I’d rather give an understated good recommendation: be interdisciplinary . . . the interactions between [fields] tend to very often inform strategic and protocol decisions

VITALIK BUTERIN is the creator of Ethereum. He first discovered blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies through Bitcoin in 2011, and was immediately excited by the technology and its potential. He co-founded Bitcoin magazine in September 2011, and after two and a half years looking at what the existing blockchain technology and applications had to offer, wrote the Ethereum white paper in November 2013. He now leads Ethereum’s research team, working on future versions of the Ethereum protocol. In 2014, Vitalik was a recipient of the two-year Thiel Fellowship, tech billionaire Peter Thiel’s project that awards $100,000 to 20 promising innovators under 20 so they can pursue their inventions in lieu of a post-secondary institution.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

The largest one is probably understanding how to interpret things that other people are saying in situations where their goals do not fully align with yours. A common rookie error that inexperienced leaders make is always agreeing with the last person they talked to; this takes a while to get past, though it becomes easy once you get exposed to enough people who contradict each other. A good general strategy is reasoning counterfactually: if someone tells you that X is true, ask yourself—(i) what would they say if X really is true, and (ii) what would they say if X is false? If the answer to (i) and (ii) is “they will say roughly what they just said now,” then their words provided you with exactly zero information. In general, know when it’s really important not to take people’s words at 100 percent face value.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
A proper comfortable traveling backpack. I use it to carry all of my stuff (~10 kg) everywhere with me wherever I fly, and it has helped greatly in making the experience more convenient.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I watch movies frequently on airplanes, but I make sure to only watch them in languages that I am not yet fully fluent in. Currently I cycle through French, German, and Chinese.
90 percent dark chocolate. Below 80 is too sweet, 95 is still a bit too dark for me . . . for now. Usually I go with Lindt because that’s the one that’s most often available, but I do mix it around from time to time. It’s guided much more by what’s available than my personal preferences.

Cats.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I’d rather give an understated good recommendation: be interdisciplinary. In my case, I follow quite a bit of research in computer science, cryptography, mechanism design, economics, politics, and other social sciences, and the interactions between these fields tend to very often inform strategic and protocol decisions.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

It depends what kind of overwhelming situation it is. In general, it’s always helpful to switch one’s focus to something else at least for some time, perhaps by going on a walk. If it is because of a technical problem (i.e., how do we get task X done?) then the best way to get around an impasse is to put yourself in many different situations and environments to try to get some new inspiration. The more difficult kind to deal with is social situations. In this case, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of seeing things from the perspective of the last person you talked to, or even in general the people you spend more time with; you need to try to find ways to neutrally evaluate the situation, and perhaps talk to others who are outside of the circle that’s currently in conflict.

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