How To Become an Idea Machine
by James Altucher: How
To Deal With Burnout, Get Rich Quick Schemes, Stage Fright, and
Francis ?@KellyFrancisLaw: How do you know when you’re
thinking too big or aiming too high (if that’s even possible)?
In the mid-90s
I had an idea that lasted about the amount of time it takes to drink
two beers. I say this because I had the idea at a bar and it was
quickly squashed by the two friends I was with.
I wanted to
create a reality cable channel. All reality TV all the time. Reality
TV was just beginning. “MTV’s
The Real World” and HBO’s “Taxicab
Confessions” were the only real two successful examples
at that point. The day before, I had gone to a seminar at the Museum
of Television and Radio about “The Real World”. All
of the guests of my favorite season (but not Puck or Pedro, who
was dead) were there answering questions. I felt reality TV was
a cheap way to produce TV and people would get obsessed by it, particularly
if sex was involved.
a dumb idea,” a friend said. “There’s only so
much reality.” Which strikes me as funny now.
The other guy
said, “you’re not a big TV company. How will you get
the cable companies to go for the idea?”
So I never
thought about it again. I put up a fence around the idea and decided
I would not be able to leap over that fence to execute on the idea.
Now EVERY television channel is basically all reality all the time,
or at least 50% of the time.
My real problem
was: I didn’t have confidence. And I didn’t
know what the next step was. In retrospect, I should’ve written
down my idea, written down ten ideas for possible shows to launch
with, and started pitching TV companies to get someone to partner
with me on it. That would’ve been simple and not taken too
much time before there was some payoff.
might be too big for you (thinking of the next step) might not be
too big for someone else (they might easily know, and not be afriad
of, what the next step is).
I was first
asked a similar question a few months ago and I replied that an
idea would be too big if you can’t think of the next step.
I then added that if I wanted to start an airline with more comfortable
seats and internet access and better food and cheaper prices I might
have a hard time because even if it were a good idea I wouldn’t
know what to do next.
Then I read
about Richard Branson.
Records was making him a tidy profit of about $15 million a year
he decided there should be a more comfortable cross-atlantic airline.
What the hell did he know about making an airline? Nothing. Not
only that, airlines are a difficult business. Three of the best
investors in history: Howard Hughes, Carl Icahn, and Warren Buffett
have crashed and burned buying airlines. Warren Buffett once said
something like “that the best way to end up with a billion
is to start with two and buy an airline. ”
And yet Branson
came up with the idea and that very day he called up Boeing to find
out what it would cost to lease an airplane. He made a great deal
with them that if it didn’t work out he could return the airplane.
Else if it did work out, he’d be a great customer for them.
I’m assuming he made a similar call to Airbus and took the
best deal. He then probably found out what it cost to lease space
in the various airports he would need to use. They were probably
happy with more business. And then, I’m guessing, he hired
some pilots, some ground crew, and put an ad in the paper advertising
his new air routes and he was in business.
is successful (I just flew it from NY to LA a few weeks ago) and
has since spun off Virgin Galactic. So this scruffy kid who started
a record label is now sending rocketships into space.
Note the important
thing: the day he came up with the idea he also called Boeing and
got a plane from them. So he took the next step.
For me, I would’ve convinced myself that the “next step”
in starting an airline was too big for me. And then it would’ve
been too big for me. This is not quite the same as “the secret”
– the idea that our thoughts can create our reality but…they
do. If you think you can do something, if you have confidence, if
you have creativity (developed by building up your idea muscle discussed
in many other posts here), the big ideas become smaller and smaller.
Until there is no idea too big. Nothing you can’t at least
On a much smaller
scale I can state a few examples of my own but I’ll stick
with one. I had an idea to create a financial news site that didn’t
have any news but was just a site made up of various methods to
come up with investment ideas. In particular, by piggybacking the
investment ideas of the greatest investors. I spec-ed out the site
the morning I had the idea, I put the spec on elance.com, several
developers contacted me with prices, and I hired one of them. Within
a few weeks, version 1.0 of the site was released, stockpickr.com.
7 months later and millions of unique users later, I sold the profitable
company to thestreet.com.
So the question
is not necessarily, “when is an idea too big” it’s:
“how do I make all ideas smaller and achievable”.
You do this by developing the idea muscle:
Every day, read/skim, chapters from books on at least four different
topics. For myself this morning I read from a biography
of Mick Jagger, I read a chapter from Regenesis,
a book on advances in genetic engineering, a topic I know nothing
about. I read a chapter in Tiny
Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Her recent book, Wild
is an Oprah pick and was also excellent. I read a chapter from Myths
to Live By by Joseph Campbell, and I, to waste time, I played
a game of chess online.
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 want your
brain to sweat.
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© 2012 The
Best of James Altucher