Get Your Enemies to Help You Make Your Ideas Better
So as a creative collaborator, as a creative person, the worst thing you can do is to only get input from people who are like you. Talked about the mountain range, talked about how agreeing to much in the effort to be nice, or to be happy, or to have fun, is at odds with innovation. This is one of the reasons why, speaking of Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace, he's sort of well-known for being very abrasive. I don't think that he had to be so abrasive personally, but it was well-known that he was that way and I suspected a lot of his abrasiveness around creative projects was actually helpful to making those projects better. There's the apocryphal story of someone gave him the prototype of the iPod and he just threw it in the fish tank. And they're like, "What did you do? "You're such a jerk, why am I working for you?" He threw it in the fish tank, and I don't know if that's really what happened. Then there's little bubbles coming up from the phone, and he said, "See, make it smaller, th...
ere's space in there." And that's actually incredibly helpful, that was a brilliant product that changed the world. It was very helpful to have that kind of critical lens on it. He did it in a not nice way, and again this is sort of apocryphal story, I don't know if this actually happened, but the idea that your best collaborator is often the person that pushes you further than you think you can go, not the person that just encourages you that you're right all the time. So let's talk about the story of the worst thing I ever wrote. Something that, now a couple years later, I'm sort of ashamed of, but I'm also really grateful for. So I wrote this blog post, I read about a lot of things, I was exploring a random side topic of prisons, and prison reform. Prison reform is actually very topical right now. We're finally starting to talk about it in American society. But prisons are awful for a lot of reasons. One of the big problems that I had started fixating on is how no matter what crime you've committed, you get thrown in kind of the same prisons where there's an immense amount of violence. Often, even if you take the approach of, if you do violence than you should be live in fear of violence in prison. If you get busted for selling pot and then you become one of the statistics of 80% of prisoners in American prisons system, get violently attacked at some point in their term, that's cruel and unusual punishment. That's like not cool of us, and you're not really rehabilitating people. So I started fixating on this problem, and I wrote a blog post where basically I proposed, I said, "You know if prisoners can't be attacked "by each other, then they don't have to live "in fear of that. "And Maybe prisoners would rather just not have to deal "with other prisoners then have to deal with them, "but social interaction is important, and you go nuts. "So what if we gave every prisoner an oculus rift, "put them in their own room, and you gotta interact "with other prisoners, but in virtual reality. "And once you've proved that you're not gonna shank "other prisoners and that you weren't violent, "then you could get out and you could hang out "with other prisoners, basically." But you unlock your benefits. So I wrote this blog post and this, you know I don't study prison reform, and it was kind of like it was a thought experiment that I wanted people to contribute too. I went on Reddit, people started talking about it, and they're like oh what if you did this, what if you did that. I actually consulted a bunch of people, I added to the blog post, "We can also feed them Soylent." Which is this drink that's sort of like perfectly nutritious but like not that fun, but it's better than like the bread and hot dogs that they gave prisoners. Anyway, so it turned into this thing, I developed this post and kind of iterated on it a few times. Months later this article shows up in the Atlantic that basically uses me as an example of what's wrong with the world, basically. It starts with, "I found Shane Snow's article "on prison reform through hate linking. "I saw people linking to this saying, "how could a human being propose this?" And he writes this whole article tearing me apart. One, for the idea and two, using me as an example of why technology can't solve everything and we need more collaboration in our problem solving process for big social issues. So at first I was really upset. At first I got this text from someone that it's like headline, Atlantic.com/ blah blah blah Shane Snow, this and that. And I was like, "Cool." And the person who texted me was like, "No, read it." So I read it and then I stewed for a while. I was like, "This jerk. "He doesn't even understand." You know, one of the arguments that people were making is that VR makes you sick. Turns out that the latest iterations of Oculus Rift don't make people sick as much. So they're like, "This is cruel and unusual punishment." But they weren't siting the research that says it actually wouldn't be cruel and unusual for that reason. But I stewed in this and I was mad about that, and not really paying attention to the other arguments who was making, that were very valid. So actually I sent them an email making my case, and in kind of a nice way, but I sort of wanted him to correct a couple of these sayings. I acknowledged that he had good points on the other side. He sent me an email back, and this made me feel better, and in part I was hoping he'd change the article or something. Made me feel better though. But he sent me an email back saying, "Thank you.", and basically saying, "I'm gonna correct a couple of these "things that you are right about, "and will agree to disagree." But I'm really glad, he's like, "I do this a lot "and people don't react this way. "I would love to, if you're ever up in Boston, "come to my class and we can talk about this with students. "I would really love to have "an intellectual discussion about this." I learned a huge lesson from this guy. In him being opened to having this be an argument about ideas, and kind of, actually once I thought about it, and I reread his piece. And I actually updated, I added a big section, a couple big sections to the top of my piece, where I point out how, were I to write this thing again, I would do it differently because of what this guy taught me which is, you know I would of broken down the prison violence problem into its fundamentals. Break down the needs of prisoners into their fundamentals, and then I would go and interview people who study prisons. I'd go and I'd interview people who've made their life's work this, and bring them into the process, and do what I would normally do for a real article as a journalist. And instead of just writing a blog post from my own point of view, I'd actually wrap in all their points of view, to start a real discussion that could actually move forward. So that's what I would do instead, so I'm really glad for that. Well a few months later I was working on another article that was sort of similar in potential for controversy. It was about health care. And this time I did a lot of research, consulted a lot of people, I did things the right way, but I was worried it was gonna cause a stir when I published it. So I was thinking about it and I was like, "What are people gonna say, what's the counter argument? "How am I gonna get torn apart this time? "You know what I should ask that guy." So I emailed him, the same guy, and I said, "Hey would you mind reading a post of mine "that I'm about to put up and tell me what's wrong with it?" And he wrote back and he said, "I would be delighted." So he spent some time, spent a couple days, and wrote me back this long response to all the things that were right and wrong with my argument from his point of view. He and I do not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but the moral of the story was, my post got much better because I consulted this guy that, he was no longer an enemy, but was instinctively an enemy. The moral of the story is, your worst critics can be some of your best teammates. If you're willing to let go of your need to be right, let go of your ego, that second post that I wrote got a lot better because I involved someone who was my biggest critic. I think of him as a teammate, not because we have desks next to each other, or we actually work for the same person which we don't, but every creative process has a team behind it, and the more people you invite and specifically inviting the critique, like Ben Franklin did when he said, "I could be wrong." He sort of primed himself to be okay with being proved wrong. If you invite the critique from someone who really doesn't like your ideas, they will give you the critique, but your ego will take less of a hit. This comes back to that psychological priming that, if we wanna be the best collaborators possible, we need to seek out the conflict, invite it in a way that we're primed to receive it, and then provide the conflict, but provide it in a way where we're making it about ideas, we're not devolving into all those things that I talked about when it comes to bad habits of arguing.