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How To Be Successful

date Nov 23, 2019
authors Sam Altman
reading time 6 mins
category blog


  1. Compound yourself
  2. Have almost too much self-belief
  3. Learn to think independently
  4. Get good at “sales”
  5. Make it easy to take risks
  6. Focus
  7. Work hard
  8. Be bold
  9. Be wilful
  10. Be hard to compete with
  11. Build a network
  12. You get rich by owning things
  13. Be internally driven

Use compounding

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

Compounding in business

Few businesses in the world have true network effects and extreme scalability. But with technology, more and more will.

Compounding in career

It’s important to move towards a career that has a compounding effect—most careers progress fairly linearly.

How does compounding in career works

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.

Train your judgement with consistently delivering results

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

Managing morale

Managing your own morale—and your team’s morale—is one of the greatest challenges of most endeavours. It’s almost impossible without a lot of self-belief.

Self-belief with self-awareness to avoid self-delusion

Self-belief must be balanced with self- awareness… Truth-seeking is hard and often painful, but it is what separates self-belief from self-delusion.

Sales == Evangelising

All great careers, to some degree, become sales jobs. You have to evangelise your plans to customers, prospective employees, the press, investors, etc.

Communication = written + spoken

Getting good at communication—particularly written communication—is an investment worth making. My best advice for communicating clearly is to first make sure your thinking is clear and then use plain, concise language.

High risks earlier, low bets often

It’s often easier to take risks early in your career; you don’t have much to lose, and you potentially have a lot to gain. Once you’ve gotten yourself to a point where you have your basic obligations covered you should try to make it easy to take risks. Look for small bets you can make where you lose 1x if you’re wrong but make 100x if it works. Then make a bigger bet in that direction.

Keeping life simple, flexible and frugal

But when you aren’t on the treadmill, you can follow your hunches and spend time on things that might turn out to be really interesting. Keeping your life cheap and flexible for as long as you can is a powerful way to do this, but obviously comes with tradeoffs.

Focus to work on the right things

Focus is a force multiplier on work. Almost everyone I’ve ever met would be well- served by spending more time thinking about what to focus on. It is much more important to work on the right thing than it is to work many hours.

Small number of priorities

Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly.

Use momentum, success begets success

As in most cases, momentum compounds, and success begets success.

Work hard consistently, sustainably

You have to figure out how to work hard without burning out. People find their own strategies for this, but one that almost always works is to find work you like doing with people you enjoy spending a lot of time with.

Work on hard problems

I believe that it’s easier to do a hard startup than an easy startup. People want to be part of something exciting and feel that their work matters.

Work on problems that are important and you really want!

If you are making progress on an important problem, you will have a constant tailwind of people wanting to help you. Let yourself grow more ambitious, and don’t be afraid to work on what you really want to work on.


Follow your curiosity. Things that seem exciting to you will often seem exciting to other people too.

Persistence for long enough for luck to work

They are persistent long enough to give themselves a chance for luck to go their way.

Success and optimism goes hand in hand

To be wilful, you have to be optimistic— hopefully this is a personality trait that can be improved with practice. I have never met a very successful pessimistic person.

Getting good at things difficult to copy: intersection and personal brand

If what you do can be done by someone else, it eventually will be, and for less money. The best way to become difficult to compete with is to build up leverage. For example, you can do it with personal relationships, by building a strong personal brand, or by getting good at the intersection of multiple different fields.

Genuinely help others!

An effective way to build a network is to help people as much as you can. Doing this, over a long period of time, is what lead to most of my best career opportunities and three of my four best investments.

Spotting talent, especially undiscovered ones

A particularly valuable part of building a network is to get good at discovering undiscovered talent. Quickly spotting intelligence, drive, and creativity gets much easier with practice.

People do not get rich from salaries

The biggest economic misunderstanding of my childhood was that people got rich from high salaries.

Owning business, real estate, natural resources, IP

You get truly rich by owning things that increase rapidly in value. This can be a piece of a business, real estate, natural resource, intellectual property, or other similar things. But somehow or other, you need to own equity in something, instead of just selling your time. Time only scales linearly.

Impressing people is external motivation

Most people are primarily externally driven; they do what they do because they want to impress other people.

Working on consensus ideas is externally driven

First, you will work on consensus ideas and on consensus career tracks. You will care a lot— much more than you realise — if other people think you’re doing the right thing. This will probably prevent you from doing truly interesting work, and even if you do, someone else would have done it anyway.

Success and internal motivation

The most successful people I know are primarily internally driven; they do what they do to impress themselves and because they feel compelled to make something happen in the world.

Define success by performing excellent work

Eventually, you will define your success by performing excellent work in areas that are important to you. The sooner you can start off in that direction, the further you will be able to go. It is hard to be wildly successful at anything you aren’t obsessed with.