Treat Your Ideas as Tools [guest post]

[alert style=”grey”]Hey guys,

I wanted to share with you a guest post from Aaron Tucker, one of the guys on Sebastian Marshall’s One Week Book Project team. In this post he shares some valuable insights into how you ought to think about your ideas and separating your beliefs from your identity.

The book itself, Ikagi, is phenomenal. I bought it, read it and have great things to say (amazon review). 4.5 stars from 24 people means I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Hope you enjoy the guest post!


Treat Your Ideas as Tools

I’m Aaron Tucker, and I just led the project management on The One Week Book Project.

This started with Sebastian Marshall putting together a team to take a principled stand against badness in publishing. It was my idea to do it only one week to show publishing what’s possible in the modern age.

We put together a kick ass team, collaborated intimately, and we produced a work that people are calling “life changing” in just a single week.

The title is IKIGAI, the Japanese word for “all-consuming passion, raison d’etre.” You should get a copy, it might change your life:

I’m here to talk about what I learned, so you can learn from it.

The hardest part wasn’t any of the actual work – picking the right posts, curating them, editing them, collaborating with the team, sometimes staying up late at night on Skype – all of that was fun.

The hardest part was owning up to the fact that I chose content for the book. Sebastian makes controversial points, and I worried that I’d be taking a path where people would eventually disagree with me.

It’s like the awkward pause in a dinner conversation, or the moment when you’re not sure if you’re about to put your foot in your mouth. You don’t want to say something that looks stupid, or reflects badly on you.

When a request does get rejected, it hurts. When something you care about gets rejected, it’s even worse.

Ideas are closer to our identities than simple requests. Our ideas are close to what we want to be. They’re close to who we are.

Like everyone, I reflexively protect my identity. If someone turns me down, it hurts. If someone says what I stand for is wrong, it sucks.

I think this is the same for everyone.

You know your friend who’s really interesting and engaging when he’s comfortable, but totally shuts down when he’s around new people, or his parents or something?

He’s probably worried about people disliking his ideas. And maybe disliking him as a person too.

Yet, you can’t take a stand if you never say what you think.

It’s hard to do big things if you don’t speak your mind for real.

If you hide your thoughts and reasons from people, you never get express who you are.

Winning isn’t normal, so you shouldn’t expect normal opinions to win.

So how to start speaking your mind, and start winning?

For me, I stopped assaults on my ideas as assaults on my identity.

Things got much easier.

How do you do this?

Figure out what you actually care about, and then use your other ideas as tools to accomplish those things that you want.

Trim down your identity to the things you actually need in your life.

Go to a cafe or something with your laptop or paper and a pen, and think about your goals:

  • What do you want out of your life?
  • What you want to have happen most?
  • What would you die for?

Core principles are more important than any individual fact about the world.

If you actually know what you care about, it’s easier to separate your ideas from your identity.

For instance, I’d want to take care of people I love. Believing I’m right and failing the people I love isn’t the answer to that.

When you do this, ideas become tools to accomplish what you care about.

Does eating this way help me accomplish what I want?

Does treating people this way lead to good outcomes, or does this way?

I don’t want to use a hammer on things that require a screwdriver, because that doesn’t put a dresser together. I don’t want to hold onto a political ideology if it doesn’t work to make people’s lives better.

Now, remember that the way the world works is the way the world works. There are laws of physics, lots of things operate by rules, etc. What’s true is already true. Owning up to a fact about how the world works doesn’t change the fact about the world, it just changes your ability to deal with it.

I used to try to time my consumption of sugary foods in order to control my energy level. After doing some research and testing, I found that this would kind of work, but would inevitably lead to crashes, and take a while. So I stopped eating as many sugary foods.

This made me a little sad for a while, but it was worth it. It was worth it because what I was doing was more important to me than eating sweet things.

I mentioned strong opinions earlier. What does that mean?

Simply – when you believe something, act on it.

Tell people about it.

Test it.

Lean on it.

When you act on your beliefs, you find out if they actually hold weight. When you encounter resistance, you see how your ideas hold up.

If you don’t act on something that’s wrong, you’ll never find out that it’s wrong. If you don’t act on something that’s true, then you miss out on trusting it.

Tools are useless if you don’t use them.

One of the earliest things that Sebastian suggested that I do is to more forcefully state my opinions. If I thought something, then I should tell people that I thought that, and what that would imply rather than weakly stating it and mitigating the implications.

Clarifying what we meant could take hours that we didn’t have for everyone to read and respond to the emails, and we couldn’t have finished the book in time without just saying what we meant.

So, hold strong opinions. Act quickly on your opinions.

But why hold them weakly?

Because you need to be able to change your mind when you find out that you’re wrong.

If your ideas don’t work, then now you know, and can change your mind. You now know that something that you thought works didn’t, and now you don’t have to waste time and effort doing things that don’t get you what you want.

If they do work, then claim your due success, and you can use that idea again to get even more of what you want.

But when your ideas don’t work out the way you thought, then quickly fix or abandon them the way you would any tool. If my drill breaks, I don’t keep trying to make holes with it, I either fix it or I get a new drill.

When someone challenges you, think about them challenging your tool.

If the screwdriver works, keep using it.

Or the drill works better? Thank the challenger, and update to using the drill.

One of the best things about working with the IKIGAI team was that every time someone disagreed with me, I could trust that they were doing it graciously.

We all had the same goals and looked out for each other. A disagreement wasn’t an assault on me. It was a chance to check my ideas, my tools, and to do better and win more.

Winning isn’t normal.

Have strong opinions.

Act on them.

Be ready to change them when you find better ones.


Thank you,

Aaron Tucker

Project Manager for IKIGAI, published in one week

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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Leave a Reply

  1. Thoughtful post, Aaron.

    I’ve thought and written about this a lot as well. The fact that by identifying ourselves with or as certain beliefs and ideologies, we ossify our identities as intricately tied to them.

    Bad idea in my opinion.

    I don’t like telling people I’m a conservative. I don’t like telling people I’m a liberal. I don’t like telling people I am ‘x’

    I do this because I hold both conservative sympathies and liberal ones. I withhold judgment on a lot of political issues too because I know too little about them to make any thoughtful opinion out of it.

    I simply tell people my opinions on issues, but I never self-identify as the political party that tends to endorse it. I find it does wonders for my ability to drop the bad ideas I hold.

    I am not ‘x’. I am the totality of my experiences, beliefs, judgments, values, character, accomplishments and failures. I cannot be compacted into a singular label and I don’t wish to be.

    • @Carl Shan Good point, I also try avoiding with political ideologies (the last time someone asked me to sum mine up I said something to the effect of “I’m pro-utility. I want libertarian levels of not being told what to do and socialist levels of people generally not being screwed over, and I’m not sure how to implement it.”)If you look at the American political situation now it’s pretty insane. When you force people to choose between Republican and Democrat you wind up with stupid associations, like how people who don’t like gay marriage also probably don’t like government-run healthcare.There’s almost no reason that your answers on those should be related.

      • @atucker Exactly.I think we should be very thoughtful in the way that we describe ourselves by neither pompously overvaluing ourselves, but also not by forcing humility for the sake of being humble. Dishonest humility isn’t a virtue in my book.

        Not sure on how to go about solving this major problem though. It’s an important one and we definitely need a solution.

    • @Carl Shan Great point Carl. I think the reason why labels exist is that it can take a long time to full expand on ones world view and thus labels are a more efficient (but less accurate) way of conveying our world-view in less time/words. We can fight against taking labels too far but I do think it’s good to recognize why labels exist.

      • @jasonshen Very true.

        Perhaps I came off as too harsh on this whole concept of ‘labeling’ — you’re right, it’s a necessary and useful heuristic.

        • @Carl Shan@jasonshen Like, labels were invented to correspond to things that actually exist, but changing yourself to fit a label is pretty lame, and I think that that’s a really common anti-pattern.

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