Be The Idiot

I have a big ego and it can be detrimental to my personal and professional growth.

Because sometimes I make the mistake of thinking I know something I don’t know based on a piece of misinformation I accepted as truth. It’s not that I make this mistake often, but when I do it considerably hinders progress. Learning from your mistakes is an OK way to learn, but a quicker way to learn is from somebody else’s mistakes instead of our own. You can skip a whole lot of frustration by learning from someone who’s done it instead of struggling alone.

This might seem in contrast to what I wrote about learning the boring, but it’s not at all. You still need to learn the fundamentals, but it’s possible to skip mistakes along the way to speed your learning.

I have a few varied examples.

1) The Spring: I saw a video on YouTube of a magician doing The Spring playing card flourish and I immediately wanted to know how to do it. So I found some YouTube tutorials and commenced to spending about 3 hours learning the flourish. (These 3 hours were spread over a few days. I needed to build hand strength.) Want to bet if I found someone to show me in person that I’d have done it in less than half the time? When I finally figured out how to do The Spring my thought was, “If someone had shown me my pinky position was just a few millimeters off I’d have been able to do this a long time ago.” In this instance I didn’t know anybody who could personally show me The Spring so online tutorials were my only option, but the idea still holds.

2) Drawing: I wanted to learn how to draw. I bought some paper and a pencil (I’m not the kind of guy who has those types of things lying around) and found a few tutorials online. I was often bored out of my mind with the way things were presented and I couldn’t get focused. Or, more often, the tutorials would skip a few major (to me) steps that would stunt my progress. Then I took an art class. And although I’ve since quit this art class I learned much more quickly by dropping my ego and getting live instruction. I still can’t draw well, but now I have a few fundamentals that will help me should I choose to continue practicing. After ~30 hours of in person education I’ll have a better grasp of tutorials without them going over my head.

3) iOS 6 / iPhone 5 App Store screen shots: I updated 2 of my apps for the 4″ Retina display. In doing so I needed to add new screenshots to the App Store. I misread something and thought it said to only add a single 4″ screenshot. So that’s what I did.

It said I must add at least one 4″ screenshot, not only one 4″ screenshot. Whoops!

When my apps went live I couldn’t figure out why the five 3.5″ screenshots I also uploaded weren’t showing in the App Store. My apps looked incomplete with only a single 4″ screenshot showing and I know lack of screenshots hinders sales. About this time Apple also changed the way developers can update screenshots (they made it a PITA).

I spent hours searching, trying to figure out why my apps weren’t showing the 3.5″ screenshots. I e-mailed Apple support as well, who you can guess was absolutely no help. (Stock e-mail messages instead of actual support.)

Finally, I e-mailed a developer I met via Twitter and asked if he knew what’s up. “You know you can add five 4inch screenshots, right?” I felt like such an idiot. I had misread something and then just assumed that was fact when it wasn’t at all. This was worse than a newbie mistake. It was a near unacceptable mistake and I made it anyway because of my ego. And now I have to wait for the app store review process (lately 7+ days) before my new screenshots are added to the store.

4) Free work: Recently, I sent an app developer I respect (and one whom I already had a relationship with) an e-mail offering to help him for free. I explained what I bring to the table for him, but also that I expect it’ll be a fast track app education for me. In other words, it would be mutually beneficial. If I could go back to my late teens and early 20s I would have done this sort of thing often. The entrepreneur gets a smart “employee” for free and the “employee” gets an education that’s difficult to get outside of a unique entrepreneurial environment. I didn’t do this in the past because I thought I should learn everything on my own and my ego wouldn’t let me “work for someone else.”

5) This essay: I wrote most of this two weeks ago, but it didn’t feel complete enough to post. I kept coming back to it and changing some things, but it never felt right. In its current form maybe it’s only good instead of great. Or maybe it’s worse than that. But I couldn’t let my ego stop me from posting it any longer.

I’ve been attempting to put pride aside and kill my ego. I don’t know anything. I can ask questions that I would usually think were silly to ask if I can’t figure out the answers myself. In the past I’d struggle through things longer than necessary. Now, the inner monologue is no longer, “Karol, you should already know this stuff! It’s easy.” Instead, it’s, “Karol, try to figure it out – honestly try to figure it out – but if you can’t don’t worry about asking for help.”

Which is to say the first step is not to ask for help. No, that’s for losers. The worst thing you can do is ask for help without attempting to figure something out yourself. Nobody is going to respect that and you won’t build relationships worth having by showing how good you are at not taking initiative.

I don’t think we should pretend we know something until we know it – “fake it til you make it” is generally terrible advice – and the best way to do that is to “be the idiot” and improve from there.

What’s an example of ego getting in your way? And better than that, what’s an example of you dropping your ego and progressing on something quicker than normal?

23 Responses to Be The Idiot

  1. Nice post Karol ! Totally true ! So difficult to avoid this trap of following the ego ! It require such discipline to let it go, like renouncing to yourself in some ways…

    Funny how I found out about you thanks to Derek and The next post you wrote is about ego that I am also writing a post on my side about ego and the self because I struggle in that way of thinking

  2. “The worst thing you can do is ask for help without attempting to figure something out yourself. ”

    YES. I am a teacher, and it really stresses me out when my students give up and ask before even *trying* to do something themselves. Attempting to do something yourself is good brain food. It keeps you from feeling stuck, waiting for somebody else to help you. Nothing is wrong with asking for help, but you can learn a lot by giving it a shot yourself!

  3. Thanks for posting this even though your ego was resisting!

    Instead of killing your ego what about if you just notice the games it is getting up to and ignoring them? I am not my ego. I am so much more.

  4. Excellent post Karol!

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the proverbial head and it’s something I’ve encountered myself. In fact, I’ve dubbed 2013 “The Year of the Mentor” and I’ve sought out or am in the the process of seeking out and creating relationships with people who know and do what I want to know and do and have found it very rewarding. It definitely cuts down on the learning curve.

    I look forward to reading more of what you wrote and I’ll have to go find what Derek Sivers said about you as well as I have great respect for what Derek teaches and the way he thinks.

    Keep up the good work.


  5. Your post reminds me that honesty, humbleness and openness are some of the greatest human qualities. Thank you for your post and your great work!

  6. My intention this year is to collaborate with love–a flowery way of saying I am working with others. Huge because I tend to love independence; yet, I realize that I might experience depth, but I’ve been missing out on range. This intention has already expanded my world; each new space I step into is a space of learning (which I find fun). There isn’t any room for Ego in this year of collaboration, so it feels very fresh and new.

  7. I’m definitely an idiot :-) What I want to do is find that excitement I felt as a kid when learning something new so I stick with it when things get tough or my ego pops up (you’re not learning this FAST enough) .
    I think you’ve given me the inspiration to ask for more help when learning rather then my usual “I can do it myself” tack :-)

  8. Great post and good advice. It is better to suck it up so to speak and if you cant figure it out for yourself to ask for help. I have had to ask for help recently on something and just needing a friend as a sound board for it. I tried my best to figure it out myself but, let my feelings get too much in the way.

  9. Hey Karol! What a fantastic post and some valuable advice! I have been an idiot for most of my life but am always eager to figure stuff out on my own, and it usually takes a real long time to get to the finish line and remedial courses in high school as a slower learner than most. I learn visually better than reading for some reason. I don’t want to seem dumb, so I usually don’t ask others for any help and enjoy results when I do finally figure it out what is I’m working towards. I will not hesitate as much in the future to ask some questions. Thanks for this awesome post and you have helped me Karol! thanks a lot man!

  10. I started writing a related comment but I couldn’t make it brief and it morphed into a new post on my website. It’s the start of me being more real and less ‘professional/formal’ — something I struggle with as my field (career counselling) is all about projecting a professional image.

    The greatest compliment I can currently give you is that you have inspired and motivated me to action. Let’s see how far down the rabbit hole this goes. : )

    Thanks Karol.
    p.s. I’ve also studied not just your content but am actively learning from your example of how you do business. Thanks for being a good role model.

  11. Totally true. I experience this, almost daily, with our engineering team. I jumped in 8 months ago with no experience and had to learn on the fly. I am *constantly* asking questions that in retrospect look stupid, but I’ll take the ego hit because speeding up the learning curve is what matters.

  12. Having started on an internship at a big company in a relatively new area (for me) recently, this is such a timely advise that reminds me to drop my ego and be the idiot. Thanks, Karol.

  13. I often make a mistake as well of confidently sputtering out information I’m not confident about, that might have hidden or wrong explanations, just because of the fear of being perceived as ignorant.
    I consciously realize this hideous act of mine every time possible, and the growth within silence has been quite amazing!

  14. I taught a kid to juggle 3 balls a few years ago. He worked hard and quickly became an accomplished juggler. When I decided I wanted to learn to juggle 4 and 5 I returned to “my student” and asked him for help (he’s 14 now). He saved me so much time I’m still shocked.

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