Becoming the person who would start a project

by nonzerosum2 min read21st Jun 20194 comments



A quick "shower thought" that might have implications for increasing the number of EA projects and potential competent EA founders. It seems that the people who start projects and actually do things are often those that the community would point to on a given topic. Eg Michael Plant on happiness.

I wonder if this is correlation or causation or a mix. I suspect it's a mix.

If it's a mix, one implication would be that people who start projects can be viewed as a funnel, and the earlier stage in the funnel is for them to start becoming viewed as a go to person on a given topic. Then they develop more proprietary insights, network and brand association with that topic and eventually they may feel that they're in a position to start something.

To me then the thing that follows is that it would be great to increase the first stage of the funnel, ie people writing publicly about a topic in a way that over time might lead them to become viewed as the go to person on the topic. Both more go to people as well as more competition to become the go to person seem good to me. Seems EA has room for many more go to people on most topics and that it's beneficial to have more go to people as they may be the people who are willing to start projects in the space (due to both escalating commitment over time as well as accumulating useful resources network and brand).

My guess is also that there are people with subject expertise in EA that keep their knowledge locked away in their head and don't write about it: either due to lack of motivation to do so and not seeing the upside, or due to fear of doing so eg concern of public ridicule etc. EA would be better off if these people wrote about their areas and had the chance to become EA associated subject matter experts.

Another way of saying this is that the bar to being associated as an expert on a topic is pretty low - basically you just need to consistently write about it publicly in a way that people find useful, which if you're knowledgeable on the topic is likely easier than expected - and more competition for this would be good!

In summary, it might be good to encourage more EAs to write publicly about topics they're interested in, because in some cases that'll start a snowball effect for them where they become more and more interested and more and more competent on the topic and eventually end up in a spot where they feel capable of starting a significant project in the space.


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This is a very unstructured thought that came into my head this morning. Normally I might avoid posting it until it's more polished, but comments on this forum have given me the sense that it can actually be good to err on the side of sharing even if unpolished, contributing to the community zeitgeist where someone else may then be able to polish or remix or make use of the thought.

Interested if you are aware of many examples other than Michael Plant?

Brian Tomasik.

Other thoughts:

Benefit of people writing public posts on their topics of interest is that it forces thoughts to be clarified and to "come face to face with reality"

Downside of public writing is that it could lead to consistency bias / ossification of opinions

Another upside of public writing on things is that it builds momentum, provides positive feedback and rewards. Which is probably very beneficial and may seem small but the power of positive feedback loops seems important to not underestimate.