James Altucher is an investor, entrepreneur, and author of many books, including Choose Yourself and The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth. What fascinates me about James is his personal narrative, which fuels a thriving online presence. It centers on his relationship to ideas—specifically, the power of becoming an idea machine.
“Ideas are the real currency of the universe,” James writes. “Money is the shadow of that.”
It’s easy to let our self-concept ride on shallow metrics—money, possessions, fame, good looks, and “likes” on social media. For James, the only metric that matters is ideas:
…I know if I have good ideas for myself and for others then I can face any situation. I can handle any rejection. I can handle any negative change in my circumstances. Everything in life has cycles with low points and high points. The idea muscle can get stronger during low points and can make wishes come true in the high points.
Ideas are so important to James that he’s built a daily practice around them. Writing by hand on waiter’s pads, he brainstorms at least 10 ideas a day. He says that building your “idea muscle” in this way is just as important as building fitness through physical exercise:
Write down ten ideas. About anything. It doesn’t matter if they are business ideas, book ideas, ideas for surprising your spouse in bed, ideas for what you should do if you are arrested for shoplifting, ideas for how to make a better tennis racquet, anything you want. The key is that it has to be ten or more. You don’t ever have to look at these ideas again. The purpose is not to come up with a good idea. The purpose is to have thousands of ideas over time.
Create ideas for solving other people’s problems
James is blunt on this point: “Nobody cares about your problems.” They’re concerned about their problems: How to get a job. How to get more clients or customers. How to earn more money, lose weight, or get a date.
Figuring out ways for other people to get what they want is a powerful way to flex your idea muscle. The goal is to “have a vision that helps other people make their own visions manifest.”
Create ideas to supply what’s missing from the world
What’s something that you’d like to have and doesn’t exist yet? This question has led to many world-changing inventions, from the light bulb to the personal computer and iPhone. There’s a chance that what’s useful to you will be useful to other people as well.
Pitch ideas without being a pain in the ass.
Don’t invite people to get coffee so that you can share your ideas. People are busy. They already have coffee.
Instead, just send them ideas. If those ideas light a fire for the recipients, they’ll follow up in time.
Don’t ask for money up front
The best way to pitch ideas is not to ask people to pay you to implement them. That’s “amateur hour” and an instant turn-off, says James.
Instead, give ideas a way for free. This is how you get noticed and get your foot in the door. And that can lead to a well-paying gig later.
Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas
It hardly ever happens. And if it does, it’s a sign that your idea truly helped someone.
“The more you help,” says James, “the more you are connected to something much bigger than you are.” This connection is how you find meaning in life and create value in the world.
Pitch “do-able” ideas
“I’m not going to send Elon Musk suggesting he make an elevator to Mars instead of a spaceship,” James writes.
At the same time, ignore people who say that ideas are a dime a dozen or execution is everything. Instead, write down ideas for how to execute your ideas.
For example, create a two-column chart. In the left column, write down 10 ideas for businesses to start. In the right column, write down the very next action you would take to start each business.
Aim for risk, humor, and honesty
Remember that great ideas are often labeled “crazy” in the beginning. Pursue them anyway.
As you share ideas, reveal things about yourself that make other people laugh and relate to you as an imperfect human being.
If you’re looking for an example, you won’t find a better one than James Altucher.