“Super” Combinations from Tools of Titans

I’ve talked a lot about Tools of Titans here, but today I want to share my favorite trick for using the book. While every “tool" in the book is useful individually, I believe some of the material is even more useful when synthesized into a coherent whole. Below, I’m going to share the one that’s been on my mind the most recently, with a concrete example of the super tool in action. 

Tools of Titans works as a “choose your own adventure” book, with almost every chapter dedicated to one of the top performers interviewed by Ferriss on his podcast. There are also a few original chapters by him, many of which are cleaned up versions of previous blog posts. All of the material is fantastic and focuses on actionable recommendations you can immediately incorporate into your life, but it can be a bit scattered. If you don’t know which person talks about which techniques, you might be at a bit of a loss. Fortunately, shortly after it came out, they released an index - if you get the eBook, it’s in there, but if you have a physical copy you’ll need the PDF. That being said, the book is uniquely suited to flipping through and browsing around for whatever catches your interest - a procedure that I find easier and more pleasant in the print copy. The one concession to topical organization the book makes is to divide it into three sections: Health, Wealthy, and Wise

All of this is to say that ToT is a smorgasbord of fantastic information, but it’s up to you to assemble your own meal. At first, I was a bit disappointed by this approach, as I craved more synthesis. Eventually, though, I realized that the kind of synthesis I wanted had to be highly personalized. So I started doing my own. As I proceeded, I noticed that some combinations were especially - dare I say it? - synergistic. These tools come together Voltron-style and form what I like to call “super tools”. Some of these are going to be highly personalized - like the combination of diet and exercise that works best for you - but others have pretty broad applicability and I’ve been able to incorporate some of them into my coaching practice.

So far, my favorite of these shareable super tools is the combination of “Systems Not Goals”, “No Lose Planning”, and “Maximizing Options”. The first comes from the chapter on Scott Adams and is summarized in an entertaining slide show, fleshed out in a blog post, and greatly detailed in his recent book. The basic idea is that instead of focusing on fixed, pre-determined goals as most self-improvement literature recommends, you instead build systems that force you to develop in the ways you want to. Blogging is a great example given by Adams - he wasn’t doing it for a specific outcome, but he knew it would a) help him practice writing, b) give him an opportunity to test reactions to different styles and voices, and c) help him build his audience. This led to articles in major publications, which led to published books, which led to ridiculously lucrative speaking gigs - none of which was precisely what he had in mind, but all of which was enabled by following the system of blogging regularly. 

The next Zord in our giant robot of kicking ass is “No Lose Planning”. This is a concept that Ferriss himself details and explicitly links with the systems approach advocated by Adams, but I think it’s useful to tease out as a separate component. Any time you start a new project, take a look at it through a frame of “what will I get out of this even if it seemingly fails?” In particular, focus on what skills you’ll learn and what relationships you’ll build. The example he works through is podcasting: he knew that it would allow him to get over verbal tics like “ums” and “ahs”, it would let him practice interviewing people (essential to his writing career), and it would give him an excuse to reach out to ridiculously talented people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and General Stanley McChrystal. So even if not one person ever listened to his podcast, it’d still be a win in his life. When you do it right, any new project you undertake develops skills and relationships that will be worthwhile no matter the outcome. 

The final piece of our mixed metaphor puzzle is to “Maximize Options”, and this one comes from Derek Sivers. His website is chock full of awesome stuff, by the way, and his episodes of the Tim Ferriss Show are some of my favorites. At any rate, he talks about the idea that a good rule of thumb when deciding between multiple possible pursuits is to choose the path that creates the most options. I had encountered this concept previously in a discussion on strategy games by Eric S Raymond. Nassim Taleb also talks about this idea in Antifragile, where he emphasizes the importance of optionality in situations where there is an uncapped upside. The main reason you want to pursue this approach is that the future is uncertain, and you can’t know what will be the best way to react to changing circumstances ahead of time. That means that the more leeway you have in choosing how to react, the more likely you are to have a good choice available. Think of the old proverb about “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Now imagine instead a fully stocked toolkit - suddenly your ability to solve problems well is hugely increased.

So, what does it look like when you put all of these together? Simply put, when deciding on projects to pursue, you select systems that maximize options and have guaranteed benefits in terms of skills or relationships built. Let’s get more concrete: for some of my clients working on improving their career I have recommended improving their social and professional network. First, this recommendation involves a system for improving connections with people, rather than a specific goal - things like building a habit of having lunch with people, identifying people in your network that can have the biggest impact, and so forth. Next, the project is framed in no fail terms - even if they don’t find a new job or land Bill Gates as a mentor, they still will have better relationships and interpersonal habits. Finally, building a good network maximizes your options - the people you get to know and become close to can help you find a job, give you advice, be customers for your business, or hell, even become your new best friend.

I hope this example has given you a taste of what I mean by “super tools”. I’m always on the lookout for new and different combinations that will be especially valuable - both to help my clients and for my own personal improvement. Right now I’m especially keen on figuring out the best combination of diet and exercise from the Healthy section for my own personal use. Have you read the book? Do you have any combinations that you find especially productive? I’d love to hear about them. In any case, I’ll keep sharing as I put more together.

Tools of Titans works amazingly well as a buffet of great options, but it is even better when you create a masterpiece of a meal out of the available ingredients. Some may only work for you personally, others may be widely useful to a variety of people. By all means, if you have any of the shareable variety, let us know so we can start taking advantage of them too! In the meantime, I hope that you put the combination of Systems, Not Goals,  No Lose Planning, and  Maximizing Options to some good use starting today!


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