MaxDalton

I lead the Centre for Effective Altruism. I used to be a moderator here, and helped to launch the new version of the Forum in 2018.

Here's my LinkedIn.

Feel free to reach out if you think I might be able to help you. Follow the links to give (anonymous) feedback to me or CEA.

Wiki Contributions

Comments

MaxDalton's Shortform

Yeah, I am also skeptical of that, so maybe that's a bad example. 

I can conjure examples (e.g. shipping a physical product) where you want to move slower with very high quality, because it's hard to iterate. But I think that when you open up "move slower with high quality", it's going to normally look like rapid, messy iteration on what the product is, the production line etc.

MaxDalton's Shortform

Sure, I should have given examples from the start! I also agree that some of this is about adapting to the market etc. 

Also, I think that your point about personality traits /preferences covers a fair few examples: e.g. some orgs choose to have a critical feedback culture, and hire people who respond well to very critical feedback (e.g. Bridgewater).

Some other examples:

"Hire aligned people" goes well with "have relatively loose HR policies (expenses, budgets etc.)"; "Hire unaligned people and incentivise them with money" goes better with "have somewhat tighter HR policies (firing, expenses etc.)". I think there are companies that have done well with each approach.

"Pay at the very top of the market" maybe goes well with "set very high standards and fire quickly"; "pay in the middle of the market" goes well with having somewhat lower standards. My impression is that Netflix is trying particularly hard to be in the first bucket here, and then there are other tech companies that are less extremely in that bucket.

I think "Move fast and break things" goes well with "have very short iteration cycles, so that you quickly fix the things you broke" (e.g. Facebook), and "move slowly with high quality" goes better with a more waterfall-based approach to development (maybe older/more established tech companies, as well as a bunch of others). This example is clearly partly about the product you're building, but I could imagine competitors in some markets choosing different paths here.

MaxDalton's Shortform

Advice

Imagine a high-dimensional space with a bunch of variables related to organizations (e.g. "move fast and break things" vs. "move slowly with high quality"; "hire quickly, fire quickly" vs. "hire slowly, rarely need to fire"; "top down" vs. "flat hierarchy"). 

Probably there are some variables where it's relatively clear that it's better to be on one side of the tradeoff than the other. E.g. "setting clear goals" is probably relatively clearly good.

But I think that overall there's not a clear single peak in this space: rather there are particular clusters of traits that go well together and produce success.  Because of the last paragraph, these traits might be clustered on a particular side of some dimension. But there will be many dimensions where successful organizations are all over the map.


So now you're getting advice from a successful person. They built their success on a hill in the top right (on some pair of dimensions). So they tell you to move upwards.

But actually, you're on the side of a pretty nice hill in the bottom left, and moving upwards will make things worse.

You could try to move the organization all the way to the top right in one big leap, but you'll probably fail, and it may not be any better than climbing your local hill.


I think this partly explains why advice is often not that useful (if you're pretty deeply focused on a project/organization). 

I suspect something similar applies to people also (where the variables are more things like "how much of my day should I spend in meetings?" or "What sort of skills should I be trying to develop?").

(Probably someone else has had this idea before - if I stole it, I forgot that I did so.)

Questions for Howie on mental health for the 80k podcast

There is this website, which might be the sort of thing you were thinking of?

CEA Update: Q2 2021

I'm glad you appreciate it! Thanks for the feedback on those comparisons: I'll make a note to try to give more historic data points in the future.

Which EA forum posts would you most like narrated?

I think it would be really cool if you could read the posts in the introductory sequences (the ones in blue with numbers here https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/sequences). We're planning to keep polishing/publicising these posts as an introduction to EA, and I think it would be nice if there were an audio version for people who preferred that.

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

Good question! Unfortunately I don't have an amazing answer. I think the values are a bit of a mix between simply reflecting where we currently are, and where we'd like to go. Overall, it feels like we're maybe 60-80% towards the ideal on these dimensions. So they are genuine strengths, but I think there's still room for us to grow in the dimension. There isn't one that stands out as more already-achieved, or as  more in need for improvement: they're all in that ~60-80% range.

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I love my job, and feel very lucky.

Positives:

  • I genuinely like and trust my colleagues. I really enjoy working with people who care about very similar things and are deeply into the same ideas/culture. I've learned a lot from them.
  • Being able to (somewhat) shape the role to what I enjoy and am good at (e.g. I hate public speaking but love writing - others at CEA are the opposite, so I can write speeches for them). This is something that we try to do for everyone at CEA: to find a role that really plays to their strengths.
  • Facing a lot of open-ended and challenging projects, and having feedback (either from colleagues, stakeholders, or reality) on them. I think this is a great way to learn (and again, I think this is maybe pretty common at CEA).
  • When I feel like we're making progress, it's amazing. It's so good to invest deeply in something and see it pay off.

Negatives: (I think this basically boils down to "when it goes wrong, it's stressful")

  • The flip side of shaping the role around me is that I can't always shape the role to my interests and personal likes! I gave a talk at the EA Coordination Forum and that really stressed me out (I think probably it was a mistake to give the talk).
  • The flip side of the progress is that I feel pretty bad when we mess up or I fail at some project I've been working on.
  • The flip side of the open-endedness is that it's often unclear whether I'm doing the right thing. I spend a lot of time reflecting on this sort of thing. It's a bit stressful.
AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

Amy covered most of this, but to expand on a few points.

  • My favourite retreat activity was an EA-themed baking competition. Our last retreat was in December, and we also had a really nice "secret santa" round.
  • Memorable office party activities include seeing who can slide the furthest on a beanbag on a smooth floor, and trying to estimate how many average dinosaurs you'd have to have  to equal the mass of the moon.
  • Caitlin is our head of people ops. A big part of her job is supporting staff morale - both by facilitating fun things like the above, and by making sure that staff have the support they need.
AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I agree with a lot of Amy/Julia's impressions. Some other thoughts:

7 years ago (I was an intern over the summer, so I'm probably missing some things). I think "CEA" was really just a legal entity for a wide variety of other projects. There was a bit more research being done in-house (e.g Global Priorities Project), and I think basically everything was happening in Oxford. 

Compared to then: more cohesive, less research, people more distributed across the world.

5 years ago: things were beginning to get a bit more integrated. Different teams were coming together and trying to figure out what the internal culture was. I think CEA was also really figuring out what to focus on: there were research projects, projects promoting effective giving, EA community building etc. 

Compared to then: Narrower focus and more established/consistent team culture.

2 years ago: I think there was a lot of uncertainty: we were searching for new leadership, and didn't have a solid long-term strategy. However, I think we were beginning to integrate a bunch of cool hires that we made in 2018, and we had a supportive culture. We were focused on making sure we followed through on existing commitments (rather than ambitious goals/new things). We had an office in Berkeley as well as in Oxford.

Compared to then: Clearer goals/leadership, more focus on expansion, no Berkeley office and more focus on remote work.

I think I listed mostly good or neutral things. When I reflect on what I miss from previous eras, the main thing is the in-person office culture (though I hope we'll get this back as we move into our new Oxford office).

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