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In what ways and in what areas might it make sense for EA to adopt more a more bottoms-up approach?

by nonzerosum1 min read12th Jul 20196 comments



When I read the below article "How Great Entrepreneurs Think" it felt like it really clicked with me. It describes the difference between effectual and causal planning, which are kind of like bottoms up and top down planning.

Sarasvathy concluded that master entrepreneurs rely on what she calls effectual reasoning. Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don’t start out with concrete goals. Instead, they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies. By contrast, corporate executives—those in the study group were also enormously successful in their chosen field—use causal reasoning. They set a goal and diligently seek the best ways to achieve it. Early indications suggest the rookie company founders are spread all across the effectual-to-causal scale. But those who grew up around family businesses will more likely swing effectual, while those with M.B.A.’s display a causal bent.


My sense is that there's a lot of causal/top down planning in EA.

In what ways and in what areas might it make sense for EA to adopt a more "effectual" approach, as described in the article?

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Funding more parallel work. If something is worth doing once, and is cheap, it is very likely worth doing 2-3 times and then having the teams crux on conclusions, data, and methodology.

My sense is that there's a lot of causal/top down planning in EA.

My quick thought here is that EA currently has a very strong "evaluative" function (i.e. strong at assessing the pro / con of existing ideas), and a weak "generative" function (i.e. weak at coming up with new ideas).

I'm bullish on increasing EA generativity from the present margin.

Just saw this AnnaSalamon comment on LessWrong about generativity & trustworthiness. Excerpt:

To be clear, I still think hypothesis-generating thinkers are valuable even when unreliable, and I still think that honest and non-manipulative thinkers should not be “ruled out” as hypothesis-sources for having some mistaken hypotheses (and should be “ruled in” for having even one correct-important-and-novel hypothesis). I just care more about the caveats here than I used to.
6anonymous_ea2yYour link to Anna Salamon's comment goes to the Wikipedia page for sealioning :)
5Milan_Griffes2yArgh! Fixed, thanks.

What gives you the sense that there's a lot of causal/top-down planning in EA? It may make more sense to ask: "a lot of causal/top-down planning compared to what?"

On the one hand, the movement's largest organizations sometimes recommend specific courses of action; on the other hand, they also sometimes recommend "keeping your options open" and "staying flexible".

Also, EA encompasses a huge range of charities that work on a lot of different things, and new organizations spring up all the time. Overall, even the largest/oldest EA organizations are still practically startups compared with most major American corporations; they frequently make large changes to their mission/strategy on a year-to-year basis, as the result of new data or changes in the resources available to them. (CEA has done many different things over the last five years, GiveWell is undergoing massive change, etc.)