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Immersion: Go With The Best Bad Idea — Pick One and Run

So the other day, I was having my non-weekly weekly family Skype call. And apparently there’s this new movie out called “Argo” or something? I dunno…kids today with their Facebooks and their Twitters and their Game Boys and bell-bottoms; I don’t really know what’s going on any more.

But anyway, the movie is about Ben Affleck, who plays a mafia gangster, and him and J-Lo travel to Iran during the 1979 revolution to rescue a ring from a computer simulation or something, I dunno. The content of the movie is really beside the point. The point is this…

Sorry, I lost my train of thought…

OK…I’m back.

OK, no, really, though. The movie is based on the true (and, IIRC, now declassified) story of how the CIA faked a Hollywood movie shoot and Canadian travel documents in order to go snag some embassy workers who were being taken hostage or something. Again, I’m fuzzy on the details because:

  1. I was not even a twinkle in my most-definitely-not-a-virgin mother’s eye in 1979, and
  2. I haven’t seen the movie yet

But said movie plan really was a real CIA plan. This was a real idea. And if it sounds like the plot of a movie, a little “True Lies”-esque, that’s because…it does…
So much so that, apparently, at one point in the movie (and presumably IRL as well), when it’s pointed out by a CIA sempai 1 how bad the idea is, Bennifer and his CIA classmate respond to the criticism with something to the effect of:

Bennifer: “There are only bad options; it’s about finding the best one...”
CIA classmate: “This is the best bad idea we have…”.

Alternate link:

Like any high-quality movie quote, this one is both funny and profound. Let it never be said that movies cannot teach us how to think and live: they can and they do, for good or ill. My only fear is that my over-analyzing the quote may “break” it, sort of like trying to explain an aphorism — like Nassim Taleb says, if you have to explain…there’s kinda no point, really.

Here at the AJATT, I get a lot of emails from people asking me to “critique” their personal…I dunno what you’d even call them…curricula? Their “study plans” for Japanese. And kids ask me, “hey, is this right?”, “will this work?”, “am I doing this right?”, “what do you think of this?”. I get kids asking me “I’m watching karate videos, is this OK?”.

For a moment, let’s just leave aside the fact that my email response rate is close to a perfect 0. Let’s ignore what I said about advice on how to take advice. Let’s even ignore the paradox of how I give advice that is at least apparently contradictory on many levels. And let’s just ask this question:

Why does your idea even have to be right, really?

No, really.
Are you curing cancer?
Are people going to die?

Fact: inaction kills more projects than bad ideas. Inaction kills more projects than bad action kills people.
If projects were people, inaction would be genocide. Inaction would be AIDS, malaria and pins-and-needles all rolled into one.

So should you watch this or that?
Should you do this or that?

I came all this way to tell you that on a fundamental level, it doesn’t really matter.


Your ideas may all be bad. So what? Just take the best bad one and run with it.

Will you get blown away by how right I was when you do something that goes against advice I gave? Perhaps.
Will you bark up strange trees and go down weird rabbit holes? Probably.
Will you come back and think: “dang, I shoulda done what Khatzumoto told me/us to do”? Maybe.

But this is not a bad thing, because you’ll have been actually doing things. You will have momentum.

Bad ideas are not the enemy.

Inertia (the bad kind, not the good kind) is. Standing still, is. Doing nothing, is.

Are there exceptions to this? Are their times when inaction is better than action?
But as far as you’re concerned, in 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 fake number used for dramatic effect % of times, places and occasions, none of those exceptions apply to you. Seriously.

So go already. Go with what you’ve got. It’s good enough. It’ll do. Run.

All your ideas are bad anyway. They all suck. Just pick the least sucky one. Pick one and run.

Start something Japanese. Anything.


  1. Well, 上司, really…

  13 comments for “Immersion: Go With The Best Bad Idea — Pick One and Run

  1. Carl
    October 19, 2012 at 14:48

    This is the type of post that frees me up to do whatever I want with my Korean. “So what, if going to a class is a bad idea. At least, I’m doing something. Who cares how I’m learning Korean, at least I’m learning it.”

    Thank you again for these posts.

  2. Pingfa
    October 19, 2012 at 21:16

    Indeed, “regret is just information you didn’t have at the time.”
    If you don’t know, you don’t know. Sitting there tensing your head won’t change that.
    To paraphrase another Khatz quote, “It’s not ‘I learn so I can do this’, it’s ‘I do this, and therefore I learn”

  3. Jack Cotton-Brown
    October 20, 2012 at 11:19

    Failure many times over leads to success. Bad ideas are meant to be fun though! I actually can’t think of something I’ve done recently that I would consider a bad idea. Let’s see… I spoke to a bunch of girls at school in Japanese by myself and made loads of mistakes… good idea. I finished pokemon white all in Japanese… good idea. I volunteered to teach Japanese highschool students about Australian culture… good idea. I watched a bunch of T.V, some of which was boring, some of which was interesting… good idea. I downloaded a free anki deck and started doing pre-packaged sentence reps… good idea. I started making MCD’s, I didn’t know how to make them properly but I started anyway… good idea, I now know how this MCD thing works.

    The only bad idea’s I’ve had have been lack of ideas, and therefore lack of action. 続け活動がなしの時間.

  4. Romuś
    October 21, 2012 at 00:49

    Unlike Khatz I don’t know many ways to get things done, but there is one sure way to not do something- not doing it. The best way to not do it is never even start it in the first place. And finally, to never even start it you have to stop thinking about it. Belive me it works 99.999…% of the time.

  5. October 21, 2012 at 02:46

    Agreed completely, just pick something and go. Don’t worry about whether it’s the best way or not, you can sort that out later, what matters more is simply doing something, taking some action of some sort.

    Not making a decision is a decision – you’ve decided not to act.


  6. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    October 22, 2012 at 04:09

    I feel like I should say something economics-sounding about “opportunity cost” here, but I’m not sure if I have a point. Anyway, good food for thought.

    • 名前
      October 22, 2012 at 05:06

      The opportunity cost of implementing a bad choice is much less than the cost of constantly worrying over which choice to make.
      Something like that?

      • Sholum
        October 22, 2012 at 11:16

        Don’t forget about the utility of action. Action almost always has more utility than doing nothing. With the time lost, energy spent, and usefulness of the things gained, action will always be better than inaction.
        If you fail at your action, you will have learned something and be better prepared for your next action; if you succeed you will have the exact same; if you do nothing, you’ll have wasted your time and gained nothing.

        • Jack Cotton-Brown
          October 24, 2012 at 08:33

          But inaction is a kind of action *mind blown*

  7. Anna
    November 1, 2012 at 13:03

    Just tell them to commit to what they plan to do for one full month (or three), then after 3 months, have them report back, they will find out whether their “curricula” work or not

  8. Kentucky Fright Toriniku
    November 19, 2012 at 06:44

    So you had 5 other worse/just as bad ideas to write about..? lol.

    It’s great advice, especially paired up with this other gem: always finish your shit. Even if you’re pulling your hair yelling, “It’s shitshitshitshitshit!”

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