Don’t quote, make it yours instead

I came across this post on Derek Sivers’ website.

Don’t quote. Make it yours and say it yourself.

Which sounds better to you?

“In his best-selling book on behavioral science, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman said, ‘Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.’.”

… or just saying it:

“Whatever’s on your mind is not as important as it seems.”

When I first started reading a lot of books, I started quoting them a lot. When bringing up an idea in conversation, first I would mention its source — the book, the title, the author, and the subject of the book — before finally saying the idea.

After far too many times hearing myself referencing this book and that book, always naming titles and authors, I realized it was a lot of unnecessary clutter. I could see my listeners waiting for me to get to the point. It was inconsiderate.

Then I started noticing how annoying it was to read books that do the same thing. It’s really common in these pop non-fiction books I like: “This person said this thing. That person said that thing.”

It got me wondering: Why don’t we just say the idea, instead of referencing and quoting it?

I think there are a few reasons:

1. It feels like stealing. It’s their idea, not mine. But all ideas come from somewhere. Maybe they were paraphrasing it from someone else.

2. School teaches us to reference. But we’re not trying to impress a teacher anymore. And every unnecessary fact dilutes our point.

3. By quoting someone else, we can easy disavow the idea if attacked. If someone says it’s wrong, we can avoid responsibility and say, “Don’t look at me! It’s his idea, not mine!”
So instead, I go the other way now.

If I hear an idea, have considered it, and integrated it into my beliefs, it’s mine. I’ll say it succinctly in my own words, and stand behind it. Like adopting a child, I will take care of this idea and raise it as my own. If anyone wants to know the source, I’ll be happy to tell them.

I highly recommend this. Stop referencing. Stop quoting. Paraphrase. Internalize it. Make it yours. Tell me what you think, not what someone else thinks.

I recognize the irony of starting the post with a hat tip to Derek. :-)

That said, the note really resonated. I’ve tried to attribute quotes and anecdotes for as long as I can remember. So, the simplicity of his approach to sharing them sounded liberating.

I’m not sure I’ll stop attributing quotes and anecdotes entirely – at least not anytime soon. But, this may be the start of becoming less obsessive about it.

That, in itself, would be a great place to start.