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The Yoke of Credibility - Scott Adams' Blog

The Yoke of Credibility

Somehow, I’ve pulled off a rare feat: I have a fairly extensive readership for this blog, and zero credibility. That’s just the way I like it. I imagine that credibility is a type of addiction. Once you have it, you naturally want to keep it. I’m guessing credibility feels good, and it probably has economic advantages too. If I ever experience credibility, I’ll probably want to have it forever.

But credibility comes at a high price. Credibility makes you edit your ideas down to what you imagine are acceptable forms. No one wants to slip from being a credible expert to a ridiculous buffoon. That’s a steep drop. Credibility makes you avoid risk. It makes you boring, and leaves you too often stuck in the past.

Critics can be harsh, and often dishonest, when discussing credible people. See how the media is treating the Republican candidates for president. About half of all the news generated during an election year involves quotes deliberately taken out of context to make these otherwise credible candidates seem like flip-flopping, racist, fat cats. People who are not credible hate the people who are. And the people who are credible feel a duty to attack the other credible people who have opposing views. Being credible is a hard job.

On the opposite end of the credibility spectrum you have me, and this blog. My goal is to be thought-provoking, but never credible. I embrace my ignorance and irrationality with enthusiasm. I consider both of those qualities assets for what I do. But what the hell is it that I’m doing? Maybe I should explain that.

First, we need some context. We humans naturally see ourselves as the center of the universe. That point of view probably has survival advantages, and it is a valid way to approach life. But it’s not the only way to see the world.

I take more of a robot’s view of the world. According to my robot perspective, ideas are the most important force.  Humans merely serve as incubators, filters, and transmission facilities for the ideas. It’s a symbiotic relationship because wherever you see the healthiest environments for ideas, humans are usually thriving too. You know who has the fewest ideas? North Korea, that’s who.

We humans like to think we control ideas, but it’s probably more accurate to say we do little more than bury the ideas that are broken on delivery. If you suddenly have an idea for a car made entirely of potato chips, you probably keep it to yourself. But if you have a bad idea about how the President should manage the country, you’ll probably have a few drinks at your next social gathering and let it fly. Human are transmitters, not filters. By analogy, the Internet can detect bad data packets, but not bad ideas. We’re like the Internet.

In this context, I see myself as a collector, combiner, and broadcaster of ideas, both good and bad. I spray ideas into the universe and let the ideas fight for their own survival. With the help of their human hosts, the best ideas will evolve and reproduce, and the worst ideas will go to their resting places on the Internet.

You’d be surprised who reads this blog, either directly or indirectly. In the new biography of Steve Jobs, there’s a story about Jobs forwarding one of my posts about his brilliant handling of the iPhone antennae issue. I assume Jobs wasn’t normally a reader of this blog, but the ideas in my post that day hopped from host to host until they found him. Each of my posts finds a different path from host to host, depending on the topic and the quality of the writing.

I’m explaining all of this because of a comment that user Unlost made about my post yesterday. After reading my ideas for how I would run my presidency, Unlost said, “Priceless, yet this will all go unheeded.” I understand the pessimism, but I see it differently. The ideas I unleashed yesterday are already waging a guerrilla war with the status quo. The ideas are hopping from host to host, and if any are worthy, they will evolve and survive. Change doesn’t happen quickly, but I guarantee that any good ideas generated by this blog – if there are any – will find their way. The weak ideas will fade to backup storage, as they should.

I see life as a process, not a goal. If my goal had been to create world-changing ideas that worked right away, I would be a complete failure. But I don’t have that goal. Instead, I have a process that involves seeding the universe with ideas and waiting for the strongest to evolve and make a difference. The worst case scenario is that my ideas cause the eventual best ideas to compete harder and evolve to even better forms. When you use a process that makes sense, even the unanticipated outcomes are good.