Matrix Moments

This article describes a "Matrix Moment" as part of the development of NBA players (see also this podcast):

It’s special to watch a player when they come to the realization that they’re unstoppable. And that’s exactly what I witnessed as Barrett poured in 25 points and 15 rebounds to lead Montverde Academy to its fourth national championship.

ESPN NBA analyst Brian Windhorst uses a specific analogy for when a player comes to this realization: “The Matrix Moment.”

In the science fiction classic The Matrix, there’s an iconic scene in which Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) realizes that he can control everything around him. A stream of bullets are fired at him, but Neo stops the bullets mid-air. Next, a suited agent attacks him, but Neo easily dispatches the aggressor and later disintegrates the agent. Bottom Line: Neo realizes that he can control everything in The Matrix.

In a recent appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Brian Windhorst referenced this scene when discussing the moments in which NBA stars come to terms with their own dominance.

“LeBron had that moment in 2007 against the Pistons. Curry kind of had that moment at Madison Square Garden at a game I was at when he hit 11 threes… Anthony Davis had ‘The Matrix Moment’ last year when Cousins went down… And he just had this realization that ‘I’m going to be Russell Westbrook and takeover.’”

“I always call it The Matrix Moment,” Windhorst said.

This Matrix Moment is memorable and close to a concept I want to refer to, though I want to tweak the definition a little.[1]

For the purpose of this post, a Matrix Moment refers to realizing that you're allowed to then having the courage to shape reality however you please[2]. In my experience, others usually won't stop you; they'll more likely encourage you.

You won’t always succeed, but either way you will get one step closer to shaping reality like Neo: if you succeed, you will shape reality in your direction[3] and if you fail you will learn about how to shape it successfully next time.

By this definition, I’ve had many Matrix Moments in the past 1.5 years. Some recent ones that come to mind: I’ve realized I'm allowed to and had the courage to…

  1. Send critical feedback on a paper to its authors. We then called about it, had a great conversation and kept in touch.
  2. Write up my high-level suggestions for what the org (Ought) I’m working at should be doing differently, even if I’m an engineer. We then had a good discussion about it, which led to…
  3. Write up my thoughts on my org’s theory of change, the best objections to them, and where I stand. This also led to great discussion.
  4. Realize that engineering might not be the best fit for me, write up a doc on this, and share it with my manager and friends for feedback. This led to my manager and friends both helping me greatly in transitioning to a role with a better fit (transition/decision in progress, more on this soon).
  5. Form my own models of what is most important to happen in the world without deferring too much to {many higher-status EAs}, and aim higher than to work at “just any” EA-aligned organization in a role type that might be a good fit.[4] This led to at least one exciting option that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
  6. Cold contact people to chat about advice on what I should do with my career. This led to several useful conversations and opportunities.
  7. Quickly write up a blog post on “Matrix Moments” and just go ahead and post an inevitably imperfect version publically despite having various worries about it[5], on the chance the framing and encouragement might be useful to others.

Ought’s startup culture initiated many of these Matrix Moments, moving me much closer to feeling like Neo controlling the matrix: whenever I thought something should be done or improved, I was asked to create a proposal and execute on improving on it. It was never “not my job”.[6]

With the rule of equal and opposite advice in mind, I’ll posit: Matrix Moments have been extremely useful for my growth, and I suspect EA could use cultures that push toward more of them. And that more individual EAs could use the framing of trying to become more like Neo.[7]

Comment on EA Forum here


  1. Additionally, I don’t mean to imply when I say that I have had Matrix Moments, that I am in some sense “on the level” of these top NBA players in my career. I find it a useful concept nonetheless. ↩︎

  2. Please shape reality with altruistic aims :) ↩︎

  3. and it will feel really damn good. ↩︎

  4. In particular, aim to do work that very closely aligns with my model of what is most important to happen in the world. But see also this perspective on how hard it is to get a job at any EA org; I feel very lucky to be in the position I am. ↩︎

  5. Too much bragging and arrogance despite caveat in footnote 1, analogy/term isn’t exactly right, feeling like telling people to “just do things” won’t be helpful and sounds a bit too much like “straw rationalists”, etc… ↩︎

  6. As noted above I’ve recently left Ought, but they’re hiring and in my experience are a great group of people to work with, especially for early career growth. ↩︎

  7. Closely related: Be more ambitious ↩︎