Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills)

post by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-17T19:29:50.197Z · EA · GW · 24 comments


  What’s the problem?
    Possible proposals
    My favourite ideas

One of my resolutions for this year is to improve at forming views on difficult amorphous topics. A way I want to work on that is by writing more down. This post is an experiment in doing so. The views I express are therefore quickly formulated and weakly held, and I’d love to hear people’s reactions to them. 

There’s been some work over the last couple of years on how EAs might learn more professional skills. Animal Advocacy Careers’ survey indicated some interest in training from people at animal orgs. WANBAM was set up to provide mentorship to women, non-binary and trans people of all genders, and has also paid for trainings on topics including imposter syndrome. Most recently, the thing that sparked me thinking about this issue was Charity Entrepreneurship considering incubating an EA training organisation [EA · GW]. 

In this post I'll discuss my views on how EA might benefit specifically from additional training / skilling up. I’m focusing on professional skills such as fundraising or management, rather than learning about concepts in effective altruism, for which there seems to be a number of excellent programs happening [? · GW]. 

What’s the problem?

There are many different people in EA who might benefit from training programmes, from people wanting to skill up in a new field in order to change roles dramatically, to people already thriving at an effective organisation wanting to further hone the skills they’re using there. My impression is that it’s pretty universally the case that those of us trying to figure out how to help the world as effectively as possible need to learn a lot and improve at a great number of things. 

Learning things efficiently is harder than I would naively have expected. Some reasons why learning is hard don’t seem surprising: it’s hard to know in advance what you’ll need to know, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to do things in a self-directed way without a deadline. 

Resources for sharing knowledge generally seem worse than I would expect. A stark example I’ve been dealing with recently is parenting: most of the books and blog posts out there have a lot of strong (opposing) opinions rather than evidence. The classes I attended generally conveyed surprisingly little useful information, particularly by comparison to how much time they took. There were also fewer of them than I would have expected: I would have thought that everyone should be taught basic infant first aid before becoming a parent, but finding and going on such a course (despite being willing to pay) was quite a hassle. 

Finding the good information out there is hard, even aside from wading through the bad resources. That’s because it’s hard to know exactly what you should be looking for. For example, the ‘manager tools’ podcast, and associated ‘Effective Manager’ book, are among the better sources I’ve come across on management. Yet the advice often does not seem very apt for situations I’m in. By comparison, Y Combinator’s advice, for example on hiring, often seems very useful. That’s despite the fact that manager tools is targeted at managers in general, while YC’s advice is typically targeted at for profit tech start ups. My hypothesis for what’s going on here is that manager tools is mostly targeted at large organisations where there is a lot of risk mitigation to be done, and the typical employee isn’t that motivated to do their job. YC’s advice, on the other hand, is targeted at lean organisations which hire only people who are mission driven and keen to work hard, making the advice more relevant, even to organisations like the Global Priorities Institute. 

Knowing which skills are most important for you to learn is not trivial either. To have a sense of that, you usually need to know not just what you’re currently good and bad at (which is hard enough) but also where you want to get to in future. Such longer term planning is tricky (who knows what the future holds?) and often aversive. (80,000 Hours has a career planning process to try to make this a bit easier!)

A problem that's even worse for mission driven organisations than others is that object-level work always seems more urgent and important than self-development. If your alternative is improving a campaign in order to raise more money to fund insecticide treated anti-malaria bed nets, spending the extra time instead getting a bit better at design can seem frivolous rather than effective. That’s so even when the improved design would lead to the next few campaigns raising more money. 


Due to the reasons above, I’ve found it more helpful than I would have expected to get learning suggestions from other EAs around me. The more similar to mine someone’s situation is, the more likely they’ll be able to recommend resources tailored to me (for example, knowing that YC resources will be more applicable than Manager Tools). I’ve also typically found articles on the forum or advice from EA friends particularly evidence based, clear and actionable. I’m therefore keen for EAs to do more brief write ups of specific things they’ve learned and how - say, what they found most useful in learning how to write well. Of course, sharing them publicly (like on this forum!) is especially useful. But even writing suggestions up quickly and sharing them with colleagues can be really helpful - my colleague Brenton is particularly great at noticing things he’s learned and quickly writing them up for others to benefit from. Shared context within organisations makes this much easier than if you were going to make something public.

Being more ambitious, what are some projects people could take on to target the need for training in EA?


Possible proposals

Courses by EAs

One option would be for a group of EAs themselves to learn how to provide class-type training on the kinds of skills often needed by EA organisations, such as how to write well. I feel a bit sceptical of this. For most of these types of generally applicable skills, it seems likely that there are classes out there (whether in person or MOOCs from good universities), and it would be surprising if effective altruists could quickly do a better job than the people currently teaching those.  


Paying for courses

Instead, perhaps someone could take on doing the leg work to work out which courses in some important arena is best, and then secure funding for EAs to do those. 

This sounds better to me, but I’m still a bit sceptical. I’ve found it hard to find courses that were genuinely useful, and have spoken to comparatively few people who have found courses they thought were efficient ways of learning. (With the exception of coding, where people seem to benefit a lot from courses.)

On the other hand, there are benefits to courses aside from transmitting information. Doing a deliberately designed course on some topic should give you the reassurance that you have a good overview of the area and aren’t missing anything important. You might also find it useful to meet others doing the course, who presumably are in a similar boat to you (fun fact, I originally met our excellent ops specialist in a global health course!). Often there is some momentum behind doing the work for a course, because you go somewhere on a particular day and so you readily prioritise it. 


My favourite ideas

Systematising mentorship

My impression is that the best way of actually improving at something is to get a lot of feedback on your work from someone who is good at that thing and understands what you’re aiming for. It seems to matter quite a bit whether you have a good fit with the person, because you want someone with whom it's easy to communicate, from whom you’re comfortable hearing negative feedback, and who you would actively like to spend plenty of time with. 

The above is easiest to do with a manager within an organisation. Your manager will naturally want to see your work and have a lot of high bandwidth interaction with you. But I think it’s possible this could be replicated outside that formal context with a mentorship program. I’ve had a number mentors in different areas I’ve found very useful. Some other details of how I might imagine this working: 

There are a bunch of things I could imagine going wrong with something like the above, including: 


Paying for nudges

Another idea I could imagine working well is using small amounts of money to provide nudges to get people learning the things which seem most useful. 

My impression is that often people don’t get around to reading as much as would be useful due to things like not knowing which book on a topic to read, and needing to actually buy something. Often the lack of action due to these factors isn’t endorsed. It’s just that when you think it might be nice to learn a bit more about (say) hiring, you remember that actually you’d need to read book reviews and think about how much money it’s worth spending on such a book etc, and decide none of that feels appealing right now. Then you go on to something else and forget all about it. 

An extreme example might be coaching or counselling: in order to start these you have to figure out which person to try seeing. Coaches and therapists vary a lot, and it’s particularly unpleasant to have one you don’t get on with. And each session costs far more than a book. So I think a lot of people who would benefit from them don’t get them, because it feels so aversive to do the work needed to start. 

Someone could have a go at reducing these kinds of costs for the community. For example, you could figure out which books seem particularly good guides to different areas, and email any organisations you think are doing great work offering to send them copies of those books (whether physical, kindle or on audible). You could offer to pay for anyone receiving an EA Funds grant to get a couple of sessions of productivity coaching or counselling, to make trying that out less aversive. 

I think the above might still face difficulties: 

Personally, I’d still be interested in seeing someone try something like this. I’d be interested to know how much uptake they got for these offers, and whether people reported afterwards having actually read the books / finding the counselling useful. 

Thanks very much to Arden Koehler for comments on this draft. I work as an adviser for 80,000 Hours but this is written in a personal capacity. Note that my job might well mean I’m biased in favour of learning methods that look like coaching!

Edited to reflect more accurately what WANBAM does, at Kathryn Mecrow's request.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by KMF (KathrynMecrow) · 2021-01-18T15:42:29.490Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great post- Kathryn of WANBAM here. I would be very happy to share insights on what I have found has and hasn't worked with mentorship projects with anyone considering exploring this area. We have provided similar insights to emerging mentorship programs over the last 6 months or so. You can find me at <>. Thank you.

Replies from: Chi, Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Chi · 2021-01-18T21:07:02.846Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Kathryn, this is a bit off-topic, but I was wondering what that impostor syndrome training is that Michelle mentions in the post. Asking here because I imagine more people might be interested in this.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-19T10:29:55.345Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I'd also love to see any tips you could share here for what has / hasn't worked. I imagine a lot of us do informal mentoring (eg my workplace has an internal cross-team mentoring program), and so would be interested in these. 

Replies from: KathrynMecrow
comment by KMF (KathrynMecrow) · 2021-01-19T14:26:56.755Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

When we calm down a bit post the launch of Round 3, I will do a deep dive into our feedback and make a mini-post for the Forum. I think we are seeing some emerging themes after 2 rounds: Peer-to-peer seems to be surprisingly helpful and highly rated, accountability/encouragement to apply for opportunities when job-seeking is potentially very useful and high-impact for excellent hires who may struggle with their confidence when applying to highly regarded orgs, having an optional structure seems good to ensure engagements don't fizzle off due to social awkwardness, but one-offs can also be the best tool in certain cases, a diversity of activities (mentoring, ice-breakers, peer-to-peer, training) appears to make both mentors and mentees happier and more engaged, mentoring seems better when approached as a community-building exercise not just a way to facilitate a 1-1 engagement, individual mentor and mentee experience matters a lot, if you reach 1 excellent person and they have an excellent experience and tell 5 other excellent people you reach communities you wouldn't otherwise necessarily reach through marketing or whatever, be super clear who you are serving and listen to them, make sure they feel welcome and heard because even the best-intentioned plans have blind spots :) The list goes on but those are my top lessons learnt so far. 

Chi: We used an external trainer but I think we should make our own materials on Imposter Syndrome and I am hoping to get more bandwidth to do so with help. I have my eyes on some potential partners for this but it's all about time right now. With that said, I think there is impact gold if we could do this and do it well because I see confidence as a huge bottleneck right now! Big thanks to both. 

Replies from: Chi
comment by Chi · 2021-01-19T19:22:23.544Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the reply! I was initially just self-interestedly wondering which training you got and whether you would recommend it. But I am also happy to hear about your plans in that direction.

Given the time constraints, do you think there any other people for whom it would make sense to take the lead regarding this that you are not yet in touch with about this, (e.g. a specific type of person rather than specific individuals.) And if so, which traits would that person need? You already mentioned that you want to work on it with help anyway, and I can imagine that it doesn't make sense for any other person to take this up right now given your expertise. Still wanted to ask if you think there are any sensible versions that would involve you less and would be feasible time-wise because I also think this is a majorly important topic and would love to see something happen.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-01-18T20:28:50.219Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree this is an important topic with potential room for significant improvements.

FWIW, my impression is that I've benefited significantly from both courses and reading books (though of course it's hard to attribute counterfactual impact), particularly on interpersonal skills, leadership, and self/time management.

One observation I find quite striking is that in previous communities and organizations I encountered such training opportunities significantly more often, and felt they were generally more appreciated, than in EA. 

Specifically, during my university years I was involved in a student-run nonprofit, and this nonprofit - while naturally  less 'professional' and less well run than the typical EA organization in various ways - spent significant resources on training and furthering the education of the student activists running it.

These efforts included two yearly events that included workshops (with both internal and external facilitators/instructors) for the org's leadership and all org members/activists, respectively; a member of the executive board one of whose few key responsibilities it was to promote the professional development of activists; and a more fuzzy, cultural appreciation for such matters that led people to frequently sign up for external workshops, apply for grants or external mentorship schemes, etc.

Now, the actual mission of that organization was to promote higher education in post-conflict regions, and today for the broad purpose of improving lives in poor countries I'd donate to any GiveWell-recommended charity over that one in the blink of an eye. But for the purpose of improving my own skills, I think I'd seriously consider going back. In fact, I sadly think that in many ways that organization did a better job at promoting the professional development of its Europe-based student activists than at actually helping people in its target countries.

I was part of that organization for roughly as long as I've been into EA. At that org, I participated in countless workshops on things like time management, leadership styles, active listening, how to give and receive feedback [EA · GW], project management, impact assessment, risk management, preventing corruption, monitoring & evaluation, and many other things. They were hit-and-miss, and some were largely a waste of time in hindsight. But overall I feel like I've learned a lot, and am grateful for many opportunities to pick up and practice many skills I use every day in my current work in EA.

This changed dramatically when I started to work for EA organizations. With the exception of one CFAR workshop - which I found significantly less useful per unit of time - I don't recall participating in any workshop or training opportunity that tapped into external expertise, and only 1-2 'internal' ones. Nor do training opportunities get brought to my attention nearly as often.

(I'm also glossing over significant within-EA variance here. I've worked for two EA employers, and think that one had a culture significantly more conducive to staff development than the other even in the abscence of externally led workshops.)

One big caveat in this story is that the difference might be largely explained by experience/age. It is to be expected that, e.g., someone's first workshop on project management is more useful than later training (diminishing returns). Perhaps EA employers are correctly perceiving that most employees - even if they're recent graduates - have picked up the basics elsewhere, and that investing into further improvements is no longer worth it.

However, I'm skeptical that this is the full explanation. Overall, this aspect of my experience is one significant reason why I'm generally reluctant to enthusiastically recommend work "in EA" compared to work at institutions/orgs with an established track record of people learning/improving a lot there.

More broadly, my impression is that "professional development" or on-the-job training are explicit functions in most larger companies that have dedicated staff and resources. I haven't seen this in EA, though perhaps this is simply explained by most EA orgs being relatively small.

Replies from: Max_Daniel, Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-01-18T20:35:54.664Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some other hypotheses for what's going on:

  • Perhaps "learning by doing" is generally more effective than trying to improve skills via 'free-floating' workshops or other activities, and EA orgs are better at understanding this.
  • Perhaps low staff retention rates make some EA orgs reluctant to invest into the development of their staff because they worry they won't internalize the benefits.
  • Perhaps EA is culturally too arrogant, i.e. too indiscriminately convinced that it can do better than the rest of the world (which may in fact be true for, say, identifying high-impact donation targets - but this doesn't necessarily generalize).
  • Perhaps there is a cultural difference I'm not aware of. (The student org I mentioned was German, EA's culture is more influenced by the US/UK/international.)
  • Perhaps professional development is valuable as an organizational function primarily in contexts where staff aren't intrinsically motivated to self-improve, and perhaps EAs tend to have that intrinsic motivation anyway.
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-19T11:15:55.453Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, this is all really useful to hear! It makes me think that it's somewhat likely I've just generally not found the right courses / types of training.

I wonder if one thing that's going on is that I'm making the enemy the perfect of the good. The courses I've done like the global health short course at Imperial felt interesting and fun to me, but not very efficient: I learned a bunch of things that I wouldn't use alongside what I would, and the learning per unit time could have been higher. But on the other hand, it's pretty likely that although I could have learned the most useful parts in a shorter time, I wouldn't have, and so it was worth going. 

I may also be biased by enjoying courses, and therefore feeling like they must be a selfish waste of time, rather than what I should do. Or perhaps by the finding of the courses seeming boring, and so not bothering.

Perhaps low staff retention rates make some EA orgs reluctant to invest into the development of their staff because they worry they won't internalize the benefits.

This seems really sad if true, given that you would hope that in EA more than in the commercial world, skilling up staff to contribute elsewhere is still treated as valuable. 

I'd love to hear any advice from how that charity decided which courses would be best for people to do! Also whether there are any specific ones you recommend (if any are applicable in the UK). 

Replies from: Max_Daniel
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-01-19T12:51:38.539Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd love to hear any advice from how that charity decided which courses would be best for people to do! Also whether there are any specific ones you recommend (if any are applicable in the UK). 

I'm afraid that I'm not aware of specific courses that are also offered in the UK. 

I think that generally the charity actually didn't do a great job at selecting the best courses among the available ones. However, my suspicion is that conditional on having selected an appropriate topic there often wasn't actually that much variance between courses because most of the benefits come from some generic effect of "deliberately reflecting on and practicing X", with it not being that important how exactly this was one. (Perhaps similar to psychotherapy.)

For courses where all participants were activists from that same charity, I suspect a significant source of benefits was also just collaborative problem solving, and sharing experiences and getting peer advice from others who had faced similar problems.

Another observation is that these courses often involved in-person conversations in small groups, were quite long in total (2 hours to 2 days), and significant use of physical media (e.g. people writing ideas on sheets of paper, and then these being pinned on a wall). By contrast, in my "EA experience" similar things have been done by people spending at most one hour writing in a joint Google doc. I personally find the "non-virtual" variant much more engaging, but I don't know to what extent this is idiosyncratic.

comment by MichaelA · 2021-01-19T02:14:31.440Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

On the point of finding useful courses, Edo Arad asked earlier What are some good online courses relevant to EA? [EA · GW], mentioned a couple, and got a few more answers. Though most weren't focused on "professional skills such as fundraising or management". 

Maybe if people have additional course ideas, they could mention them as answers to that question post? Or maybe someone should make a new post to collect such course suggestions?

(This would be very much only a partial solution, but could be helpful.)

Replies from: jared_m
comment by jared_m · 2021-01-20T12:05:27.258Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Like that proposal, and will include some links to good management talks/courses in response to Edo's question!

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2021-01-17T20:17:35.806Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Weirdly not that much off-topic, but I'm curious about what else are you doing to "improve at forming views on difficult amorphous topics"?

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-19T11:00:49.574Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My learning goals for the year are somewhat intertwined, where one is 'forming more views' and another is 'developing better models of the world'. The things I'm doing are each somewhat focused on each, partly because I only want to form sensible / well informed views, and partly because I think I'll only feel comfortable forming views if I am in some sense conscious of knowing about a topic. The thing most focused on the 'forming views' side is writing - where that doesn't need to be shared with anyone. But a few other things I'm doing: 

Pay more attention to what rhythms/habits I can get into that make broad learning easy. For example: 

  • I love quizzing people about their job / something they know about. So I'm aiming to talk to one person a week who's in an area I want to know more about. 
  • I go for a walk everyday, and my plan is that every day I'll start that by listening to an article on pocket (after that I can just listen to music if I want, but often by then I'm into listening to pocket and continue). This is useful for me because I far prefer listening to things than reading.
  • I organised my bookmarks into better folders of things to read / watch with priorities, which means that so far (cross fingers I can continue!) I've actually been keeping track of things I want to read later rather than leaving the tabs open and hoping I get back to them later.

I also want to have a better sense of knowing that I know about an area, and a ready picture of what the landscape in that area looks like. I think the main thing to do there is to deliberately learn and memorise facts rather than simply reading around areas (so that I know that I read some book but am not sure how much I'd recall about the area unless asked specific questions). That involves reading / watching overviews of an area, and then putting into anki the key things I want to remember. (I think this is the article I found most helpful on using anki.)

My hope is that the combination of the above, and then sitting down to physically write down my overall take on some issue, will help. The final step then would be getting other people's views on my takes, if I get to the point of being happy to share with a colleague or others. 

I'd love to hear other thoughts on how I could improve at this!

Replies from: edoarad
comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2021-01-19T12:30:00.019Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, love it! 

You might be interested in Readwise (which can integrate with pocket and Kindle and others) - it collects pages and highlights and has a tagging system. Also, it has an automatic system for spaced repetition/recall. 

comment by lauren_mee · 2021-01-18T18:01:43.593Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great post and thanks for sharing, 

<<Paying for courses. Instead, perhaps someone could take on doing the leg work to work out which courses in some important arena is best, and then secure funding for EAs to do those. >> 

I guess we (AAC) did try this with our Management and Leadership training for EAA organisations this year, although potentially we didn't do deep research into the available courses. We did spend some time prioritising based partially on academic research which ones we thought could be the most beneficial. 

I think for us a major failure point was more due to what you pointed out here:

"A problem that's even worse for mission driven organisations than others is that object-level work always seems more urgent and important than self-development." Some feedback we had from the management and leadership training we provided this year was that even though initially participants were bought in and excited to participate some failed to complete the course due to a lack of prioritization on their part (i think its great that our participants were so transparent about this)  not due to the suggested course content not being valuable.  It's possible however this was also due to our implementation, if we do this again we will try to approach the training differently by working with a smaller number of organisations and try to get more buy-in from leadership for example get them to allocate a certain number of hours to this training for the individual. 

I think a challenge is that the value of taking the course might not be quantifiable to the individual or the organisation. So even if you find a course that could be helpful to develop a key skill, how can you measure the benefit to both the individual and the organisation of the person taking the training vs. them spending time on an object-level project. Would be grateful if you had any insight on this.   

<<I’m therefore keen for EAs to do more brief write ups of specific things they’ve learned and how - say, what they found most useful in learning how to write well. Of course, sharing them publicly (like on this forum!) is especially useful. But even writing suggestions up quickly and sharing them with colleagues can be really helpful - my colleague Brenton is particularly great at noticing things he’s learned and quickly writing them up for others to benefit from>>

Would also be really keen on this, it could be a great way for people to self-improve on certain topics. 

<<Systematising mentorship>> 

I think Kathryn from WANBAM has done an excellent job in facilitating this and matching individuals well but i imagine to do it well it's also very time-consuming for the person facilitating. 

Anyway, loved reading this post so thanks for writing it up.


comment by Ben_West · 2021-01-20T01:07:56.848Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for writing this up Michelle! I would be excited for you to write more things like this in the future. Regarding this:

The more similar to mine someone’s situation is, the more likely they’ll be able to recommend resources tailored to me

A common observation[1] is that firms retain older employees but rarely hire them. One explanation for this is that organization-specific knowledge (what acronyms mean, how you make a project plan, etc.) is valuable, but general-purpose skills aren't as valuable, so there's no point in recruiting someone who has 30 years of experience from your competitor. (Or, alternatively: too few people actually learn valuable general-purpose skills for this to show up in the data.)

This roughly seems correct to me, anecdotally.

To the extent that this is accurate in EA, it might imply that EA-specific communication norms or other EA-specific things are the most valuable to train.

An additional hobbyhorse of mine is that certification might be more valuable than training. Having a mentor who can teach you things is nice, but it might actually be more valuable for these skilled and trusted mentors to evaluate people's existing abilities and then credibly certify them.

  1. See e.g. Are older workers overpaid? A literature review: "Theories emphasizing specific human capital are able to explain why firms employ older workers but hardly ever hire them." ↩︎

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2021-01-20T08:30:30.465Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One explanation for this is that organization-specific knowledge ... is valuable, but general-purpose skills aren't as valuable

I've also heard the explanation that firms are strongly incentivized to teach organization-specific knowledge but not general-purpose skills, because the former increases employee efficacy in the organization but the latter makes them more hirable at other organizations. 

This is obviously theoretically true but I haven't seen the literature on the effect size/am unclear how big an issue this is in practice.

comment by MichaelA · 2021-01-19T02:28:53.361Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One small point of superficial feedback on this post: I feel like it could be useful to change the title to something like "Professional Skills Training Bottlenecks in EA", or "Professional Skills Training: A Bottleneck in EA"? 

I say this because I think training bottlenecks for things other than professional skills - e.g., learning about EA concepts or academic fields or research skills - are also quite important topics that are often discussed on the Forum. (E.g., in the posts tagged Research Training Programs [? · GW].) And I think it'd also be good to someday have a post collecting ideas for addressing that broader set of training bottlenecks in EA.

So even though at the start you said "I’m focusing on professional skills such as fundraising or management, rather than learning about concepts in effective altruism, for which there seems to be a number of excellent programs happening", I think I still kept sort-of forgetting that the scope was intended to be limited in that way as I read the rest of the post. And I think that might've been due to how the title set my expectations. 

(Though maybe this is just me and my sleepy brain!)

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-19T10:28:30.399Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's a good point, thanks. Edited to clarify. (I went with adding it in brackets, to make it easy to parse but lack the implication that I think this is particularly important bottleneck). 

comment by jared_m · 2021-01-18T00:29:56.494Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

+1, that "doing the leg work to work out which courses in some important arena is best" sounds like a great path! Perhaps you could supplement reputable educational content online with a systematized mentorship program or discussion group? This also rings true:

it’s hard to know in advance what you’ll need to know, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to do things in a self-directed way without a deadline

To improve the odds people find strong-match topics that they're motivated to learn, one might offer a "tasting menu" of intro materials for people interested in gaining skills, but uncertain which skills they will be motivated to learn via a paid course. For example, including 2-3 accessible academic interviews on YouTube or readings for those interested in: 

  • Operations [EA(p) · GW(p)]
  • Management: these '11 and '13 book talks by Harvard's Kaplan, and this recent interview with Harvard's Frei, are approachable  starting points. The Management Center  serves dynamic non-profits and other mission-driven organizations, and offers resources (including sample staff communications, etc.) others might want to review to see if these are skills they want to double down on via a more-extensive case
  • [Other topics (e.g., budgeting for non-profits or modeling uncertainty via Monte Carlo simulations), to increase the chance a certain topic is especially resonant to a rising leader at a given point in time]
comment by MichaelA · 2021-01-19T02:10:14.465Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this post.

Some thoughts on the "Systematising mentorship" stuff:

  • My impression is that WANBAM and Effective Thesis have essentially done some things that are similar to some of the things proposed in this section of this post. I imagine other EA- or EA-aligned orgs/people might've done so as well, in addition to presumably many non-EA orgs/people. So there might be a lot that could be learned from their approaches, successes, failures, thinking, etc.
  • In a recent podcast interview, Rob Wiblin and Spencer Greenberg proposed a potentially easier way to capture part of the benefits that "Systematising mentorship" would also aim to capture: Just setting up weekly meetings with someone else who's at roughly the same level of seniority and who also wants more "management"/"mentorship"
    • I summarised some of what they said about that here [EA(p) · GW(p)]
    • This of course wouldn't capture all the benefits of getting mentorship from a person with more expertise in an area than the mentee has, but it might capture the benefits that basically just require any "line manager" type person
  • "A paid mentorship program could harm other mentorship programs and organic mentoring in the community by setting up an expectation that people providing mentorship be paid." That does seem to me plausible and worth noting.
    • But it also seems plausible that a paid mentorship could lead to people coming to see mentorship in general (even when provided for free) as more a more valuable, desired, "substantial" way of being helpful and having impact. And that could perhaps lead to more mentorship being offered, it being offered by higher-calibre mentors, or mentors being more motivated (again, even when the mentorship is free.)
    • On the other hand, the existence of some paid mentorship could also lead to people implicitly assuming that free mentorship is lower quality or something like that, which could have bad effects (e.g., leading to less supply of and demand for free mentorship).
    • (I'm therefore not sure what the net effect of this consideration would be.)
Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-19T10:39:35.757Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

>Just setting up weekly meetings with someone else who's at roughly the same level of seniority and who also wants more "management"/"mentorship"

I really like this idea. I had a set up like this when I had a hands off manager, with a friend who didn't have a manager. I found it really helpful. For others who are keen on this but don't have a particular friend they'd like to do it with, there's a Facebook group for finding such accountability partners

comment by 96758 · 2021-01-19T10:45:27.661Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The 'Effective Manager' book you mention looks awesome. I'd also very highly recommend this book, focussed on all aspects of general non-profit management: Managing to Change The World, by Alison Green - 

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-19T11:02:46.413Z · EA(p) · GW(p)