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Values and Impact

Image by Milan Popovic




This chapter is the first of a few chapters that dive into assessment of the impact of specific roles or career paths. Like with donations, the difference in impact depending on which causes, roles, or organizations you work in can be enormous. The goal of these next few chapters is to give you some basic tools to estimate this impact, based on your values. 


Unfortunately, estimating impact for a career is quite difficult: It is influenced by a lot of factors, you usually don’t have all the relevant information about all the roles you are considering and there are genuine disagreements about the efficacy and impact of different paths. Try to imagine how you would actually quantify the impact of different roles such as doing research to improve pandemic preparedness or advocating for better treatment of farm animals. Unsurprisingly, these estimates are going to be very uncertain. Regard any such estimate with a critical eye and a large grain of salt.


Even though our ability to estimate impact is rough, it’s still incredibly important. The differences between the impact of different jobs or organizations can be massive: in some cases, your expected impact can be ten times, or even a hundred times higher, by making a different choice. Even if we don’t know the precise impact a job will have, we can look at roles that help alleviate major bottlenecks or deficits in critical cause areas. Some of the next few chapters will unpack what that means, where those bottlenecks and deficits exist and how to tell which roles can effectively alleviate them.


Moreover, in some cases, careful analysis will reveal that the impact of some roles is very different from what you would expect. As an example (which you’ll read more about later), counterfactual impact is a consideration many people ignore that can profoundly change your impact evaluation of a role. 


Naturally, assessing the impact of different paths isn’t the only part of making career decisions that attempt to do the most good. Afterwards, we’ll discuss how to define the scope of your career search and how to figure out your personal fit to different career paths and roles. Then, we’ll discuss how to actually use all this information to make a decision.


Assessing Career Impact


Our model for assessing impact is separated into four sections, detailed below. If you have a specific dilemma in mind, you may find that a different order is more useful, or that you want to skip some sections entirely. We still recommend reading through all of them to understand the context of each of the steps within the process. The different sections are:




What do we mean when we say that we want to ‘do the most good’? If we want to assess the impact we’ll have in a specific role, we need to understand what it is that we’re trying to estimate. This section will cover both what this guide’s general assumptions are, and what questions we think you’d benefit from thinking about. 


Cause Prioritization


In this section, we look at the large-scale problems that organizations and individuals are trying to solve. We ask where we’re more likely to find high-impact roles, and where we’re not. It’s important to note that we don’t end our evaluation here. Working on an important cause isn’t sufficient, the effectiveness of the organization and the role itself also matters.


Organization and Role Impact


In this section we look at the different types of career impact and the different ways in which we assess impact in each of them. After reading this chapter, you should have a basic understanding of how to think about the impact of a specific role. 


Methodology: How to put it all together?


We combine all the information from previous chapters, and provide a model for making a decision. We will look at how to compare different types of impact (in different causes), deal with uncertainty or risk, and think about our counterfactual impact.


Process Over Conclusions


It’s no coincidence that we take you through a relatively long and potentially arduous process, rather than just tell you our top choices for ‘the most effective organizations’ or even ‘the most important causes’. We think we help you make better choices and achieve more positive impact this way. There are a few reasons why we think the process is important:

  • We are morally uncertain: While we have specific assumptions about values, we aren’t completely sure that our values are absolutely correct. We think it’s valuable for people with differing values to reach different conclusions.

  • Your specific circumstances differ: It might be that the highest impact options available to you are very different from other people. We’d like our advice to be broadly applicable - even in circumstances we can’t directly take into account in our recommendations.

  • We believe in worldview diversification: We think there are community-wide benefits to following diverse worldviews on specific highly-debatable questions.


We always try to be transparent about our assumptions and beliefs, but we believe that giving you the tools to assess your options based on your own values and beliefs is likely to yield better results than simply following our specific recommendations.


This means that while you are reading the next few chapters (and the rest of this guide), you should already be thinking about how to apply this to the career options you’re considering. There won’t be a ‘And to conclude, these are the top 3 options for you’ at the end.

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