Christmas at the Dorchester

How to be SUCCESSFUL

by sam altman

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Arriving at The Dorchester

Compounding is magic. Look for it everywhere. Exponential curves are the key to wealth generation.

A medium-sized business that grows 50% in value every year becomes huge in a very short amount of time. Few businesses in the world have true network effects and extreme scalability. But with technology, more and more will.  It’s worth a lot of effort to find them and create them.

You also want to be an exponential curve yourself—you should aim for your life to follow an ever-increasing up-and-to-the-right trajectory. It’s important to move towards a career that has a compounding effect—most careers progress fairly linearly.

You don't want to be in a career where people who have been doing it for two years can be as effective as people who have been doing it for twenty—your rate of learning should always be high. As your career progresses, each unit of work you do should generate more and more results. There are many ways to get this leverage, such as capital, technology, brand, network effects, and managing people.

It’s useful to focus on adding another zero to whatever you define as your success metric—money, status, impact on the world, or whatever. I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote.

Most people get bogged down in linear opportunities. Be willing to let small opportunities go to focus on potential step changes.

I think the biggest competitive advantage in business—either for a company or for an individual’s career—is long-term thinking with a broad view of how different systems in the world are going to come together. One of the notable aspects of compound growth is that the furthest out years are the most important. In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.

Trust the exponential, be patient, and be pleasantly surprised.

02

Have almost too much self-belief

Self-belief is immensely powerful. The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion.

Cultivate this early. As you get more data points that your judgment is good and you can consistently deliver results, trust yourself more.

If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to let yourself have contrarian ideas about the future. But this is where most value gets created.

I remember when Elon Musk took me on a tour of the SpaceX factory many years ago. He talked in detail about manufacturing every part of the rocket, but the thing that sticks in memory was the look of absolute certainty on his face when he talked about sending large rockets to Mars. I left thinking “huh, so that’s the benchmark for what conviction looks like.”

Managing your own morale—and your team’s morale—is one of the greatest challenges of most endeavors. It’s almost impossible without a lot of self-belief. And unfortunately, the more ambitious you are, the more the world will try to tear you down.

Most highly successful people have been really right about the future at least once at a time when people thought they were wrong. If not, they would have faced much more competition.

Self-belief must be balanced with self-awareness. I used to hate criticism of any sort and actively avoided it. Now I try to always listen to it with the assumption that it’s true, and then decide if I want to act on it or not. Truth-seeking is hard and often painful, but it is what separates self-belief from self-delusion.

This balance also helps you avoid coming across as entitled and out of touch.

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Learn to think independently

Entrepreneurship is very difficult to teach because original thinking is very difficult to teach. School is not set up to teach this—in fact, it generally rewards the opposite. So you have to cultivate it on your own.

Thinking from first principles and trying to generate new ideas is fun, and finding people to exchange them with is a great way to get better at this. The next step is to find easy, fast ways to test these ideas in the real world.

“I will fail many times, and I will be really right once” is the entrepreneurs’ way. You have to give yourself a lot of chances to get lucky.

One of the most powerful lessons to learn is that you can figure out what to do in situations that seem to have no solution. The more times you do this, the more you will believe it. Grit comes from learning you can get back up after you get knocked down.

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