A few of the frameworks and factors I’ve encountered for thinking about the decisions and choices I make.

When facing multiple priorities and opportunities that you can take, consider these ideas:

  1. The regret-minimization framework: Ask yourself which opportunity you will regret not taking. Ask yourself if you will regret doing something. This has probably been the most influential for me. [1].

    Regret-minimization often helps me think about action versus inaction and risk versus safety. This can be mundane: should you go out to eat with friends or stay inside and eat by yourself? This can be a major life change: would you regret having worked at a startup? Or would you regret having stayed at a stable company? The answers to these questions can change depending on where you are in life. There are cases where you truly might regret going to a startup.

  2. Focus on optimizing a single factor and only then seek ways to mitigate the tradeoffs. We tend to evaluate choices based on tradeoffs. [2]

    For example, an engineer friend of mine was trying to decide on which company to join. He felt that joining a rapidly growing startup would maximize his potential upside (through equity), whereas joining a big tech firm would give him the opportunity to learn more, earn him more money (expected value), and boost his resume. Staying at his current company would increase his opportunities for internal advancement. Under this framework, he should examine the most important factor (pick one of: education, salary, upside potential, advancement) to optimize, and ignore all other factors. This is useful because the most distracting part of making a decision is having to consider all of the tiny little tradeoffs that have to be evaluated.

  3. Consider which choices are time-dependent.

    Some opportunities can only be seized now. An example would be a job offer about to expire. A subtler category of opportunities consists of opportunities that are better taken now, rather than later. For example, traveling is usually done better when you’re younger, because more activities and more social circles are open to you. But you can travel any time you’re physically fit. Similarly, attending college is usually better done when you’re younger, because of the people you meet and friendships you form, but you could still attend college at any point in life. Then there are opportunities that you have years and years to pursue in the future, like writing a book.

  4. Consider your comparative advantages. Which opportunities are specific to your skills, and which are general opportunities open to all? You’re going to have a better chance of success pursuing an opportunity that suits your skills. I wrote more about this in a previous blog post.

  5. Potential is greater than what is possible right now. I try to refrain from judging opportunities by what they mean today. Judge them by what they mean for the future. This is more specifically geared towards technological opportunities.

    A relevant example is the recent trend of cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin. I personally don’t find Bitcoin to be very useful. I think it’s very flawed, and I’ve observed that most applications of cryptocurrencies seem like the result of engineers trying to come up with ideas for Bitcoin, rather than trying to solve actual problems with Bitcoin. But I try to stop myself from dismissing cryptocurrencies out of hand, simply because most flaws of cyptocurrencies are only flaws that exist today. They’re implementation flaws, not necessarily inherent flaws. These flaws might be eliminated in the future. A better cryptocurrency might arise. Better exchanges might arise. Brilliant and obviously useful applications of cryptocurrencies might arise. Potential is greater than what is possible today.

These are just ways of thinking about decisions, not hard rules on how to act. I don’t always follow these frameworks myself. Often these frameworks don’t apply. Sometimes they might even conflict!

[1] I encountered this in an interview of Jeff Bezos.

[2] This was a piece of advice I read online, but I forget where I found it.