Which issue should you focus on?
Considering your personal fit
We encourage our readers to weigh how pressing a problem area is in general along with their personal fit for the area — how successful they are likely to be compared to the average person working on the problem, based on their skills and experience. You can think about your expected long-term impact in an area roughly as the product of how pressing the problem is that you’re working on and how much you in particular will be able to contribute to solving it.
If you’re coordinating as a part of a community, considering your comparative advantage — your fit for different areas compared to the community as a whole — may also be important.
For more on how to assess your personal fit and related topics, see the career strategy section of the key ideas page.
Advantages of spreading out over different issues
We do not think all our readers (let alone everyone) should work on our top ranked problems. Differing personal fit alone would mean that our readers should spread out over different problem areas, even if they were to all agree with our ranking of the general pressingness of the issues.
Moreover, as we gain more readers, there will be additional reasons for them to spread out. Two of the most important reasons are:
- As more people work on an issue, there are diminishing returns to additional work. This means that a group of people that’s large compared to the capacity of an issue to absorb people will start to run out of fruitful opportunities to make progress on that issue, making it better for them spread out into other areas.
- If you work with others, there is value of information in exploring new world problems – if you explore an area and find out that it’s promising, other people can enter it as well.
We cover this subject in more detail in our article on community coordination.
Among people who follow our advice, we aim to help a majority shoot for one of the highest-priority problem areas we listed above, but we’d also like to see a significant fraction aim for opportunities in the second and third groups. As we said above, we also think that some of our readers — perhaps 10-20% — will likely have the most impact by working on other global issues, especially those we list as potentially as pressing as our highest priority areas.
We think the reasons to spread out over different problem areas also apply to people aiming to take an ‘effective altruism’ approach to doing good — perhaps even moreso. For instance, if the effective altruism community becomes associated with a single issue, that could reduce its potential to grow and adapt in the future, which is an additional reason for people who take this approach to work on a variety of problem areas.
All that said, we think our highest-priority areas are currently neglected relative to how important they are, even within the effective altruism community, so we plan to continue to focus most of our efforts on them for now.
How do our organisational priorities overlap with these lists?
As a team, we also have limited capacity to provide advice and research. So, we try to focus a majority of our effort on our highest-priority areas. We then aim to put a smaller amount of effort into the second-highest-priority areas, and the remainder into other issues. For instance, most of our advising is focused on our highest-priority areas, but we also cover many other global issues on our podcast.
As our staff and readership grows, or if in the future our highest-priority problems become less neglected or we learn more about other pressing problems, we may prioritise a wider range of issues.