Use ideas as tools not truths

• 2 min read
Use ideas as tools not truths
“The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea because then he'll fight and die for it." -Francis Crick

This quote made me think about the dangers of believing in ideas as truths. Most things that matter in life are messy. As Feynman once said:

"It's because somebody knows something about it that we can't talk about physics. It's the things that nobody knows anything about that we can discuss. We can talk about the weather; we can talk about social problems; we can talk about psychology; we can talk about international finance--gold transfers we can't talk about because those are understood--so it's the subject that nobody knows anything about that we can all talk about!" -Richard Feynman

You will encounter conflicting advice during your whole life. Choosing an Idea and following it blindly will cause you many problems. Let's start with an example:

You will find a lot of advice in productivity about only doing good enough or "Done is better than perfect" etc. The concept is that perfectionism is a fool's errand and can freeze you. So, doing something is better than doing nothing.

Another common piece of advice is to focus on being the best you can be. Putting the extra effort that nobody is putting in or "going the extra mile". So, if you are going to do something don't waste your life doing things with half effort.

Should we strive to do our best or do what is good enough?

Both ideas have their merits and subscribing to one of them as a "truth" will make it part of your identity. Once something is part of your identity you will resist anything that challenges your "truth" even without noticing you are resisting something.

Instead of evaluating ideas as true or false, you can think about them as tools instead of truths. What is the difference?

When you evaluate ideas as truths you want to know how true they are.

When you evaluate ideas as tools you want to know how useful they are.

Getting back to "good enough" vs "the best" ideas. If you think about them as tools you can start to think about how useful they are. However, there is a catch, usefulness is always context-dependent. This means that both can be useful at the same time but in different contexts.

If you are procrastinating, focusing on just doing enough is a powerful way to combat it. By focusing on doing "good enough" you will end up with something better than nothing.

If you are already doing something important, you can use the "extra effort" mentality to review it and improve it, over and over again.

Start treating your ideas as tools and learn the context where they work the best. Let the fanatics care about what is "true" while you focus on what is "useful".

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