I’m ok with calling this the “Silicon Valley mindset”—since it recommends a growth-oriented career mindset, like the Breakout List philosophy, with the ultimate success metric being impact—though it’s important to note that I’m not advocating for everybody to go start companies. Rather, I’m describing a shift in focus towards extreme career capital growth asap (rather than direct impact asap) in any reasonably relevant domain, subject to the constraint of robustly avoiding value drift. This seems like the optimal approach for top talent, in aggregate, if we’re optimizing for cumulative impact over many decades, and if we think we can apply the venture capitalist mindset to impact (thinking of early-career talent as akin to early-stage startups).
Thanks for this reply!
Sorry for not realizing you worked at DeepMind; my comment would have looked different had I known about our shared context. (Also, consider writing a bio!)
I think we’re aligned in our desire to see more early-career EAs apply to those roles (and on most other things). My post aimed to:
1. Provide some background on some of the more “successful” people associated with EA.
2. Point out that “recruiting people with lots of career capital” may be comparable to “acquiring career capital” as a strategy to maximize impact. Of course, the latter makes the former easier, if you actually succeed, but it also takes more time.
On point (2): What fraction of the money/social capital EA will someday acquire “already exists”? Is our future going to look more like “lots of EA people succeeded”, or “lots of successful people found EA”?
Historically, both strategies seem to have worked for different social movements; the most successful neoliberals grew into their influence, while the Fabian Society relied on recruiting top talent. (I’m not a history expert, and this could be far too simple.)
One concern I have about the “maximize career capital” strategy is that it has tricky social implications; it’s easy for a “most people should do X” message to become “everyone who doesn’t do X is wrong”, as Richard points out. But career capital acquisition doesn’t lead to as much direct competition between EAs, and could produce more skill-per-person in the process, so perhaps it’s actually just better for most people.
Some of my difficulty in grasping the big picture for the community as a whole is that I don’t have a sense for what early-career EAs are actually working on. Sometimes, it feels like everyone is a grad student or FAANG programmer (not much potential for outsize returns). At other times, it feels like everyone is trying to start a company or a charity (lots of potential, lots of risk).
Is there any specific path you think not enough people in the community are taking from a “big wins early” perspective? Joining startups? Studying a particular field?
Finally, on the subject of risk, I think I’m going to take this comment and turn it into a post. (Brief summary: Someday, when we look back on the impact of EA, we’ll have a good sense for whose work was “most impactful”, but that shouldn’t matter nearly as much to our future selves as the fact that many unsuccessful people still tried their best to do good, and were also part of the movement’s “grand story”.) I hope we keep respecting good strategy and careful thinking, whether those things are attached to high-risk or low-risk pursuits.
I don’t have enough data to know if there are specific paths not enough people are taking, but I’m pretty certain there’s a question that not enough people are asking within the paths they’re taking: how is what I’m doing *right now* going to lead to a 10x/100x/1,000x win, in expectation? What’s the Move 37 I’m making, that nobody else is seeing? This mentality that can be applied in pretty much any career path.
Note that your argument here is roughly Ben Pace’s position in this post which we co-wrote. I argued against Ben’s position in the post because I thought it was too extreme, but I agree with both of you that most EAs aren’t going far enough in that direction.