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James Altucher Talks About Being an “Idea Machine”

By June 18, 2020 September 2nd, 2020 No Comments

“We’re now in a world where it’s possible to eliminate the gatekeepers. It’s possible to ignore all the ‘worldly wisdom.’ ” – James Altucher

Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of  Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.

In the second part of this interview, James Altucher(@altucher)and the Commander talk about business and how to live minimally. James is a well-known entrepreneur, author of Reinvent Yourself, and the founder of Choose Yourself Financial.

Learn how:

  • Bitcoin has been misunderstood in the past, but is here to stay.
  • Anything “remote” is going to be a hot idea for a business going forward.
  • You can exercise your imagination muscle by writing down ten ideas a day — even the bad ones.

Listen to this episode to get a better idea of what the future can hold for business and investing.

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Mark: One of the things that I think that we can all do – and I’ve been asking my tribe as well – is like to pause and reflect upon what things you would like to change in your personal life. Or what as a result of being locked down and some of us have more time… some of us have to manage your time more effectively… but we have more time with family members. Some of us have had to go virtual with our work – I mean, there’s a whole slew of things and you acknowledged earlier – a lot of business opportunities will come from that.

But one of the things that I’ve been pondering is we have this principle called the kiss principle that I’ve been teaching. It’s from my seal days where the old chief would say, “Hey, Divine. Keep it simple stupid.” K-I-S-S. And I was an ensign trying to plan a mission, and I would get all these complicated ideas and put them in my flow chart – this was before we used video and PowerPoint – and the chiefs – you know, old Vietnam vets were looking back – they’re chewing their chew and spitting in the cups on the floor.

And they’re just like “Divine – you know, complicated gets you killed.” Now complicated is actually simpler than complex. Now we’re in the world of complex, but complicated still had kind of a linearity to it, but then they complicated… get your kills.

Keep it simple. What can you take out? How can you simplify this? And then basically go forward like that. And so we learned that not only in a mission perspective – how we plan a mission and execute a mission – but also how we lived our lives.

What do you think about this idea of simplicity? Because I read once that you literally gave up all your possessions and went and lived on people’s couches. Or in Airbnb’s. That is like the ultimate act of practicing kiss in my opinion.

James: Oh yeah, I mean, I had a couple things going on in my life. And my lease was up on an apartment, and I decided “you know what? I don’t want to own a place. And I don’t even want to rent a place. Renting sometimes is too complicated.”

And so what I did was I took a trip to California and I had a carry-on bag with me – one carry-on bag – and I told a friend of mine “go to my place and I’m never going back to that place again. Clear everything out. And you could either keep things for yourself and your family, or give to charity or sell something and you could keep the money. Or do whatever you want with it.”

And I said “it shouldn’t take you more than a day or two.” Well, we don’t realize the amount of just stuff we keep around over the years. She took seven days and a truck with her whole family helping her to really clear out my place.

And then I came back into town with my carry-on bag and then I just started living literally day-to-day or week-to-week either in Airbnb’s or staying with friends. And I did this for a little over two years. And I had a discipline – I would not buy anything new unless I took something out of my carry-on bag. And so I just had a couple of shirts and a couple of pants, and clothes and toothpaste, toothbrush… and that’s kind of it.

And a computer and a phone. And that’s kind of it. And so I really couldn’t buy anything. Like I would use the kindle app on my phone to buy books. And it put me in a situation where I just don’t really like or need… I’m very comfortable not spending anything for long periods of time.

Then I got married again. She brought all her stuff over. So that’s fine. So everybody’s different.

Mark: Yeah. But it had to go well beyond just learning to control spending. Like what were the some of the emotional benefits? Because for me, learning to travel light and not be attached to any of the material stuff was a huge freedom.

It really just meant freedom for me. I could walk away any time. And a lot of seals were like this.

Like I grab my go bag, and if I never see this house again, who cares?

James: Yeah, I took this unusual pride in… whenever I left a place – even if it was an Airbnb I was staying in for a few days, so I was gonna come back later – I had this unusual pride in leaving zero footprint of myself anywhere. So I would take my carry-on bag with me during the day. Clean up the place. There was no… you couldn’t even tell I had been there.

And at the same time, yeah, I felt a certain freedom. In that I knew I could survive in any… I would stay in nice places or I would stay in awful places… there wasn’t any place I couldn’t. I was fine with everything.

It led to then my experiences in life. I was fine just saying yes to interesting experiences, rather than if there was any kind of transactional goal from it.

And there was definitely a freeing feeling. I could have done it forever. And sometimes people say to me “well, did you ever do you ever miss anything?”

And I would say “yeah, I missed photo albums of my kids when they were little…”

Mark: That you gave away, you mean. Never to see again.

James: Yeah, I mean gave away or threw away – whatever my friend did with it. And I did miss things. I missed objects that I had had since I was a kid.

But it’s okay to feel melancholy. Which is a kind of sadness mixed with nostalgia. And I realized that was a pleasurable – a much more pleasurable emotion than I had thought. Because usually we’re in this materialism where if you miss something you should just get it. And “why miss something, when you could just buy it at the store?” Like you could just exchange your emotion for money.

And I realized it was actually fine to miss things. And made me feel emotions it made me learn how much I valued certain things – like my relationship with my children, for instance. And how little I valued other things – like things I had since I was a child.

And I don’t know, it was definitely an interesting few years. And it was very exciting too to not be attached to any one place – I would move into someone’s apartment and it would be all of their things and I would be living their life. And I would learn about them.

And a lot of things happened to me during that time that were very, very new for me. I was able to try lots of new things during this sort of minimalist experiment. And it was an interesting time.

Eventually though, I needed to live in an area of Manhattan where there were no Airbnb’s available and one friend of mine said “look, you’re never gonna meet a woman doing this.”

Mark: (laughing) yeah, the nomadic, minimalistic lifestyle is not great… you don’t advertise for that on dating sites.

James: Right. So I finally did get an apartment and it had no items in it. Until I met my wife and she moved in. And then boom, suddenly I have like 30 years of her stuff in here. But that’s okay too. Cause I love her stuff.

And then I started buying books again, which was nice too. I like to actually read physical books so that was an interesting experiment. I like to actually construct experiments that have little downside, but lots of upside. Whether the experiment is a success or a failure, I either learn something huge, or I have huge upside in other ways.

And so that was a longer experiment for me, but I like constructing life experiments like that.

Mark: Well that one is particularly profound. And as you know from yoga, practicing non-attachment –aparigraha they call it – is one of the most important aspects – or fundamental aspects – in the yogic path, the eight limbs path that patanjali puts out in his yoga sutras.

And ultimately the highest form of practicing non-attachment is to be not attached to your body. To actually your life, right? And so you can start like with…

You actually pretty much jumped into the deep end of the pool. First, by practicing non-attachment by considering ending your own life – and fortunately you didn’t do that. And then by giving up all of your possessions.

What recommendation do you have for someone who was like intrigued by this? But doesn’t necessarily want to jump into the deep end, and jump off a cliff, like you did.

James: I think it’s good to really… one thing about not having anything, and just living in these Airbnb’s is that you sort of start to forget a little bit who you are. Because you’re always living some other life that wasn’t the life you’re used to.

I couldn’t walk into my home and see my books and my photos and my whatever art I had hanging up. And in a weird way, because you become less attached to these figments of memory that you associate as being part of you, you realize “oh, that was never really a part of me at all. I’m just me, and I can’t really label any part of me. I don’t have anything to label.”

“I’m not the guy who has x. Or, I’m not the guy who lives here,” because I didn’t live anywhere. And so it really removed a lot of labels from my own identity.

And then again in terms of if you’re intrigued with this, I would suggest figure out how you label yourself. And imagine you don’t have those labels. Imagine you don’t have the clothes you wear that you think define you. Or you don’t have the books, or the look, or the degrees… you know, I had a college diploma hanging up in my old apartment.

That was thrown away. So imagine you just don’t have these things. Imagine you don’t even have your name, because I didn’t have any mail or address or anything. I didn’t have anywhere people could reach me.

And so it’s like I disappeared a little bit. But then I had a greater appreciation for who I was at a maybe slightly deeper level. And learning that appreciation, it’s kind of like you know a here and now kind of feeling, and that was nice.

And then in the mornings I was always excited, “what’s this day going to bring me?” Because it was an adventure. Every day was completely new.

It’s like imagine when you first move into a new area. You’re excited to explore the new area, and everything… I had that feeling every day. I was always exploring… and so looking at the life around you with curiosity and exploration. That was artificially enhanced for me, but it became a habit over time.

Mark: I love that. Yes, so being a minimalist and doing the etch-a-sketch everyday allows you to be more curious. And curiosity is kind of the engine for creativity and growth.

The other side I love hearing is this idea of kind of loosening the grip on attachment to the ego structures. The things that you identify as “you.”

It doesn’t mean other people will loosen it – like people will always identify me as navy seal commander mark divine – founder of SEALfit… blah-blah-blah…

But I don’t… I try really hard, I should say – I’m not perfect. It’s really hard. I try hard not to identify myself with any of that, right? I’m always looking like “what’s the next version of me going to be like?” Curious about that, right?

And in a way when we create an organization or structure, it kind of locks you in and so on. I’m actually dealing with that right now. Trying to figure out “how can I be the snake that sheds the skin of the original structures of my organizations? That want to keep me in those roles.”

James: Well, that’s interesting because this style of thinking – it allows you to switch lanes very quickly. So you could say, you could say to yourself, “well, I absolutely need this structure, and this structure, and this structure in place and functional in order for me to achieve these goals.”

Well, it could turn out that the exact opposite will work even better. It’s the simplicity thing.

I’ll give an example from entrepreneurship. This is a simple example, but during this period, a friend of mine was making a line of clothes. And they’re very beautiful these clothes that she’s been designing and playing around with.

But she wants to source everything in America, so it could be made in America. And so she’s trying to find these things in America. And then a way to kind of assemble them here in the US. And that’s what she’s been spending all her time on.

And I said “well, why are you doing that?”

And she says “well, I want to be able to put ‘made-in-America’ on it.”

And I said “well, how about you source everything in china where we know how to source everything? See if anybody even wants the product. And then figure out – once you know that there’s a market and customers – then you figure out how to make it in America.

And she’s like “oh, that’s a great idea.”

And then I said “well, here’s another one. Don’t even make the product. Why don’t you just put some ads up on Facebook and see if people click?”

And she said “well, what will people click to? I don’t have a website yet for this.”

And I’m like “they don’t have to click to anything. But you’ll be able to see with the analytics on Facebook’s ads manager if people clicked at all. And so if people click at all that means you have a market for it. So now you can test out your complete idea from beginning to end with a hundred dollar budget on Facebook.”

Mark: Mm-hmm. That is awesome. Yeah, I love that. That’s a minimalist approach to getting it out there – getting something out there and pivoting quickly. Yeah, and you’re saying, you don’t… even if you have a big structure, pivoting is about mindset first.

But the team’s got to be aligned around it, because you can’t do this alone – especially if you had an organization that’s got like a lot of investment in one kind of let’s say marketing approach. And a service or a product.

But you can pivot quickly. Look at Twitter. Like Twitter came out of a pivot. Their own crisis essentially. Self-induced crisis of existential nature, right?

And then they just said “what can we do different?” And they came up with this. You know, one of their engineers said, “hey, I’ve been toying with this micro-blogging platform…”

James: Right, they were a podcasting platform at first. The original business was they had podcasting software. And this guy – Jack Dorsey – just sitting in the corner was making this thing where he was sending SMS messages through the browser and calling it Twitter.

And Ev Williams the CEO realized that the podcasting wasn’t gonna work out. It was a little too early – he was ahead of his time.

But he liked this Twitter thing which was starting to get thousands of users.

So he went to all of his investors and he said “listen, we’re gonna pivot into this Twitter thing. I will give you all of your money back if you want, or you can be invested in this Twitter thing.”

A hundred percent of his investors took their money back.

Mark: No way. Unbelievable.

James: And they would have all made… they would all have been billionaires from that investment and none of them were.

Mark: Holy cow.

James: Yeah. So Ev Williams bought all their shares. He gave them – out of his pocket – all their money back. And that’s how he made his billions.

Mark: And he made Dorsey CEO? Or did that happen later?

James: That happened later, but Dorsey made billions off it too. And then Dorsey also started – with another guy, he started square – which is the payment company. They’ve done very well.

Block chain


Mark: Yeah, I follow Dorsey, because I’m studying… I know you’re a student of block chain, and that decentralized kind of network effect. How it’s gonna impact business. I think Dorsey is a brilliant guy and sometimes people think he’s controversial, but…
I said earlier when we started this thing that I would tell you the story of how I think I ended up on your email list. 2012 or ’13 I thought Bitcoin… I was reading about it… I thought this could be kind of cool, so I bought a hundred Bitcoin… nothing huge, right?

And I didn’t know how to mine. I’m not a techie, like you. I didn’t know how to mine. But I bought a hundred Bitcoin.

And then we ended up buying a piece of property down the road – like six or eight months later – and my wife was like “you know, you really could use some of that money you just threw into Bitcoin.” And she was like “that’s a scam, anyways.”

So I lost faith and I sold 96 of them. (laughing) I kept 4, right? And then I literally forgot about it. Just like all these other people who were like in and then just completely thought it either sold, or sat on it, or lost it.

And then I wake up one day to find out that Bitcoin is twenty thousand dollars. And I’m like “holy shit,” and I dug up my own Coinbase account and I’m like “there’s my 4 Bitcoin. And what is this? Bitcoin cash? And wow, there’s something else in here too. It’s like free money. Like, eighty thousand – I have like a hundred grand just sitting there. I’m like “what the heck? What if I had not sold those hundred?”

Like, yeah, my mind was spinning… that’s like kind of your story about sitting on billions and it’s gone the next day.

So I said to myself, “Okay, screw that. Don’t beat yourself up for what was probably a legitimate idea to transfer that money into real estate. But let’s learn about this stuff.”

And so I’m like, “I gotta google this. So I Google “Bitcoin investing” and whose face shows up?

James: Oh my god.

Mark: It’s yours.

James: Yeah, we basically bought the internet… yeah like, I was… my face was everywhere… I remember, during that time I went to Turks and calicos. And the guy on the beach who was setting up my umbrella, he was like “Aah, Bitcoin guy.”

Like everybody… and those were like those were like the worst ads, like I understand advertising has to do what it does. Like, I had a very particular perspective on Bitcoin. And I felt a lot of my readers were getting scammed by some of these other coins…

Mark: They were. Yes. Those ICOs were just complete crap.

James: Yeah, and so I wanted to put together a newsletter to sort of say “hey, this one’s legit, this one isn’t legit – this is the overall story of what’s going on with Bitcoin. Like, it’s not a trading vehicle, it’s a long-term story.”

But there’s this idea that – and I still don’t know if I believe it fully or not – but there’s this idea that if you’re competing against… if everyone else you’re competing against is using Machiavellian methods to get their users – like they’re doing whatever they can to get their customers – you have to use those methods too. Or else you’re not gonna have anybody listen to you.

And so I tried at first making my own ads. And it was true – I was getting like 1/100th the result. And so this marketing company that I was working with – they made the ads – and I’m like “oh my god, you can’t use those ads.”

And they’re like “just trust us. If you want anybody to listen to you at all, just close your eyes and let us use these ads.” And I still don’t know if I regret it or not, but they were right. Like, I did get customers.

I do feel it was because ultimately when people clicked through, my perspective was unique and special but…

Mark: Sure. The value of the content spoke for itself. I agree that the front door can be a little bit confusing or jarring.

James: Yeah, and people were just really tearing me apart – like, there was a lot of there was a lot of anguish. But people hated me. Just from the ads. And I’m like “just read the content.”

And they wouldn’t. And I lost friends over it, which of course they weren’t friends to begin with, you could say. But it’s still always surprising to find out who your real friends are. And it was wasn’t these people who were unfriending me, who I thought were the real friends.

But I did what I did and it worked out. And Bitcoin – even through this crisis – bitcoins not at 20,000 anymore. It’s at in the seven thousands.

But Bitcoin has survived. I mean, bitcoins doubled off the bottom in this crisis. And there’s hundreds of billions invested in Bitcoin. It’s here to stay, but obviously the story is taking a while to play out.

Mark: Yeah, well I think it’s such a threat to the reign of the fiat people and centralized government that the people are just still timid about putting their toe in. And also, probably – as you stated before – it’s just not easy to use for the average Joe. It wasn’t easy for me either. And I lost 4 Bitcoin by sending it to an Ethereum account once. I’m like “Hunh. I don’t even understand. Where’d my Bitcoin go?”

James: No, I agree with you. I complained about this to Coinbase in 2013, actually. That you can’t figure out… I could buy a Bitcoin but I can’t figure out anything to do with it. And it’s still kind of complicated…

Mark: It is.

James: But you look at the internet – the internet started in what 1971? 1969? Took a long time for them to build the tools to make it much easier to use. And I think it’ll be faster with Bitcoin.

Mark: Do you think there’s like a Netscape moment that’s coming soon for Bitcoin? Or are we still a few years off? That’s the user interface that kind of put it in the public’s hand.

James: Yeah, I don’t know, because I think what will happen first is and kind of maybe this coronavirus is gonna… the one thing about this – again, not so much the pandemic, but the reaction to it. The economic shutdown of the entire world – is that it’s gonna accelerate… anything that would have taken ten years from now, is probably gonna take one year from now.

So always the triggering factor for Bitcoin is gonna be some country is just gonna basically their currency is gonna die. And the entire population in that country, as a last gasp before they lose their wealth, is gonna switch to Bitcoin.

And you see it a little bit in Argentina – whenever Argentina has volatility in the peso – the Bitcoin spikes up. Because Argentinian wealth… they remember times as recently as the 80s where there was massive hyperinflation and the government stole half their money. And so Argentina’s constantly recycling into Bitcoin.

Iran, when we pulled out of the nuclear accords – Bitcoin price spiked. So you see this a little bit, but it hasn’t been the full… no country’s fully collapsed yet. But now with so much money printing around the world, it’s going to happen soon.

And it’s good to know that there’s something like Bitcoin out there, just in case we all need to flee the dollar even. I doubt it’s gonna happen anytime soon – at least for the dollar – it might happen still for Argentina or Iran or whatever…

But at least Bitcoin now is the flight to safety. More than more than gold is.

Mark: Yeah, and I agree with like Dorsey and other early adherents there’s generational wealth that’s already been made. And a lot still to be made, because it’s the couple hundred billions of dollars in is a really early adopters, right? Really early adopters.

And when you see the institutions come out and say “you know what? You know you got to have at least a few percentage of your portfolio in Bitcoin, even if it’s just a hedge or because it’s a non-correlated asset or whatever…

Then you can see potentially hundreds and hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, flowing into Bitcoin. And just like California coastal real estate – they’re not making any more of it, right? In fact, more is getting lost and four million or so have gotten lost.

So you have 17 million Bitcoin potential and every four years or so you know the having’s occur – which is right around the corner. So just from like supply and demand you look at that, and you’re like, “wow, I better learn about this,” right?

And I don’t usually talk about it, because I don’t want people think I’m a flake, but that’s going back to like I hate to be apologetic about something which I think is just incredibly transformative technology. And the block chain which Bitcoin built on has a potential to transform democracy. Has potential to transform capitalism.

And get the power out of the concentrated hands of the few and back to the many. And that to me is exciting.

James: Well, and you know every industry has a similar path of evolution. Of going from theism to humanism to dataism. So you look at like war for instance – 2,000 years ago if my tribe was going to war against your tribe – the night before, we’d all do a religious sacrifice. The shaman or priest would bless all the weapons and our spears. And then we’d go off to war, and if our god favored us, we’d win.

And it’s even in the bible. When Israel in the Old Testament was taken over by the Assyrians or whoever – it’s because they felt… the prophets then were saying “oh, we’ve sinned. And so we’re gonna get taken over.”

And so it was baked into how we conducted war. And then later it was more about humans. How many men can you get on the ground? Is it gonna be more than the other side? Do you have bullets? Do you have strategies?

Generals that would come up with strategies that were sophisticated. You know, the whole “Art of War” was from the Chinese – whenever that was written.

And now war is completely – not completely, not a hundred percent – but war’s being fought every day. Like there are hackers from North Korea, Russia, China, US… constantly trying to hack each other. And there’s so many different like attempts per day of cyber warfare that we can’t even imagine…

Mark: Some people think that corona is warfare. Bio warfare. I don’t buy into that, but some people think it’s credible.

James: I don’t buy into it either, but the reason they think it is because a virus is basically data. It’s a genetic sequence that we’ve mapped out completely. And they were afraid initially that they put extra-lethal pieces of RNA and DNA in the genetic sequence, of a more or less lethal virus and created this one.

Now that didn’t happen – or it seems like that didn’t happen – but now we’re used to thinking of war as data.

Another example is medicine. If you were sick a thousand years ago, you would go to your priest. Like, “please pray for me. Like, I’m sick.”

And then later it was you’d go to the doctor. And the doctors say take two aspirin, call me in the morning. Now it’s data “oh we’re gonna give you a test for antibodies and see what disease you have. And then the data will tell us what medicine you should have. And we’ll do bloodwork, and get your DNA work, and all these things.

So money – you look at the dollar bill – at first I was “in God we trust,” then “oh, just in case the God thing’s over, let’s put George Washington on there as well. Because at least they’ll trust him.”

And now we’re moving to… eventually it’s gotta evolve, like every other industry on the planet it’s got to evolve to data. And Bitcoin is the choice, it’s the only choice on the planet right now.

Mark: Right, and you’re gonna see I mean the digital yuan, that’s coming… Libra, like Facebook’s not going to abandon that product, that’s coming.

James: Yeah.

Mark: And so people who are right to not trust these centralized knockoffs, are gonna be like “Bitcoin is pretty… you know, it’s a pretty good place to put your money.” I think it’s more of a safe haven than a currency but it can be… with the Lightning Network, and other innovations down the road… it’ll be able to be used as both. It’ll be multifaceted.

James: Oh yeah, it has other applications as well, like you can create simple legal agreements with block chain and so on.

But you make a good point, it’s gonna be a store of value. It’s gonna be a flight to safety, first. So that’s why I don’t worry so much about the Netscape moment. I’m thinking more about when’s the Argentina moment. When the flight to safety becomes big.

And then like you said what’s gonna happen is people are gonna say “well isn’t Libra or the Chinese one isn’t that digital currency?” But then they’re gonna realize all of a sudden “oh wait. Facebook could just shut down my currency, if they want. Because it’s centralized. They could just turn off my software, like the way a phone company could turn off my phone. I don’t like that.”

Bitcoin is decentralized, it doesn’t have that that quote-unquote “feature.”

Mark: Right.



Mark: Yeah, we could talk about this all day, but I don’t want to bore anyone else out there who may be thinking “what are these guys going on about?”

Tell us about your book “Reinventing Yourself.” This is obviously something that a lot of people need to do right now. What are some of the core principles that you bring out in that?

James: It’s a really great point that I think from 2010 to 2015 people were in… after the financial crisis, from what I saw… and maybe you saw this as well… it took about six years for people to think “oh my gosh, the world’s not ending. And I can now really focus on success.” And whatever it is they were focusing on.

But before then, everybody had hit bottom in some form or other. And they were just trying to figure out “well, how can I avoid getting back into these situations where these gatekeepers were controlling everything in my life?” And so a gatekeeper might be a boss, it might be a professor, it might be your parents saying “you can’t do that for a living. You have to be doctor, just like your father.” Or whatever.

And we had all these… like if you wanted to write a book, you had to get an agent, and then get an editor, and get a publisher, and get a marketing firm. And get bookstores to like you. There’s all these gatekeepers.

If you wanted to start a company, you had to get a venture capitalist, and you had to find big customers… so we’re now in a world where it’s possible to eliminate the gatekeepers, it’s possible to ignore all the ‘worldly wisdom.’ “Oh, you have to go to college. And then you have to work at Goldman Sachs, if you want to be a successful banker or hedge fund manager.”

Or “you have to start in the mailroom, if you want to be a Hollywood director.” Like all these mythologies of what you have to do, no longer exist, right? It used to be the case, you had to go to a college campus to get a college degree. Now Harvard kicked you off the campus if you wanted to go there. And then they still took the money from the government… or until they were shamed into giving it back.

So there’s no rules now. And it’s possible to find out what your passion is, to switch your interests, switch your career and very quickly skip the line. And be in the top one or two percent of your career. And find success, again.

And if you kind of know which laws to… or which rules to break… not laws but rules to break. “Oh, are you telling me I don’t have to go to four years of college in order to be a successful computer programmer? Don’t I need a computer science degree?”

No, not at all. You just need to do things. You just need to program a computer and here’s some easy ways to learn. So that right away you’ll be better than anyone who did get the computer science degree.

And on and on, in every industry, there’s things you can figure out to kind of succeed very quickly without going the normal path. You kind of go your own way.

And it’s not like a shortcut either. You take a real path, but it’s the path – so to speak – least traveled.

Mark: Right, right. So we’ve already addressed kind of block chain programming – that would be a huge opportunity for peeps. Self-publishing – I know you’ve got a lot of self-published books.

My most successful book is my self-published book – “Unbeatable Mind.” It’s the one I make the most money on, too. So that’s the whole thing ‘nother thing…

James: Same here, by the way. I’ve published with mainstream and with self-published. I’m like half and half. By far my most successful is my self-published book “Choose Yourself.”

Mark: Right, so that’s a huge opportunity for people to build a business around that. What are some of the other big opportunities that you see? Like, that are crystal clear to you right now? And especially kind of this potential pivots or opportunities for people out of this crisis.

James: Well, it’s funny because everything e with the word “remote” in it is gonna win. So whether it’s remote medicine, remote learning, remote delivery, remote… dealing with the logistics of much more complicated delivery systems. So transportation companies that deal with logistics.

So all of these things will be big. But I admit, there is a lot of uncertainty about what’s gonna happen next. And where all this stimulus money is gonna…

It’s gonna kind of find hidden pockets to flow. And we’ll see what really booms. But I do think creating content… you know, we see now content is not only king, content is the ruler of the world. So we’re all glued…

You know, Netflix and Facebook and google, they all had to agree to reduce the quality of their videos, because it was taking him too much bandwidth. People were consuming too much content during this lockdown. So they all reduced the quality of their videos by 25%, so that the internet backbone…

Mark: I didn’t know that. Interesting.

James: Yeah. And so any kind of content creation… again, finding what you what you love doing and what you love writing about or what you love making videos about. And content creation is gonna be big. Online schooling is gonna be huge. If you can think of an online course – even if you can’t think of one -everybody’s got something – like combine two ideas – paleo and vegan – make the paleo-vegan diet. Write a hundred paleo vegan recipes. Now you have a book, podcast, video series and an online course. Just do it.

Mark: Just do it. I just wrote that down. Like “hmm, I think I’ll do that.” Like, unbeatable paleo-vegan diet.

James: Or here’s another one – like right now everyone’s sitting at home. There’s 26 million unemployed there’s plenty of opportunities to be – let’s call it a virtual assistant, where you help companies or CEOs deal with their social media, or their travel arrangements. With their living arrangements. With gift buying… whatever.

And then you do that for a while. Now you can outsource a lot of what you’re doing to your virtual assistants in India. You’re charging twenty five an hour they’re charging you one an hour. And now you can make a course about how you did it. And videos about how you do it. And talk to other people about how they’re doing it.

And so there’s lots of… any opportunities you could find around the word “remote.” I would put “remote” on like the center of a whiteboard. And figure out how many spokes come out of that word.

And there’s gonna be opportunities everywhere with that. And self-publishing.

You could write… people don’t believe me when I say this, but you could write two or three books a month pretty easily. And get a couple hundred dollars a month per book. And then over the course of a year, you’re suddenly making 10 to 20 thousand a month from all these books that you’ve published. You could publish like 30 books in a year, 40 books in a year… when you’re self-published, there’s no page limit… like, I’m writing a book now for a publisher – I got to come up with 250 pages.

But if you self-published on amazon it could be 30 pages in have just as much value.

Mark: Just a quick how-to, and they sell pretty well. I mean, they’re priced a lot lower, but I agree with that.

You have a self-publishing course from choose yourself media. Where can people find out about it? Just google that?

James: Yeah, yeah. Even if they go to, there’s probably some link through there to get to my self-publishing course. But you know, that’s also stuff – I’ve written a lot of the material for free… I would encourage people to just search James Altucher self-publishing – see what I’ve written for free on the topic, because a lot of that’s covered in the course.

And I’ve even written some posts recently “30-day book challenge.”

I was gonna bring that up, because people sometimes need a challenge or need some accountability, right? Because they got all these ideas and they don’t know where to start and so they don’t start anywhere.

Because you’re just flooded with options and opportunity which then actually. There’s another way to paralyze into doing nothing, but you set up this challenge just say “hey, write a book in 30 days.”

And then then what? Like, the best one wins kind of thing or how does that work?

James: No, no, no. It’s like let’s say you were interested in negotiation, okay? And there are these websites the one is called There are these websites that are huge databases of academic research.

Now academic research is poorly written – almost by definition – so if you go to, type in “negotiation” or “habits” or… I don’t know… “cooking.” Whatever topic you’re interested in.

Guaranteed there are hundreds of papers written at MIT, Stanford, universities all around the world about let’s call it “persuasion.” Then you take the 30 best papers that resonate with you, summarize them in layman’s terms – because that’s the one thing those papers haven’t been able to do – and now you have a tech… each paper is like a persuasion technique.

Now find an example from your life and just a paragraph or two where you’ve used this technique. Find an example from history where this technique was used.

And that’s your chapter for the day. Do that every day and you have a book with 30 persuasion techniques that are scientifically tested by academic research, but also historically verified with your examples. And you have personal stories about each one.

Now you have a 30 to 40 to 50 page book. Go to 99designs, get a cover. Slap your cover on it, upload it to amazon. You have a book in 30 days – that might be a best-seller. You never know. But if you do it every month, you can have 12 books, one of them is gonna be a best-seller.

Mark: (laughing) Love it. Have you had anyone who’s gone all in like that and committed to doing a book a month for a year?

James: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And some of those people make a lot of money. I know one guy who’s written hundreds of books and he’s making a very good living. And you know, again, there’s all sorts of strategies like you could buy things – there’s a very typical, almost cliché strategies you can buy things cheap in china on Alibaba that come and sell them for more expensive prices on amazon.

That was – for a long time a very successful strategy. Now it’s very common. But the same strategy now, you can use Africa instead of china. So African trade barriers, borders are going down. And there’s more manufacturing happening there. And there are websites that will connect you with manufacturing there. You can buy things cheap, sell them expensive here.

So there’s all sorts of strategies out there for reinventing yourself, making money so you can focus on what you love… like for me, my skill set turned out to be good with super-passive investing.

Like, if someone’s smarter than me… my criteria for investment is if someone smarter than me is going in this investment at the same terms as me, I don’t even have to know what the company does. I’ll just write a check.

And if the company ever calls me for advice, that means they’re out of business. Because if they have to call me when the smarter people are standing around then I know they’re in trouble.

And so that allows me to pursue podcasting and other things that aren’t as quick to make a lot of money.

Mark: Mm-hmm. You’re an idea machine. And I know we got a wrap up here, cause I could talk to you forever. This is a lot of fun.

James: Yeah. I’m having a great time.

Mark: You’re an idea machine, and you’ve already proven that on this podcast, right? You’re just spinning out ideas.

How can someone who’s listening begin to generate the idea muscle? Their own idea muscle?

James: So what I did… when I was really at just bottom in like 2002, I was losing my house, losing my family. I had no job opportunities. I was broke. I was defaulting on everything, and I had no friends. Because once you go from rich to broke, you have no more friends anymore. Barely have family.

And so I got this box of… for some reason I walked into a restaurant supply store and I got this box of waiter pads. For ten dollars…

Mark: Those little green pads with lines on them?

James: Yeah. And they’re great because you can’t like write a novel on them. You could only bullet point things. And so I started writing down ten ideas a day on these pads.

Mark: But where did that inspiration come from?

James: It came from – I had one idea for a book, and I the very first list I did, was I outlined the chapters of this book. And then the next day I outlined each chapter, and so I realized it was ten… I wouldn’t stop unless I had ten bullet points. So ten bullet points for each chapter.

And then the next day, I just randomly here’s ten people I would like to meet. And then with each person… the next day I started doing “here’s ten ideas that I should give Jeff Bezos about Amazon.”

So the idea is I wouldn’t use the ideas for anything, but I realized over time I started getting enthusiastic. I don’t know what happened. I think the dopamine in my brain would get excited in the morning to write my ten ideas down. It would be the first thing I do every day.

And I started writing ten ideas a day down. And after like three or four months, it was literally like I was an idea machine. I was just generating non-stop ideas.

And every time I’ve stopped that practice, it would be as if I had a lobotomy or something. Like my brain wouldn’t function anymore.

And that’s why I would go broke all these times. And so now I just never give up. I always write ten ideas a day down. Even if they’re the worst ideas.

I mean I had an idea list the other day. It was just crazy business ideas that I knew specifically were bad ideas.

I’ll give you an example – I’ll give you just one example from that list – I called it “black-hole astrology.” So it was astrology, but take into account the gravitational influence of black holes as well as the planets. And it’s a horrible idea, but could you imagine if you’re the expert black hole astrologer, you’re the only one doing that.

Mark: (laughing) You’re the only one doing it. You might uncover the vast secrets of the universe.

James: So that’s why the ideas don’t have to be good, it’s just exercise.

Mark: You’re right. You’re just stimulating the brain to think. And it’s journaling in a sense. Short… it’s Twitter journaling. You’re just not sharing it with anyone.

James: Like I always was sit… when I have a seven ideas out of the 10, I feel like my brain sweating like eight, nine and ten is always hard.

Mark: Do you ever stop before you get to 10? Or do you force yourself to hit 10?

James: No, it’s the discipline. Because I know the first seven are always gonna be easy and you do it to get to eight, nine and ten.

Mark: And how long does it take you, generally?

James: About 20 minutes to a half hour.

Mark: That’s great. It’s almost a mindfulness practice, right? Of some sort. Or it’s definitely a mental training, focusing exercise that rivals anything that we learned in yoga. For sure.

James: Oh yeah. And every business I’ve ever started… every time I go to a board meeting or a podcast or whatever… I’m always writing down ten ideas of things… if I’m going to a board meeting, here’s ten ideas for the company. If I’m meeting someone, here’s ten ideas for them.

And then I share as many ideas as possible. So sharing ideas has gotten me visits out to amazon, google, LinkedIn, Facebook… because I’m always just sharing as many ideas as possible. Because when you’re abundant with ideas – if they steal the ideas, go for it. Like I have 10,000 more coming.

Mark: That’s awesome. And so I guess this kind of brings the journey to a close, but how the hell do you do it all, right? Everyone asked me that myself, and so I explained my little operating rhythm. And how I’d get a lot accomplished.

But like, you’re off the charts. How do you fit it all in? What’s your productivity hack or time management secret?

James: Well I think… and this I realized the hard way… but the average – let’s say the average employee at a job… it turns out the average employee at an eight-hour job works 2 hours and 53 minutes a day. And they track like “oh, they spend this many minutes on social media. This on the phone with friends. This gossiping at the watercooler. This on a lunch break.”

And so already most of the time per day is not… you just have to reclaim that time or some of that time, because you get all your productivity done – you get all your work done anyway in those two hours 53 minutes.

You could then start spending time on other things that you want to be productive on. And even those two hours, you could get a lot accomplished if you really measure where you’re the most productive. What is paying off the most?

And you could reduce your hours worked incredibly, but that doesn’t mean you just take off the rest of the time. It means now you have more time to be productive in other areas of life. But then also more time with family, and friends… and focus on being well-rounded. And so on.

But like for me, for instance, on a typical day I would play online chess maybe for two hours a day. Or I would just like scroll down Twitter or something. And then even doing things that I thought were productive, I would say to myself “you know, it’s not really as productive as I thought it was.” Or “yes, I love doing this one thing like playing chess. Do I need to do it two hours a day to get the satisfaction from it? Or I perform a lot of stand-up comedy… perform all over the world actually and that’s actually a huge waste of time.

Mark: (laughing) I was gonna say, that does sound like time consuming…

James: So instead of like going to the local club and performing in front of 20 tourists from Norway – I come on here and I try to make you laugh – that’s how I practice that muscle a little bit. And so now I don’t have to I don’t have to go to the Netherlands anymore to travel all around there and waste a couple weeks of my life doing it.

You know, that was fun but other times I’ve traveled, so…

Mark: So it comes back to choosing the right things to focus on and then really focusing on them. Get shit done.

James: And measuring what really is productive… kind of what is really kind of aligning with your goals in life… like, do you want to spend more time with family? Do I want to make 20 people laugh or do I want to move the lives and minds of a million people.

So if I perform stand-up comedy seven nights a week, I would miss out on every other opportunity. Because it would just be too draining.

Mark: What’s gonna happen to your comedy club? And that’s the place you used to do all your podcasting. Are you gonna try to reboot that? Or are you gonna move on to something different?

James: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, the funny thing is we were kind of thinking about selling it. And we had some interest before this happened. But I think the big media company that was interested might be going bankrupt right now.

And so we’ll see. But I don’t know if people are gonna be that interested in going to sit in a crowded room – sitting next to each other to watch a comedian. You know, most comedians are just up there, it’s just kind of mediocre and you know I don’t know if standup comedies gonna come back.

We did get the PPP loans for that. And you know I’m not involved in the day-to-day. I got it just so… it’s across the street for me, so I don’t have to travel far if I want to work out a routine or something. But I don’t know what they’ll do, ultimately.

Like I kind of am secretly hoping they just put it out of business. Kill it while the goings good.

Mark: It makes sense.

Well, James, man I’ve really had a good time talking. Tons and tons of insight. Has really been an honor and I appreciate your time.

James: Yeah thanks for having me on the podcast. This is great. I’m gonna order your latest book, the self-published one? Or your latest book was it self-published, or is it…?

Mark: That was Macmillan – St. Martin’s press “Staring down the Wolf.” Self-published one is called “Unbeatable Mind.”

But, yeah, thanks. That’d be really awesome.

James: I am clicking I’m clicking “buy now” on the hardcover right now. On Amazon. See, I buy books now…

Mark: I love books too. I’m all about reading. I got stacks and stacks of them. My wife thinks I’m absolutely nuts.

James: I know. Physical books are good. I did miss that.

Mark: I would need literally to take a year reading vacation to get through them all. Which I’d love to do some time, maybe I will.

So, Choose Yourself Media, What other places that people can go or where would you like people to go to learn more about your work?

James: TikTok. Jamesaltucher. During this quarantine, I’ve been playing around with making 15-second videos

Mark: (laughing) oh my god. My seven-year-old granddaughter is into TikTok. Is that something we need to put on our radar now? Holy cow.

James: It’s just a different kind of creativity. It’s an unusual kind of… how to tell a story in 15 seconds that is either funny, or interesting, or surprising in some way… and then you have music associated with it, and it’s an interesting kind of creativity, so I’ve been enjoying it.

Mark: Tiktok. I love that.

All right, well regardless of where people find you, all they got to do is Google James Altucher.

James: Yeah. That’s the best way. I’m big on Google.

Mark: And I highly recommend – I’ve looked at your self-publishing course – if anyone’s wants to get into self-publishing, what a great way to start and be held accountable for that. And join your newsletter… you’re one of the few people still sends out an actual physical piece of paper newsletter.

James: Yeah, it’s really nicely designed. I’m really happy with it.

Mark: Yeah, it’s great stuff.

And so good luck with everything, and I appreciate your time today. And stay focused, and keep on creating.

James: All right. Thanks a lot, Mark. Let’s definitely keep in touch and look, I’m gonna read your book… you come on my podcast, and we’ll do this again.

Mark: I would be thrilled to do that. I appreciate that.

James: We’ll definitely make that happen.

Mark: Alright, buddy. You take care.

All right folks, James Altucher. Go check him out. Choose yourself media. Check out his books “Choose Yourself” and “Reinvent Yourself” and let’s go support the hell out of James. And stay safe and stay focused. We’ll get through this COVID pandemic and we’ll get through the scamdemic. We’ll come through this stronger, all of us, we work together.


Divine out.

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