OpenAI CEO Sam Altman shares the simple, ‘most frequent advice’ he gives people—it ‘goes a surprisingly long way’

From asking for a promotion to requesting a favor from a friend, many people shy away from asking directly for the things they want.

It’s understandable: You’d rather not risk the disappointment of hearing the word “no.” But ultimately, it’s a counterproductive approach, according to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

“Being clear about what you want to do, and asking people for what you want, goes a surprisingly long way,” Altman recently told Bill Gates’ podcast, “Unconfuse Me.”

When you let that fear of rejection get in the way of your needs and desires, the result is rarely favorable, Altman said. “A lot of people get trapped in spending their time in not the way they want to do,” he told Gates. “Probably the most frequent advice I give is to try to fix that some way or other.”

People’s innate fear of rejection often prevents them from speaking up to get what they want, even if that makes them less likely to get what they want, research shows. Humans also typically underestimate how willing other people are to help out, or say “yes” to a request, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In other words, science backs up Altman’s argument. All you have to do is accept the possibility of rejection, and trust yourself to be resilient enough to bounce back from potential disappointment.

In 2019, Altman described being “willful” as a key to success and lamented the fact that people too often “just accept that things are the way that they are,” in a blog post titled “How to Be Successful.”

When people cast aside their self-doubt and directly seek out what they want, they “have an enormous capacity to make things happen,” Altman wrote, adding: “Ask for what you want. You usually won’t get it, and often the rejection will be painful. But when this works, it works surprisingly well.”

‘Try many things and adapt quickly’

Relatedly, Altman told Gates that a willingness to take calculated risks is also essential for success. It may not work out every time, but being willing to step outside of your comfort zone is an important step toward getting what you want and learning what you’re capable of, according to Altman’s 2019 blog post.

“Taking risks is important because it’s impossible to be right all the time — you have to try many things and adapt quickly as you learn more,” he wrote.

Altman’s comments on the podcast were recorded before his dramatic ouster and high-profile return to OpenAI, which makes the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT. OpenAI’s board voted to remove Altman, who had previously served as the president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, in November 2023 due to safety concerns over the company’s rapidly-advancing AI technology.

The company reversed course and brought him back less than a week later, following pressure from investors and employees, many of whom expressed desire to follow Altman to OpenAI-backer Microsoft to form a new AI research lab.

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