Tools of Titans: Summary Review

tools of titans book cover

Tools of Titans is a mix of what Tim Ferris considers to be the best tips and hacks from the various people he has met or interviewed.

Bullet Summary

  • Just start. Whatever you got in mind: start. People who’ve done are no better than you
  • Start small to ingrain a habit
  • Develop a morning routine

Full Summary

About The Author:
Tim Ferris is an American entrepreneur, investor, and popular “self-help celebrity”.
He is also the author of “The 4 Hour Work Week” and “The 4 Hour Body“.
We find that Ferris leans for an overly “hack-seeking approach” and tends to appeal to a more male-dominated audience who’s also a bit “hack-seeking geeky”. Overall an ok and smart guy though.

Lucio: Tim Ferris is a bit of an over-optimizer, sometimes a bit too Machiavellian, I don’t follow him… But he’s a smart guy, not a bad guru, and can be a worthy guy to learn from

Introduction: it’s a buffet

Tim Ferris says that Tools of Titans is a buffet.

Read what other people are doing, and pick whatever fits best for your life and goals.

Avoid Busy Work: Focus on What Matters

If you feel too busy, you are probably not focusing well.

If you feel too busy and you are not progressing, you certainly are not focusing well.

Time Ferris says that being busy is a form of laziness, an excuse and a shield for not focusing difficult but critical actions that really matter.

Also, contrary to the Buridan’s Ass, you should pick something instead of spreading yourself thin. This is also a concept emerging from Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Quote:

Busy is a form of laziness; the refusal to focus on the few things that matter

Visualize Your Goals

Most of the Titans do visualize their goals.

Visualization for many of the titans sounded like having a clear WHY (read: Start With WHY).
Once you know where you’re going, it becomes easier to prioritize and it becomes easier pushing through pains and obstacles.

My Note: visualization is not a silver bullet and can work against you
Because people are doing it, it doesn’t mean it works independently of how you do it.
There are plenty of ways in which visualization can harm you instead of helping you.

Also read:

Pop Psychology Myths

Go For It – Start

If you dream of something, but haven’t started yet, it’s probably because you are living under self-inflicted mental shackles.

The message here is that all Titans -and all people you admire- were no better than you.

We strongly agree with that and highly recommend this foundational article fro self-empowerment:

Enlightened Self-Interest: Making of The Ubermensch

The only difference is that they started.

I like Ferris’ approach to dealing with fear:

  • Isolate and eliminate the 20% of activities causing 80% of negative emotions
  • Ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen if you went for it? How could you fix things?

You will likely find out that you can rather easily go back to where you started. And that even the worst-case scenario is not that bad. And then ask yourself:

  • What’s the best-case scenario? Has anyone else pulled it off?

You will likely find out the upsides are much bigger than the downside. And that many who are not intrinsically any better than you have done it.

Also read How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and Linchpin by Seth Godin for more on fear.

Take Action

Success doesn’t come from knowledge but from action.

Reading is great, but you should think about what tools and strategies you want to implement.

Then implement and act on them. Consistently, as Tony Robbins stresses.

Don’t get hung up on the perfect idea, says Chuck Close, the best ideas often will come from the activity itself, and not through meticulous pre-planning.

Success is action-based, not knowledge-based

Creative Process Means Killing Your Ideas

Tim Ferris spends some time discussing the creative process of coming up with new ideas.

Many of the nuggets here revolve around the concept of simply coming up with more and more.

If you can’t come up with many, it’s probably because you are judging yourself on the quality of your idea (read: develop an antifragile ego) and you should set the bar lower instead.

The point is not coming up with great ideas, it’s coming up with many ideas and killing off and destroying all the non-good ones, says Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink. When you can find that idea that stands, then you know how to move forward.

That’s the idea that Jay Samit calls “zombie idea” in his great book Disrupt You.

And I liked Stephen Dubner’s contribution when he said you should remove your moral compass and preconceived ideas when evaluating ideas.

Before you get data and valid arguments, don’t listen to what you already know (air pollution might have nothing to do with corporate greed).

Start Small, Then Take It From There

Tools of Titans rightly points out that we are often afraid to start something because it seems so complex and massive.

A great idea to start a new habit (read The Power of Habit) then can be of starting very small.

One single push-up before bed. One mindful breath to start a habit of meditation.

80% of Titans Meditate

Around 80% of the Titans in Tools of Titans have some meditation or mindfulness practice.

I was particularly intrigued by the usage of music on repeat to enter into a trance-like state of focus.

Develop Gratitude

Gratitude is a common refrain among many of the titans.

You can experience gratitude in many ways.

Some of the tools were:

  • Think about a good relationship
  • Ponder on how people helped you
  • Relive what you’ve just learned yesterday
  • An opportunity you will have today or in the near future
  • Look around and think of all the things you have
  • Jocko Willink, author of Extreme Ownership, reads about other’s misfortunes

My note: don’t read other people’s misfortunes to feel better by comparison
I like all of the above except the last one which seems quite poor to me. It feeds off other people’s misfortune and it implies you can’t feel good even you’re in a bad situation.

Learn From Failures

Tools of Titans shows how many of the successful people interviewed have an open mind towards failure.

They look at what they can learn from it and how they can use it.

Peter Thiel though, author of Zero to One, has a different opinion. He says failures are overrated. Businesses fail for more than one reason, so you rarely really learn anything when a business fails -and the costs of failure are bigger than the learning experience-.

Also read The Obstacle is The Way and Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.

Morning Routines

Many titans have a morning routine.

Tony Robbins has cold shower and meditation.

Reid Hoffman spends an hour on a topic he chose the night before, so he can tackle it when his mind is at its freshest.

Tools of Titans author Tim Ferris himself share his own morning rituals, which include doing his bed for a feeling of control and exercising.

Develop Empathy

Empathy is important both in interpersonal relationships and in building businesses -you have to understand people to serve them-.

When someone is angry or emotional at you, ask yourself what’s wrong with them instead of getting emotional and defensive.
Also read How to Win Friends and Influence People.

This chapter deals a bit with communication (for which I recommend you Crucial Conversations and Difficult Conversations).

We generally agree here, but also think that empathy without power awareness is useless.
Also see:

How to Become Machiavellian: Your (Secret) Playbook

Focus on Personal Growth

Many ideas in the personal growth bits of Tools of Titans are not new. But a few were, and they opened new realms of thought for me. For example:

  • Be very good in many disciplines

Being the N.1 is difficult.

But being very good so that you can reach the top 25% is not.

You can be top 25% in several disciplines and combine them to get your super power

  • Ask the dumbest questions

Don’t be afraid of asking the silly questions.

You’d be surprised how many people around you don’t know the answer.

And silly, basic questions will often lead to higher forms of clarity and understanding -and sometimes groundbreaking new products-.

Also, my note, not being afraid of asking basic questions shows a huge strength of character.

Tim’s 17 Questions

  • What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?
  • What do I spend a lot of money on? How might I scratch my own itch?

Tim was spending 500 a month on supplements, and he created his own line of supplements.

  • What would I do if I had $10 million?

The author realized that his fantasies were much cheaper than he thought. Or that they were achievable with much less. He could be happy right there and then.

  • If I could only work 2 hours per week on my business, what would I do?

This a question to help you prioritize ruthlessly.

  • What’s the least crowded channel?
  • What if I couldn’t pitch my product directly?

Tim says that people don’t like being sold do, but they like stories.

  • What if I could only subtract to fix problems?

We often seek to add things. But simplifying might save budget and time while streamlining your products and processes.

  • What should you do to disappear for 4 to 8 weeks?

It will allow you to put in place systems and processes that let your business -or your life- go ahead without you. Then just do it, disappear. Also read The E-Myth Revisited.

  • Am I hunting antelope or mice?

Details are important… Sometimes. Some other times they can lead to a lot of wasted time with no added value. Ask instead what action can you take that would lead all the rest easier or irrelevant?

  • How can I waste money to improve the quality of my life?

Use money to earn time.
As De Marco says, money is the only resource you cannot buy back.

Health and Nutrition

This was the worst chapter.

And the most misleading of them all.

Just avoid it, it’s chock-full of hype.

Tim Ferris talks up the back-then much hyped intermittent fasting and it shows that he doesn’t really have any deep knowledge besides the various fitness trends that every superficial self-help hacker pushes around.

Check The 4 hour body for more on Ferri’s take on nutrition, but here are the most important foods to avoid:

  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Deep fried food
  • Cream-based sauces
  • No calories in your drinks
tools of titans book cover

Real Life Applications

Don’t rush, but don’t take too many pauses either

Slow and steady go fast.

Suffer a Little Regularly… And You Cease to Suffer

I liked this idea of growing stronger by suffering a little every day.

At the same time, watch out not to overdo it.

I personally use this principle a lot by rewarding myself very rarely. Possibly too rarely.

Deloading (ie.: take long breaks)

Do take some time off from time to time.

Unplug from work and social media. It’s important that you take deloading seriously and don’t let business and stress seep in.

Ultimately, deloading supercharges your business as you experience more life and think more freely.

CONS

  • Mixed Bag of Random “Hacks”

Sure. Tool of Titans is supposed to be a mixed bag.

Tim Ferris says it himself in the preface: it’s like a buffet.

But that doesn’t mean it cannot also be a con.
Tools of Titans lacks structure and provides no overarching approach or guidance.

  • Width Over Depth

Tools of Titans tackles interviewing tips, investment, morning routines, nutrition, fitness… And more.
But it doesn’t go in-depth on any of them -worst yet, at times it felt it even lacked the expertise to properly address some of them-.

  • Hacks Mentality Can Be A Trap

The “hack mentality” is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

If the search for hacks takes precedence over the fundamentals, you lose.
And if you implement hacks without a bigger strategy for achieving what you want to achieve, you’re not really being as effective as you can.

Review

Tools of Titans is an OK book with a bunch of random and disparate self-help tips.

Some of them are good and some of them may not be as good for you.

It’s a bit lacking in structure and sometimes it feels that some of the topics it touches upon would deserve more depth or expertise.

Overall: good and makes for an interesting read, but not groundbreaking in any way and you may want to have other resources in your “high-priority list”.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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