around at different things that you’re interested in, and not so much worried about, how is this going to lead to me being successful, necessarily.

Like Steve Jobs, he took Calligraphy classes in college.

What was the point of that? Well, it turns out later, all these dots connected and those classes helped him create beautiful fonts and that was one of the main differentiator in the Apple products.

So we really can’t know what will lead to what, where does this go necessarily, but we just kind of have to pick things that we’re interested in, and be willing to deep dive on them.

Don’t care who cares, just follow your passion to succeed & stay blessed forever.