Healthy Competition

A few years ago, the ra­tio­nal­sphere was small, and it was hard to get fund­ing to run even one or­ga­ni­za­tion. Spin­ning up a sec­ond one with the same fo­cus area might have risked kil­ling the first one.

By now, I think we have the ca­pac­ity (fi­nan­cial, co­or­di­na­tional and hu­man-tal­ent-wise) that that’s less of a risk. Mean­while, I think there are a num­ber of benefits to hav­ing more, bet­ter, friendly com­pe­ti­tion.

Rea­sons com­pe­ti­tion seems good

Diver­sity of wor­ld­views is bet­ter.

Two re­search orgs might de­velop differ­ent schools of thought that lead to differ­ent in­sights. This can lead to more ideas as well as avoid­ing the tail risks of bias and group­think.

Easier crit­i­cism.

When there’s only one org do­ing A Thing, crit­i­ciz­ing that org feels sort of like crit­i­ciz­ing That Thing. And there may be a worry that if the org lost fund­ing due to your crit­i­cism, That Thing wouldn’t get done at all. Mul­ti­ple orgs can al­low peo­ple to think more freely about the situ­a­tion.

Com­pe­ti­tion forces peo­ple to shape up.

If you’re the only org in town do­ing a thing, there’s just less pres­sure to do a good job.

“Healthy” com­pe­ti­tion en­ables cer­tain kinds of in­tegrity.

Sort of re­lated to the pre­vi­ous two points. Say you think Cause X is real im­por­tant, but there’s only one org work­ing on it. If you think Org A isn’t be­ing as high in­tegrity as you’d like, your op­tions are limited (crit­i­cize them, pub­li­cly or pri­vately, or start your own org, which is very hard. If you think Org A is over­all net pos­i­tive you might risk dam­ag­ing Cause X by crit­i­ciz­ing it. But if there are mul­ti­ple Orgs A and B work­ing on Cause X, there are less down­sides of crit­i­ciz­ing it. (Alter­nate fram­ing is that maybe crit­i­cism wouldn’t ac­tu­ally dam­age cause X but it may still feel that way to a lot of peo­ple, so get­ting a sec­ond Org B can be benefi­cial). Mul­ti­ple orgs work­ing on a topic makes it eas­ier to re­ward good be­hav­ior.

In par­tic­u­lar, if you no­tice that you’re run­ning the only org in town, and you want to im­prove you own in­tegrity, you might want to cause there to be more com­pe­ti­tion. This way, you can help set up a sys­tem that cre­ates bet­ter in­cen­tives for your­self, that re­main strong even if you gain power (which may be cor­rupt­ing in var­i­ous ways)

Con­cerns re: Con­cen­tra­tion and Monopolies

Some types of jobs benefit from con­cen­tra­tion.

  • Com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­forms (or, more broadly, “at­ten­tion al­lo­ca­tion plat­forms”) sort of want to be mo­nop­o­lies so peo­ple don’t have to check a mil­lion differ­ent sites and face­book groups.

  • Re­search orgs benefit from hav­ing a num­ber of smart peo­ple bounc­ing ideas around. (This must be traded off against there also be­ing a benefit to differ­ent re­search orgs pur­su­ing the same goal from differ­ent an­gles,

This sug­gests it’d be pro-so­cial to:

  • See if you can re­fac­tor a goal into some­thing that doesn’t ac­tu­ally re­quire a monopoly.

  • If it’s par­tic­u­larly nec­es­sary for a given org to be a monopoly, it should be held to a higher stan­dard – both in terms of op­er­a­tional com­pe­tence and in terms of in­tegrity.

  • If you want to challenge a monopoly with a new org, there’s like­wise a par­tic­u­lar bur­den to do a good job.

  • Look for ways to offset the de­gree-of-monopoly you’re be­ing. (For ex­am­ple, LessWrong makes our API pub­lic, so that greater­wrong can ex­ist)

  • I think “do­ing a good job” re­quires a lot of things, but some im­por­tant things (that should be red flags to at least think about more care­fully if they’re lack­ing) in­clude:

    • Hav­ing strong lead­er­ship with a clear vision

    • Make sure you have a deep un­der­stand­ing of what you’re try­ing to do, and a clear model of how it’s go­ing to help

    • Not try­ing to do a mil­lion things at once. I think a ma­jor is­sue fac­ing some orgs is lack of fo­cus.

    • Prob­a­bly don’t have this be your first ma­jor pro­ject. Your first ma­jor pro­ject should be some­thing it’s okay to fail at. Co­or­di­na­tion pro­jects are es­pe­cially costly to fail at be­cause they make the job harder for the next per­son.

    • In­vest a lot in com­mu­ni­ca­tion on your team.