Ideas are great, but executions are wonderful

1863 Alexandre Cabanel - The Birth of Venus

Within the mind, our ideas remain perfect. They have neat form, divine purpose and they fulfil their destiny flawlessly.

With such perfection as a starting point, it’s understandable why we hesitate birthing them into the world. Not only does it take effort, but the real world is messy, complicated and brutal. It is merciless towards newly realised ideas. At best it is indifferent, at worst it is openly hostile.

So why do we bother ever trying to bring our ideas into the world when they will almost never live up to our visions for them?

We do it because an idea realised, even poorly, is more valuable than one never realised at all.

When an idea is realised, it gives us a benchmark. It gives us learning, proof of concept, inspiration and a path which both we and others can follow.

Ideas are valuable compared to nothing, but are nothing compared to execution.

Ants and expectations


One of the most resounding and enduring features of life, is that it refuses to conform to our expectations.

We generate these feelings about how the world “should” be, and the world just looks at us and says, “that’s nice dear, but here’s how it actually is.”

The weird thing is, that we tend to look at this state of affairs and think there’s something wrong with the world. That we’re right to have the expectations and the world is wrong to conform.

But this thinking only survives on our scale, in our own head.

Imagine an ant which wants to get from A to B.

On its journey, it discovers that some pesky humans have built a house in the way, so the ant thinks “this house shouldn’t be here”.

Chances are, you’re thinking “deal with it ant, the house ain’t moving just because you don’t like it”.

The house wasn’t built as a personal affront to the ant.

It wasn’t built to block the ant’s way, or ruin the ant’s life – even if it’s done both. The house – and those who built it, are completely indifferent to the ant.

When we are upset that the world doesn’t conform to our expectations, we are ants complaining about houses.

This doesn’t mean we can’t change the world, just that there’s no value in fighting it with our expectations.

Calm in the storm


When a crisis hits and your body is flooded with adrenaline, the immediate impulse is for action.

“Something is not right, therefore something must be done” screams your brain, desperate to translate the panic it feels into action.

This can be helpful in situations which are measured in seconds or minutes.

But most crises are measured in hours or days.

Most crises require at least a degree of waiting.

They demand calm:

  • to properly understand the situation
  • to asses the relevant options
  • to weigh the risks
  • to plot the best way forward

All of these activities are nigh-on-impossible in a state of panicked action.

When a crisis hits, sometimes the best option is to take a moment to let the adrenaline go and allow calm to assert itself again.

For situations measured in hours or days, calm is gold dust and panic is a lead weight.

Attitude is a hammer


It’s a force multiplier.

You can use it to make all of your other actions and tools more effective.

In any circumstance, the best thing you can do is have the right attitude and be willing to apply it to the situation at hand.

Hammer at the ready

Experience is a chisel.

Without the hammer, its utility is limited.

But when you put them together – they’re a powerful combination.

If you have to choose, always go for the hammer first.

Stand for something or fall for anything

Whether we know it or not – each of us has an operating system.

It’s the combination of beliefs, attitudes, rules and algorithms that shapes our experience of the world.

And just as iOS or Android are the systems which allow our phones to make sense of what we type into them – our operating system (OS) is how we make sense of what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel.

And what sits at the core of our OS, are our fundamental beliefs about what’s true and important.

These beliefs come from everywhere: religion, philosophy, fiction, culture, the internet and Kim Kardashian.

And while that point is quite flippant, the quality of these beliefs is hugely important. Because it’s these core beliefs which we access and draw on when dealing with difficult situations.

They either rouse us to action or invite us to pause and reflect.

They advise us to turn the other cheek, or command us to take up arms against those who have wronged us.

They’re FUNDAMENTAL to how we think, feel and behave. They dictate how we operate, both as individuals and societies.

So, what sits at the core of your OS?

Have you even thought about it?

We each have something within us which steers our every move and thought, and yet what have we done to understand, or shape it?

Are our beliefs helpful? Moral? Optimal? Legal? Just?

When you’re faced with a difficult situation, will your OS help or hinder your progress? Is it geared towards making things better, or settling scores? Is it tuned for the common good, or personal benefit?

The stoics were concerned with building the best practical operating system they possibly could. They wanted something which would work for everyone: from emperors to prisoners, soldiers to artists.

At the core of their operating system, they put 4 virtues:





They believed that if you started from these virtues and if you used them them to inform your thinking and action, you couldn’t go far wrong.

I don’t yet know if the stoics were right or wrong about their virtues, but I do know that it’s a worthwhile project.

For every person on the planet, examining and optimising your OS is a task worth undertaking, because the prize is so great: a better experience of the world.

If you haven’t deliberately decided what’s at the core of your OS, then it’s time to choose. Because if you don’t, someone else will.

If you don’t shape your own beliefs, they will be shaped by others, without your consent.

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

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Thanks to Tim Ferriss for the idea of Stoicism as an OS – which let to the overriding metaphor in this post.