I haven't yet read all of this (short on time) but I wanted to flag that what I have read seems deeply thoughtful, I'm disappointed that this post hasn't had more engagement, and I for one am grateful you took the time and effort to write it.
This is very exciting!
Having worked with Jona at the EA Consulting Network, I've experienced his clarity of thought and communication, strong prioritisation and impact mindset, and keenness to coach me with specific feedback I could put into action.
Best of luck for 2023!
I have mixed feelings because I understand what the post is getting at but think this is a good example of a person writing their thoughts without considering how others will perceive them. E.g. there is no need to say 'quality of person' to get the point across, but doing so might make more sense if the author's mental process is simply 'writing down, as accurately as possible, what I believe' and there's no flagging of how a message might be received.
This problem seems common to me in the rationality community. Not meaning to dig at Thomas in particular, only to point it out, since I think it could reduce the diversity of the EA community along important lines.
If you state an opinion, it's thought that opinion should be scrupulously challenged.
If you state a feeling you had, especially a difficult or conflicted one, it's thought that it should be welcomed and certainly not challenged.
Individually, these attitudes make sense, but together I would expect that they will make Forum posts much more focused on emotional reactions than careful and unemotional pieces.
To clarify, I want both and think emotional reactions can be very important. But at least once, I've seen a detailed but unemotional post buried under a less well thought through post describing someone's emotional reaction to a similar issue. Perhaps we should be welcoming of posts that try hard to do careful and rational analysis, even if they seem/are misguided or unsuccessful.
(Intersubjective evaluation - the combination of multiple people's subjective evaluations - could plausibly be better than one person's subjective evaluation, especially if of themselves, assuming 'errors' are somewhat uncorrelated.)
Linking to Spencer Greenberg's excellent short talk on intrinsic values:
Spencer claims, among other things, that
- it's a cognitive fact that you value multiple different things
- if you pretend otherwise, e.g. because you feel it's stigmatised to act based on any consideration but impartial impact, you will fool yourself with 'irrational doublethink' of the type described in this post.
Thanks for sharing, and congrats! I especially enjoyed reading through the timeline. (I generally like & find it helpful to read concrete, relevant info, especially in posts more abstract than this one.)
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts in such detail here :)
Not sure about best places, though I have a friend who's working on setting up an EA community in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It might be worth pointing out that, in my experience, EAs seem quite unusual in tending to talk about EA almost all the time, e.g. at parties and other events as well as at work. I've often found this inspiring and energising, but I can also understand how someone could feel overwhelmed by it.
Thanks. Yes, that was the survey I mentioned.
The fact that some orgs already say things like 'knowledge of effective altruism is preferred but not essential' probably doesn't solve this issue. I can imagine that many jobs are competitive enough that you could only reasonably have a shot if you ticked certain boxes related to EA knowledge/experience, even if you might be a better and more-aligned candidate but don't have obvious evidence.
I think there's information value from doing lots of 10-minute speed-interviews, at least sometimes, so that we can get a sense of how many competent and EA-aligned people might be off EA orgs' radar.
p.s. I can confirm that Evan has been an excellent volunteer for the EA & Consulting Network.
Thank you very much for this post. I thought it was well-written and that the topic may be important, especially when it comes to epistemics.
I want to echo the comments that cost-effectiveness should still be considered. I have noticed people (especially Bay Area longtermists) acting like almost anything that saves time or is at all connected to longtermism is a good use of money. As a result, money gets wasted because cheaper ways of creating the same impact are missed. For example, one time an EA offered to pay $140 of EA money (I think) for me for two long Uber rides so that we could meet up, since there wasn't a fast public transport link. The conversation turned out to be a 30-minute data-gathering task with set questions that worked fine when we did it on Zoom instead.
Something can have a very high value but a low price. I would pay a lot for potable liquid if I had to, but thanks to tap water that's not required, so I would be foolish to do so. In the example above, even if the value of the data were $140, the price of getting it was lower than that. After taking into account the value of time spent finding cheaper alternatives, EAs should capture the surplus whenever possible.
As a default, I would like to see people doing a quick internal back-of-the-envelope calculation and scan for cheaper alternatives, which could take a minute or five. Not only do I think this is cost-effective; I think it helps with any issues of optics and alienation as well, because you only do crazy-expensive-looking things when there's not an obvious cheaper alternative.
It would also be nice to have a megathread of cheaper alternatives to common expenditures.
In my experience (interviewed 2020/21), Case In Point is no longer useful, except perhaps to skim through for some ideas.
My understanding is that, when consulting firms started using case interviews, they could get away with using a handful of standardised formats (profitability diagnosis, M&A, etc.). Case In Point provides rigid frameworks to apply to those standardised formats. But the firms have got wise to this. They used these frameworks to test thinking but got 'framework monkeys' using canned frameworks, so now they often give cases that don't fit those frameworks and/or expect candidates to produce better / more specific insights.
I think the most helpful resources are those that focus on developing the skills being tested in case interviews. In my opinion, improving at the actual skills firms look for is a robust way to do well, is more fun, and is more useful for consulting and life.
I'd recommend the free course and articles from craftingcases.com, as well as casecoach.com. (BCG London gave all interviewees free CaseCoach access.)
I think that community building has historically been massively promoted as important by EA communicators and key institutions, but then implicitly undervalued by the actual prestige, funding and support offered to existing or aspiring community builders.
This is my impression too. For university groups, CEA was trying to fix this with the Campus Specialist program, which was then discontinued. I'm curious why an org isn't hiring people on 2-year contracts / longer-term roles to lead promising city and national groups, since only being able to do the job on a grant already seems lower-prestige. (Someone might think: if people cared about community building enough, they would hire me to do it in a more stable way.)
On point #1, there's a critical distinction in the type of "follow-on" strategy we're employing, which is a standard template $100K into a large number of companies (generally known as the "spray and pray" model). This is characterized by low diligence per deal as opposed to most VC's who do still put in a decent amount of effort. Spray and pray of course has it's drawbacks in terms of validating the quality of the deal flow, but that's the crux we're exploring here regarding EA-aligned founders being potentially higher quality than average.
On point #2 not to be autobiographical but I personally am an example of an individual who would not have started an EA project without the onramp from Founders Pledge to actually introduce me to the community networks to get Snowball Fund up and running.
Great! Looking forward to working together.
I think this is an important point and there's some truth to it: EA 'startups' are different from venture-backed startups. When you say 'targeting', what do you mean here exactly, and do you have any ideas on how to do this without increasing time costs a lot? An advantage of our proposed approach is that it's time-cheap because it's systematic (with some caveats, we offer investment if and only if someone else has). But if there were a cheap way to make this better at finding the people most helpful for EA projects, that would be great.
If the claim is that, as a result of the differences between EA and venture-backed 'startups', it's not worth doing something like this to attract entrepreneurs to EA, I'm not sure I agree:
1. There are some common skills to building both types of startup - you're creating a new org to do something untested with a small number of people and often not much money, so there are at least some similarities. Maybe the overlapping skillset is quite small. Do you think you had already built that skillset before leaving your startup, such that any extra skill-building in that overlapping core wouldn't be helpful for your work now? I'm unsure about this because I haven't really built a startup of either type.
2. It's not just reality but also the EA community.
a. Not everything can or should be tested by building a minimum viable product and seeing what reality throws at it, but for some types of problems this is useful. And, even for these types of problems, I think the default approach most EAs have is usually that problems are best solved by doing research and analytical thought instead. I think this probably leads to a bias against trying things. (We think hard when it's appropriate, but also often when it would be better to just try it and see.)
b. I know of at least one example of bias against action in the community - someone applied for funding to distribute EA books at UPenn and said it was initially declined because CEA was concerned about possible downside risks. Both they and I thought this seemed crazy.
c. Technical skills are required for many of the types of startups that VCs fund, but there are few technically-skilled entrepreneurs in the EA community. This suggests EA is pushing away even entrepreneurs who could contribute to technically demanding projects.
3. Earning to give can still be high impact, especially if you're right and a traditional entrepreneur wouldn't be well-placed to start an EA (mega)project. If it works, Snowball Fund could either beat market returns (increasing the money in EA) or pay a small price (difference between market returns and its returns) per entrepreneur. If this means a higher number of EA-aligned entrepreneurs earning-to-give, or more giving from each, it may still be very cost-effective.
Good point - thanks for flagging this.
Yes. Classic example for me is doing tasks that don't require much mental energy when I'm tired & reminding myself to do this (even though I sometimes can't be bothered) because it saves me having to do these tasks at a later time when I could be doing more cognition-heavy things.
It looks like they're quite similar, though I haven't personally used Google Flights.
Apparently, its advantage over Google Flights is that it searches more online travel agents, so can sometimes uncover cheaper prices (though some online travel agents are a bit of a pain): https://scottscheapflights.com/guides/google-flights-vs-skyscanner
Many EAs take a lot of flights. If you're not already using it, consider using Skyscanner. It scans airlines and online travel agencies and can find cheap deals, flights from nearby airports, etc. And it may save you time and money.
Posting this partly because I'd like to support a norm of sharing knowledge when it's low cost and has even a small chance of being very useful for someone.
Note: I'm not associated with Skyscanner; I've just used it for a while.