Sam Altman on Choosing Projects, Creating Value, and Finding Purpose

  • From Sam’s essay, The Days Are Long But The Decades Are Short: Minimize your own cognitive load from distracting things that do not matter. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, and how bad most people are at it. Get rid of distractions in your life. Develop very strong ways to avoid letting crap you don’t like doing pile up and take your mental cycles, especially in your work life. 

  • Manage what you think about: I have a fixed budget of cognitive output each day. I can spend it on whatever. If I let it go on unimportant stuff I’ll never get to the really important stuff. It’s easy to be unfocused. What am I actually accomplishing? Some people create a huge amount of output in the wrong direction. 

  • The fundamental pattern that always worked for Sam: Pursue a lot of things as cheaply and quickly as possible. Trust your intuitions. Be honest with yourself about what is working and what isn’t. Cut all the stuff that is not working until you are focused on the one thing (or two things) that are really working. 

  • Sam strongly recommends playing poker: It is a way to learn about the world, business, psychology, and risk. 

  • What risk actually looks like: You look back at the end of your career and think: I wasted it. People aren’t programmed to think about risk that way. 

  • Common mistakes Founders make: You’re thinking too small and you are not thinking about risk the right way. 

  • Surround yourself with people who will make you more ambitious: More inquisitive. 98% of people will try to pull you back and say that’s too crazy, ambitious, too out there. 

  • What book on risk helps you understand risk? Reading biographies of people who have done really amazing things is helpful. [Founders podcast does this

  • I don’t believe in the deferred life plan: People who say some version of my life’s work is to build rockets. First I need to make $100 million so I don’t have to think about the money problem anymore. Then I’ll build rockets. They wind up doing neither. 

  • Book recommendation: The Way To Love by Anthony de Mello

  • Full podcast here.