How to Become an Idea Machine

Excellent article from James Altucher. Here’s just some highlights:

So don’t be afraid to test, fail, test, fail, try again, repeat, improve, test, fail again, and keep improving. The way to keep improving? Keep coming up with ideas for your business and for other new businesses.

As your idea muscle improves, so will your ability to “fail quickly”. Failing quickly is a better skill than executing quickly.

You may not have a side project going on right now, but you can make money by starting one. I’ll tell you how here.

And:

– 10 things I can do differently today. Write down my entire routine from beginning to end as detailed as possible and change one thing and make it better.

– 10 Things I Learned from X. Where X is someone I’ve spoke to recently or read a book by recently. I’ve written posts on this about the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Steve Jobs, Bukowski, the Dalai Lama, Superman, Freakonomics, etc.

– A problem I have and ten ways I might try and solve it.

And:

At any given point I have about 10-20 books on my “to go” list. Books that I can just pop in and continue reading.

Every day I read at least 10% of a non-fiction book that gives me tons of new ideas, an inspirational book, a fiction book of high-quality writing, and maybe a book on games (lately I’ve been solving chess puzzles). And then I start writing.

And:

If you stick to an abundance mentality, and be grateful for the ideas that are flowing through you, then they will be infinite. Where they come from, nobody knows. But they will be infinite and lucrative for you.

So give ideas for free, and then when you meet, give more ideas. And if someone wants to pay you and your gut feels this is a good fit, then give even more ideas.

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Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It

James Altucher, writing about Kamal Ravikant:

A few weeks later he told me he had been sick. “I was so sick, most days I couldn’t move.”

“What happened? How did you get better?”

He said, “I’ll tell you but it might not sound real. One day I could barely move. I was sick. I thought this is it. There’s noting to live for. I could barely get out of bed. But I crawled up to the mirror in my bathroom and I said to myself, ‘I love you.’

“And I kept repeating it. And repeating it. And the next day I did the same. And the next day.

“And I realized all the ways I hadn’t been loving myself. And I realized how important it was to say it out loud.

“How important it was to mean it. How I had to rewire my brain to love myself.

“And every day I got better. And better. And then even better than I was before I started this. I made a complete recovery.

“I was better.”

And:

“Think about it,” he said to me months later when we met in NYC, “when someone is in love, they almost magically look better. I needed to be in love with myself to feel better. So much of what had happened had weighed on me until I collapsed. Now I needed to love myself. It became a mantra for me.”

As someone explained to me the other day, the word “mantra” has two parts (in Sanskrit): “man” – thoughtfulness with zeal, and “tra” – to protect. So by saying “I love myself” over and over Kamal was protecting the thought, nourishing it, and the love was nourishing the rest of his body, his emotions, his mind, his spirit.

And:

If a painful memory arises, don’t fight it or try to push it away – you’re in quicksand. Struggle reinforces pain. Instead, go to love. Love for yourself. Feel it. If you have to fake it, fine. It’ll become real eventually. Feel the love for yourself as the memory ebbs and flows. That will take the power away.

And even more importantly, it will shift the wiring of the memory. Do it again and again. Love. Re-wire. Love. Re-wire. It’s your mind. You can do whatever you want. […] The results are worth it. I wish that for you.

You can read the full blog post here.

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The First Step

James Altucher:

I divide my paper into two columns.

On one column is the list of ideas. On the other column is the list of “FIRST STEPS”. Remember, only the first step. Because you have no idea where that first step will take you.

Imagine you are driving 100 miles to your home late at night. You turn on your headlights so you can see in front of you. All you can see is about 30 feet in front of you but you know if you have the lights on the entire time, you’ll make it home safely, 100 miles away.

Activating the idea machine is how you turn the lights on so you can get home.

And:

One of my favorite examples: Richard Branson didn’t like the service on some airline he was flying. So he had an idea: I’m going to start a new airline. How the heck can a magazine publisher start an airline from scratch with no money?

His first step. He called Boeing to see if they had an airplane he could lease.

No idea is so big you can’t take the first step. If the first step seems to hard, make it simpler.

And:

A real life example: In 2006 I had ten ideas for websites I wanted to build. I knew how to program but didn’t want to. So my first step was to find a site like Elance and then put the spec up and find programmers in India who could make the websites for me. One of them I paid $2000 to develop and sold for $10,000,000 9 months later. (this is not bragging – I went dead broke about 2 years after that).

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Success & Service

Derek Sivers, on the James Altucher podcast:

When I look back at my life, and what was successful and what wasn’t, it seems that whenever I was focused on me, me, me, me… All my years making music. It’s me up on stage, singing my thoughts into a microphone. Spotlight’s on me. I’m out there promoting me. It’s all about me. I did that for 15 years, and it was hard. It just felt like always an uphill battle. I had some success, but for the most part, it was hard.

On the other hand, as soon as I turned my attention 100% to others, I said, “Okay. Forget me. How can I help you?” That was like the big idea behind CD Baby. When it was just completely putting myself into the service of others and just completely forgetting myself, I ceased to exist, “I am here solely for your service” — then boom! That’s where all the successes seems to happen repeatedly in my life.

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Obsession Is Your Only Option

Elon Musk hunting aliens on Mars

James Altucher:

The obsessed person will beat out the non-obsessed person 100% of the time.

How come?

Because when you are obsessed you see every nuance. You learn from hundreds of mentors, real and virtual, you read every book, watch every video, you remember everything, you compare notes with everyone.

You are a cosmic sponge, soaking up all the information that others don’t see.

Steve Pavlina:

In a given week, where is your attention going? If you aren’t habitually obsessing over your goals, then what are you obsessing over instead?

Grant Cardone:

Your obsession is the most valuable tool you have to build the life you deserve and dream of.

Unfortunately, most people never figure out what they are really obsessed with, because they’ve been taught to deny their obsessions. Don’t let that be you. Find something, anything, that you are obsessed with. It doesn’t matter what it is right now, because you are just going to take the urges, momentum, and fixation on that thing and redirect them.

(…)

What matters at first is realizing you have the capacity to be obsessed.

And:

To have what you want in life, you must give yourself permission to throw yourself all in on your dreams. Make it clear to others that you are obsessed and that, though you would like their support, any expectations they may have of your staying where you are, settling for less than you dream, or being average will have to take a backseat.

Ask yourself, How far up can I go? How much more can I do? And most important, What do I want to become completely obsessed with that will lead to success?

Photo credit: ‘Mad Musk’ illustration by American AF

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Read Read Read

James Altucher:

I dive into a book and it breathes life into me. I’m a vampire who sucks the words out of the author until I have absorbed his or her life.

Now I have lived my life and the author’s life.

I live more and more lives. I absorb them and become them, even for a moment, but that moment turns into a memory, turns into knowledge, turns into tools I can use to make my life better.

And:

Here are reasons I read:

To be inspired. Sometimes I forget that the key to life is to revolve your days and moments around MEANING. That meaning is the fuel of myth and story. Meaning creates The Hero. Meaning is the call to action that drives the hero from a normal person to one who surpasses all his prior abilities and achieves immortality.

To learn facts. I never argue with people. Most people learn their opinions from their culture, from their parents or friends, from the location they grew up in. I like to learn facts from books. If I want to understand the effect of tariffs on the economy, I read the history of economies. If I want to understand how my favorite comedians succeeded against all odds, I read their biographies. If I want to learn about the effect sugar has on the body I read books about sugar. If I want to learn what radiation leaves a black hole when even gravity can’t leave a black hole I read books about physics.

To get better at something I love. If I love chess, I read books about chess. If I love investing, I read books about the best investors and the best investment strategies. If I love psychology I read books by the best psychologists.

To get smarter. After EVERY single book I read in the below list, I felt as if my intelligence was higher, if even for a day.

To be a better person. What is the role of habits in success? What are the common qualities of people who are happier than others? How have my favorite authors dealt with sorrow and loss and fear?

I want to close a book at the end and immediately want to re-read it. I want to close a book at the end and say, “I am a better person because I have read this book.”

Not “better” than anyone else. Better than the person I was yesterday.

This post makes me want to go out and read every book on the planet.

I also loved this bit between James Altucher and Derek Sivers:

Derek: In one of your books, you said something like, “Pick a subject that you would read a hundred books on that subject.”

James: Yeah. So I say, “Go into the bookstore, which section will you read the entire section of? And then that’s what your — that can help you find out what you’re interested in.”

Derek: So have you actually read a hundred books on a single subject?

James: Oh, yeah.

Derek: Really?

James: I’ve read like a thousand books on a single subject.

Derek: Come on, no exaggeration? Really, a thousand books?

James: Yeah. Like for instance, I love games. So I’ll read – I’ve read at least a thousand books on chess, for instance.

Derek: Really?

James: Yeah.

Derek: A thousand? You’re not exaggerating? You’re not going to look back, ‘Okay. Well, it’s actually 180, but it felt like a thousand?’ It was really a thousand?

James: No, no, no. Ever since I was 18; I’m 48 now. I read you know, a hundred books a year on chess, maybe more.

Derek: Wow! All right. Well, I will just leave my jaw over there on the ground and I’ll try to keep talking.

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Surprise Me

Derek Sivers:

A few times people have asked my advice on giving TED talks. And here it is, here is my advice in five seconds: cut out everything that isn’t suprising.

People watch TED talks in order to learn something. And if they’re not surprised, they’re not learning. If you’re just telling them, “Well, this, and I did this, and I grew up here…” You haven’t surprised them. You haven’t made their eyebrows go up. So they haven’t really learned anything.

Instead, look at whatever message you want to give, whatever story you want to tell, and then just erase every single line of it that isn’t surprising. And what you’re left with is a short, succint, surprising thing that someone can actually learn from.

That’s why my book is only 88 pages. It’s cause at every paragraph, I cut out everything that I felt other people say, that’s been heard before, that isn’t surprising… and I just focused only on the sentences, the paragraphs that were actually surprising.

Teller (Penn & Teller):

Here’s a compositional secret.

It’s so obvious and simple, you’ll say to yourself, “This man is bullshitting me.” I am not. This is one of the most fundamental things in all theatrical movie composition and yet magicians know nothing of it. Ready?

Surprise me.

Steve Pavlina:

If you do what people expect of you, you’re reinforcing the patterns they’ve already learned, so they won’t remember you. If people don’t remember you, they can’t refer anyone to you.

Expectations are always changing. Some of the things I did that violated expectations in the past would now be considered more commonplace. So you have to keep looking at what others are doing today — and then DON’T do what they’re doing! Do what others are unwilling or unable to do. If you wish to create work that stands out, you cannot attempt to fit in.

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Humans are the ultimate adaptation machine

Tom Bilyeu, on the James Altucher podcast:

When you see somebody with six-pack abs and they say “I used to be a 100 pounds heavier”, you call B.S. until you see the before-and-after photo. But what’s the before-and-after photo of a mind? That becomes really difficult.

But I can tell you stories…

When I started in business (…) I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I didn’t understand business. I am not a born entrepreneur in any shape, way, or form. I definitely meet minimum requirements, though. I am smart enough. Okay, so once you’re smart enough — you can learn anything you want. You just have to put in the time.

Humans are the ultimate adaptation machine. More than any other species, we can adapt to our environment, we can adapt to stressors. You can put yourself in any environment, you can get good at it — if you have the will to do the work.

I have the will to do the work. I know how to want something. I know how to start with “I’m interested” and turn it into an all-consuming blaze of desire. It’s cultivated. And I believe anyone can do it. You have to know how to fan the flames, you have to know how to self-congratulate, you have to know how to self-punish… all of that… but all I do is say: “I’m going to DECIDE I want this thing.”

And:

You have to get to the nature of things. The reason that I’m always telling people that “humans are the ultimate adaptation machine” is — humans lead with belief. You’re never going to take an action to which you don’t believe you will ever get a positive result.

But if you believe, “Oh, nothing special has to be true of me, I just have to accept that I am a human, and humans are adaptation machines.” That’s literally what we’re designed to do. So just because I’m not good at something today doesn’t mean I can’t be good at it tomorrow.

And that was that first belief that allowed me to start down the path of really developing a growth mindset, building out a set of skills that was valuable.

I believed that my efforts would be rewarded just by the fact that I’m a human, and that’s how the human brain works. You do something over and over and over, and you get better at it. You certainly get more efficient. And then if you can train well, then you can really improve.

So, because I simply believed that that is true of the human animal, I don’t have to think anything unique about me, it’s just — that’s the way this works. If I put the energy in, I’m going to get a result.

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Premortem

Ryan Holiday:

A CEO calls her staff into the conference room on the eve of the launch of a major new initiative. They file in and take their seats around the table. She calls the meeting to attention and begins, “I have bad news. The project has failed spectacularly. What went wrong?”

The team is perplexed: What?! But we haven’t even launched yet…!

(…)

The technique that the CEO above was using was designed by psychologist Gary Klein. It’s called a premortem. In a premortem, a project manager must envision what could go wrong—what will go wrong—in advance, before starting. Why? Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish.

Tom Bilyeu:

“Paul, we’re here to answer exactly one question: Why am I going to fail?”

And if you start with that, instead of “Tell me how to succeed” — which is what most people do — you can start to eliminate some of the obvious paths, or at least understand why they’re dangerous paths, why most people fail as they go down those.

Looking at that, what I’m trying to do is rapidly iterate through all the possibilities. There’s a 1000 doors before you. 999 of them aren’t going to work. So the question is: how do you find the one that’s going to work?

And the answer is, you go through one — “Did this work?” No. Back up. Next one. Back up. Next one. Over and over and over. The goal is to fail rapidly. The question is, what are you learning when you’re failing?

Scott H. Young:

If you can endure the worst case, the best cases take care of themselves.

All of my plans are pessimistic. I focus on what might go wrong, not speculating about what might go right.

This may seem like a mindset doomed to fail, but I’ve found quite the opposite. When you manage and control the worst case, fear and anxiety are less likely to overwhelm your thinking. Since you know you can endure the worst outcome, then anything becomes tolerable.

Part of this is asking whether I could sustain a failed outcome. What if a new project completely goes bust? What if I make no progress? Could I keep going, or would failure to reach a certain outcome be a disaster with my plan as it is now?

But an even bigger part of this is expecting a certain amount of behavioral failure. What if I get sick? What if this takes me longer than I had anticipated? What if this turns out to be harder than expected?

When you take this mindset, you start to feel a lot luckier. Why? Because when you’ve planned and prepared for the majority of negative possibilities, then the “random” events you tend to encounter are biased towards the positive. You get a lucky break, or something succeeds more than you had expected.

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Become an Idea Machine

In a post about the 4 areas of his daily routine (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual), James Altucher touches upon the concept of writing down 10 ideas every day:

Every day I write down ideas.

I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more.

So how do you become an idea machine?

Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational book for ten to twenty minutes. Then start writing down ideas. What ideas? Hold on a second. The key here is, write ten ideas.

And:

Every situation you are in, you will have a ton of ideas. Any question you are asked, you will know the response. Every meeting you are at, you will take the meeting so far out of the box you’ll be on another planet, if you are stuck on a desert highway – you will figure the way out, if you need to make money you’ll come up with 50 ideas to make money, and so on.

After I started exercising the idea muscle, it was like a magic power had unleashed inside of me.

And:

Ideas are the currency of life. Not money. Money gets depleted until you go broke. But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you better experiences, buy you more time, save your life. Financial wealth is a side effect of the “runner’s high” of your idea muscle.

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