#102 Mark Ford

Update: January 2016. I don’t trust this post. When I first wrote it up I had a doubt that everything was legitimate, but reasoned with myself that even if it wasn’t,  everyone could teach us something. Well, I still doubt most of what Ford said and don’t think that what he has to teach is worth learning. I could be wrong, but don’t think I am. 

Mark Ford joined James Altucher to talk about working, finding your passion, and what exactly “intrapreneur” means. Ford is the author of a number of books under the pen name Michael Masterson.

Right off the bat James asks Ford about his failure rate and Ford notes that “it doesn’t seem like I’ve had a lot of failures,” but in retrospect knows he’s probably biased. Being aware of his own biases puts him in unique company. Peter Thiel (episode #43) talked about the “investor class” biases against Facebook – and maybe AirBnB – and says he figures this in to his evaluations. Another past guest, Nassim Taleb wrote about biases in his book, Fooled by Randomness.

Ford says that when he has lost money, it’s been in areas he hasn’t understood, like investing. About money, T. Harv Eker (episode #100) told James, “Earning it and keeping it in your business are two different things.” To which James responded, “A lot of people are good at what they do, but when they first have money, they’re not good at having money.” In his book, Money, Tony Robbins (episode #62) wrote, “the most important piece of advice every investor I talked to echoed was, ‘Don’t lose money!'”

To really make money, Ford tells James, “Is to avoid risky things.” He says that becoming a doctor would be a good way to make money because of the low risk. Taleb also writes about this, when he encourages people to think about average lives. Taleb’s train of thought is that rare events are hard to figure out so we should not try to predict them, but avoid the worst of them. Consider two paths, the career truck driver who wins the lottery and the career dentist who does not. For each of them their average career earnings are the same. If you played out their lives one thousand times, the dentist would have an average income of 150K. If you take the lottery winning truck driver though, his average income over those lives would also be 150K but in only one of his thousand lives would he have an income over 50K. Taleb’s conclusion (and I think Ford’s too) is that we should be cognizant of the areas of randomness and luck and do our best to guard against building successes on those grounds.

Take James Altucher as another example. In any given life if he’s a web developer and investor he’ll probably do okay if you played out his life over and over. If however, he was a web developer and investor who was hooked on cocaine then there would be some lives where things don’t work out for him and some that do. In the cocaine filled life he gets fewer “successes.”

Ford tells James that very few of the businesses he’s been in follow any sort of passion he’s had, “Generally, I think if you turn your passion into a business, you’re going to lose the bet.” Austin Kleon (episode #19) told James that every job is a job, meaning that no job is perfect. I was reminded of this while reading Maria Popova’s (episode #89) Brain Pickings one day and thought how nice it must be to read and muse and write. But Maria has a huge website to manage and has to understand the technical parts of it. She has to post on days she doesn’t feel like posting. She has to depend on that site to put food on her table. She may be writing about Walden Pond, but she’s certainly not living there.

One problem we have, Ford says, is that when we follow our passion, we start to see the warts that our passion has. This is one of the topics in our current book club, so I won’t spoil the surprise, but will share this story from Time.com where another person tries (and fails) to start a yoga business. Following your passion is perilous. (You can join the book club for free until April 5th).

Then Ford tells James that an intrapreneur is someone within a company who pushes inventive ideas. It can sometimes be  better to be an intrapreneur of a big organization than the entrepreneur of a non-existent one. One advantages to this include, that it’s easier to become wealthy in a smaller company.

Part of this realization, Ford tells James, came during a Dale Carniege course. Ford had to list his ten goals for live, then whittle the list down to a single one. “If I chose one it felt like I was giving up another.” Ford tells James. But then he realized that if he chose one and didn’t like it, he could always give it up. Adam Carolla (episode #25) likes to joke about when they do this in films and they can’t go back. “Yes you can!” Carolla will muse in his Carolla-road-rage, you just turn the car around and let the bad guys win, go back, go back. Nothing’s final and nothing’s your one thing. As my daughters are singing at the moment, “The sun will come out tomorrow, So you gotta hang on, ’til tomorrow, come what may! Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, You’re always a day away!”

I digress, back to our other car-themed-last-name-guest.

So Ford goes back to work, thinking about how to get rich (his goal of choice) and realizes that the time he’s spent working hasn’t produced much of anything. He was spending half his time on creating a style manual for the company he was working for to us, when in fact, it didn’t really matter. That’s when he switched to a Pareto Principle of thinking.

Once he focused on his specific skills and effort, Ford turned his attention to the newsletter company in general. It wasn’t “how respectable they (the newsletters) are from a literary point-of-view or a technical point-of-view, but were they answering questions that were solving problems for people in the industry.” Ford told James.

One of the newsletters he worked on had some aggressive marking using direct mail. One example of this, though not from Ford, is that 100 houses in a neighborhood each get a mailer suggesting they buy a “hot stock.” Only the con is this, House 1 gets a letter suggesting Company A, House 2 gets a letter promoting Company B, and so on down the street. Now, after one month half the companies go down in value, but half go up. In month two it happens again. After six months of mailings you’ll have two houses that have received letters about a stock for companies K and Y that have gone up each month, just as the letter said! Well, you think, maybe there’s something to this. There is, it’s a con math who knows his math.

Ford didn’t admit to this, but does say they were “looking at what was working” and there is a tone of remorse about some of the things he did in business.

Around the twenty-seven minute mark Ford tells James the “greatest negotiation story” which includes his boss’s father-in-law and a final negotiation twist.

It doesn’t sound like Ford has engaged in any business like this as of late, angling instead to be a “cool old person” who is “relaxed” and “everyone loves.” I couldn’t’ quite congeal my thoughts on this, but there’s certainly a shift in mindset as one ages. It’s been mentioned by James and others to focus less on money and accomplishments and more on the people around you, your health, and your peace with life. I wonder if we could just jump straight to this without going through the crazier parts of life. If you’ve figured this out, let me know.

James rounds out the interview asking Ford what he would suggest someone in a cubicle might do to change their life. Before Ford’s advice, we have to flashback to the interview with T. Harv Eker.  Ford says that we need to think in terms of having multiple incomes for life rather than just one. We don’t have those, Eker argues, because of the invisible scripts in our lives. We are never taught to think in this way, instead choosing the safety of a single job. (If you want to read more on this, Thou Shall Prosper was the first book that opened my eyes to this idea.) Tucker Max mentions this in episode #80.

Ford then gives two pieces of advice.

  1. Figure out how to become the most valuable employee in your area of work.
  2. Decide if your business is one where an entrepreneur can thrive.

Each of these areas falls directly into themes for our book club book of April. In that book, Cal Newport, writes about how important “career capital” is, how to figure out what type of capital is valuable to you, and how to invest that capital. For an immediate mindset change, T. Harv Eker suggested that people who hate their jobs, think of their jobs as training for the next one, a paid opportunity to begin building skills they can use to start out on their own.

If you decide to do this, Ford suggests looking at what area of a business you are in. There are three groups he tells James, “sales and marketing, product production, and management.” Only in that first group will you build the skills that really matter. “What you need to understand,” Ford says, “is how your business makes money.” Just being the best person you can be won’t work. It would like being a soccer or hockey player and deciding that you want to be goalie and trying your hardest to do that. The problem is, there’s only one goalie on each team. Instead you need to find the skills that get you on the field/ice.

Thanks a lot for reading. If I skipped, snarked, or simply overstated something, do let me know. @MikeDariano

Four extra notes.

  • James said “Everybody needs to express their ideas.” and that really stuck with me. This is why starting a blog is such common advice, because it’s an easy chance for us to practice expressing our ideas.
  • I relaunched my 21 Days to a Stronger Idea Muscle Program. Rather than a single pdf (which you still get, and with added images) there is a daily email drip. Each drop into your inbox gives you a prompt and explains the value of idea lists using research on habits, cognition, and neurosciences. It’s a pay-what-you-want option that I would love some feedback on. Find out more here, Gum.co/ideamuscle.
  • Finally, I went back and forth on including this, but it’s my blog and it’s what I feel, be wary of the advice of some guests. The Oxford Club that Ford mentions doesn’t smell right and if a flier for this arrived at my Grandmother’s house I would immediately throw it away. I don’t know if the current form of The Oxford Club reflects what Ford started but his marketing seemed to range from aggressive to malicious. I would guess from the interview that he regrets some of this, but it left me with a cautious feeling.
  • Again, the book club details are here.
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