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Practical Plant-Based Meal Planning for Groups 2022-09-12T21:09:29.353Z
lincolnq's Shortform 2021-12-30T18:45:15.729Z

Comments

Comment by lincolnq on Say “nay!” to the Bay (as the default)! · 2022-09-06T22:26:22.301Z · EA · GW

To some degree yes. But it's worse in the Bay than anywhere else. Even developing countries also have a culture bubble too, they just have it in the "wrong direction" (e.g., in Africa, too few people think long term and have experience with science, technology, etc).

To me, if we are choosing the best place to avoid culture bubbles, I would choose someplace cosmopolitan: where tons of different people with different views are mashed together in a way where you can easily juxtapose them. NYC, London, Singapore, Toronto, etc.

Comment by lincolnq on Say “nay!” to the Bay (as the default)! · 2022-09-06T22:21:28.168Z · EA · GW

I see you've been highly upvoted, so I guess I will take a stab at it - but I don't actually know if this comment will be helpful; it seems more likely to distract than edify. (The main thing I'm going to do is argue against bits of the post, saying why I think they're bad reasons; but I don't have any insight into the mindset of the author as they were writing it. I infer that a mind was rationalizing by the output of bad reasons.)

Anyway, here goes.

Reason 1 ("university outreach") is bad because who cares? People doing university outreach can go live near the universities. Universities are an important aspect of the EA recruitment pipeline but seem to have no impact on where people actually go once they have a career.

Reason 2 ("more cause areas on the East Coast") is bad because we don't care about cause area count, we care about the distribution of people working in different cause areas. The first three bullet points (AI, biosecurity, policy) are correct and fine but they don't say anything about the broader EA community. The animal welfare bullet point is too speculative; the community building one is circular reasoning.

Reason 3 ("travel distances") is bad because who cares? Most people don't travel often enough for this to matter. I actually travel a lot myself so it matters to me a little bit, but I can tell that I am rationalizing when I choose to live places based on travel distances and so I am pretty sure author is also.

Reason 4 ("save money") proves too much: if this reason was important then this post should argue that people should move to rural areas, not cities. The difference between cost of living across SF, DC, and NYC is tiny relative to the benefit you would get from moving elsewhere. So this reason cannot be that important.

Reason 5 ("optics") is the most complicated argument relying on too many conjunctive assumptions about the way the movement will be perceived if various things happen.

Comment by lincolnq on Selfish Reasons to Move to DC · 2022-09-06T13:25:02.204Z · EA · GW

I moved to DC in January and it's great so far. I'm now starting a new EA-aligned community center here. I'm expecting more EA momentum in DC in the next couple of years.

Comment by lincolnq on Say “nay!” to the Bay (as the default)! · 2022-09-06T13:21:38.920Z · EA · GW

Hey, I'm sorry to be harsh, but your reasons are not very good. This whole post reads like rationalization.

I say this while also agreeing with your conclusion: I lived in Boston, NYC and DC for a long time, have a bunch of friends in various East Coast EA groups. The East Coast is a great place for effective altruism already :) -- I'm in DC and the DC group is really good (as referenced in https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/9uPMWPZg8mqmcAhhL/selfish-reasons-to-move-to-dc)

The main reason I think the Bay is a bad place is that it has a culture bubble, which causes people to be out of touch with the actual problems in the world. It makes sense for people interfacing with tech and AI to be proximate to Silicon Valley but nothing else.

Comment by lincolnq on Peter Eckersley (1979-2022) · 2022-09-03T13:17:20.427Z · EA · GW

I interviewed Peter for Wave in 2016. He blew us all away with his extensive knowledge. He didn't take the job but he's done some amazing work. Since meeting him he also introduced me to several people who we either hired or became good friends with. He was an incredibly nice guy who cared so much about the world and made a big impact on me. Incredibly sad news. 😭

Comment by lincolnq on New Cause: Radio Ads Against Cousin Marriage in LMIC · 2022-08-15T21:05:24.847Z · EA · GW

I feel a bit uncertain of the sign, even if the impact is real. I'll be upfront that I haven't read the material, but figured I'd write this anyway mostly on priors.

I see two potential pitfalls:

First, I have a bit of a deontologist flag: the health downsides of consanguinity seem unrelated to the reason why you think the intervention would be important (which, according to you, is "creating a more individualistic, entrepreneurial, and high-trust culture"). I'd be worried about intentionally 'lying' to people (by focusing on the easier-to-sell message about health effects) in order to effect a cultural change; it seems vaguely undignified (I can point to all sorts of second-order bad ways that starting a misleading PR campaign could go wrong)

Second, "individualistic" culture is not obviously a good thing! Maybe it has some positive impact, for sure, but I can see ways in which Western individualistic culture leads (for example) to bad mental health outcomes which don't seem to be nearly as prevalent in more familial cultures. I'm not that thrilled that the kinship index definition you're using points at "co-residence of extended families" as a contributor.

Comment by lincolnq on Are "Bad People" Really Unwelcome in EA? · 2022-08-09T12:28:14.608Z · EA · GW

I think the community should welcome you. I share many of your motivations. You seem “altruistic” in the way that “counts” for most people’s purposes.

I really like this question because it raises the uncomfortable topic of what motivations people actually have being different than what we imagine they are. It seems to me that the community should not lie to itself about… well, anything, but least of all this; and I do suspect there’s a lot of self deception going on.

Comment by lincolnq on Announcing Squiggle: Early Access · 2022-08-04T15:13:49.624Z · EA · GW

This looks awesome and I'm looking forward to playing with it!

One minor point of feedback: I think the main web page at https://www.squiggle-language.com/, as well as the github repo readme, should have 1-3 tiny, easy-to-comprehend examples of what Squiggle is great at.

Comment by lincolnq on EA's Culture and Thinking are Severely Limiting its Impact · 2022-07-26T14:50:14.930Z · EA · GW

Very nice! I really enjoyed this post -- it aligns well with a lot of my personal critiques of EA as well as things I've been working on. Thanks for writing this up.

Comment by lincolnq on Some research questions that you may want to tackle · 2022-07-19T18:22:02.500Z · EA · GW

Is there a $100B idea with a 1% chance of working?

Coming from the startup world: it's pretty unlikely you will find great startups by thinking from this angle. Why? First, entrepreneurship appears to work much better when you don't over-index on the "what if it works?" storyline too early, as it causes people to dig a hole that's "broad and shallow" (which causes your feedback loops to suck, which causes you to fail to make progress, get demotivated and quit) . Second, a ton of other people are trying to find ideas with similar chances of success (competitors only matter early on in a huge market, but an idea of this value must be in a huge market).

Comment by lincolnq on Forecasting Through Fiction · 2022-07-06T16:14:36.937Z · EA · GW

It seems like you are indexing heavily on hubris. I think you should do the exercise of going through various historical examples that express a similar amount of hubris, and doing the Discord poll of those also. e.g., the creation of the USA; the rise of Hitler. With enough details changed that people can't just recognize the example.

Comment by lincolnq on There will be many more effective altruist billionaires · 2022-07-04T15:15:59.892Z · EA · GW

I really like this post! It is well aligned with things I believe about the trends in EA.

Comment by lincolnq on "Big tent" effective altruism is very important (particularly right now) · 2022-05-21T00:58:14.541Z · EA · GW

The call to action here resonates -- feels really important and true to me, and I was just thinking yesterday about the same problem.

The way I would frame it is this:

The core of EA, what drives all of us together, is not the conclusions (focus on long term! AI!) -- it's the thought process and principles. Although EA's conclusions are exciting and headline-worthy, pushing them without pushing the process feels to me like it risks hollowing out an important core and turning EA into (more of) a cult, rather than a discipline.

Edit to add re. "celebrate the process" -- A bunch of people have critiqued you for pushing "celebrate all the good actions" since it risks diluting the power of our conclusions, but I think if we frame it as "celebrate and demonstrate the EA process" then that aligns with the point I'm trying to make, and I think works.

Comment by lincolnq on Do you offset your carbon emissions? · 2022-05-05T15:42:34.260Z · EA · GW

Yes, I offset my carbon (using Wren). It comes out of my lifestyle budget, not my EA charity budget, because the carbon impact also comes from my lifestyle. I feel strongly it is not ok to offset carbon using my charity budget because it is not one of the most effective things to do with that budget, but it makes me feel better about the way the rest of my life is going.

Comment by lincolnq on Longtermist EA needs more Phase 2 work · 2022-04-24T16:39:28.348Z · EA · GW

Thanks. I definitely can't count Wave in that category because longtermism wasn't a thing on my radar when Wave was founded. Anyway, I missed that in your original post and I think it somewhat invalidates my point; but only somewhat.

Comment by lincolnq on Longtermist EA needs more Phase 2 work · 2022-04-22T16:04:04.475Z · EA · GW

Who's the "we" in "we are not doing phase 2 work"?

You seem to have made estimates that "we" are not doing phase 2 work, but I don't understand where such estimates come from, and they aren't sourced.

If the point of your post is "more people should think about doing Phase 2 work" then I totally agree with the conclusion! But if your argument hinges on the fact that "we" aren't doing enough of it, I think that might be wrong because it is totally non-obvious to me how to measure how much is being done.

This seems like an easy pitfall, to squint at what's happening on the EA forum or within EA-labeled orgs and think "gee that's mostly Phase 1 work", without considering that you may have a biased sample of a fuzzily-defined thing. In this case it seems perfectly obvious that things explicitly labeled EA are going to lean Phase 1, but things influenced by EA are dramatically larger, mostly invisible, and obviously going to lean Phase 2.

(Context: I run a 2000+ person org, Wave, founded under EA principles but presumably not being counted in the "we" who are doing Phase 2 work because we're not posting on the Forum all the time, or something.)

Comment by lincolnq on “cocoons”: an idea to critique. · 2022-03-10T20:32:04.851Z · EA · GW

Welcome! I enjoyed reading this post also.

Some quick feedback:

First, the piece is very long. My attention was held because of the title and intro paragraph (it promises to get at "where's today's Beethoven") but I am a very fast reader, and I kept asking myself "ok, I get this is going to be about musical improv so tell me where's today's Beethoven". I checked the scroll position multiple times while reading it. Ultimately I did not feel the piece paid off in terms of answering the question (though I did learn interesting things while reading).

I don't understand what "cocoons" has to do with either the topic, or the contents. It seems almost unrelated to the actual point you are trying to make. I think it is intended as an answer to "we need to build these things in order to reenable improv" but the piece weakens as soon as you introduce that concept. It is not well enough connected to the rest of the contents.

I liked that you went into detail about the reasons you think improvisation is exciting; and I liked that it was backed up by interesting quotes from sources I trust.

The beginning seems kind of crankish. I think probably because it is addressed to Holden, and talks at a meta level about your own beliefs, personal story, etc., before diving into the actual content. You can cut all that and just start with "Abridged Detailed Defense". Similarly, the end becomes crankish again starting with "A cocoon is a physical space".

Comment by lincolnq on How should altruistic blogs be different? · 2022-02-28T16:13:55.289Z · EA · GW

If your blog engine publishes a full length RSS feed, blogtrottr will watch your feed and send full-length posts to email subscribers.

Comment by lincolnq on Please pitch ideas to potential EA CTOs · 2022-02-16T16:49:35.253Z · EA · GW

My thought on reading this is that people should explicitly not constrain idea selection to software. I think this leads in bad directions. There are tons of people who want to make software. The way to improve the world is to get out there and build stuff that most software people don't think is possible. (I was the tech founder for Wave, but Drew's non-technical abilities were far more counterfactually important than my tech skills in terms of making huge progress on important problems!) Software skills are super-relevant in all industries.

Comment by lincolnq on Some thoughts on vegetarianism and veganism · 2022-02-14T21:58:52.129Z · EA · GW

On a community level, even while I'm not vegan, I've long appreciated the norm of having community events be vegan. I want to be vegan but it's hard. At such events, it's easy, it's a nice on-ramp to the idea that I might someday actually be vegan.

That said, I think it makes sense to avoid being too prescriptive about what other people should do? Like, I think I prefer the community where your eating habits are a personal choice, versus the community where you might be ostracized if you eat the wrong thing.

strengthens your altruistic motivations

I have a bit of resonance on this front -- I think veganism gives me altruistic momentum on the good days. On bad days, I think I can tell it takes it instead (usually I just opt not to eat vegan on such days). I think the "bad days" are currently my biggest blocker to 100% veganism.

health effects

I think this problem is solved if you cook for yourself or are willing to eat the same thing every meal, and is extremely unsolved if you don't like cooking and crave variety. This feels like the biggest societal blocker to veganism.

Comment by lincolnq on Comments for shorter Cold Takes pieces · 2022-01-10T17:26:02.454Z · EA · GW

I think this is one of your best posts. I learned a lot, built new models of art, and laughed out loud multiple times.

Comment by lincolnq on lincolnq's Shortform · 2021-12-30T18:45:15.912Z · EA · GW

"it is unclear whether" can sometimes mean "I am skeptical that" or "I don't think". It annoys me when people use it this way. Unclear already has a good and useful meaning. We shouldn't dilute it.

The proper use of "unclear" is a sentence like this: "it's still unclear if the intervention worked". A quick heuristic: if the use of "unclear" is or could be prefixed by "still" without changing the meaning, it is probably ok :). Another way to view it -- if more information is likely to come out soon, then it's probably ok.

Some examples of usages of "unclear" I'd like to see less of:

  • "How do you think the willingness of key actors such as governments to tackle bio risks will change...? It's unclear whether we will see the right levels of political competence and focused engagement..." 1
  • "It's unclear how significant the extrinsic, welfare-oriented value of biodiversity even is" 2
  • "it is unclear how OpenPhil are comparing different causes, rather than looking out for giving opportunities across a variety of causes" 3
Comment by lincolnq on Why do you find the Repugnant Conclusion repugnant? · 2021-12-17T14:48:20.903Z · EA · GW

A world which supports the maximum number of people has no slack. I instinctively shy away from wanting to be in a world with resource limits that tight.

Comment by lincolnq on What would you do if you had a lot of money/power/influence and you thought that AI timelines were very short? · 2021-11-13T18:10:28.730Z · EA · GW

Hm, if I felt timelines were that short I would probably feel like I knew which company/government was going to be responsible for actually building AGI (or at least narrow it to a few). The plan is to convince such orgs to ask me for advice, then have a team ready to research & give them the best possible advice, and hope that is good enough.

To convince them: I would be trying to leverage my power/influence to get to a position where leaders of the AGI-building organization would see me as someone to consult for help if they had a promising AGI-looking-thing and were trying to figure out how best to deploy it.

How?

  • if rich, donating lots of money to causes that such people care about and thus buying invitations to conferences and parties where they might hang out.
  • If otherwise influential, then use my influence to get their attention with similar results.
  • There might be other leveraged projects (like blogs, etc) that could generate lots of influence and admiration among the leaders of AGI-building orgs

Simultaneously, I would also be trying to join (or create, if necessary) some sort of think tank group comprising people who are the best for advice on short term AGI strategy. Again, power and money seem useful for putting together such a group - you should be able to recruit the best possible people with star power, and/or pay them well, to start thinking about such things full time. The hard part here is shaping the group in the right way, so that they are both smart and thoughtful about high stakes decisions, and their advice will be listened to and trusted by the AGI-building organization.

Assumptions / how does this strategy fail?

  • I cannot build the influence required:
    • I have to influence too many AGI builders (because I don't know which one is most likely to succeed), so my influence is too diluted
    • They are not influenceable in this way
  • AGI builders don't ask for the advice even if they want to:
    • maybe the project is too secret
  • advice can't solve the problem:
    • maybe there is an internal deadline - things are moving too fast and they don't have time to ask
    • maybe there are external deadlines, like competition between AGI builders, such that even if they get the advice they choose not to heed it
    • maybe the AGI building leadership doesn't have sufficient control over the organization, so even if they get advice, their underlings fail to heed it
  • advice is too low quality
    • I wasn't able to recruit the people for the think tank
    • They just didn't come up with the answer
Comment by lincolnq on Business Coaching/Mentoring For EA Organisations · 2021-11-10T17:04:31.812Z · EA · GW

This post says "EA orgs" but the linked page specifically says "charities". I assume this offer is restricted to non-profits, but I am commenting to check that was your actual intent!

Comment by lincolnq on Give Me Career Advice · 2021-11-10T16:51:59.159Z · EA · GW

(Founder of Wave here, who employs Ben Kuhn who you linked to.)

You should probably try to find early-stage projects locally that you can contribute to. If you find projects you like, you can make them succeed and it will be a rewarding experience. Don't index too heavily on expected EA impact early on -- it's worth considering whether the thing you're putting time into can be big/impactful someday, but I think it'll be better to just focus on things where you think you will resonate and can make a big difference to the project/company's success. Look specifically for team fit: you should enjoy working with the colleagues, but also complement their skills in a useful way.

(I'm writing all this based on our experience hiring Ben -- I think he complements our founding/exec team's skills in a really unique way, and that's why Wave is so resonant for him.)

If you can't do that or it doesn't satisfy, you should at least consider working remotely for Wave :). You won't make as much impact as Ben, but you will get to work on satisfying things for real people; depending on what it is that you like/don't like about remote work, you might get a lot of what you're looking for in social connection from our retreats (every couple of months you see teammates for a fairly intense week).

Comment by lincolnq on Comments for shorter Cold Takes pieces · 2021-11-04T17:56:58.502Z · EA · GW

Assuming that the high happiness reports from the Hadza are "real" (and not noise, sampling bias, etc), what might it be?

They have dramatically worse health and nutrition. Also worse "creature comforts" like cozy beds, Netflix and mulled wine. But maybe some combination of the following could be overcoming those drawbacks.

In the category of lifestyle/how you spend your time:

  • Social structure (small communities, much stronger social connection, more social time)
  • Work structure (more cooperation, more "meaning" in work due to knowing you're supporting your family directly / avoiding starvation for yourself and your loved ones)
  • Non-social leisure structure (no Reddit, no TV; no street noise; you're always out in nature)

Or internal experience:

  • Perhaps you'd have different dreams or fantasies?
  • No Instagram, no "keeping up with the Joneses" or social-status stress beyond your immediate community
  • Climate change, nuclear war, and x-risk presumably aren't a worry
  • Could sexual and romantic relationships be more fulfilling related to the small community?

Other ideas?

Comment by lincolnq on An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars · 2021-10-17T15:48:20.513Z · EA · GW

a mindset for getting money has drawbacks, for example it might promote patterns where ultimately people rationalize small, marginal projects for $1M.; Instead, maybe a useful alternative is to get genuinely interested in building something big and awesome, so a product mindset helps?

Yes. (Sorry for the bad writing, it was late and I was tired.)

I think the best entrepreneurs get a bit of a boost in motivation from the idea of becoming rich, but the more "rich"-oriented you are, the less likely it is that you will make billions of dollars.

Was there some feeling or realization that caused you to think you were more likely to be successful at entrepreneurship than others?

Hmm, I wanted to be an entrepreneur from the moment I understood it was possible. I don't think this is a necessary condition for success, but I think it gives a lot of energy towards trying (and especially trying multiple times if you fail). A small project I've had for the last 5+ years is figuring out who among my friends should be entrepreneurs, and trying to inject a mind-virus to get them to actually do it. My instinct is that you should be motivated by "impact" of some kind (it's ok if it's not purely altruistic); willing to work hard. You should be good at something too, but I think that can come with time if you are sufficiently motivated. In my case I was both good at coding and good at self-improvement, these things definitely compounded.

do you have some area or projects that might be interesting for people to know about?

Not as such, nothing to announce right now

under what circumstances would you considering mentoring or giving feedback on a deck

I don't really like reviewing decks. I'm generally happy to answer a few questions/give entrepreneurship advice over email; my email is pretty easy to find!

Comment by lincolnq on An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars · 2021-10-17T01:12:36.083Z · EA · GW

Hi! It's neat to be mentioned!

My motivation was not, and has never been about the money. I think it would have been too easy to be distracted by early <$5m acquihire opportunities, if I were looking to get paid a bunch of money. I realize that is not the point you are making (and that shooting for the moon might be worth it if you are motivated by money) but I do think a lot of people might see $1B and think "gosh, that sounds hard, maybe I could do $1m" and the answer is you can, sorta, but it is dumb and not worth it to try.

My motivations were more about the, um, "glory" -- I always wanted to build something big, I thought it was possible when few others did, and I also thought it would be really fun to try. I didn't perceive starting a company as "risky" at all, since I was otherwise a successful software developer, plus my parents were rich enough to support me. It might be harder to dive into building something big if you don't have that kind of support. I did also have altruistic motivations, although they were fairly weak in the first few years - they've grown a lot since!

Things I learned:

  • My first 2 years working on startups were working on failed ideas, but I learned an enormous amount about product, culture, teamwork and even coding which translated directly into early effectiveness once we hit on an idea that worked. Don't be afraid to pivot.
  • When we reached product market fit in 2014 I wrote this post about startup skills, which might be useful for others (note: is quite old now, don't endorse everything etc) https://www.lincolnquirk.com/projects/2014/06/02/projects_startup-skills-checklis.html

And my pledge is 10%, although I expect more like 50-75% to go to useful world-improving things but don't want to pledge it because then I'm constrained by what other people think is effective.

Comment by lincolnq on Which non-EA-funded organisations did well on Covid? · 2021-06-12T02:40:58.666Z · EA · GW

Patrick McKenzie isn’t a “group”, and he probably doesn’t need your money, but he did get ahead of coronavirus impacts in Japan successfully: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2020/04/21/japan-coronavirus/

Comment by lincolnq on Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization · 2020-11-09T19:12:31.719Z · EA · GW

I read your Overview and several of the other materials and feel there is a lack of examples. Your idea seems large and abstract, and even after reading a bunch of your materials, I don't feel that I really understand what your career guidance is -- or especially what it isn't.

The only hook I have to compare this to is 80000 Hours, and the comparison you seem to be pointing at is "80k but for more kinds of people". Instinctively, this feels too broad: 80k is presumably doing well in part because they chose to focus instead of do everything. To help with this, it might make sense to answer strategic questions like: if you were to merge with 80k, would it be better or worse for the world? why did 80k choose their focus one way, and why are you choosing differently? What sorts of impact can you make that 80k will never be able to achieve?

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-11-03T13:43:33.577Z · EA · GW

I really like these questions!

I'll answer your middle question first. When we were writing our first version in 2014, I logged probably 60+ most weeks. When living in Africa, I probably also logged around that many hours, since I had little else to do :). But now I start work around 8am and end around 5pm daily and usually take an hour for lunch, and don't work on weekends, so probably close to 40 hours. I am vaguely thinking about reducing my hours even more.

Transitioning to your first question:

The stage of a company really really matters, and it also matters what you consider to be "good" work-life balance. My cofounder is fond of saying, "there's no such thing as too busy, just poor prioritization." And I think that is ultimately how all work-life balance questions should be answered. First, decide on your priorities, then act accordingly :)

Classic startup advice always says that startups need to "move fast", speed is how you beat much more established competitors. But "move fast" is what it looks like from the outside when you have good prioritization -- when you're writing only the code that matters to get the marginal increment of growth rate, so you can learn what you need to learn in order to keep that growth on an exponential trajectory. It doesn't have to mean work yourself to the bone: on the contrary, I've found that when I spend many hours writing code, I have exhausted my capability to do the prioritization work which could save me many hours writing code :). So, I would say that great work-life balance in a startup starts and ends with great prioritization, not just at work but across your whole life. The 4 Hour Workweek is a well-loved treatise on the subject, as is Derek Sivers' Anything You Want. I put in 60+ hours in the early days because Wave was my life priority (and was able to get away with it because Drew was able to take most of the prioritization work out of my head and leave me with just code).

How do I take care of myself: I see friends and family, I take vacations, I have a coach/therapist person, I cook dinner and light candles and drink beer, I have tons of bright lighting in my office :)

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-30T14:22:56.944Z · EA · GW

Yes, we've been doing remote work in some form since 2014.

Ben mentioned meeting cadence, but I would add to that, designing meetings to build relationships. With remote, voice communication is much more deliberate and only happens when people make it happen. And human relationships aren't really built over Slack, they are built via voice. So we're thinking a lot about how to make more of the right sort of relationships happen. Some examples of this would be:

  • focusing 1:1s on relationship building with your lead (mostly by being careful to avoid the 1:1 being a "status update" meeting)
  • having weekly team meetings which are small enough (<10, preferably closer to 6), with time designated for everyone to contribute and share something about themselves. we've done this by going around and asking each person to answer a question, e.g. "how are you doing really?" to "what fictional place would you most like to visit?"
  • randomized 1:1 cross team chat events -- we use https://icebreaker.video/ (if this looks lame, don't write it off, it was surprisingly fun)

Beyond that, simpler stuff we do around communications transparency seems to help: nudge people strongly to put their message in a public Slack channel in almost all cases they intend to communicate with someone else. If you have a call to clarify something with someone, post the summary in slack. @-mention people when & only when you need them to read the thing you are writing. (If you have some tough feedback it's fine to keep it private, but even tough feedback can often be phrased in a way which is easy to share with others). We chose these defaults of communication transparency for the remote team because we wanted Slack to feel as much like a collaborative office as possible, in the sense that "stuff is happening, people are here and you can listen if you want to learn, and contribute if you have relevant knowledge." Many Slack teams default to "locking things behind DMs" in a way which makes that feeling a lot harder.

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-30T13:30:02.126Z · EA · GW

Fair question, and your comment elsewhere (about the narrow slice being the only slice that exists if the market is efficient) was enlightening.

However: my philosophy for startups is that I would nearly always take a different approach to solving these sorts of problems in the world. I would prefer to start Beyond Meat, and try to solve the nonhuman animals problem in an oblique way, instead of attacking it directly by starting a nonprofit. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs think like this as well: look at Elon Musk's startup strategy -- he tends to go for something which has a business/profitability angle from the first version, but with a big long-term mission (Tesla Roadster, early non-reusable SpaceX rockets). And as Ben writes elsewhere, I think the startup market is highly and obviously inefficient, so efficient market considerations are not very relevant.

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-29T14:48:46.760Z · EA · GW

The Wave business is currently unprofitable, although Sendwave is profitable and has been propping up the mobile money business. We have plenty of runway at this point, but we are likely years away from becoming profitable: mobile money is a very expensive business to start, mainly due to investing in the agent network.

In terms of what EA ecosystem should provide: the best thing would be better support for entrepreneurialism. Support from others probably comes in the form of social encouragement -- I think Founders Pledge is one notable EAish org working on this, as they don't just get people to pledge but are working on building a network of founders who can support each other in various ways.

I think the ecosystem needs a more coherent theory of corporations doing good with their mission -- in particular, there's a dominant cynical ideology on e.g. Hacker News, where people see that the purpose of a for-profit corporation is to "create shareholder value" and then they assume that the leadership must be sociopaths. In fact, the bulk of companies are trying to do something great for the world and a ton of them succeed at it. I don't know how to change this perception quickly, but maybe an army of social-media commenters would work :P

What about money? EAs giving founders a little money to quit their job and get started makes a lot of sense to me as well, but I recommend capping "free EA money" to for-profits around $50k or so: money is fungible, and you have good reasons to be in the competitive investment markets by that point -- those markets create useful feedback loops for both startups and investors that it doesn't make sense to diverge from.

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-29T14:33:22.062Z · EA · GW

Unfortunately, it would not be prudent to share detailed stats publicly. However, we have over a million downloads of our Android app and are (or have been recently) #1 in the Play Store in Senegal. We still substantially trail Orange Money, our main mobile money competitor, in usage and volume though. We are still quite small in Cote d'Ivoire, though growing quickly there!

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-29T14:18:20.178Z · EA · GW

Good questions.

Regarding general startup barriers:

Ultimately, there are very few barriers to getting started doing the things that you want to be doing anyway: for most countries, if you are from a developed country, you can fly there as a generic visitor and start talking to people. (once COVID is over anyway. note: I definitely do not recommend violating any visa laws.) My first trip to Ethiopia to investigate mobile money's potential was only a week long -- stayed in a hotel, made a few connections, talked to a bunch of people in a marketplace. A subsequent month-long trip was a bit more involved, but still required no special visa, just a longer stay in some kind of temporary housing.

Once you are pushing up against the limits to generic visitors (often 3 months or so), hopefully you've learned enough to know whether it will be worthwhile to invest further, at which time you probably need to hire a local lawyer to start investing in figuring out how to do whatever's next most important (maybe your visa; maybe creating a local company, etc).

I want to emphasize that startups are hard. Entrepreneurship of any kind is going to put barriers in front of you. The question is, do you want to let these random barriers block you? Cross-border paperwork is one example of such a barrier--but so is getting a bank account, getting licensed, negotiating an IP deal, or whatever junk you need to do to get started in almost any industry. Paul Graham writes about this in Schlep Blindness -- in some sense, value is created when you decide to plow forward and solve the problems in front of you, despite them looking annoying to solve.

So yes, I think these barriers are a blocker for many, but they don't have to be a blocker for you :)

Stepping back to our experience: we started in Ethiopia, which is not an easy place to do business by any metric. And we got very far before we had to stop (it's a place that is unusually hostile to foreign companies) -- far enough that we had learned significant lessons about how to start mobile money which we were able to port over to Senegal (which we chose partially due to "ease of doing business"). So while I wish we had not decided to spend so much time and energy there, I also don't 100% regret it. Plus, it was a lovely place to be and I have some wonderful friends from that era.

I think if a given place is the best place to get started, you should just go to that place and try not to over-index on "ease of doing business". However, if you have many similar-looking places to start, it will likely save you quite a bit of energy choosing a place where it's easier to do business!

Oh, and in terms of raising money, I think you should go to Silicon Valley for that (if you have a scalable enough business anyway) unless you have strong local connections.

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-28T14:26:08.356Z · EA · GW

Yeah, that seems right to me, and is a good model that predicts the existing nonprofit startup ideas! My point is that it seems like a very narrow slice of all value-producing ideas.

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-28T12:58:45.311Z · EA · GW

One final thought: If you rank EA ideas on a continuum from "produces no value" to "produces a ton of value," it seems like the section of the continuum where nonprofit ideas are viable is quite small. Too low and your idea isn't worth working on. But once you start producing lots of value for the world, stakeholders start to be willing to pay for the solution, and then you can start a for-profit company to do it. So from this perspective, the best EA nonprofit ideas are weird and non-central examples of value-producing ideas -- they're ideas that produce a lot of value but you can't get anyone to pay for.

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-28T12:54:03.353Z · EA · GW
  1. Yes, I speak French, although not quite fluently. It's enough to interact with customers and agents in a pinch, but when I go out to do serious user research, I bring someone from our team who has better language skills. The language barrier is significant, and I would say somewhat hurts our ability to design the best possible products -- we've done a lot to overcome it though, and it's not one of our biggest bottlenecks at this point. Now our team is big enough that I don't even do that much user research on my own, and all the product managers I manage speak fluent or native French, so it's easier for them :)

    Before Senegal, we did a lot of our initial user research in Ethiopia, which had a greater proportion of English-speakers, and it was easier to get started there.

(I'll let Ben answer the internet-related ones)

Comment by lincolnq on We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA! · 2020-10-28T12:45:56.801Z · EA · GW

From my perspective, for-profit entrepreneurship seems better than nonprofit entrepreneurship in terms of making an EA impact. The main reason is that the profit incentive gives you much broader access to capital, so it unlocks ideas that will only be impactful given enough money to get started. And I think there are a lot of ideas like this -- it's not hard to look at e.g. YC's Requests for Startups and see obvious, huge-impact ideas that seem worth working on. (Linked from that page is another page about what YC looks for in a nonprofit, also a good read!)

I recommend that anyone wanting to start a company but not sure what to do, try looking at the Requests for Startups first and try to find something you have leverage on -- but keep it small, your initial idea needs to start really "niche", you won't be able to solve a giant world problem from the get-go. Then read Paul Graham's essays and Sam A's startup playbook. Hopefully this literature will give you a better sense for whether entrepreneurship is for you. As you work on growing your business, don't over-index on trying to make an EA impact early on -- just focus on growth, like you would for any for-profit business. EA impact will come over time as you grow, and spending too much time worrying about the impact while you're small is likely to be a distraction from growing as much as you can.

From my perspective, I wish more people would start software companies in Africa (presumably this is true for other places in the developing world). There's a pretty wide appeal for lower-end tech optimized for consumers and businesses in these markets: low cost; Android-based; focused on mobile money.

(I also think nonprofit entrepreneurship is great in lots of ways, and in general I want to see people in EA putting energy behind all forms of innovation!)

All the above notwithstanding, it seems like it makes sense for EA orgs like 80000 hours not to spend much energy pushing people into for-profit entrepreneurship: there's a model going around that the best entrepreneurs are driven enough that you don't need to tell them to be an entrepreneur -- it's in their blood or something :). I am not myself too  convinced this should be the blocker -- I go around telling all my friends to start companies -- but if that's the working assumption, then they are probably acting correctly.

Comment by lincolnq on Burnout: What is it and how to Treat it. · 2018-11-08T10:34:54.891Z · EA · GW

Thanks Elizabeth, this is really useful. I'm happy you said such nice things about Wave, but I don't know that they're fully deserved; I worry about burnout (both in myself and our employees) constantly. This is great though.

Comment by lincolnq on Giving What We Can is still growing at a surprisingly good pace · 2018-09-14T09:30:33.745Z · EA · GW

I think you're right that hiring your first staff/online signup put you onto the exponential curve. And you didn't fall off of the exponential until you de-emphasized it -- if you fit the exponential from 2014-2017 and extrapolate to today, you might hit something like 8000 members. So if you think staying on-curve seems plausible if you were to have continued working on it, I would guess that de-emphasizing growth still cost you users, even as you continued to grow linearly.

Comment by lincolnq on Ask MIRI Anything (AMA) · 2016-10-19T15:54:15.208Z · EA · GW

What do you think of OpenAI?

In particular, it seems like OpenAI has both managed to attract both substantial technical talent and a number of safety-conscious researchers.

1) It seems that, to at least some degree, you are competing for resources -- particularly talent but also "control of the AI safety narrative". Do you feel competitive with them, or collaborative, or a bit of both? Do you expect both organizations to be relevant for 5+ years or do you expect one to die off? What, if anything, would convince you that it would make sense to merge with them? What would convince them it was a good idea to merge with you?

2) Assuming you don't merge, how does OpenAI's existence change your strategy if at all?

Comment by lincolnq on Is the community short of software engineers after all? · 2016-10-09T11:45:15.622Z · EA · GW

At Wave, we offer market-ish for a startup ($90-180k for engineers depending on experience, plus equity). That said, several of the engineers we've hired took a substantial pay cut in nominal terms (usually from Google) to join us. Hopefully the equity will equalize or exceed the cut over time, but that's always a risk. That said, I'm skeptical of anyone who says that an engineer "needs" a 150k salary to be happy; the marginal value of each extra $10k seems to drop dramatically around $70k and maybe more like around $100-120k if you have a family.

Comment by lincolnq on Is the community short of software engineers after all? · 2016-10-09T11:37:27.622Z · EA · GW

(I'm one of the founders of Wave.) Thanks for mentioning us!

We have indeed found it tricky to hire engineers. Our EA pedigree makes it easier though, since lots of people want to make an impact with their career; as does being a full distributed team so we can hire people from anywhere in the world. We're exclusively hiring via our networks right now and the EA community has been quite helpful for us. Most of the engineers we've hired had heard of EA before joining, although I think not all. I don't think many of them identify as explicitly EA (though a few do, myself included).

When we've rejected engineering candidates from the EA community, it's been mainly for technical reasons (not enough experience or velocity doing the things we do), followed by cultural homogeneity risk. To expand on the latter risk: we often reject people who seem "too EA" because we are afraid of importing too much cultural baggage from an existing community - it would feel outgroupish if you didn't know much about EA but there were all these EA memes flying around the slack channel. So far we've mostly avoided that.

That said, I don't think anyone should self-exclude from our hiring process for being too EA; we can decide that for ourselves. Get in touch if you might be interested.

Comment by lincolnq on $500 prize for anybody who can change our current top choice of intervention · 2016-05-13T08:38:18.010Z · EA · GW

I'm concerned about the SMS reminder thing for a weird reason: it looks too easy.

A number of reasons this is concerning -- not sure which apply in this case since I don't fully understand the process by which this list was created, but off the top of my head here they are:

  1. The idea is so simple and "obvious" (yes, I know, retrospect) that there are probably lots of people who have tried various forms of it.
  2. You may be subject to biases which cause it to look better than it is because you want the best interventions to be easy to execute.
  3. There are no (obvious) schleps, which may be a corollary of #1 or #2, but it still seems concerning. From Paul Graham's schlep blindness essay: "Most hackers who start startups wish they could do it by just writing some clever software, putting it on a server somewhere, and watching the money roll in—without ever having to talk to users, or negotiate with other companies, or deal with other people's broken code. Maybe that's possible, but I haven't seen it." Swap "money" for "QALYs" and "startups" for "organizations". (http://paulgraham.com/schlep.html)

Again, this may indeed be a good idea despite the above. But my alarm bells are going off.

Edit: Further thoughts -- unsure if this ever could become a GiveWell top charity. It seems like the "room for more funding" isn't that high, because the impact of this project doesn't seem blocked on money.

Comment by lincolnq on EA Open Thread: October · 2015-10-11T02:45:01.549Z · EA · GW

I have a fear/uncertainty/doubt about excessive cause-prioritization as a focus of the Effective Altruism movement's message.

Let's say Tess goes to an Ivy League school and wants to make an impact through work in education. She does Teach for America and teaches underprivileged kids in the US for a few years, and gradually rises within the schools she works at until she is an administrator and can allocate resources for an entire district. Because she's very good at it and deeply cares about her work, she ends up making an enormous impact with her career, transforming a bad public school system into a great one, and substantially positively affecting the lives of thousands of kids per year.

I think the EA movement would disapprove of the early steps in this career path. So if Tess discovered the current EA movement too early in her career, she would either become disenchanted with EA, or "drop out" of TFA and instead go earn-to-give, or something like that -- i.e., follow a career path which is more approved by EAs, but ultimately less impactful. Of course, this would be justified since she would have no way to know that she has the "plot armor" to succeed at her original path. But by dropping out of something she is passionate about and doing earning-to-give, she is sacrificing her potential upside through the passion/resonance she has with her work.

I guess I worry about a lot of people saying such-and-such isn't really EA because it doesn't maximize a narrow ideal of "effectiveness", and that can either turn people off of EA, or turn them off of careers in which they might actually have real upside through resonance.

Comment by lincolnq on EA Open Thread: October · 2015-10-11T01:56:52.135Z · EA · GW

I think the default explanation is that it's surprisingly ineffective in practice to try for stuff that requires overcoming intelligent opposition. Obviously there are cases where this doesn't apply, but it does seem reasonably sensible as a default, both from a decision-theoretic perspective and a practical perspective. You quote a 50x impact multiplier; I suppose it depends on how smart you think the opposition is, but it doesn't seem unreasonable that a smart opposition would be able to reduce your impact by 50x.

Comment by lincolnq on Request for Feedback: Researching global poverty interventions with the intention of founding a charity. · 2015-05-13T14:26:45.539Z · EA · GW

But all those costs of RCTs are clearly worth it. Expensive? If your intervention is vaguely promising then EAs will throw enough money at you to get started. Time? Better get started now. Replication? More cost, EAs will fund. Outsource? Higher quality, EAs will fund.