Global optimisation

It's good for the industry to be moving towards sustainable transport as quickly as possible. We open-sourced our patents to be try to helpful in that regard, so it's encouraging to see all this activity. From Tesla's standpoint, we want to take the set of actions that are likely to accelerate the event of sustainable energy.
Elon Musk on electric vehicles
It's not about competing, it's really just about trying to increase the probability that the future will be good.
Elon Musk on OpenAI
I think something will happen in the future. [...] If a bunch of companies try it and it doesn't work out then I think I'll try to at least do a demonstration system.
Elon Musk on Hyperloop
Somebody should do it, and if somebody doesn't do it, then I think I should probably do it.
Elon Musk on Neural Laces

I saw a cool extended interview with Elon Musk a little while ago, and what was most interesting about it was the way Musk would talk about his goals. For someone who's acquired a kind of Tony Stark reputation, he seems surprisingly ego-less, and at several points he expresses a motivation that he wants certain things to exist, or he wants the world to be a certain way, and he's not terribly concerned if it's him or someone else who gets us there.

I think there's an interesting underyling intuition there, a kind of generalisation of the thought process in Rep the truth, and also some stuff in A strange game and Middle-out. The point being that, although it's easiest to focus your attention on and around you, there's a much larger area beyond that. Instead of asking how you should behave, you can ask "how do I want the world to be, and what will bring it closer to that ideal?" Instead of locally optimising your actions, you are trying to optimise the entire state of the world.

Crucial to that idea is that personal responsibility isn't a terribly useful concept. Are you responsible for the actions of your government in overseas wars? If you see someone drowning do you have to dive in and save them? Do you have a moral obligation to go to Africa and save orphans from malaria? Well, all of that is kind of missing the point. Do you want a world with less war, drowning and malaria? If so, you can take some actions that will bring this world closer to that world. Whether or not it's your fault or your responsibility doesn't really change that.

Which also means that maybe it's not such a big deal whether you keep ownership of the things you create. If someone is willing to take those things and do them better than you, or even just do them roughly as well, the main consequence is that the world is still being optimised, but with less effort on your part. That's a good thing, and means you can free yourself up to work on a different part of the goal.

It also means there's a lot of benefit in sharing your ideas as widely as you can, not with fear that someone will steal them, but with hope that they might. Really, it would be the best possible outcome if everyone stole all of your ideas, and those ideas went on to influence others to share your goals and make the world more like the world you want. Maybe that wouldn't be as nice for your ego, or lead to you being famous, but the ideas you helped grow could be famous and powerful on their own.

I think that's a good model for success in the field of ideas. Less like a king than a really good gardener.