#120 Brett McKay

Brett McKay (@BrettMcKay) joined James Altucher to talk about manliness, living better, and how it all started thanks to an article about having five-hour sex. McKay is the founder of The Art of Manliness (AOM), a site he runs with his wife Kate.

Don’t let the name “Art of Manliness” turn you off says James, “this is really a site with advice for everybody, not just men.”

The interview begins with both James and McKay remarking on how things have changed, notably that they are both in closets for the interview. This is what you need to do, says James, if you want to podcast quietly. You don’t need a studio, special equipment, or permission. Nicholas Megalis (episode #104) only needed his phone and an app called Vine. Amanda Palmer (episode #82) only needed herself, a drummer, and a place to play. Tony Robbins (episode #62) needed to take a course before he began teaching them.

None of the people on this site are anointed or appointed – they all #chooseyourself. (Except maybe Dick Yuengling (episode #79), but even he has good life lessons.)

The AOM site, says James, is funny in the sense that men need help. The Art of Charm podcast host admits that his introduction about dating advice for men is a trick to get men in the door. Then they really teach the men about long term relationship advice. I guess this all makes sense when you look at this Reddit thread which includes praise for a “lack of man smell,” and extra points if you don’t have a taxidermied cat.

McKay doesn’t admit to, or deny, having a messy apartment when he met his wife Kate. “Everything just clicked,” he tells James. A great spouse is so important says Brian Koppelman (episode #98).  James says that if someone comes into an investor pitch meeting without a partner, know that the spouse is a partner.

McKay says that his marriage has also worked as a business relationship because they never keep score. You never want to “make it a math equation,” James adds.

This was proved true for me when our first daughter was born. I was changing many more diapers than my wife, and one day I decided to air my grievances. Luckily, I had a stoic moment, and realized that it didn’t matter who changed more. Even with the most careful accounting, one of us would eventually change more diapers than the other. And, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter who.

The birth of AOM

The Art of Manliness was born when McKay was in a bookstore browsing for something to read. There were plenty of men’s magazines, but none that seemed good fits for him. He didn’t need $400 watches, or tips on how to have sex for five hours. He wanted something that fit him, so he created it.

McKay followed a path that Peter Thiel (episode #43) advises – “Don’t want to be the sixth pizza place in your town.”  Instead, you want to be something new. McKay created a new men’s resource, one focused on timeless wisdom rather than the superficial.

One of those early articles was how to shave with a straight blade and it landed at the top of the Digg homepage – a lucky break at the time. McKay had the winds of social media pick up his site. Neil Strauss (episode #113) had those winds blow him off course.

Strauss had just published The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists and was flying to New York for a slew of media events. It was a beautiful day, August 23. Rather, it was a beautiful day until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Strauss’s media tour was essentially over.

The current media tour du jour is podcasts and guest posts. If you want to get started with either, says James and McKay, you must do it well. McKay says that one of their earliest contributors – Creek Steward – was excellent at this. He provided good content, in the right form, proofread and ready to publish. “I had to take our contact form down,” McKay tells James, in part because of all the awful guest post inquiries he received.

As the AOM has grown, McKay says they continue to focus on pageviews and social engagement. Gretchen Rubin (episode #97) noted to James that we should track anything that’s important to us. Even if we don’t like it at first, and even if we don’t intend to continue tracking it.

The manliness of James Altucher

In the interview there were a few articles that James brought up to talk about:

The problem with minimalism.

“I loved your article on the problem with minimalism,” James says. Minimalism may be popular now, but don’t mess with grandma’s mess says McKay. Those grandparents that keep everything? There’s a reason for that. These people lived through the great depression says McKay and that had a strong effect on their worldview. They hold on to these things because they can – and may need to – use those things.

Another problem with minimalism, continues McKay, is that it’s still a focus on stuff. “Look at my notebook, I love this notebook,” McKay teases. How much does a notebook matter?

James says he relates to this and tries to focus on experiences more than things. This is often true.

Generally the thinking goes, “things” will break, get lost, and pale compared to the next latest and greatest “thing”. Experiences don’t break, get lost, and might even improve with time. You don’t even need to have mind blowing experiences. If your experience includes one good part and ends well, you’ll likely remember it fondly.

Two is one and one is none, how redundancies increase your antifragility.

More on this in a moment.

The importance of integrity.

James that he sees people who justify non-noble actions and he wonders why. “I was just flirting, it wasn’t a big deal,” is something he sees people justify as no big deal. Well, not so fast. “How you do one thing is how you do everything,” Ryan Holiday (episode #18) said. James and Holiday are right, we are consistent creatures.

In our book club book, Robert Cialdini writes about the myriad of ways to get people to act consistently:

  • Sales people who begin their solicitation with, “How are you feeling?” doubled their sales. The theory goes, that because you interacted once, you will interact again with that person.
  • Chinese torture procedures began with statements like, “The United States isn’t perfect.” If prisoners could admit to that, then they could be influenced to go even further.
  • If someone first accepted a 3” window sticker supporting some cause, they were 5X more likely to then put up a sign.

Small actions can be first steps down a path. Gretchen Rubin told James to use this to your advantage and, “begin how you’d like to continue.”

How to follow up with someone after you meet them.

Taylor Pearson and James discussed a lot of this in Ask Altucher episode #309. If you want to connect with someone – from something as small as guest posting to something as large as mentorship or apprenticeship you have to do two things.

  1. Provide them value.
  2. Make it an easy yes.

You can’t just say, “I’ll work for free,” because, as Ryan Holiday says, “it isn’t free for me.”

We tend to follow the easier paths in life, and we should find those paths to connect with others. McKay saw this path of least resistance approach when he removed the contact form on his webpage. He replaced it with a PO Box address and suddenly, his correspondence got positive. It took only a little extra effort to mail a letter, but this filter was too much for the haters and not too much for the fans.

This is true for every area of our life. It’s why Ramit Sethi (episode #36) tells people to put their running shoes next to their bed, they’ll be easier to put on. Sethi also recommends the Brian Wansink book, Mindless Eating. Which includes research that shows:

  • People eat more when their plates are cleared.
  • People eat more if they see food.
  • People think food tastes better based on how it’s named and how it’s prepared.

Each of these consumption patterns is true because they follow a path of least resistance.

The manliness of Nassim Taleb

How manly Taleb is I don’t know, but he prefers to look like a bodyguard rather than have one. One interviewer said she approached him as one would approach a sleeping bear, gingerly. There are traces of Taleb’s wisdom and writing in McKay in the AOM.

Use filters

Though it doesn’t come up explicitly, there is Talebian wisdom in what McKay did. In looking to the past he found valuable ideas that have been tested and refined. Time a filter that everything must pass through. If your local pizza place has been around for twenty years, it has good pizza. So too for ideas about manliness.

When McKay – or his contributors – write about the why to shave with a straight razor, how to ace a job interview, or how to exercise, they are drawing from this age old pool of ideas. Latest doesn’t mean greatest.

Create redundancy

McKay says he cribbed this from Taleb. Originally a financial mindset, it can apply to any area of your life. If you don’t have financial redundancies – personal or professional – you are fragile. A business with redundant amounts of cash can buy things when they are on sale. A person with redundant amounts of cash can avoid absorbing debt. Both of these steps are ones of resilience and away from fragility.

You can create it in other areas of your life as well. Think about your health McKay says, you can create redundancies so you are less fragile there. Rather than just run, try tennis. Different exercises will stress different parts of your body and make you more resilient.

Embrace stress

We all need some amount of stress in our life to move from fragile to resilient to antifragile. When Chris Hadfield (episode #111) returned from space he couldn’t walk because the lack of gravity in space deteriorated his musculoskeletal system. This idea is domain independent and we can apply it elsewhere.

  • We are fragile if little things in life disrupt us.
  • We are resilient if we can accept little disturbances.
  • We are antifragile if little things make us better.

To move from one bullet point to the next requires some stress.

The interview ends with a few media suggestions from McKay. He listens to the Freakonomics podcast, hosted by past guest Stephen Dubner (episode #110) and Marketplace money. He’s reading Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, and John Wayne: The Life and Legend.

Thanks for reading, I’m @MikeDariano. I’m still collecting title ideas for the book this blog is turning into. If you’ve read this far, follow this one final link, and answer two questions. You’ll also get the e-book for free when it’s published.

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