Directives [Derek Sivers]

Derek Sivers reads out "How to be Useful To Others" and why he started focusing on Do's and Don'ts.

Full podcast: (1h30min in)
Transcript: (page 34 on)

So, I’ve got to tell you, so we haven’t really talked about this yet,
but this is so up your alley, up your listeners’ alley, people who are
into books will appreciate this. So, a lot of my friends – actually, I
don’t think any of my friends are as into reading as I am. Okay, a
couple are, but most aren’t.
And so, whenever I tell them about some amazing book I’ve read,
the gist I get from my friends is, just tell me what to do.
Tim Ferriss: Give me the index card, yeah.
Derek Sivers: It’s like, yeah, like they don’t wanna read the book. So, my friend
Jeff, he’s a smart guy, he’s a lawyer, he’s smart. But, he just looks
at me with these tired eyes, and is just like, I’m not gonna read the
book, dude. You can stop pushing it on me, it’s never gonna
happen. He said, just tell me what to do, he said, I trust you. I like
you, you know me, so tell me what to do.
And, I realized that, if you trust the source, you don’t need the
arguments. That so much of a book is arguing its point, but often,
you don’t need the argument. If you trust the source, you can just
get the point. So, after reading, taking detailed notes on 220 books,
on my site, I realized that distilling wisdom into directives is so
valuable, but it’s so rarely done.
In fact, the only time I can think of that it was done was Michael
Pollan, with his three books in a row, about food, each one getting
shorter and shorter. I think the first one was, was it Omnivore’s
Tim Ferriss: Omnivore’s Dilemma. Yeah.
Which was big, so I know you’re the kind of guy that would –
Tim Ferriss: It’s a great book, but also, I mean, there are, like 70 pages on corn
production in the US, and most people just drop out. Even I was
like, God, my eyes are glazing over here. But, I know there’s some
great stuff coming, so I’ll just slog through it. But yes, a very great
book, but a very big book.
Derek Sivers: And then, he did another one a year later, that basically took the
best stuff from Omnivore’s Dilemma, and made it into a shorter,
kinda more pop market kinda 2 to 300-page book. I forget the
name of that one. And –
Tim Ferriss: Could it have been In Defense of Food, maybe?
Derek Sivers: Yes, that sounds right, thank you.
So, even that one, I remember someone telling me I should read it,
and I remember looking at it and going, I don’t know if I wanna
read 300 pages about food. But then, about a year later, he put out
a teeny, tiny, little book called Food Rules. I think that’s what it’s
called. And, it’s like, you basically can read the whole thing while
just standing in the bookstore. It’s, he took the energy and the
effort to compress everything he’s learned into very succinct
directives. And, that’s what it is. Sentences that tell you what to do.
Do this, do that.
Or, don’t do that. If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as
food, don’t eat it. And, his tagline for that book, the popular phrase
was, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Derek Sivers: And, I so admired that. I got inspired by the effort it takes to distill
the blah, blah, blah, blah blah, down into the specific sentences for
the people that just aren’t going to read that 900-page book, right?
Probably all of that same information is in the 900-page book, but
we have to be honest for a minute and admit that not everyone is
going to read the 900-page book. So, as I’m reading these 300-
page books, 220 of them, very often there’ll be this, like, brilliant,
amazing, important point on, like, page 290, and I feel almost a
little sad that almost nobody’s gonna read that. I wish that these
little, tiny points were extracted, without all the surrounding
So, especially – okay, I’ll admit, this was also sparked by the idea
of when I had a kid, and I thought, I might not be alive when he’s
my age, or even when he’s 19, I might die before he gets older.
How can I compress everything that I’ve learned, that I think he
should know, into a real, succinct format, that he will definitely
read? And, of course, then I thought, other people will read, too.
So, I got onto this idea, of the Do This Project.
Which is, instead of talking around a subject, just giving directives,
saying, do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. Which is kinda
funny, because it feels very presumptuous, right? Like, who am I
to tell others what to do? But then, I think, well, who am I not to?
Right, it’s useful, so get over myself. Kinda like you asked about
me onstage when I was 18, what was the biggest lesson learned?
Like, this isn’t about me, people aren’t here about me, they’re here
for their own gain.
Oh, you asked about my advice to TED speakers. That’s my main
advice to TED speakers. It’s like, people aren’t here to see you, or
your life story. People come to TED, or watch TED videos, to
learn something. So, just speak only about what is surprising, and
skip everything else.

where can people find the directives?
Derek Sivers: Only in this podcast. No, it’s true. I haven’t done anything with it
publicly. At first, I thought I was gonna make this into a big,
keynote speech I was doing at a conference. The World
Domination Summit Conference, in Portland.
I spent four months of fulltime work, from 7:00AM to midnight,
for four – seven days a week, for four months in a row, just
rereading all 220 book notes, extracting, or trying to turn all of this
advice or this knowledge, this wisdom, trying to turn it into
directives. Because a lot of it, almost never is in the directive
format already. People talk around a subject, they talk about
findings and research. But, it takes some real effort, kind of like
the old philosophers, the – you’ve read the stoicism book? The
Guide to The Good Life?
Tim Ferriss: Yes, I have. I have that up on my living room wall, as well.
Derek Sivers: And, in that book, right in the intro, he says, if you were to ask any
kind of modern person who calls themselves a philosopher, what
should I do with my life?
He said, sit down and get comfortable, because they will tell you,
well, it depends on what you mean by what, and it depends what
you mean by do, and really, it depends what you mean by life. Or, 

really, maybe it depends on what you mean by my life. So, people
talk around the point a lot, but back in 600 BC, if you would’ve
asked one of these philosophers, what should I do with my life,
they would sit down and tell you exactly what to do with your life.
Do this, don’t do that, pursue this, don’t pursue that.
So, I was really inspired by that intro too. So, the idea was, now,
how can I go back, through all of these amazing books I’ve read,
and compress them into specific directives? So, it took me four
months of work to come up with the following like, 18 sentences.
Do you wanna hear them?
Tim Ferriss: I do wanna hear them. I’m super-excited about this.
Derek Sivers: So, this was going to be a 35-minute long keynote speech, and it
turned out to be a horrible, 35-minute long talk. But, it’s
entertaining for about three minutes. So, here’s the three-minute
version. Okay, first, I had fun categorizing them. So, this is the
category called “How to Be Useful to Others.” Ready?
Tim Ferriss: I’m ready.
Derek Sivers: No. one, get famous. Do everything in public, and for the public.
The more people you reach, the more useful you are. The opposite
is hiding, which is of no use to anyone. How to be useful to others,
No. two, get rich. Money is neutral proof that you’re adding value
to people’s lives, so by getting rich, you’re being useful as a side
effect. Once rich, spend the money in ways that are even more
useful to others. Then, getting rich is double useful. How to be
useful to others. Share strong opinions. Strong opinions are very
useful to others. Those who are undecided or ambivalent can just
adopt your stance.
But, those who disagree can solidify their stance by arguing
against yours. So, even if you invent an opinion for the sole sake of
argument, boldly sharing an opinion is very useful to others. How
to be useful to others: be expensive. People given a placebo pill
were twice as likely to have their pain disappear when told that that
pill was expensive. People who paid more for tickets were more
likely to attend the performance. So, people who spend more for a
product or service value it more, and get more use out of it, so be
expensive. That’s it.
Tim Ferriss: This is good stuff.
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