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Don't let your friends be as annoying as poorly tied shoes.

Profile picture of Zayn PatelZayn Patel
Nov 24, 2022Last updated Jan 10, 20236 min read

One of the things that's bizarre to us today and will be bizarre in twenty years is how we make friends.

Twenty years ago, friends were either local or gatekeeped. Social networking sites weren't as widespread and international as today, so grade school was the primary way to make friends. And, if you were at an exclusive college or working at a company, you had to be "in" to be friends with the people there.

Neither of those barriers exists today, so while making friends has gotten easier, making good friends has gotten harder.

Two years ago, I wrote that finding friends is like talent acquisition. The premise was that each person should filter for friends, like startup recruiters filter for early employees. Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, spent so many months interviewing potential candidates his co-founders begged him to stop. Patrick Collision, the co-founder of Stripe, spent two years hiring the first five employees at Stripe.

Brian and Patrick spent so much time on early hires because they understood that each new person, after the first ten employees, who entered that department would be a duplicate of the root/first hire. And, if the root weren't planted well, the tree would get destroyed during the first storm.

I don't conduct code reviews or rigorous interviews with people I might be interested in for friendship. But there are some qualities I think about, so I thought I'd share.

Qualities of a good friend

Good friends disagree with you. They don't exclaim you're wrong as a quote of their disagreement. Instead, they'll recommend a path to truth that may or may not lead to correctness. The important part is that they are never yes-men. Even when they don't know a topic well, do they ask questions that poke holes in your logic?

To reasonably disagree with you, a person has to understand what you're talking about or know the areas around a topic well. They can't say, "the metaverse isn't going to happen," without reason. It's the basics of argument; evidence needs to be presented. Opinions alone aren't permitted.

Independent thinkers and builders do this well, perhaps because their free time is spent understanding the principles of the world.

Good friends have specific knowledge. The best conversations I've had are with people who have unbelievable depth in an area. You can crawl around the ideas in their brain like kids during a thanksgiving maze competition. Unlike the maze where the architect and the players are separate, the friend with specific knowledge is both. So you can ask them how they arrived at an idea or if they can steelman their argument.

Similar to a company with many departments, it's good to have friends with many interests. That way, when you're curious about something, you can call them up and ask.

Good friends iterate themselves and their work quickly. These individuals are always reading a book, listening to a podcast, or talking to someone smarter than them. They prioritize personal growth almost too intensely. The trap is people who do these things but don't have anything interesting to say after. They'll talk more about what they did instead of how they applied it or why they read it.

The people who grow the quickest are the ones who talk about it the least. They are so focused on executing that boasting about an idea they had three weeks ago isn't on their mind.

One way to identify high-growth people is based on how often they change their minds. High-growth people think in hypothesis. They'll hold something to be true until they invalidate or validate it, at which point they'll either ask new questions or convert the hypothesis to their axiomatic knowledge.

Good friends are independent thinkers. They repulse taking something as fact because a smart person or institution said it. Independent thinkers are better fact-checkers than government-employed fact-checkers because, unlike employees, their life depends on truth as much as the average human depends on oxygen.

Empirically, independent thinkers also care about doing something useful. Being around them means you'll probably prioritize societal usefulness over monetizing the "skills" you were taught in college.

What good friends are not

I'm not using the inversion mental model in this section. These are some contrarian qualities that I'd use as secondary criteria to the above.

Good friends are not "always there for you." You want friends who fly across the country if there's an emergency but not friends who you call every time you experience something as difficult as a breakup.

Most situations where you think you need someone else to talk to can be resolved with one hour of journaling and a thirty-minute shower or nap.

Good friends are usually not local. Local in the sense of grade school or college. I think companies like YC have been successful with locality because the founders they've brought together are equally nerdy and determined. Geography happens to be a part of the deal. That could be a good test: would these people interact if they weren't a part of the same YC batch?

Many local friendships remain forced when that doesn't need to be a tension teenagers experience anymore. Reddit, discord servers, slack channels, online programs, and more give students globality. Finding good friends remains challenging with a global crowd but finding a tribe is easier today than ever.

And, because making friends can happen online, you can experiment with people more often than you could locally. You can spend a week on Reddit; if you don't like it, exit is easy; close the tab.

Good friends are not people who ask to hang out. Hanging out is like calling someone for fun but doing it in person. There's no purpose.

I find that good friends can work in solitude, sync after a month or two, and click. When there are meetings, it's for a purpose, not just to hear the other person's voice.

Also important, and something I still need to mention, is how you know when to update friends.

The answer to this question is complex because your definition of a good friend and my definition might differ. But, I think about updating when talking to the other person isn't interesting anymore. That means my mind doesn't swirl with ideas or joy after talking to them.

How to make good friends is something we should teach kids during the time of their life when they're learning to tie their shoes. Most of the good ideas and memories we have resulted from our friends.

Like tying your shoes, it doesn't matter which approach you take to finding good friends as long as you do it intentionally.

Don't let your friends be as annoying as poorly tied shoes.


Tweet @zaynpatels with your comments or email me @[email protected]

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