Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 26 May 2018 04:10:22AM *  0 points [-]

We went back to them apologetically telling them “hey, we’ve built something” but they never replied. Too slow, clearly.

Companies drop the ball on all kinds of stuff all the time. With MealSquares, we've observed that it's difficult to get companies to reply to email inquiries about buying their products! See The Moby Dick theory of big companies. There's an entire science to selling to big companies which I don't know much about. This book might be a good place to start. Often in sales you talk about a sales funnel with leads, prospects, etc.--you try to gather as many leads as possible and then minimize the amount of dropoff at each stage (not 100% sure I'm using the correct terminology).

Hardcore techies will probably be thinking I should have just dropped the PhD.

My hardcore techie take on your post is: Now you know why Silicon Valley is obnoxiously elitist when it comes to hiring software developers :) I wouldn't have told you to drop the PhD; I would have told you to start programming as a hobby in your spare time, and if you were having fun & it seemed like something you were good at it, perhaps start a company (or maybe get a job as a developer for a while first--nothing like getting paid to level up your skills). As a nontechnical person, you were lucky to get technical people to work with you on a project for free, and you were taking a gamble on their skills and commitment. It's not at all surprising that the gamble didn't pay off.

Ending with a whimper not a bang seems to be a common outcome when I talk to other people who have started companies. Sometimes I hear about someone's project and I'm like "wow that sounds really exciting" and they're like "yeah but I've been working on it so long that it's no longer exciting to me". (Actually, that's about how I feel about your project too--it sounds like a good idea, although I'm not sure it would have been big outside of the quantified self market.) So it might be worthwhile to figure out exactly when it is/isn't acceptable to quit in advance before you start a new project. You want a way to differentiate temporary demoralization that should be pushed through from indicators that the project is legitimately not worth pursuing.

Comment author: cafelow  (EA Profile) 06 May 2018 10:36:49AM 8 points [-]

The increased concern about downside risk has also made it much harder to ‘use up’ your dedication.

Thanks for articulating that - it was a undefined sense of ill-ease, that I now have words for. When I joined EA initially I naively thought everything I did (donating, outreach) was certainly net positive, and I could boldly dedicate away! The uncertainty I now feel about everything makes motivation harder and deprives me of the satisfaction I used to get (especially as my brain prefers to fixate on the possible negatives, rather than the expected value).

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 10 May 2018 02:54:51AM *  1 point [-]

A possible solution to this problem is to 'use up' your dedication in systematic research working to resolve important uncertainties.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 10 May 2018 02:52:29AM *  2 points [-]

Good post.

Excited altruism has become a more predominant force in EA which implies a lower level of self-sacrifice.

Excited vs obligatory altruism strikes me as orthogonal to dedicated vs less dedicated. When an excited altruist is dedicated, that's passion. When an obligatory altruist is dedicated, that's self-discipline. Seems like two different ways to reach a similar point. Also, there is an empirical question here: It may be that telling people to be excited altruists creates passionate altruists at a higher rate than telling people to be obligatory altruists creates self-disciplined altruists, in the same way salespeople seem to have discovered that telling prospects they have an 'opportunity' to buy seems to work better than telling prospects they have an 'obligation' to buy.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 10 May 2018 02:34:07AM *  1 point [-]

In particular, there might be ways for Rethink Charity to expand the EA survey to gather more rigorous data on value drift (selection effects are obviously problematic – the people whose values drifted the most will likely not participate in the survey).

An easy way to gather a pool of "value drifted" people to survey could be to look at previous iterations of the EA survey and identify people who filled out the survey at some point in the past, but haven't filled it out in the past N years. Then you could email them a special survey asking why they haven't been filling out the survey, perhaps offering a chance to win an Amazon gift card as an incentive, and include questions about sources of value drift.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 26 April 2018 07:47:20AM *  10 points [-]

Thanks for doing this!

Under "Have you received career coaching from 80,000 Hours?" there are 3 options: "I have received career coaching", "I have not received career coaching, but would like to", and "None of the Above". I think if "None of the Above" was replaced by "I have not received career coaching, and would not like to" then you'd more accurately measure people in that category.

IMO the EA survey is a super powerful tool that's currently underused. Here's an idea bank for future surveys:

  • Ask what skillsets people in the community are attempting to build, and what career paths they are trying to move into. Maybe we can forecast talent gaps in advance and build/recruit for those skills, or identify if there's a glut of people moving into a particular area. Bonus: In order to help people coordinate to avoid gluts, also ask people how dedicated they are to their current career path/how much career capital they've built. Then if I'm in an overpopulated career area, and I know I have less career capital for this area than the average, I know I'm one of the people who is best-positioned to move out of it. (You might even set people from the survey up with each other in order to overcome coordination challenges of this type.)

  • A lightweight method for facilitating comparative advantage trades: In addition to asking people what career they are personally working on, also ask them what careers they think more EAs should work on. Then have EAs who are just getting started with the movement and feeling directionless look over the freeform responses for ideas. That way I can continue in a career path I have comparative advantage for while still getting to influence how our collective career capital is allocated on the margin.

  • You could also ask people if they are open to being contacted by EA organizations that are recruiting for their skills. 80K says talent gaps are big and junior hires are valued at over $1M by EA orgs. I'm guessing a lot of hires currently happen through networking, which is a relatively inefficient process. Using the EA survey as a talent clearinghouse could generate millions of dollars of value on an annual basis. I assume you'd first want to talk to EA orgs to see if a process like this might work for them. I can think of a few advantages of this relative to using LinkedIn: career profiles optimized for what EA orgs are interested in, avoid sketchiness of unsolicited LinkedIn messages, probably a more comprehensive and up-to-date database of potential hires. You could still use mutual connections on FB/LinkedIn to measure involvement & dig up references. One complication is you'd want to separate the survey into "professional" and "personal" sections to control what information potential employers see, but I think the potential upside is worth it.

  • Add calibration questions.

  • Ask people which causes they've changed their minds about and why.

  • Ask EAs about their biggest productivity bottlenecks.

  • Ask people what mental health issues they suffer from.

  • Ask people how much $ they have in donor-advised funds etc. that they are saving up for future giving opportunities, and what circumstances would trigger donation. In general, it'd be nice to know how the community as a whole currently balances giving now vs giving later. Asking people about the circumstances that would cause them to donate could also help unendorsed donation procrastination.

  • How many people read/contribute to online EA discussions? Why or why not?

  • What factors are holding people back from being more involved in EA? Why do people choose not to work for EA organizations?

  • LW and SSC surveys might have more ideas. (A number of the above ideas are things I remember from the LW survey that I wish the EA survey had.)

Comment author: Joey 24 April 2018 04:53:53PM 3 points [-]

Social ties seem quite important, particularly close ones (best friends, partners, close co-workers).

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 26 April 2018 06:27:10AM *  7 points [-]

The social circle thing might interact in an interesting way with the apparently common insecurity of not being "EA enough". Suppose I think of myself as an EA, but due to random life fluctuation I find myself not being "EA enough" for some time. This makes me feel like an imposter at EA events, which makes me go to them less, which decreases my social ties to other EAs, which decreases my motivation for EA work, which makes me do less EA work, which makes me feel like more of an imposter at EA events. This feedback loop theory suggests that drifting out of EA social circles and having ones values drift are often intertwined phenomena.

Of course, that's just a guess. It seems like it would be valuable to get some anonymized stories from ex-EAs to see what is really going on.

Anyway, I think commenting on forums like this one can be good. Reading what other EAs are working on gets me excited about EA stuff, and leaving comments is a low-effort way to feel helpful. I don't typically feel like an imposter when I do this, because it usually seems like sharing my perspective would be valuable even if I was a complete non-EA.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 23 April 2018 09:16:00AM 6 points [-]

If your primary path to impact is donations and you want to keep value drift in mind, but you don’t know where you want to give yet, don’t save those donations. Put them into a donor-advised fund. That way even if you become less altruistic in the future, you can’t back out on the pledged donations and spend it on a fancier wedding or a bigger house. You can also set up monthly donations, or ask your employer to automatically donate a pre-set portion of your income to charity before you even see it in your bank account.

Does a donor-advised fund let you deduct money you put into the fund from your taxes? If so, that is a huge reason to use them.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 12 April 2018 10:16:26AM 16 points [-]

However, we can also err by thinking about a too narrow reference class

Just to pick up on this, a worry I've had for a while - which I'm don't think I'm going to do a very job explaining here - is that the reference class people use is "current EAs" not "current and future EAs". To explain, when I started to get involved in EA back in 2015, 80k's advice, in caricature, was that EAs should become software developers or management consultants and earn to give, whereas research roles, such as becoming a philosopher or historian, are low priority. Now the advice has, again in caricature, swung the other way: management consultancy looks very unpromising, and people are being recommended to do research. There's even occassion discussion (see MacAskill's 80k podcast) that, on the margin, philosophers might be useful. If you'd taken 80k's advice seriously and gone in consultancy, it seems you would have done the wrong thing. (Objection, imagining Wiblin's voice: but what about personal fit? We talked about that. Reply: if personal fit does all the work - i.e. "just do the thing that has greatest personal fit" - then there's no point making more substantive recommendations)

I'm concerned that people will funnel themselves into jobs that are high-priority now, in which they have a small comparative advice to other EAs, rather than jobs in which they will later have a much bigger comparative advantage to other EAs. At the present time, the conversation is about EA needing more operations roles. Suppose two EAs, C and D, are thinking about what to do. C realises he's 50% better than D at ops and 75% better at research, so C goes into Ops because that's higher priority. D goes into research. Time passes the movement grows. E now joins. E is better than C at Ops. The problem is that C has taken an ops role and it's much harder for C to transition to research. C only has a comparative advantage at ops in the first time period, thereafter he doesn't. Overall, it looks like C should just have gone into research, not ops.

In short, our comparative advantage is not fixed, but will change over time simply based on who else shows up. Hence we should think about comparative advantage over our lifetimes rather than the shorter term. This likely changes things.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 April 2018 05:30:38AM 4 points [-]

Before operations it was AI strategy researchers, and before AI strategy researchers it was web developers. At various times it has been EtG, technical AI safety, movement-building, etc. We can't predict talent shortages precisely in advance, so if you're a person with a broad skillset, I do think it might make sense to act as flexible human capital and address whatever is currently most needed.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 April 2018 05:29:07AM 3 points [-]

This poll is an interesting case study in comparative advantage. It seems that around half of EAs would actually find it easier to work a nonprofit making $40K than earn to give with a salary of $160K and donate $80K. I'm guessing it has something to do with sensitivity to the endowment effect/loss aversion.

Comment author: MarekDuda 04 April 2018 06:42:02PM 20 points [-]

Hello, speaking in my capacity as the person responsible for EA Funds at CEA:

Many of the things Henry points out seem valid, and we are working on addressing these and improving the Funds in a number ways. We are building a Funds ‘dashboard’ to show balances in near real time, looking into the best ways of not holding the balances in cash, and thinking about other ways to get more value out of the platform.

We expect to publish a post with more detail on our approach in the next couple of weeks. Feel free to reach out to me personally if you wish to discuss or provide input on the process.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 April 2018 11:25:45PM 1 point [-]

looking into the best ways of not holding the balances in cash

A possible approach to this problem is to have a mixture of liquid and illiquid assets. Suppose an EA fund has $500K, with $100K in very liquid assets, $200K in moderately liquid assets, and $200K in fairly illiquid assets. Suppose the fund manager decides they want to give all $500K in the fund to a specific organization. In that case, they could give $100K to the organization immediately, which would hopefully tide them over until the $200K in moderately liquid assets became available, which would hopefully tide them over until the remaining $200K became available.

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