90% of the feedback I got about “Choose Yourself” was about one thing: How to bridge harsh reality with the world of imagination: how to become an Idea Machine.
For my whole life I felt like a stray dog, dashing around until I could survive in the jungle. But I was lost and it took a long time.
And I get it. I was dead on the ground. I was broke. I was separated. I was fired. I was scared. Scared and lonely.
Everywhere I looked I couldn’t believe people knew how to smile. They were faking it, I thought.
In “Choose Yourself” I describe the first tiny steps I took to get off the ground.
Well, actually, the second. Because the first was horribly embarrassing. I pretended to be a psychic on Craigslist just so I could make friends.
But ignore that. I was lonely and just needed to reach out into space.
Specifically, I tried to improve physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually each day. Just a little bit each day. The 1% rule. Improve 1% a day.
They are all equally important. If you sit on a four legged chair, you are firm on the ground. A three-legged chair, and a strong wind will blow you over. And below that, you fall easily.
But ideas are the currency of this economy. NOTHING else. Which drove me to my next book, “The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth” I focus a lot more on ideas:
- Why ideas are the NEW CURRENCY of the 21st century, a century already defined by declining currencies and more volatile employment
- Why ideas are so closely linked to wealth.
- How to create good ideas and sell them and negotiate the highest value for them.
- How to avoid other people’s bad ideas
This is not a self-help book. It’s exactly what I did for myself. I know it worked for me. I had ideas first, wealth second. It ONLY worked in that direction.
At my worst moments, I had no ideas. All I could do was work on the ideas for others, even bad ideas, because I needed a paycheck.
Then I had bad ideas. But bad ideas come back at you with loan shark prices and you HAVE to pay.
Good ideas are a link between the real world and the world of myths and dreams.
I needed to survive, I needed to pay for my family. I was going through a divorce. I was dating people maybe not so good for me. I was miserable all the time and I was scared it was only going to get worse.
And often it did get worse. Often there is no bottom until you make the active effort to climb out of the hole which I did by keeping my health up and being only around people who loved me and who I loved.
But then I created the IDEA MATRIX. This is when I finally took the red pill instead of the blue pill: THE IDEA MATRIX (see the featured image).
And ever since, my life has 100% changed every six months. I can’t even believe the ways in which it has changed. I can’t say better or worse. But I’m not crying on the floor anymore, pretending to be a psychic.
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The bottom axis starts off when you are working solely on the ideas of others.
This is not necessarily bad but it basically means you are an employee and you are an idea slave to someone else’s whims.
You could get fired. Your boss could have bad ideas and go broke. There is no loyalty. You are not in control. You feel “stuck” all the time.
On the top right is when you are an idea machine: you are non-stop working on good ideas that help the lives of others. Your mind dips into dreams and you make them reality or art or abundance.
Peter Thiel underlined this for me when he told me the story of Mark Zuckerberg turning down Yahoo’s offer of $1 billion. Zuckerberg would’ve made $250 million. Peter wanted him to take, or at least consider, the idea.
Zuckerberg decided in ten minutes time: “No.”
As Peter put it: ideas were more valuable to Mark than money.
Not everyone is going to create Facebook. I never will. But everyone could create abundance in this upper right corner.
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I’ve been at the bottom left corner many times. When I was working a job where I’d keep my office door locked all day long. I had to write an instruction manual for some chip.
I was horrible at it. You see how many grammar mistakes I make in these posts? I was worse then.
My boss even called me into his office and yelled at me, “don’t you take any pride in your work?”
I’d leave work at 4:45 on the dot every day so I could hitch hike home. I wrote horrible novels at night. I hung out with my friends. I lived with a woman I didn’t love. Nothing was going well. I was an idea slave.
Many employees are at the bottom left. They get their paycheck, their hours are filled from 9-5 or more just working on the bad ideas of others.
This is not a natural state for human beings. We NEED to explore. We’re curious. We want to adapt constantly to new environments and use the part of our brain that evolved specifically so we could create new works of art or production.
But we’ve been fooled into thinking by a century of corporatism that if we just “pay our dues” and climb “the ladder” then there is a pot of gold at the end.
This loyalty never existed and is now gone forever as people slowly adapt to a new world.
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In the bottom right: where you have bad ideas but you are giving ideas to others.
Many professions exist here: lawyers and stockbrokers are the most common. Tons of ideas but they are usually bad.
This is not such a horrible thing for society. But it requires the customers to be aware of the hidden agendas of the lawyers and brokers (the fees, being charged by the hour, etc).
Not all lawyers and brokers are bad. But their job is to give you a ton of ideas and hope for the best.
“Where Are The Customers Yachts?” is a famous book about this corner.
When I’ve been a consultant for companies trying to figure out what to do with their websites I was mostly in this category. Lots of ideas, most of them bad, but I needed the client to say “yes” so I can charge for more websites.
Getting HBO to pay $75,000 for a three page website about Dennis Miller was my crowning achievement as a bottom-righter.
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At the top left is when you are working on good ideas but based off of other people’s ideas. Whoever created Gmail on top of Google is in this category.
Whoever buys a losing business and turns it around is here. There is money here, just not as much as the upper right.
I was in this category when I worked at HBO. I was initially hired to do some basic computer programming for them (idea slave) but then I started pitching them ideas that I could do for their website.
I was still under their umbrella but I was able to become an “entre-ployee by working on good ideas within the umbrella idea of “HBO”.
I made more money this way, had some fun, got some promotions, but I was still an employee.
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See in the middle where it says “disobedience”? I don’t mean like a kid running away from home for the first time. Because the kid always comes back. I came back. Again and again.
This is where you break free from the system. Where you realize that everything is a stage set and now it’s time to get to work.
This is where you say “sorry” instead of asking for permission.
This is where you wake up and everyone’s attached to a tube and you pull the tube out and maybe then, just like in the movies, you learn karate and fall in love.
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At the top right is the IDEA MACHINE.
Nothing can stop you.
This is where abundance is. This is where seeds are planted. This is where you dip into other dimensions not yet created.
A few months ago I wrote Amazon a list: 10 Ideas for Amazon to Improve their Self-publishing division. They liked the list.
They flew me out there, showed me all the different departments, showed me what they were working on, and it was a lot of fun.
I even took a photo of the very first Starbucks.
They didn’t pay me but I got to meet everyone, I got to be at the center of the universe for publishing, and I planted a seed.
Who knows where those seeds can grow in the future and what abundance can be created. The top-righter idea machine plants lots of seeds. Builds many bridges into the world of dreams.
But we have to pay the bills.
I’ve also made a lot of money in this area. One time I had a set of ideas for a company. They invited me to go on their board where I ended up making a lot of money as they implemented my ideas. This has happened to me many many times.
Just yesterday I spoke to someone and gave him five ideas for how he could build a substantial business. I didn’t mention my involvement at all. But if he does well, I’ll do well. It always works out this way.
Every day I try to plant seeds.
What about big companies, like Facebook or Apple. Are they in this quadrant?
Of course! Facebook is a great example: they set up the platform so that everyone can aggregate information about their identity into one place. They basically generate non-stop ideas for a billion different people around the world who want to communicate and share their online identities.
Despite all the complaints you read in the media, everyone I know uses Facebook, including the people making the complaints.
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Claudia asked me about Marcus Lemonis, who stars in The Profit and I’ve been begging to get on my podcast. “Where is he on this matrix?”
Two places. He buys declining businesses and helps turn them around. This is in the top left: take an idea from someone else and start to throw good ideas at it.
But he’s also in the top right. He’s an idea machine.
He takes his simple concept of turning around companies, applies it to MANY companies and now he’s making a TV show out of it. He gets 40,000 emails for help from business each week. What a way to guarantee he has non-stop opportunities!
Where are you on this matrix right now? Where can you be in six months?
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When I was a kid I looked up to my dad. I thought he was an idea machine. No matter what the problem, he had a solution. If I argued back, he’d show me where I was wrong. And I was always wrong.
He built up a good business and went public. But then it went bankrupt, he went broke, he got depressed, and he let it stop him. I don’t know if he ever had a good idea again.
At my worst moments I thought I was turning into him. I would cry to therapists that I was turning into him. Someone who would sit all day and do nothing until he died. They would assure me for $200/hr that I wasn’t. But how could they know?
But the daily practice I describe everywhere gives me the energy to come up with ideas, and to come up with ideas for coming up with ideas. I write down ten ideas a day no matter what.
Being scared and lonely happens in a cycle. It effects all of us. Even a little bit each day. Watching the river go into the ocean sparks a little bit of that loneliness.
We’re meant to often feel lonely and scared. It allows us to re-calibrate where we are and ask the important question: is this what I’m supposed to be doing right now?
When I am most fearful is EXACTLY the time when I want my idea muscle humming, when I MUST write those ten ideas a day down and become an idea machine.
It’s when I’m most scared that I get out of bed and I know that today is the day I can do anything I want to.
It’s not an affirmation. Or wishful thinking. Or the words of a song.
It’s a box I check when I’m done writing my ideas down.
James Altucher has built and sold several companies, and failed at dozens more. He’s written twelve books, and The Power of No is the book to RULE THEM ALL. (Although he is also fond of Choose Yourself.) He’s an investor in twenty different companies. He writes every day. He doesn’t have enough friends. Still interested in knowing him? Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.