“Learn from everyone, follow no one, watch for patterns, work like hell” -Scott McCloud, The visual magic of comics
Successful people know how to separate ideas from idea-givers. That is, they understand the importance of placing praxis above prejudice.
In this video from Big Think (it’s less than three minutes long), Robert Steven Kaplan discusses why relationships are essential to personal development and professional success. Underneath the video, one viewer posted the following comment:
“We all need to be told about how to be successful by a relatively healthy, middle-aged, middle-class, white Anglo-Saxon male in America, who didn’t really overcome any obstacles and is completely puzzled why other people aren’t as successful as him, and we should pay him for it too.”
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the above comment is irrefutably true on all accounts. Let’s skip past any requirements for backing up statements of this nature with empirical evidence. I’m willing to take it for granted that Robert Steven Kaplan has no idea what he’s talking about and that he has little clue as to what the word “struggle” really means.
With that assumption in place, consider the following question: Does the presence of disparaging attributes in a person’s life invalidate the claims they make about the world?
Consider the following proposition: If you treat other people as if they are idiots, it is highly unlikely that they will be willing to cooperate with you.
Upon what does the usefulness of this proposition depend? It depends on the actual results one gets when he goes out and tries it for himself. Those results, whether positive or negative, will have nothing to do with any objectionable qualities we can point out about the personal or professional lives of experts.
If I were to do a little investigating and find out that, in spite of all his noble-sounding advice, Robert Steven Kaplan is really a jerk to his friends and co-workers, that fact wouldn’t change anything about my personal success in dealing with others.
Many people waste their time asking the wrong set of questions. They ask questions like “Who is this guy?”, Where did he go to school?”, “Who does he think he is?”, “What has he been through?”, and “What in the world is he wearing?”
Philosophically, those questions may be interesting. Pragmatically, the answers to them will tell you nothing about the applicability of that person’s ideas to your own life.
The next time you’re attending a lecture, watching a TED talk, listening to a podcast, taking an online course, evaluating the advice of a friend, or analyzing the claims of a stranger, I suggest asking the following questions: What is the proponent of this idea actually saying? If his claims are true, could they benefit me somehow? How can I experiment with his ideas at a risk level that’s comfortable for me? Are there any elements in his philosophy that I can tweak, modify, and rework in order to more effectively serve my own goals?
These are the kinds of questions that distinguish commenters from creators, people who posses strong opinions from people who produce massive results, people who argue for their limitations from people who fight for their possibilities, and people who find excuses for not trying from people who find ways to get things done.
Place praxis above prejudice.
Ask good questions, try new things, form your own conclusions, and stay more focused on ideas than idea-givers.