I think EAs spend a lot of time thinking about things. They think about things because EAs want to be smart, and smart people spend lots of time thinking. That’s why EAs make enourmous google docs, substacks, tweet a lot, go on forums and become researchers.

But they probably spend more time thinking about a thing than doing a thing. The problem is once you spend a lot of time thinking about a thing, you inevitably convince yourself that that thing is (1) important and (2) your domain expertise. I call this The Salience Fallacy. And now that you're a domain expert, surely you're ready to give advice on this to other people?

Now, I think thinking about a thing a lot is an important part of understanding it, but it misses something very important: lived experience. As Thinkers, EAs lack this in spades IMO. 

Why does this matter? Well, sometimes someone will come to me and say “Mr EA said that I shouldn’t do [insert thing I’m passionate about] because of XYZ reason.” And I will ask, “Has Mr EA ever been successful in [insert passion]?”. The answer is commonly “No”. I then suggest downweighting the value of this feedback (probably by 20 - 50%, all other things being equal).

Let's make this more concrete:

Example #1 - Career Advice
EA gives you career advice on your career. 

Before taking their advice seriously, consider whether they themselves have had career success before they gave this advice. 

I.e. have they experienced what it takes to be successful in a career when that career  isn’t giving career advice

Example #2 - Marketing/Entrepreneurship Advice
EA gives you career advice on Marketing or creating a company. 

Before taking their advice seriously, consider whether they themselves have been successful in literally selling anything. I don't mean building a large twitter following either. I mean, have they used Marketing/Communications to get people to hand over money to them?
 

The list goes on but you get the gist. I think this post is tangentially related to one I wrote a couple weeks back on Why I worry about about EA leadership, explained through two completely made-up LinkedIn profiles. Part of the reason we need more of Profile 2 is because I think EA needs more Doers, which is on the most extreme end of the Fuck Around And Find Out career path.

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I think "Beware" is probably a suboptimal word to be using in the headline because it gives a vibe of "they're dangerous" rather than "they're well meaning but only one piece of the puzzle". I can't think of a better word, maybe "Be wary"? But that's not much better.

I definitely think beware is too strong. I would recommend “discount” or “be skeptical” or something similar.

I like "“be skeptical"! thanks for the feedback :)

Regarding your last paragraph, I see the Profile 1 vs Profile 2 axis as basically distinct from the Doer vs Thinker axis. People can spend years in large companies without ever needing or developing a get sh*t done mentality, and otoh starting an EA org and rapidly iterating can be a great way to develop or exercise that skill (see e.g. BlueDot Impact, AI-Plans.com). Maybe it's that you're leaving out a Profile 3 - people who start their career in (or very quickly switch into) EA but by starting a new thing rather than working their way up the ladder of an EA org. (Though the starting of a new thing could technically happen within an existing org as well).

I sort of agree, but a couple of points:

  1.  I think advice can be useful from those who have tried something but failed (though plausibly many of those who eventually succeeded will have initially failed). 
    1. If we only seek advice from those who have quite easily succeeded, we risk hearing a biased view of the world that may not be the best advice for us. We may have more in common with those who failed, and may be better off hearing from these people in order to avoid their mistakes.
  2. Presumably, we would like to hear from a broad range of people who have been successful (possibly at different things). 
    1. In order to hear all of these different views, it would be useful for someone to research, collate, and summarise them. But to do this well, what actually matters are research and communications skills - not necessarily the ability to do the things that the successful people have done. 
      1. For example, you don't have to be a successful entrepreneur in order to interview 50 entrepreneurs and write about what they have in common. In this case, we should take into account the writer's previous success at being a researcher and writer, not their entrepreneurial success.

I think EAs spend a lot of time thinking about things. They think about things because EAs want to be smart, and smart people spend lots of time thinking. That’s why EAs make enourmous google docs, substacks, tweet a lot, go on forums and become researchers.

This seems false to me. People spend a lot of time thinking about things because they want to come to the right answer, not because they are cargo-culting what smart people do. In fact EAs probably spend more time thinking about things than typical smart people do.

That wasn’t my interpretation of this section. I took “be smart” to mean like ‘make smart career decisions’, not ‘be Smart^TM’

I'd be quite interested in reading a more fleshed-out version of this, if you were considering whether that was worth your time. What dimensions of advice about a given career path are you seeing people given that should be discounted without domain success?

The general point you're making seems valuable.

One piece of pushback: it seems like you’re implying that success or experience ‘doing things’ = selling products / making money. I’d like to think that not all altruistic work can be aided by this type of experience. Altruism is not a consumer product.

If your post is just trying to make the point that people who have experience around X (private sector or otherwise) are better equipped to give advice about X, well then yeah, I don’t think anybody will argue with you about that.

Yep, seems true that useful advice comes from people who were in a similar situation and then solved the problem.

Does it happen often in EA that unqualified people give a lot of advice? 80,000 hours comes to mind, but you would hope they're professional enough to having thought of this failure mode.

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