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Paul Jarvis

The measure of truth

It’s hard to think that something we believe to be correct could be wrong. It hurts our ego. But, this is precisely where truth is determined since the best measure we have for knowing something is true is consistency.

Here’s what I mean: if we’re afraid of being wrong and don’t have others challenge our assumptions, there’s a huge risk that we could be wrong in public or in the market.

This is precisely why I have an editor. Their job, past making sure I don’t make stupid mistakes with the written English language (which I do, constantly and consistently) is to ensure my arguments hold up in their mind. If they don’t, they have to challenge me. I gladly pay them for lucid and shrewd feedback. Same goes for my literary agent. I would rather them strike down 9 out of 10 ideas I have because that tenth idea is going to be the best and strongest book idea that publishers will want to buy. Whether it’s an editor, agent or even project partners, their job is to challenge me—if they don’t push against my ideas with vigour, they aren’t doing their job well or doing my work justice.

Being challenged helps us make our work and ideas stronger. It aids us in making them larger truths. I don’t know why so many people, especially creatives, shy away from being challenged—it’s definitely tough and sometimes a hard pill to swallow, but think about it: these people we ask to challenge what we believe are after the same goal—to make what we think and what we create the best it can be. We’re on the same page and after the same outcome. Besides, if we can’t convince one or a few other people of our logic, how logical is what we’re saying anyway?

Especially with my own books and software, I want to make damn sure every objection to my proposed logic is brought up in private, before it’s in public. That’s why I always have beta testers or beta readers. That’s why I work with co-founders who act as harsh critics (and ones who want me to do the same). That’s why I seek out and enjoy working with editors who help me see my writing from different vantage points. That’s why I’m explicit with my asks to “challenge everything, with complete disregard to my emotions”.

Being challenged is also a supremely pragmatic benefit to diversity in workplaces (virtual or otherwise). The more differences there are in the people we bring our ideas up to, the better the challenges to our ideas will be, because it forces us to be radically open-minded to ideas from others we may not have thought of. Different people think in different ways than we do, which can easily make what we do stronger and more valid as a whole.

For example, let’s say you’re a liberal writer, and have an equally liberal editor. In all likelihood, you both have similar views and biases to your arguments. Imagine if you, had a staunchly conservative editor instead. Think of how many things they might point out that a person similar to you might miss? As long as both of you are on the same page that the proposed outcome is solid piece of writing—obviously this falls apart if their goal is to ruin your liberal writing…

I would rather my ideas be broken down to nothing with my work privately by smart yet different folks, before it’s in public, because once it is in public, it can’t be taken back. Our mindset has to move from wanting to be personally right all the time to wanting to be proven right, eventually, with input from a diverse group of other smart people.

By using respectful disagreement or seeking clarity to build up instead of break down, all ideas and reasoning are tested for consistency and cohesion. We can see what objections or ill-founded conclusions might exist before our work is shared broadly.

Ray Dalio puts it well in his book Principles, “By engaging them in thoughtful disagreement, I’d be able to understand their reasoning and have them stress-test mine. That way, we can all raise our probability of being right.”

We should be encouraging the people we work with to point out the flaws in our work and challenge it. We need to understand objections and flaws in complete detail, not to tear us and our ideas down, but to build them up to be much stronger than where they started. In doing so, we can be confident that we’re more likely to share logical and helpful things.

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