Change and productivity

Sam Altman  wrote in a recent blog post about productivity. Several points in his post really hit home with me and I'd like  to address some of them here.

If you find yourself not liking what you’re doing for a long period of time, seriously consider a major job change.

Absolutely. Last year I began to realize I absolutely do not like my job. Not in the least. I'm fast approaching twelve years in this position, at this company, doing what is effectively data entry with a little bit of logic thrown in. I clear international freight through Customs, my job will almost certainly be replaced by a faux-AI in the next decade or so as OCR gets even better and software is able to process documents and accurately classify items in a shipment with little to no human interaction.

My job simply doesn't matter. I'm doing nothing to benefit humanity and this has begun to deeply trouble me the past few weeks. What the hell am I doing with my life?! What meaningful contribution have I made to society? None! The worst part is, I don't actually know what to do.

You see, I lack a degree. I'll be honest with my readers, I have a GED. While people often say I'm incredibly intelligent (I'd say I'm average, I just pay attention more than the masses) the fact of the matter is I don't have a paper trail of education. I lack that 'de facto dues card' (as someone recently referred to it as to me) that is a college degree. My company has made it painfully clear that I will NOT advance without, at a minimum, a Bachelor's degree. Pardon my language but this is utter bullshit and sadly is a societal norm and not an exception. Personally I'd rather have someone that loves the work they do, that wants to throw themselves into the job, that wants to be a difference as opposed to a Dick or Jane that forked out tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a degree that almost certainly has nothing to do with the real world because society told them they must.

But what do I do with my life? How do I find someone to give me a chance? Someone has recently placed some faith in me and it fueled the fire that was already beginning to grow in me. Now I just need to figure out how I can best serve my species.

Folks, we as humans face real threats in the near future. I honestly believe humanity is headed for dark and dangerous times. As the next generation or two begins to grow damage we've been doing to our planet since the Industrial Revolution is going to become more and more apparent. Climate change is a legitimate thing and is likely to result in crop failures, drastic changes in weather patterns, potentially wars over food and even potable water. We heavily rely on monoculture crops, on trucking and shipping food literally halfway around the world, we have cities that are natural deserts where water must be shipped in from hundreds of miles away (Los Angeles and Las Vegas for example), we have this illogical fear of atomic energy but seem quite happy (thanks to lobbyists) to pump mountains of coal into furnaces for our energy, we slap anti-dumping and countervailing duties on the import of photovoltaics to 'give American business a chance *eyeroll*' which limits our ability to harness the power of the sun. We are beginning to dabble seriously in the creation of Artificial Intelligence which when used appropriately could be a wonderful thing (imagine directing sufficiently advanced AI at problems like 'cold fusion' and engineering of crops/algae for more efficient food production) or it could be a very very bad thing like in the Terminator franchise and the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project in which an AI is created and given access to nuclear weapons, Colossus quickly determines the the Soviets also have an AI named Forbin and the two begin to communicate and ultimately become enemies. Colossus effectively makes itself ruler of America and threatens Forbin... "oh that's unlikely you say", yeah? Look at how much autonomous drones have been used in the middle east as of late. We also are in the infancy of a second Cold War between the United States and Russia with two madmen at the helms .

We have to do something. As a meat eater I say we need to get away from eating animals due to the greenhouse emissions involved in the entire process. We need to drastically reduce our energy consumption and move to 'greener' sources. We need to immediately do something about food waste. We need to start moving towards permaculture, vat grown protein (be it animal or algal). We need to support folks like Musk and Bezos and Bigelow that would see us spreading man to other worlds as a means of preservation of the species.

I need to be part of the solution. I don't know how I can help, or what I have to offer but I know, with every fiber of my being, I need to be working for someone or something that is trying to better the world. I've been losing sleep more and more the past year worrying about the world, worrying about how I am part of the problem. If any of you have ideas, if any of you are working towards solutions and can hire me by all means reach out. Keep me fed and a roof over my head and I will work, I will truly WORK for you, for our species, for our future.

Altman also says

I’ve been very fortunate to find work I like so much I’d do it for free, which makes it easy to be really productive.

I truly find it hard to do my job lately. It emotionally pains me. I think this is important, we need a world where people can actually pursue what interests them. The world would immediately be a better place. We need to look at things like Basic Income to allow this, especially with automation in the workplace rapidly increasing which is going to displace millions, then hundreds of millions of workers.

Altman makes another salient point

Doing great work usually requires colleagues of some sort.  Try to be around smart, productive, happy, and positive people that don’t belittle your ambitions.

I will be the first to admit, I can be quite negative. I often don't believe in myself. A former friend had me in his phone as 'Eeyore'. One problem is, people shit on my ideas. I expressed to a friend I was considering pursuing a degree, he quickly told me I'd hate it, I'd complain about it, I'd get bored with it... while he was right that was not at all supportive (although it was one of many reasons I have chosen not to pursue a degree). Unfortunately this wasn't an isolated incident. My mother frequently doesn't support me nor has my extended family EVER supported me. I need to be around people that inherently believe in any given human being's potential. I need to be around people that are trying to be part of the solution. I know so few of these types though and I haven't a clue how to build a social circle that consists of this variety of person.

You have to both pick the right problem and do the work. There aren’t many shortcuts. If you’re going to do something really important, you are very likely going to work both smart and hard.

Damn. Do you ever have the feeling that the Universe or the Grand Architect or God or the intelligence that runs our simulation is trying to tell you something? I need to find the right problem for me to throw myself at. If anyone has ideas, I'm open. If anyone has work to be done, again let's talk as maybe I can help. I need to spend the next days, or weeks, seriously contemplating what I might be able to do and then looking for someone to do it for.

Roman society had Clientela, patronage. Patroni would sponsor clientes and this could be done many different ways for many different reasons. I think we need to look at this practice and apply it in the 21st century. We need to seek out and identify potential wunderkind and bright adults that have not had the means to excel and support them. How many Teslas, Leonardos (people, his name isn't da Vinci, it is where he is from!), Fords, Einsteins, Gutenbergs, Lamarrs (as in Hedy, go read about her life outside of being an actress), Watts, Voltas etc were unable to contribute meaningfully to society because they were disadvantaged one way or another? How many profound discoveries and contributions never happened because no one believed in them, because no one supported them, because they were too busy trying to keep food on the table to pursue their ideas and use their abilities? Again, see Basic Income. Perhaps Basic Income can be the clientela of the 21st century.

Altman then says

My system has three key pillars: “Make sure to get the important shit done”, “Don’t waste time on stupid shit”, and “make a lot of lists”.

Agreed. I use my Gmail inbox for this as well as my Google calendar. I think I'm going to give paper lists a try, get some cheap notepads or moleskines. For a time I was using Evernote but it is too easy to ignore or neglect outright. We all have many ideas, some good and some bad, but how many of them do we ever pursue? Lists, I'm going to take a renewed interest in lists. You should too.

Altman:

I try to be ruthless about saying no to stuff, and doing non-critical things in the quickest way possible. I probably take this too far—for example, I am almost sure I am terse to the point of rudeness when replying to emails.

 

While I can be quite wordy when I'm passionate about something (ahem, this post) I was told, after interviewing for a position here at work recently, "you were too terse with your replies to the interview questions. You briefly answered and did not expand upon your answers like other candidates" well exxxxcccuuuuusssseeeee me you told me you'd only allotted 45 minutes for the interview and I didn't want to waste my time or yours with some verbal diarrhea trying to to play kiss ass while I told you everything you wanted to hear. And while we're on the subject, ENOUGH WITH MEETINGS. I have, at a minimum, 6 meetings a week that add up to at least an hour, literally everything that is said in these meetings could be delivered in 6 emails consisting of less than 2 paragraphs which I could read in 30-45 seconds.

I'm not here to be best friends with everyone I work with, I'm here to work and get paid. Unless something deeply interests me, I'm going to be as curt. It will serve all parties well. Less is frequently more. The less time I waste 'shooting the shit' with you, the more I can get done.

Oh wait a tick, look what Altman has to say:

I generally try to avoid meetings and conferences as I find the time cost to be huge—I get the most value out of time in my office.

Thank you! Someone else has some sense!

Look, I honestly have no idea what I should be doing with my life. I know I should NOT be doing paperwork all day. I want to be interacting with people, I want to be helping people, I want to be working towards social or technological changes that will make the world a better place for humanity going forward. I truly have no idea what talents I can bring to the table aside from being able to process many ideas and concepts and linking relevant (even when not obvious) ones together. I don't know how to solve the problems of the world but I want to.

I'm not likely to invent some new app or technology, I'm not likely to cure cancer or solve world hunger. My bank balance is in the four digits so I can't finance the efforts of others. I can say "here's an idea" or "I don't think that's wise" or "I'm sorry, you are so out of touch with reality that you have just said the dumbest thing I have ever heard in all of my existence" or "yes, that's brilliant, what can we do to make that happen?! How can I help?!".

I truly don't know what to do. I need some sort of intervention, I need something to fall into my lap or someone to throw me at a task. I'm open to the ideas of anyone that might see this. I can't do my job anymore, I come to work and want to check out like Peter in Office Space, someone load up Tetris and pass me the electric screwdriver until I have a meaningful purpose.

I have some ideas for more blog posts that I will begin working on this weekend so stay tuned my friends. In the meantime, take a look at your life and ask yourself if you could be doing something more meaningful.