A tough interview question: my answer

On a quick break from work, I opened the Quora digest email I get seemingly multiple times a day.

In it, the perennial question about what people were asked in interviews. This time it was with Elon Musk.

The question was: if you could choose three people to have lunch with, dead or alive, who would they be?

I tried to answer it mentally right away, but really couldn’t. Initially I just couldn’t think of three people. Right away Warren Buffett came to my mind. Then Bill Gates.

I pondered this for about 10 minutes — and can imagine Elon Musk’s face waiting 10 minutes for me to answer.

Here is my reasoning and the three people: first, to pick living people, they’d have to be either at the end of their lives, so that my odds of naturally meeting them in the future is low, or incredible enough while not easy to read about or watch interviews with them. Having met a handful of incredible people (all of them living at the time), the gain in knowledge or rubbing-off of magic is negligible over a lunch. Unless they’re really fun to be with and you have the time of your life, or you see potential in the lunch having some kind of follow-up. So no, no living people when you can meet freaking dead people.

That said, my first lunch would be with Leonardo da Vinci. There’s so much we don’t know about him. Also, he is reputed to having been kind of a nice guy, so higher odds of a decent conversation. Same would not be likely with Isaac Newton, for example.

Second lunch would be with Genghis Khan. Yes, I’d bring a machine gun with me just in case he starts having ideas. But what occasion other than this weird interview question would allow you to meet such a mysterious and world-defining dude? I could have chosen some Buddha or Christ, but I just assume those fellows are highly fantasized or even downright fictional characters.

Finally, I’d have lunch with one of my descendants three generations down. Yup, no one forbade me from picking a not-yet born person. I think more than 3 generations down, it will be hard for me to understand the future in the course of a lunch. Also, my descendant may care about me and tell me more about his time if we hit some rapport, which may not happen if he’s 16 generations removed.

So that’s that. I don’t really want to work for Elon Musk at the moment but this was my answer.