Sunday Signal: Sam Altman fired from OpenAI, building defensibility and high-performance culture
Hey friends 👋 Happy Sunday.
Here’s your weekly dose of AI and introspection.
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On Friday evening, OpenAI released the following statement: “Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
This highlights a critical point of failure within public company boards: they must have a majority of independent directors. These individuals have no equity, are typically risk-averse and can put self-interest first. You must choose wisely who you bring on. Lesson: control your board or they will control you.
More senior individuals have left OpenAI following Sam’s departure. This includes Greg Brockman (Co-Founder and President), Jakub Pachocki (GPT-4 lead & Director of Research) and Aleksander Madry (Head of AI Risk).
Who would’ve thought a company partnered with Microsoft would be using last-minute Google Meets to let go of their CEO and President?
Alex’s take: This news kept me glued to X/Twitter for more time than I’d care to admit. It leaves a lot of open questions:
Was this a power play for control (OpenAI board / Microsoft)?
Is it all over for OpenAI or will Sam be back?
What will Altman and Brockman do next?
I can’t help but draw parallels to when Apple fired Steve Jobs back in 1985. Regardless, Sam has already made such a tremendous contribution to humanity. I couldn’t be more excited to see what he is going to build next.
This is the first step in ChatGPT becoming an actual copilot for the mind. Traditionally, we learn something → write it down → forget about it. ChatGPT has the potential to remember who you are, the people closest to you and everything you ask it.
Alex’s take: I’ve always loved the idea of a second brain. I wrote about it previously here. A tool that can capture, store and retrieve insights at the speed of thought is something I’m looking forward to.
DeepMind is trialling Lyria with a project called ‘Dream Track’. This allows creators of YouTube shorts to produce a soundtrack with the AI-generated voice and musical style of select artists including the likes of Charlie Puth, John Legend and Sia.
Alex’s take: The example of Lyria stunned me when it was able to transform someone humming into a full instrument suite. I see this as a huge opportunity to democratise access to music production.
1 Article I Enjoyed
Dharmesh Shah is the co-founder and CTO of HubSpot.
He wrote a great piece on AI startup defensibility which deserves highlighting.
The best way to start building your moat is to do hard, helpful things.
This involves either having unique assets (like proprietary data or exclusive partnerships) or building a strong network effect e.g., marketplaces.
You must also pair this with an awareness of the rapidly evolving AI landscape. This includes the development of foundational large language models (LLMs) and the growing capabilities of platforms like OpenAI.
I’d boil it down to the following:
Moats can be found with (i) deep domain knowledge, (ii) deeply curated datasets, and (iii) deep relationships with end users.
1 Idea I Learned
Family is like cancer within a high-performing team.
It can destroy the very culture you’re trying to create.
A family mentality means you’re more likely to over-index on loyalty and under-index on results.
Patty McCord, Netflix’s former Chief Talent Officer captured this perfectly:
“There's a big difference between a team and a family: teams change regularly and are optimised to win at all times, while families strive to stick together no matter what.”
If you want to build a high-performance culture, build an all-star team, not a family.
1 Quote to Share
“The stars don’t align for people who just dabble. You have to go all in.” — Nick Ruiz
Highly focused people do not hedge their bets. They pinpoint their priorities and readily dismiss distractions.
Commit to the thing. Laser-like focus is a superpower.
1 Question to Ponder
Where, in my life, should I consider burning the boats?
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See you next week,
P.S. Hogwarts 1996 rave.