Weekly I/O #17
Combination, Burnout, Strong Opinion, Hold Stock Forever, Vibe and Tribe
Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.
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The below is extracted from the email sent on Mar 21, 2021
The inputs I want to share this week are mostly from a 2016 interview with Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI and the former president of Y Combinator (YC). I first listened to the interview in my sophomore year. At that time, I was applying for an internship in a Startup Accelerator + Venture Capital. Therefore, I researched about YC and listened to almost all the interviews and talks available at that time to get familiar with how people in this industry think.
How to build the future is a series of interviews where Sam Altman interviewed people like Vinod Khosla, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Anne Wojcicki, Jessica Livingston, and Drew Houston. And the inputs this week are from an episode where Sam Altman asked his brother to interview himself. All the interviews in the series are pretty interesting and insightful, and even though I have listened to this episode several times, it’s still pretty fun to listen to it again and take some notes.
1. The way things get done in the world is through a combination of focus, personal connection, and self-belief.
There’s a quote from Charlie Rose that says “the way things get done in the world is through a combination of focus and personal connection”.
In the interview, Sam Altman said he would add the third factor: self-belief. People have to have a deep-seated personal conviction that this thing you’re going to do, which a lot of people will say is really stupid, is going to work and going to be important.
It is intriguing that, throughout the whole interview, we can find out Sam Altman really has a strong self-belief. Therefore, it kind of justified that why some of the opinions from him might sound a little bit arbitrary.
2. People get burnout not from working hard but from things not working. Momentum is really energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining.
Sam Altman said he was told and thought for a long time that you get burned out from working hard. However, in his experience, he found that burnout actually comes from the feeling of things not working.
He has infinite energy to work on things that are interesting and working and almost none to work on things that are either he doesn’t find interesting or isn’t working. Momentum is really energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining.
He said that many founders who tried something and failed would assume that they just can’t work hard enough or they don’t have enough energy or passion. That’s actually not true. The thing is just that didn’t work. What they should do is shut down the company, go on vacation, and try again. Many people then realized that, when they doing the thing they like and the thing is working, they have a huge amount of energy.
3. For startups, you need to have strong opinions and but be flexible about the details.
When being asked about “how much do you think people should have strong opinions about things versus putting something into the world iterating and sort of finding out whatever works and going with that?”, Sam Altman said founders may want a combination of the two. You want to have a strong opinion and then be flexible about the details.
The thing he doesn’t think works often are the startups that have lots of pivots that are totally unrelated to each other. There’s a big difference between refinement and pivoting. It’s good to start with a strong belief but with flexibility in the implementation. Like Facebook that the product itself has changed a lot along the way but the belief is still around building a social graph in an online directory. He thinks that’s much better than we’re just going to keep trying random ideas because we want to have a startup.
Furthermore, Sam Altman added that “the most successful people that I spend time with have strong opinions, strongly held about the future. They are willing to be convinced with new data that they are wrong, but the bar for that is fairly high.”
4. My belief on how long I should hold stock in the best companies I invest in is forever.
On investment, Sam Altman said he doesn’t think people can beat the market in a lot of ways. However, his way is by making a long-term commitment to something. In a world where people are increasingly focused on tech and the quarterly earnings cycle, people should try and go in the other direction.
His new belief on how long he should hold stock in the best companies he invests in is forever.
5. Your vibe attracts your tribe.
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