Tom Rath

Tom Rath (@TomCRath) joined James Altucher to talk about mastery, learning, and how to love your job. Rath is on the podcast because he has a new book out, Are You Fully Charged?. He is also the author of Strengths Finder 2.0 and Eat Move Sleep, which James says he enjoyed.

Rath tells James that he even though he’s written several books and read many others, it’s hard for him to make sense of it and apply it to his daily life. He’s not the only one.

Michael Mauboussin and Maria Popova both said that their deep understandings are not just from reading, but from speaking and writing about those things. It’s why I created the Book Club here, because reading on your own without engaging with the book draws out only a wisp of the true value.

Rath’s journey of learning started very young, and with high stakes. When he was sixteen he had vision problems in one eye. A doctor told him that there were tumors growing on his eye, and he’d lose the eye. But that wasn’t the bad news. The bad news was that his tumor suppression genes didn’t work like they should, and he would be susceptible to cancer for the rest of his life.

“It got me really focused on all the things I could do to make a difference and treat each day as a moment to make a lasting impact,” Rath told James.

We often hear stories about how people change after events like this and scientists are starting to understand why. “Researchers have documented the phenomenon of posttraumatic bliss among patients confronting a terminal medical diagnosis,” writes Dr. Jane McGonigal in her book, Reality is Broken. “Something seems to click in their minds, empowering them to enjoy their lives more. It’s not just that they’ve realized how precious life is; there seems to be some kind of significant mental clearing that occurs along with a new ability to focus on positive goals.”

The diagnosis left Rath wondering how he was going to have a normal life. He soon realized there is no such thing. In his treatise, Principles, Ray Dalio writes:

“I learned that the popular picture of success—which is like a glossy photo of an ideal man or woman out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, with a bio attached listing all of their accomplishments like going to the best prep schools and an Ivy League college, and getting all the answers right on tests—is an inaccurate picture of the typical successful person. I met a number of great people and learned that none of them were born great—they all made lots of mistakes and had lots weaknesses—and that great people become great by looking at their mistakes and weaknesses and figuring out how to get around them.”

This is a point of emphasis for Dalio, the path to success is filled with challenges, no one walks down a red carpet. But like Ryan Holiday writes about in The Obstacle is The Way, this is good news.
Dalio again:

“Remember that identifying problems is like finding gems embedded in puzzles; if you solve the puzzles you will get the gems that will make your life much better.”

If we have to work hard at things to accomplish anything, what’s the best way to do it?

In Rath’s research and experience, the driver is intrinsic motivation. Money, Rath explains, is really important up to about $40,000 a year per household. Then its relation to well-being (note: “well-being” is a research catchall that includes “happiness”) tapers off to about $75,000 where it disappears completely.

We tend to muddle this equation because – says Rath – we buy stuff. James is on the record about aiming for experiences rather than things, and the research is pretty clear. Experience beats stuff six days a week and twice on Sunday.

Tim Ferriss explained on one of his podcasts that his entire family was taking a trip Not only did they get the anticipation for six months, but they also got the memories. Stuff typically doesn’t work this way.

Every smartphone I’ve had seems new and shiny out of the box but there is always some lag in the first week where I think, “Really? Didn’t I just buy this?”

Experience work the other way – we tend to forget about the mediocre parts and remember the best parts. Try it, what happened on your last experience to the beach, mountains, or theme park? My guess is that you easily remember the best parts.

Of course there will be some negative memories, what do we do with those? WE SHARE THEM! How crazy is that? Half of what James Altucher writes about are situations when things didn’t go well. Jon Acuff says that he specifically looks to turn negative experiences into stories he can use and lessons to be learned.

Alas, work is not vacation, but we can transfer these big ideas from why we love vacations into our work. Rath advises people to focus on their intrinsic motivation. What parts of your job do you do because you enjoy them?

Maria Popova was on a QA episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast and she shared this advice for someone who wanted to start a blog:

“Write for yourself, if you want to create something meaningful and fulfilling, something that lasts and speaks to people. The counterintuitive but really really necessary thing is that you must not write for people.”

Popova goes on to say that once you write for others – or write “content” – you lose the pure form of motivation you began with. This is important because that’s the very thing you need to be successful.

Later in the episode she answers a question from someone who wants to know the key attribute for success. Popova writes about people like Neil Gaiman, Susan Sontag, and Benjamin Franklin. The thread that runs through each of their stories, she says, is consistency. If you do the work each day, you’ll get better each day, and eventually you’ll have great work. Intrinsic motivation is the best way to do that work.

Going back to Ray Dalio, we can see this. Dalio’s net worth is 1.2 billion dollars, but that alone isn’t indicative. In the words of  the words of Seymour Schulich; “The word ‘billionaire’ is a very crude and inaccurate measure of how well I have played the game of life.”  But like Howard Marks, Dalio has ideas that we can apply to our lives: (emphasis mine)

“I believe the importance of good work habits is vastly underrated. There are lots of books written about good work habits, so I won’t digress into what I believe is effective. However, it is critical to know each day what you need to do and have the discipline to do it. People with good work habits have to-do lists that are reasonably prioritized, and they make themselves do what needs to be done.”

How to love your job

If you already love your job, good for you. There are a lot of people who just show up for the paycheck. What hacks can those people do to make their jobs a lot better?

1.Connect with a customer. Your job creates value, but for who? (Note: Are you sure your job creates value?) If you can connect with that person, you’ll have a chance to build up some internal motivation.

When call-center employees who were soliciting for a tuition fund, met a student who received the money they raised, they subsequently raised more money and reported their jobs as more enjoyable.

2.As someone you don’t like for a favor. Wha? How does asking your frenemy Francine from accounts receivable for help help you?

When Benjamin Franklin faced this same situation he asked his Francine if he could borrow a rare book from her. This request set up a sequence of thoughts, Franklin speculates:

  • “If I lend Franklin this book, I must not dislike him too much, else why would I let him borrow this book.”

Another tip is to include hand written post-it notes on your interoffice correspondence. Researchers have found that “TPS Reports” that include a handwritten note on the cover were returned completed almost twice as often compared to “Reports” without one.

3.Fake your friendships. As A.J. Jacobs and Gretchen Rubin have shared on the podcast and Penelope Trunk has written about, we can change our thoughts by first changing our actions. It’s what #2 pointed out specifically, but we can apply it more broadly for all parts of work. Bored at a meeting? Sit up and lean forward. Hate a certain task? Connect with a customer about it (see #1). It’s often a lot easier to change our actions before our thoughts.

4.Don’t fall for FAE. Fundamental Attribution Error is a psychological misstep where we tend to blame the person more than their condition. Jim is a jerk, Lauren is lazy, and Steve a slob. Instead we might want to take a step back and wonder why. Maybe Jim is a jerk because of something going on at home? Maybe Lauren thinks that working slower means working better. Everyone has story, find out the one of the people you work with.

Remember too, the words of Austin Kleon, “every job is still a job.” No matter where you work, there’s going to be something you won’t particularly like.


A key part of Rath’s work is about finding balance. Rath says that if we set the bar too high, as was the case for exercise recommendations, we turn people off.

Instead we should aim for a balance of the good and bad things in our life.

  • If you sit a lot, aim to walk a lot too.
  • If you eat an unhealthy lunch, aim to eat a healthy dinner.
  • If you have an unproductive morning, aim to have a productive afternoon.

If you’re having trouble balancing though, use the “bar too high” technique to reduce the things you don’t want to do.

  • Login to Facebook too much? Change your password to something long and don’t save it. If you have to type it in each time you’ll login less.
  • Each too much junk food? Quadruple bag it. When I buy licorice I actually put it in four gallon sized bags. It doesn’t take much to open each bag, but it’s enough of an obstacle that I don’t eat until I’m sick.
  • Don’t exercise enough? Know your tendency. Go back to the Gretchen Rubin interview and read her book, Better Than Before, to get some ideas for how to make it more enjoyable.

How to be a master

Mastery is something Rath has written quite a lot about in his books, and it sounds like he leans towards the importance of everyone finding their own talents – but not entirely. “It’s probably a triangulation of talent, practice, and luck,” Rather says.

The two talk about the 10K hour rule and both conclude it’s not so much of a rule as a metaphor. Rath says that if you have some natural talent in something, you may only need 5K hours to become world class at something. It goes along with Robert Greene’s thoughts that you don’t need deliberate practice for the hours to qualify. James Altucher adds that some world class people have achieved mastery because of the intersection of their merely good talents (like Scott Adams admits).

Simple hacks

Rath also shares a few simple hacks that make his life better.

  • Think about what notifications you need during important moments. If you are reading books to your kids, what do you need to come through? If you’re at a play with your spouse? Then set up your phone so those are the only notifications that get through all the time. Ryan Holiday took a step like this when he deleted Facebook from his phone.
  • Don’t be reactive to the work you do. As Adam Grant explained to James, the people who are most successful at their jobs do their work first.
  • Take walks. Walking may be the best lifehack there is. Daily Rituals is my favorite source of knowledge nuggets like these; Thomas Hobbes took a two-hour walk after breakfast to meditate, Rene Descartes would take his daily walk after lunch, Charles Dickens would leave promptly at 2:00 for a vigorous walk where he searched the countryside and streets of London for “pictures to build on.”

Oh yeah, the three keys to helping you learn and grow?

  1. Meaningful work.
  2. More positive than negative interactions
  3. Have enough energy to make a difference.

Thanks so much for reading. One caveat to experiences and things. If the thing lets you have an experience, it’s probably pretty good, especially if you can do it with others. Games are a great example of this. Playing board games and video games with others –  to a point, don’t go over 21hr/wk or bad things start to happen – largely brings positive effects. For a more down-to-earth example see Chris Janson’s Buy Me a Boat.

Can you do one thing for me? I’m in a reading rut right now and can’t get out. Can you tweet me (@MikeDariano) one book you’ve read in the last year that was especially good. Thanks.

Jim Kwik

Jim Kwik joined James Altucher to talk about how he learned things the hard way and ways he teaches people to learn things the easy way.  Kwik runs Kwik Learning whose mission is “to help you learn faster, master information overload and unlock your inner genius.” His YouTube channel is full of instructional videos like one on speed reading and “memory makes money.” Kwik is on Twitter, @JimKwik.

As the interview begins, Altucher says that past guest Steven Kotler refers to Kwich as a “superhero.” That’s not quite right, says Kwick, he’s more like a mechanic. Imagine your brain came with an owners manual, he tells James. He’s just the one who read the manual and knows which buttons to push and knobs to turn.

Kwik learned all this organically, and mostly the hard way. A lot of the lessons here come from doing things the hard way. Jairek Robbins told James that a number of his mistakes were ones where his dad – Tony – could have stopped. He didn’t, Jairek says, because the true lesson was in the mistake, not its explanation.


These moments can serve to catalyze us. Tony Robbins grew up without a lot of food and that motivates him to use his current success to feed people. Andy Weir failed to become an author after three years of full time focus. Later he began writing again and eventually he succeed. Lewis Howes couldn’t read well as a kid and self-identified as a jock to find success. Now Howes not only reads, but runs a seven figure business.

Kwik – and many other people – have withstood professional pressure to turn their experiences from coal to diamonds.  Kwik and Howes have a parallel story. As kids both were taught that their mental abilities set. Like the a regulator slows down go-karts at the local track, they believed they could only learn or read so much.

They aren’t the only ones.  Many people view intelligence as fixed. You’re smart or not. You’re a math person or not. You’re a label #1 or label #2. There are some ways labels like this can help us with the many decisions in daily life. This is not one. Your intelligence is not capped, but if you believe it the effects are real.

When college students were reminded of a negative stereotype (their race/sex/age/religion is less smart) before an exam, they did poorer than those students who weren’t reminded of anything. But, when students were told those negative stereotypes were straw men, and that intelligence is malleable like clay, those student did even better than the group that was told nothing.

Kwik’s experience – and fixed mindset – were compounded by a head injury when he was a kid. His memory problems – and perception – got worse. One day in class, he lied and said he hadn’t read a book rather than present his report to the class.

Part of the way Kwik got over this hurdles was by monitoring his self talk. Other guests here have shared their own tactics for monitoring self talk.

  • Michael Singer advises people to lean back and let the negative thoughts pass you down your stream of consciousness.
  • T. Harv Eker says to himself “thank you for sharing when a negative thought goes through his head.
  • Tony Robbins writes, “Know that it’s your decisions, and not your conditions, that determine your destiny.”

For Kwik, the key was to think of himself either as a thermostat or thermometer. A thermometer is reactive to the conditions while a thermostat sets the conditions. This is a big different he tells James. Once he acted more like the latter, he noticed that things began to change.

A pivotal moment in his life came when Kwik spent a school break with a friend’s family. His friend’s father was on a walk with Kwik, when the man asked how school was, “and I broke down and cried,” Kwik says. School was not well.

Then the man asked Kwik to write down everything he wanted to do in life. His wishes. His dreams. His hopes. Then he looked at the list and told Kwik he was this close, holding his fingers ten inches apart. That distance represented the space between Kwik’s ears.

“Don’t let school get in the way of your education,” the man told him.

Whether the man knew it or not, the act of writing things down matters quite a bit. When we write something down it creates a commitment of action. When we do that we redefine part of who we are to be part of that thing. It’s why salespeople have clients fill out paperwork or write down their goals for the month. A written commitment creates a emotional pull.

Thanks to the man’s book suggestions (Napoleon Hill type books) and another fall which landed him in the hospital, Kwik started to read more. Not only that, he started to learn. There was no class at college on how to learn he said, so he began there. Now there is exactly that class, Barbara Oakley’s course and book are both great resources to begin with.

Kwik made the best of his situation even though he was laid up. He could have moped around and felt sorry for himself. That wouldn’t have been helpful. Nicholas Megalis did the same thing, using a hospital bed as a springboard to exploring new social media apps. Neither man needed a new computer, time, or health. They just needed a moment to act.

While in the hospital Kwik learned the value of reading and tells James:

“The intelligent person learns from their own experience but the wise person learns from the experience of other people.”

We can, “download decades of experience in days,” he said. This is not a new idea. Two thousand years ago Roman Philosopher Seneca wrote the same thing:

SenecaOpenBookKwik was able to find his footing and began to seek books that were “force multipliers.” There are some books, he tells James, that can amp up other areas of your life. Speed reading books are a good example of force multipliers. I would suggest Antifragile, Influence, and The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking as books with high per page returns.

As he learned more, Kwik distilled ten areas to focus on to be a superhero mentally.

  1. Eat well. “We are what we eat,” Kwik tells James.
  2. Kill ANTs. (Automatic Negative Thoughts)
  3. Be physically healthy. It’s amazing the number of great thinkers that took daily walks. Beethoven, Twain, and Darwin among others. Ryan Holiday also confesses to physical activity as a mental stimulus.
  4. Brain Nutrients. There are certain foods that help your brain function. Rather than prescribing something, Kwik suggests self-experimentation. Steven Kotler suggested similar things. Peter Diamandis and Tim Ferriss are two names that come up often.
  5. Have a positive peer group. It wasn’t until Jay Jay French found a group of guys who really wanted to make great music that his band finally took off. It only took him until the 11th try.
  6. Have a clean environment. Gretchen Rubin wrote that she cleans her desk on Friday afternoons as a way to bookend the workweek and get started right on Monday.
  7. Sleep. It’s more than rest, it’s like preparing the kitchen. Imagine how messy a busy kitchen is after a night of diners. What would happen if the food wasn’t refrigerated, the knives weren’t washed, and the floor wasn’t mopped? There’s no way that kitchen could open the next night. That’s what sleep does for our brains.
  8. Brain protection. Wear a helmet.
  9. Learn new things. “The brain thrives on novelty,” Kwik tells James.
  10. Stress management. See the advice about about how we monitor our thoughts.

But don’t try to do all of these things, Kwik says. Instead, aim for to improve one or two for now, then move through the list.

A big chunk of the interview is Kwik walking James through the loci method of memory. It’s one of the best instructions and examples of the method that I’ve heard. The technique has been around a long time, but the book that popularized it is Moonwalking with Einstein. If you enjoyed this part of the interview, or want to dive into memory, or learn how to memorize a deck of cards, get the book.

If the loci method isn’t exactly what you want, Kwik gives a FAST way to learn.

Forget. Forget what you know or don’t know or don’t know you know about something he tells James. Instead, focus on what’s going around you situationally. We have a limited number of short term memory slots, try to forget about everything except what you are aiming to learn.

Active. As Michael Mauboussin said, “when I need to write about it or speak about it, I tend to know the material reasonably well.” Maria Popova added, “learning to read well and to write well is really learning to think well.”

State. Emotions are associated with learning, Kwik says, and if you control them you can better create the right mood.

Teaching. “When you teaching something,” Kwick says, “you get to learn it twice.”

For even more Jim Kwik here’s a three-hour hangout he did for Google.

If you liked what Jim had to say, go ahead and thank him on Twitter. One of my favorite things about the podcast is the ability to learn big things in a condensed fashion. Just Kwik’s idea about “killing ants” is one I can put into practice right away. James Altucher’s email list is another one that works well for me. Even though not every single email is spot on for me, there’s always something each week that helps my thinking. Sign up for James’ condensed big ideas.

Ramit Sethi’s Business Advice

ramitface.bmpRamit Sethi has been a guest on Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast three times. Sethi had many good things to say to Altucher when they talked in episode #36, and his time with Flynn is no different. In those conversation Sethi laid out, how to build your product, how to market it, and how to make decisions.

I’m a fan of Sethi and writing this post was quite fun. It was like picking up breadcrumbs that someone had dropped along a path, leading me to a big idea. That said, there’s probably something I missed. If you notice a big ideas missing, please let me know.

How do you build a product?

If the key in real-estate is; location, location, location. Then the key to internet products according to Sethi is; research, research, research.

Sethi’s first blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, was built on answers to questions his friends asked. A book came from the blog. While on tour to promote the book, people started asking him questions that weren’t in the book. One of those questions was about how to make a side income. Which led to the next project.

This sequence isn’t uncommon. Austin Kleon (episode #19), Wayne Dyer (episode #6), Steven Kotler (episode #118), Stephen Dubner (episode #110) and others have all said that they got ideas for their next project from questions raised by their current one.

You want to spend time on research, not just creating, Sethi says.

Justin Jackson (@mijustin) – another product person – tells this story. He was walking to his barber one day, turning over ideas in his head. One was about how to improve his barber’s scheduling system. Jackson could create an online tool that let people schedule appointments, see openings, and make changes. The barber could collect email addresses, track key metrics, and sell products. Then, if he can build a system for one barber, he can sell a license to other barbers. This appeared to be a win for everyone.

When Jackson arrives at the barber shop, he hops into the chair and starts to share his ideas.

The barber listens patiently for a few minutes, but interrupts Jackson to tell him that he hears this idea all the time. “All the time?” Jackson asks, “but then why don’t you do it?”

“It won’t work for me,” the barber tells him. The barber explains that he wants something that’s quick and easy. He needs to efficiently answer the phone while cutting someone’s hair, check and note the caller’s appointment time, and get back to the job at hand.

Jackson thought he had a golden idea until he talked to his potential audience.

Sethi puts hard numbers down, spend 50% of your time on research. That doesn’t mean tweeting, “Hey guys, I need your help, what do you think I should build/write/code/draw/design.” Instead, look for a problem to solve, then:

1. Create a surveymonkey survey. These don’t have to be perfect questions, but put your best guesses out there.
As the results come in, talk to people in your industry and ask key metric standards. If you emailed everyone on your email list and 10% responded, figure out if that’s an average number. Ask how big someone’s list size is, ask them about how often they email people. Ask lots of questions.

2. Create a Google Doc. While the survey responses pile up, create a document with  your predictions. If the question is, “What do you like most about vacation” put headings like, Relax, Family Time, Sand, Etc.
At this point these are your best guesses, and they are merely a place to start. Do not become attached to them because:

3. Disprove your Doc assumptions. Did you know the term Devil’s Advocate originated  the Roman Catholic Church? It was a position assigned to someone who would make the case against someone’s canonization. That’s what you – or your team – needs to do.

If you’ve got more than one person, your most convincing advocate will be someone who actually believes in their stance. In Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, the authors write that someone who’s merely playing the role will be viewed as less persuasive by their co-workers.

Sethi saw his assumptions dwindle like a stack of chips at the craps table when he launched his Earn1K course. He thought people wanted to create extra income to be “ballers” who flew to Las Vegas for the weekend. In reality people wanted optionality in their lives. The wanted the ability to do this or that or not do something.

Look at the survey results and start to see how things fit with your original assumptions. The goal here is to figure out the shape and picture of the puzzle that’s forming. While you do this, be open to the idea that your original pieces may not be part of the final puzzle.

4. Create a picture with real people. In your document you want to include headings that are the big ideas that have emerged, and direct quotes from people. If the reason they go on vacation is to “get away from the office” then those exact words need to end up on your document.

At this point you don’t need to worry about statistical significance. If only 16.87% of people say they like to “get away” that’s fine at this point. You’re like someone who’s chosen to begin a healthy diet. You don’t need to know the difference between quinoa and couscous, you do need to know the difference between couscous and candy bars

5. Interview people. Much like the survey and document, this doesn’t need to be complicated. Sethi notes that you need to check your biases at the door and don’t ask leading questions. This stage is still research and to dive deeper into the problem that people are having.

Soon you will start to get an idea about what people want. Sethi says:

“At a certain point I start to see a lot of patterns in people. They’re going to always be using the same words. They’re going to be saying the same things, and at a certain point instead of just listening I can say, “You know, it sounds like what you’re saying is blah blah blah” and I kind of read back what I’ve learned. Sometimes they’ll say, “Well, kind of, but not really.””

Only then can you start to probe and say things like, “if there was a vacation autoresponder that cut down on your mobile emails would you use that?” or “if there was a way to get back into work-mode when you returned, would you pay for something like that?”

Once you start to poke around and get traction you need to find hard yeses to these questions. If someone hasn’t said, “shut up and take my money,” you need to keep looking.

6. Create small groups. Once you think you have something, you can build it. This too can be quite small. Sethi says that his team will use Google Docs to create a slide deck for people to go through. That works because this is still not a polished project.

Ask 10-20 people to be part of your small group. Have them go through the entire course/book/system that your research suggested.

Product people sometimes miss this – I know I have – but it’s everywhere once you realize it. Authors have beta readers they seek feedback from. Comedians go to clubs on Tuesday nights to test material.

7. Maintain an internal locus of control. Do not worry about what other people are doing. Do not worry that So-and-so released such-and-such and it’s their 4th one this year. You do not care. Bigger numbers don’t necessarily mean more or better.

For example, Peter Thiel (episode #43) writes that bigger corporate boards aren’t necessarily better boards. You might think that more minds might mean more solutions, but this isn’t Thiel’s experience. More minds mean more debate and fewer decisions.

You can only control the things you do, you may as well focus on those. Michael Singer (episode #119) suggests you mentally lean back and imagine things passing you. T. Harv Eker (episode #100) says that he mentally says, “thank you for sharing,” when distracting thoughts arise.

Ramit Sethi’s Guide to Marketing

Can you spot the 3 marketing points in the stack of cookies?

Marketing – like development – comes from the research. Marketing and Development are not a chicken and egg problem. Marketing and Development are a egg and scrambled egg breakfast platter problem. One must come before the other.

If you do good research for development, your marketing should flow right out of that. That said, here are some macro ideas anyone can use.

1. Let your language flow from your research. Sethi says that his “Earn 1K” program was called something different in the development stages. After some tests, his team realized they needed to tone down the language because people didn’t believe it.

For example, Sethi says. If you were to create a dating product, think about how your language may differ for different sexes. For men it may be; “double your dating.” For women; “catch him and keep him.”

With any of these ideas, let the copy come from the customer’s cries.

2. Answer objections. Sethi calls this the Theory of Preeminence and he outlined it in his first talk with James Altucher. “When we created a product called Earn1K, this was the headline…finally a proven legitimate program to identify a profitable idea and turn it into a reliable side income of a $1,000 a month with just five hours a week.” Then Sethi explains why this works:

  • Some people earn 10K but many don’t believe it, 1K is reachable.
  • Don’t I need to quit my job? Nope, it’s a side income.
  • This sounds like a scam, has it been tested? Yes, it’s proven and reliable.
  • But what if I don’t have an idea? The course helps you identify one.

3. Give social proof. People want to see that people like them – and the more similar the better – have used the product. This is where you can go back to your small group. Sethi says that some of his small groups have been free, on the condition of those people letting IWT to interview them later on. This is social proof, and the better you implement it, the better your results will be.

Researchers have found that good social proof can improve conversations from 0-25% and great social proof from 25-32%. The more niched your product, the more focused you can be with your social proof. In the vacation example you can focus on men who travel for business. In the dating example you can focus on young people who live in large metropolitans.

4. Know what your market will pay. Sethi says that one of his first products was about how to save money. “Guess what,” he says, “people who want to save money don’t want to pay to to see how.” That was poor alignment on his part Sethi says.


5. And don’t sacrifice your price. Unless you’re selling t-shirts at Target, don’t discount your product. If you worked hard on something and it’s worth $50, then sell it for $50.

You need to be confident in what you’ve created, Sethi says, and this comes from all the testing and research you’ve done.

Instead of thinking in terms of cost, think in terms of value. How helpful is the thing that you’ve created? Books are classic examples of great values but they are priced at <$20 (an example of #4 above). No matter how great your book is, you’ll be hard pressed to sell it for a lot more than that.

But many books have great value. I’ve read some books where I would have liked further discussion on a topic or someone to follow up with how I was putting the principles into practice or video examples. If you can create more ways to interact, apply, or understand the material then that’s added value.

6. Sell in long emails. “One thing I’ve learned,” Sethi says, “is if people have a pain point or if they are interested in what you have to say, there’s no limit to what they’ll read.”

Each email that you send should contain something of value, Sethi says. People should be excited to open your email and see what’s inside.

This also filters in the right people. If your writing is a reflection of who you are and what you are selling, then it’s step one of customer acquisition.

Ramit Sethi’s Guide to Running a Business

mullerlyer-illusiaSethi has been doing the internet business hustle long enough now that it’s his business, not a side project and he thinks of it like one. There are a few lessons he’s learned along the way that can help anyone with their business.

1. Understand psychology. There are a lot of psychological tools that Sethi uses in his sales pages, and for good reason, they work. Ideas like scarcity, abundance, social proof, and more are all little levers we can pull that will nudge people along. In an interview with Tim Ferriss he recommended people read, Mindless Eating, The Age of Propaganda, and The Social Animal.

There’s a reason people don’t change, Sethi says, and it’s not for a lack of information.

“Hey, everyone knows what those compound interest charts are, they don’t change behavior at all. Or when it comes to dieting, or weight loss–“If people really understood how bad carbs are, if we just wrote another paper on it, then they would change.” WRONG! If they change their behavior first, then their attitude will follow.”

Howard Marks noted that the biggest #fail in investing is psychological misunderstandings, not financial ones. To fix our thinking, we need to flip the sequence we often try. Both A.J. Jacobs (episode #94) and Gretchen Rubin (episode #97) use the idea that behavior -> thinking pattern and Sethi does too.

2. Does 5X move the needle? Did you know there’s an IWT app? Yep, really. For all the things Sethi is, he’s not one to shy away from talking about his products. Yet I had never heard of the app before. It’s because they’ve cut bait on it.

Sethi says that they had a meeting about it and a team member suggested they spend some time optimizing the app and making changes. They could do that, Ramit says, but it wouldn’t really change anything.

“I called it the 5x Principle, because even if we 5x sales, it would make no material impact. It wouldn’t even move the needle!”

They could have changed the app and increased sales fivefold, but it wouldn’t have had a significant impact.

3. Haters gonna hate. There will be people who call you names, it did not end in middle school. The key is to not take it personally, because it will eat you away if you let it. Pat Flynn says, “when I would get negative criticisms for something I would think about it for DAYS. It would just kill me.”

Amanda Palmer (episode #82) and James Altucher both said the same thing – it hurts.

4. You are a CEO – act like one. “I want everyone listening to start thinking of themselves as a CEO,” says Sethi, “not some scrappy internet nutcase but a CEO. A CEO walks into the room and they think very methodically and deliberately.”

One way to improve your thinking is to develop decision making models like Michael Mauboussin (episode #TKP1). Peter Thiel also has some good mental models. Shane Parrish at Farnam Street has the best collection of them.

If there’s a conclusion to Sethi’s system it’s; just do it. Do one small thing that moves your business or book or course forward. While writing this I thought how similar it was to walking through a dark room. You can’t see anything and sort of move slowly about. You’ll run into the chair and maybe knock over a lamp. But if you remember where the chair and lamp are, you won’t make that same mistake twice. That’s Sethi’s secret – don’t make the same mistake twice. Learn lessons along the way. Do research that gives you a leg up on your guesses and be critical of them.

But how do you do it? Where do you start? Begin by finding smart people to get ideas from. I started this site because James Altucher consistently has podcast guests sharing great ideas.

Howard Marks

Barry Ritholtz was joined by Howard Marks to talk about competition, decision making, and persistence. Marks is the co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management and author of The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. His funds have achieved 18-22% returns and his net worth is $2B. Marks has been incredibly successful in his financial life, but it’s wise to remember the words of Seymour Schulich; “The word ‘billionaire is a very crude and inaccurate measure of how well I have played the game of life.”

Bigger than the billions are Marks’ ideas, which he shares with Ritholtz.

Competition is not capitalism.

This expression comes from Peter Thiel (episode #43), who writes that the accumulation of capital does not happen in instances of competition. The reason there are few wealthy pizza palace owners is because there is too much competition. Competition eats away at capital accumulation, no matter how good your pie.

Marks learned this serendipitously in his career. One day a client called the place he worked and asked about a high yield bond fund. The company didn’t offer that, so Marks’ boss assigned him the task of developing one. Marks’ career grew as the desire for bond funds grew. There were very few people at the time who were operating bond funds like this and Marks says he was “lucky to get in early.”

It’s the same story Jason Calacanis (episode #77) tells about getting in early with blogging and Jay Jay French (episode #75) tells about his band being ready to play on MTV. More competition would have meant less capital for each of them.

Think at the second level.

“If you think the same as everybody else, you’ll behave the same as everybody else, and you can’t expect to outperform them.” – Howard Marks

Marks tells Ritholtz that first level thinking is the style of thinking that many people use. It’s cause and effect thinking. It’s thinking in simple contexts rather than complicated or complex ones.

First level thinking is – someone pays me for my work, it must be valuable.

Second level thinking is – why does someone pay me for my work, what value do I provide?

Taylor Pearson, Adam Davidson, and others suggest that the employment landscape is changing in exactly this way, and the people who recognize it first will be the second level thinkers.

Marks suggests we follow this advice from Warren Buffett:

“The less prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we should conduct our own affairs,”

And Marks has applied this thinking too. In 2007 he started a distressed debt fund – in 2008 the market crashed. In January 2000 he wrote about the internet bubble – in March it peaked. It’s a sample size of two, Ritholtz points out, but it’s a pretty good record.

How to avoid the winner’s curse.

The winner’s curse is, by definition, paying more than anyone else will pay. So how do you avoid paying too much?

Marks suggests awareness, “the secret to solving all problems starts with awareness of that problem.”  We call this the Rumpelstiltskin Effect, and have seen it over and over again:

  • Adam Savage cracked the code by finding out out glass bottles are named.
  • Carol Leifer cracked the code by finding out how to shut down hecklers.
  • John Chatterton cracked the code by finding out how to identify sunken submarines.

Avoiding the winner’s curse – or any psychological pitfall – begins by knowing its name.

“The biggest investing errors come not from things that are factual or analytical,” Marks says, “but from those that are psychological.” If you can keep yourself out of the way, you’ll be well on your way.

The average way to be the best.

Marks tells Ritholtz about a meeting he once had with a fund manager. The guy told Marks that he was proud of his slightly above average results, because over 20 years that meant he was in the top 5% of all performers.

A short time later Marks met a manager who was in the midst of a quite bad year, but justified it by explaining you had to have some years of loses to have the great years of gains.

Instead it’s more about survival. If you avoid blowups, you’ll survive. If you do good work, you’ll survive. In blogging like this, more people leave each year and the pool of survivors moves up the ladder of success.

What to do when you hear the crickets.

For ten years no one responded to Marks’ chairman memos. Ten years! And it’s not like these weren’t of consequence. Warren Buffett said, “When I see memos from Howard Marks in my mail, they’re the first thing I open and read. I always learn something.” Ritholtz praises them as well, but also asks, why Marks kept writing them when it seemed like no one cared.

“I enjoyed the process,” Marks says. It’s the same thought process Chris Hadfield (episode #111) used in his pursuit to become an astronaut. Hadfield reasoned that there was a good chance he would never make it, but wanted to try. He made sure that the work along the way was interesting to him as well as leading the way to becoming an astronaut.

Finance has been a great career for Marks, but many young people do it for the money. Don’t, says Marks. Instead, find something you enjoy doing and get good at it.

How to not make mistakes.

The best way to avoid mistakes, says Marks, is to read widely. You’ll start to see the cycles of life. Marks tells Ritholtz about this bull market cycle; nobody thinks things will improve -> some people think things are getting better -> most people think things will improve forever -> CRASH. Nobody thinks things will improve…

You dont’ have to live through these things to understand them, Marks says. Instead read widely about different ideas and cultures and history. As the roman financier Seneca wrote:

“By other men’s labors we are led to the sight of things most beautiful that have been wrested from darkness and brought into light; from no age are we shut out, we have access to all ages.”

Try Against the Gods, Fooled by Randomness, or The Short History of Financial Euphoria, says Marks. Also good are Poor Charlie’s Almanack, The Warren Buffett Way, or Outsiders. Ritholtz too has book suggestions.

We’ll never be mistake free, says Marks, and sometimes we’ll need to face situations with consequences. In those cases, he suggests we seek outcomes we can live with.

Be logical, not emotional.

Marks says that a lot of companies get tripped up in emotional hurdles – especially when they buy back their stock. Why do companies buy back stocks when the price is high, Marks asks. Instead they should be buying back when the price is low.

Have a set of procedures for how you would like to act and plan ahead. When John Chatterton dove into a sunken submarine, he had to navigate by touch using only his memory of the sub’s layout. When Chris Hadfield launched into space, he had his steps choreographed like a dancer. When Ramit Sethi (episode #36) teaches courses, he tells people how to have logical answers (add value) rather than emotional ones (cut price).

Our logical responses are like paths through the woods. If we are familiar with them, then we can better stay on them, even when running from a bear (market).

Thanks for reading, I’m @MikeDariano.

Taylor Pearson, Adam Davidson, and the New Career Conditions

This post is two-for and it’s all about the future of jobs. Taylor Pearson joined James Altucher to talk about his book, The End of Jobs and Adam Davidson joined Russ Roberts to talk about the “Hollywood Model.” All four thinkers believe that the employment landscape is changing and they – and others we’ll dive into – all have a common thesis for what it will look like in the years to come.

Pearson told James that it all started for him when he looked around and thought, “wow.” He was sitting at breakfast with a group of entrepreneurs and asked, “why was this situation possible?”

That situation that Pearson talked about was a group of expats sitting in the Philippines. All there because they were able to meet and talk about the work they were doing. Thanks to a world-is-flat style changes they were able to run their business from anywhere.

Across the pacific ocean in California things looked similar. “Here are hundreds of people,” said Adam Davidson, “that snap into action on day one but when the lights go down they are scattered to the winds.”

Both the ex-pats at breakfast and set designers in Hollywood told the same story of the new employment model. Both groups had a suddenness of arrival, a completeness of their action, and a firm dispersal. It’s like a flash-mob for business.

If we are going to look at how the employment landscape has and will continue to change, we need to dive in, dig around, and come out with some conclusions. Pearson, Davidson, Altucher, Roberts, and others have given us these questions to answer:

  • What biases do we have that prevents us from seeing these changes?  (The Legacy Effect)
  • Why don’t we accept these changes?  (The Fear)
  • How do we find answers in this changing landscape? (The Cynefin Framework)
  • How do I continue to learn? (Post Graduate Education)
  • How to I start? (Start Small)
  • Why shouldn’t I grow? (Stay Small)
  • What happens when everyone can Google you? (Keep Your Name and Nose Clean)

These questions won’t have clear answers, and for good reason. Once there are clean answers, things have already begun to change again. This post is about where things are going, not how they are.

As Peter Thiel (episode #43) likes to ask, “what is an important truth that very few people agree with you on?” This may be one.


The Legacy Effect – Overcoming our biases

If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog will quickly jump out because it notices the water is too hot.

If you put a frog in a pot of water and then slowly warm it, the frog will slowly boil to death because it doesn’t notice the change in temperature.

These changes are happening but hard to see because we have a legacy tendency in our thought. “It takes time for anyone’s mental model to adapt,” Pearson tells James and if we adapt too slowly, we become like the frog in water. Most of us think, “I’m getting a paycheck, I must be doing something valuable,” but don’t fall into that mindset says Pearson.

Most of us can’t identify the gap between what we do and the value it provides. But not all of us. There’s a group of people who see the gap in real terms, Hollywood.

Or that’s the case that Davidson makes. In what he calls, “the Hollywood Model,” Davidson says there aren’t the same illusions of value because of the way work works. You might work for two or three months on a project but then it’s time to find another job.

In addition to finding jobs, filmmakers have to negotiate their wages. How much can you charge? Will it be enough? The search for work, combined with how much you earn is a regular feedback systems that many people don’t have.

A specific example, Davidson reports, is the value of artists who can do zombie makeup. Ten years ago makeup artists didn’t need to know how to do that, but now they do. That’s a signal.

Add in our squishy feelings and we have a real mess. “There is some romance about long term employment in the United States,” says Roberts. We like the feelings of security, even though that job may not be all that secure.

The Fear – Why we don’t accept the changing landscape

It’s hard to move out of this steady situation. We are afraid. But Nassim Taleb gives us a parable to think about it in a new way. Imagine there are two brothers. One is a banker, the other a cab driver.

The banker’s incomes is steady month after month. The cab driver makes the same amount each year, but his income varies monthly. Which of these two careers is the safer career? (In Taleb’s terms, which is more antifragile)

It seems odd to say, but he cab driver is the safer career and part of the reason is that the cab driver gets signals about his work. If he’s at the airport at 6AM and there are no customers he will see that right away.

The banking brother doesn’t get these same signals. He has to read the tea leaves of market changes, investment rates, and so on. The 2008 crash and devaluation gives some evidence to how much real value the financial sector added.

We can morph our fear with a change in wording. Seth Godin (episode #27) writes that we can shift our thinking between risk and uncertainty. Godin suggests we recognize that we should seek outcomes that are uncertain rather than risky.

“But a range of results, all uncertain, does not mean you are exposing yourself to risk. It merely means you’re exposing yourself to an outcome you didn’t have a chance to fall in love with in advance.”

This happened to Chris Hadfield (episode #111). Before he was scheduled to lead a crew to the International Space Station, Hadfield had to go for an emergency ultrasound on an old surgery. It may not have healed correctly and if there was any chance of danger, Hadfield would be scrubbed from the mission.

This wasn’t a risk, just an uncertainty for Hadfield. While he had worked his entire life to lead this mission – and it would be his last chance to do so – it was just a moment of uncertainty. On the car ride to the ultrasound appointment he talked with his wife about what they would do if he was scrubbed from the mission. By the time they arrived at the office they had a plan.

Tim Ferriss (episode #109) calls it a nebulous fear of failure. We don’t know what kind of monster is hiding for us in the closet, but we’re sure one is there. If you open the door and dig around, you’ll see there is no monster. That thing you were afraid of just the work you need to do.

The Cynefin Framework (Wha?) – Where to find answers

Pronounced “ku-nev-in,” this is the idea that there are different decision making contexts and each one requires different thinking.

You wouldn’t celebrate your anniversary at a fast food restaurant. But if your wife is pregnant and she wants McDonald’s french fries that’s the only place you should go. Everything is contextual and the Cynefin Framework is a way to contextualize decisions. There are five areas situations can fall.

  1. Simple contexts. These are situations with one answer and many people can find the answers.
  2. Complicated contexts. Situations that may contain multiple answers and they may not be seen or understood by everyone. Who you marry might fit here.
  3. Complex contexts. Situations of flux where we only have a retrospective understanding. Complexity theory lives here (if  butterfly flaps it’s wings in Oklahoma, it could cause a storm in Connecticut).
  4. Chaotic contexts. Cause and effect are impossible to determine.
  5. Disorder. You have no idea what context you are in.

Pearson brings this up in his interview and I think his point is this – we view our career conditions as simple contexts but we should look at them as complicated or complex. The logic for simple contexts goes: if they pay me, then my job must be valuable. But we’ve made the case that hidden in there are changes we aren’t attuned to.

Instead we should look at the complicated and complex models to see how our career conditions fit there. One positive variable in those instances is continued education.

Post-graduate education – How we can learn

Pearson may be more critical of school that James (which isn’t easy to do). Pearson’s angle is that school evolved as a method of compliance. A way to prepare people to work in factories. That has clearly changed, but Pearson says education on the whole has not.

“You need need to be thinking not about what’s been true for the last fifty years, but what will be true for the next fifty,” says Pearson.

For Pearson it meant getting an apprenticeship, something that Robert Greene (episode #1) told James as well. Pearson also echoed what Ryan Holiday (episode #108) and James have said about free offers. Don’t offer to “work for free” so you can do “whatever it takes.”

Instead, approach a person and present them with something they can just say “yes” to. Holiday says that the free offer isn’t free for him. It may not cost him money, but it costs him something even more valuable, his time.


Pearson’s education consisted of learning about WordPress, and then SEO. After that he learned Google Adsense and started making some money, but not much. “I was making $5 an hour doing that work,” he tells James. “Bravo,” I imagine Robert Greene might say. Greene stresses that early on you want to build your career capital not your bank account.

Beyond learning specific skills, Pearson also picked up bigger ideas. He tells James that Rob Walling’s Stair Step Method is a great model.

The apprenticeship is alive and well in Hollywood says Davidson. This is what Sam Shank (episode #78) saw as well when he was there, and it’s why he left. Shank didn’t want to be an apprentice for decades. He wanted to create something right away.

But however you do it, start small.

Start Small

It’s repeated over and over, and it needs to be. According to Stephen Dubner (episode #20), there are four good reasons for starting small:

  1. Small questions are less often asked and may be virgin territory for discovery.
  2. Big problems are dense and intertwined small problems that have to be solved first.
  3. Small problems have a smaller mass and are easier to change.
  4. Thinking big leads to more speculation, small problems can have more accurate observation.

Pearson tells the story of someone who bought an invoice business and grew it to be more profitable. Matt Barrie (episode #114) told James nearly the thing. He needed freelancers and was using website that connected him. Eventually he bought that company. Then he bought another. Now he runs the biggest freelancing site on the web.

Steven Kotler (episode #118) introduced the idea of “first principles” from Elon Musk.

Another case for a small start is the nuanced knowledged required.  When Davidson was on a movie set he noticed that one person was in charge of the scene’s wall if they were interacted with (written on for example) while another person was in charge of them it they weren’t. Those people told him they had to choose the perfect “white” to set the scene. The perfect white? Does it matter?

According to Davidson it does. Each person there he says, was very good and their cumulative decisions together made everything fit together like a puzzle.

In the new landscape of jobs you may be the small fish that’s really good at one thing. That’s fine.

Stay Small

Another trend that Pearson has noticed is to stay small but serve more people. This sort of boutique service is also what Davidson saw in the Hollywood Model. It’s owning a skill rather than a job and shopping that out to more than one person in a year. In Hollywood, Davidson says, a camera operator may work on six films in a year. Davidson continued:

“I don’t know how to see the future without seeing a lot more of that. People finding intimate, passionate engagement with their customers.”

How might this relate to the new economy?

  • Chefs could cook for 12 families rather than 1 restaurant.
  • Teachers could quit teaching in favor of tutoring a handful of students.
  • Writers could write for many different publications.

Another analogy is what Nassim Taleb calls barbell/bimodal thinking. You have Google/Amazon/Apple that sell the same services/thing to many people. On the other end you have artisans/custom woodwork/writers who do more variety but for less people. Rather than aim to become someone who does the same thing many times over, think about moving to a job on the other end.

For example, what would you tell your friend Factory Joe about the future of his job? The workforce in the plant he’s at has shrunk 80% from its peak thirty years ago. Factory Joe’s older brother started out at $25/hour, but Joe began at $18/hour. There’s no guaranteed pension (if there ever was) and there is a small 401K match. Joe sees the outsourcing news on television but also sees reports like this and this about companies bringing some factory work back to the United States. What advice would you give Joe? What advice would an economist give?

Tyler Cowen wrote a book with some of the – possible – answers.

I imagine that Tyler Cowen would sit down in his office with Factory Joe and lay out a two-fold case.

  1. Educate yourself. Yes, some factory jobs are coming back to the United States, but not as many as left. Combined with that is that the jobs that are returning are highly skilled. You can’t take a Honda line machinist and maker her an Apple computer assembler.
    But, the good news is that you can learn how to do new things quite easily. Factory Joe could begin taking free class in robotics from MIT or something else from the buffet of options. Joe’s father was limited to learn at work, and earn promotions there. Joe’s experience will be to learn outside of work, and receive his promotions there.
  2. Get another job, then another. Factory Joe probably has a lot of skills. He’s good working with his hands, can take things apart and put them back together, and knows about electronics and engineering. Joe could build up a set of clients to serve and do repairs for them.
    If the upper class is going to grow (as Cowen thinks), then they will demand more services. If a quad-copter breaks with a GoPro camera breaks, who fixes it? Not the investment banker who bought it and not the ten-year-old who crashed it. Factory Joe though has the right skills for just a project. Roll in the “internet of things” and Joe seems like the perfect candidate for a role as the modern plumber. Instead of unclogging drains, he’s soldering circuits.

It’s much easier to speculate with Factory Joe than our real lives, but that’s exactly what we should do. It’s hard to have the same perspective that Adam Blumberg (episode #70) had when he left his job. Blumberg said that he realized right now was the perfect intersection of his skills and the demand for them.

To do this for your own career, think about the advice you would tell a friend. Make up your own Factory Joe persona and write down what you think they should do. Once that mental puzzle is put together, switch your thinking and read it yourself.

Realize that you are part of the way toward a new job, whatever it is.

Robert Greene told James that even though it may take 10K hours to be world class at something, you don’t need to be world class and you’ve probably already got some number of hours. Build on that.

Kevin Kelly (episode #96) calls this idea “1,000 true fans.”

“A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name.”

It means that you, me, and Factory Joe don’t need to to strike out and be huge. We can strike out and stay small.

It’s why both Tucker Max (episode #80) and Rabbi Daniel Lapin give the same advice about your career. That’s about an unbiased opinion if there ever was one. The authors of  “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” and a “Business Secrets from the Bible” both give the same advice.

Keep your name – and nose – clean

Davidson tells Roberts that there has been a “reduction in employment transaction costs,” which is a fancy way of saying that it’s easier to hire the right people now. Part of being the right person is not being a jerk. On the set Davidson said there was a lot of “professional gossip,” where crew members talked about so-and-so who did such-and-such.

Barrie told Altucher he saw this change with freelancers. It used to be the case where you posted to a freelancer job site and the respondent was in your town or the next. You didn’t know anything about them except what they told you. Now, you can see feedback from someone half the world away.

And it’s coming to every job. In his book, Average is Over, Tyler Cowen writes that he wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had a rating.

“Everything is rated. Everything will have a Yelp review. And if you’re a worker, there’ll be, like, credit scores. There already are, to some extent.”

And it’s going to be easier to do.

Clay Shirky predicted this in 2008  in the book Here Comes Everybody. Let’s start with the big picture:

“Running an organization is difficult in and of itself, no matter what its’ goals. Every transaction it undertakes – every contract, every agreement, every meeting – requires it to expend some limited resource: time, attention, or money. Because of these transaction costs, some sources of value are too costly to take advantage of.”

Okay, got it. So ten years ago it was too costly (in time, money, attention) to find out if Steve was a good cameraman on a movie, or if a factory in China could make a widget. Thanks to technology, transaction costs decreased and organizations got bigger and got more done. Back to Shirky:

“When such costs fall moderately, we can can expect to see two things. First, the largest firms increase in size. Second, small companies become more effective, doing more business at lower cost than the same company does in a world of high transaction costs.”

Great! Now we see that our cameraman Steve was not only a great guy, but really skilled. Word gets around more easily and Steve can travel more easily and we get movies with better cinematography thanks to Steve.

We can also not only visit our factory in China whenever we want, but we can see a live-stream of the production floor and and do video calls and live chat.

The transaction costs for Steve and the factory are both so low that it’s easy to find a great version of what you’re looking for. That means medium and low versions will be passed over and you better create a good Yelp rating for yourself..

Learn to tell stories

It doesn’t seem like the type of hard skill you’d need in the new economy, but it comes up time and time again. Learn to tell good stories.

  • Davidson says you need to learn to tell stories because, “you have to be better at articulating the value you add.”
  • Cowen writes about this too, “Despite all the talk about STEM fields, I see marketing as the seminal sector for our future economy.”
  • Gary Vaynerchuk (episode #2) as well, “no matter who you are or what kind of company or organization you work for, your number one job is to tell our story to the consumer, where they are, and preferably at the moment they are deciding to make a purchase.”

The takeaways.

  1. Recognize biases in how you value your work.
  2. Turn conditions of fear into ones of uncertainty.
  3. Use the Cynefin Framework as a decision making model.
  4. Learn a skill and then become an apprentice.
  5. Start small in your changes.
  6. Stay small when you start out on your own.
  7. Keep your nose clean because everyone can find anything about anyone.
  8. Learn to tell stories that engage people.

The change is coming, Pearson says, you need to be someone who chooses to “exit up or exit down.”

Whew, thanks for making it this far. I’m @MikeDariano. One note, I was an early reader for Pearson’s book and got to give him some feedback on it. If you read something here that interested you and would like to talk, please get in touch.

“Peter Thiel TechCrunch50” by TechCrunch50-2008 – 2008-09-08_17-24-26. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

#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.

#1 Robert Greene

Robert Greene joined James Altucher to talk about power, writing, and what it means for us to really become great at something. Greene is the author of Mastery, The 48 Laws of Power, and The Art of Seduction.

The interview begins with Greene telling James that he just finished reading Phil Jackson’s book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success. “I’ll read 200-300 books for each book I write,” Greene says. Wow. Ryan Holiday (episode #108) told James that his career as a writer started because he was Greene’s research assistant.

“What is your current reading leading towards?” James asks. Greene says that he’s taking the chapter from Master about social intelligence, and expanding that into an entire book. The big ideas, says Greene, go back thousands of years and the new book is an attempt to explain to people how to use them.

One example from the book is how to persuade somebody to do something. Pretend you have a project, says Greene. You tell someone about it, they seem interested, but two weeks later they’re suddenly not interested anymore. Why?

Well, it could be that they’ve cooled off. That happens to all of us and it might be the case. Or, maybe you didn’t get to their self-interest. You need to be able to successfully identify the cause says Greene.

There are two powerful ideas here. First is the Rumpelstiltskin effect, second is persuasion jujitsu.

The Rumpelstiltskin Effect

In a podcast from June 23, 2015, Adam Savage says that he was looking for a glass bottle for a model he was building. It had to be a certain size and shape, and have a lip that curved just right. Savage says that he would search for “small round bottle” and “skinning bottle with medium lip” but  without luck.

His fortunes changed however when he learned that bottles are classified by the type of lip (also known as bottle finish).


Once Savage learned this, he quickly found the bottle he was looking for. Just like in the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, once he knew the name of the thing, the spell was broken. Other examples include:

  • Carol Leifer (episode #66) needed to know how to shut down hecklers. Once she knew the name of the technique, and the spell was broken.
  • Michael Mauboussin (episode TKP1) says that people make poor predictions when they lack a system. Once you have a name for decision steps, you make better decisions, and the spell was broken.
  • Dan Ariely (episode #65) explained the same idea in economic decisions. When he asked people what they would buy if they didn’t buy a certain car, they often said they would buy a different one. But once he explained the term “opportunity cost,” people started to see things differently, and the spell was broken.

To break the spell you must know the name of the thing. Greene’s point is this, you have to identify why you failed to connect and there may be many reasons.

Like a doctor diagnosis a medical ailment, we can diagnose social ones. How? By persuasion jujitsu.

Persuasion Jujitsu

In Influence – our current book club book – Robert Cialdini writes about negotiation jujitsu. The trick, he writes, is to realize that you won’t overpower someone and get them to change their minds. Instead you need to use their own invisible scripts to get them to do what you want.

Once you know the moves to make for each of their attacks or feints, you can take a certain course of action.

Say for example, you want people to use less energy in their homes.

  1. You could educate them about the negative environmental effects of burning coal.
  2. You could inform them about how much money they might save if they use less energy.
  3. You could tell them how much their neighbors use and incite a friendly competition.

Researchers have looked at this exact question many times over and the results are regularly the same. People will say that #1 or #2 might work, but certainly not #3. When researchers apply the test though, it’s  #3 that has the biggest effect.

Social pressure, it turns out, get us to act more than financial or environmental ones. I don’t know what type of social intelligence Greene is writing about, but this is the sort of jujitsu I’m sure he’ll make note of.

Social Intelligence in Mastery

A lot of what’s in the book Mastery, says James, is social intelligence. How important is that? “It’s 25% of the game,” says Greene. “No matter what field you are in, you have to have some degree of awareness of how other people are thinking.”

Let’s say, Greene explains, you’re at a new job. You get hired and most of the people there are friendly, but not overly so. Except for one guy who acts way too nice. What does this mean? As a society we have a spectrum of interpersonal relationships. Some are social, some formal, some professional, some intimate. You need to know, Greene says, when somebody isn’t acting the right way at the right time.

Adam Grant (episode #73) talked a bit about this with James as well. Grant’s angle was that there’s a certain kind of social giving you should do .

  • First, only give your time to others once your own work is done.
  • Second, give in a way that makes you feel good and uses your skills.
  • Third, don’t be a pushover. It’s this last part where Grant gives specific advice.

In giving situations, Grant writes, you can cooperate or compete with someone else. If you find yourself in a competing situation, you don’t want to cooperate fully because that person will take advantage of you. Instead you need to identify the situation and cooperate two-thirds of the time.This will keep you from being taken advantage of, and it will let you remain a successful giver.

The (Happy) Sorcerer’s Apprentice

As the interview moves on, James asks Greene about the his book Mastery, which he says is “a brilliant book, I highly recommend it to everybody.” But how do you become a master, James asks.

Step one, says Greene, is to find something you can enjoy doing, “listen to your own voice.” Gary Vaynerchuk (episode #2) says to find something you love to do because you are going to work your butt off if you want to do it well. Gretchen Rubin (episode #97) says to “know your tendencies,” before you choose something.

Ask, “what excites me?” says Greene. For Maria Popova (episode #89) it was the discovery of human ideas and truths. Popova didn’t get this in college – to the point that it surprised her – so she started a small email. Now she runs

For Amanda Palmer (episode #82) it was always about being a performer. Palmer’s act as a street artist taught her about how to ask. She learned so much, and asked so often that she wrote a book about it.

At this stage you want to double down on experience, even at the expense of income says Greene. (Palmer and Popova both had none early on). Big shot lawyer? Yeah right, that doesn’t always turn out rosy. It turns out more like a prison said Peter Thiel (episode #43) who said that when he left his law firm his colleagues congratulate him, expressing that they couldn’t leave. “It was a place where everyone on the outside wanted in,” says Thiel, “and everyone on the inside wanted out.”

Robert Kurson (episode #116) said the same thing about his experience in corporate law and how much it drained him. Kurson described it as a place where, “time seemed to tick backwards.” Law isn’t like a John Grisham book, at least it wasn’t for Kurson. One of his last cases was to determine if a McDonald’s franchisee was using pickles that were too green.

If you aren’t going to chase dollars what do you go after? Experience says Greene. “Once you get in a field where you want to work, think of your 20’s as your apprenticeship.” Alex Blumberg (episode #70) took this path. His career sequence was ; freelance reporter, producer for This American Life, creator of Planet Money, then founder of Gimlet Media. I don’t know what a freelance reporter for NPR gets paid, but it couldn’t have  been much. Instead Blumberg accumulated so much experience he told James, “this skill that I’ve worked and slaved for now has value.”

And you don’t have to know where you’ll end up. Blumberg certainly didn’t know podcasts would be a thing when he graduated college in 1989. Neither did Kevin Kelly (episode #96) when he was starting out. What does the Whole Earth Catalog and living in Asia have to do with editing Wired Magazine? Little, except that Kelly had the right set of skills when that job came along. And you need to build some skills.

The 10K Hour Rule.

The rule considered gospel since Malcolm Gladwell wrote about it in Outliers . If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the Wikipedia page. More concisely it’s this: it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated and intentional practice on something to become world class in that thing.

Greene says this idea is still true, but maybe not to the extent of the original research. Your hours of experience can come from anywhere. Maybe you worked as accountant for 7 years, that’s about 10K hours of accountant work. But what if you want to quit that job to be a motivational speaker? Hmm.

Don’t stress too much says Greene. Rather, you probably have a few thousand hours from that job as an accountant that will translate to motivational speaking. For example, you know how to talk with people, you understand their fears, you see the value of a plan. Plus, you’ll know how to balance costs against revenue for your new business. You might be a quarter of the way to mastery before you’ve given a single talk.

A Day in the Life

James asks what a typical day is like for Greene. “It’s not horribly glamorous,” says Green. The actual writing is only about one-third of the process he says. If that’s what he’s working on, he’ll write for three to four hours and then take a break to exercise. The other parts are research and then the miscellany of management, small tasks, etc. For more about writers:

One thing Greene doesn’t care to do is to create Pinterest images of his quotes – in general terms. “I find it exhausting and depressing for me.” Greene says about social media.

Thanks for reading, I’m @MikeDariano on Twitter and find it exciting. If Greene’s comments about a career, apprenticeship, and 10K hours struck you more than anything else, then you need to read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. That book makes the case that the biggest thing you need to build up is career capital and there is a correct sequence to it. Newport’s book stands well on its own but if you want some help, I created a guide with further examples and questions. If you’ve read this far you enjoy my insights, connections, and further stories. The guide is no different.