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Do this to ACHIEVE your Full Potential FASTER | James Altucher | The 2%

Eric Partaker

What if I told you that you could skip the line? That thousands and thousands of hours are no longer the key to success! Would you believe me? Join James Altucher (Hedge Fund Manager, Author, Podcaster and Entrepreneur) and Eric Partaker as they share tips on how to reach your full potential and discuss the secrets that led to James becoming the successful Entrepreneur he is today.


Skip the line! – There will always be people who want to tell you ‘You can’t do it. You cannot skip the line. Stay in line, pay your dues. It’s not going to happen.’ When someone tells you this, they are imprinting their own goals on you, their truths, not yours.

Efficiency is the Answer – 1% of your focus could generate 50% of the benefits you seek in life. So be aware of yourself when you are doing something mindlessly, or you’re not optimizing your training and your study. Inefficiency is a waste of time.

The Power of 10 – Spend 20-30 minutes a day writing 10 ideas down. Exercise your idea muscle. Use this list to focus on businesses you could start or industries that could be disrupted and changed, or things in life that could be better.

Stress Creates Strength – Stress the muscle to cause it to grow. Put in the effort and work hard in order to level up.

Broadcast Your Ideas – Sharing ideas builds a network, people learn to trust you, people try your ideas. Don’t stress about people stealing your ideas. If you are exercising the power of 10, by tomorrow you will have 10 more ideas. Be abundant with ideas, as opposed to scarce.

Create the Room that Nobody Else is in – If you’re the only one, you are going to get known. Not only will you be noticed but with the skills that you are combining you might be the best in the world.

The Only Failure is Not Trying – Experiment with your ideas using these three rules. It should cost almost nothing, it should be very fast to do, and there should be little downside. In the worst case scenario, even if you do not succeed, you will still learn something. The upside is you could gain a huge business out of it.

Love What You Do – If part of your energy is used convincing yourself to try the idea, that’s energy inefficiency. If you love something, you can use that energy that would have been required to convince yourself to work harder on your idea and do it better.

Plus, Minus, Equals – PLUS: find yourself a mentor to learn about the top echelons of the industry. EQUALS: Find people who are like you, who are interested in your industry, and with whom you are roughly at the same level. Challenge each other and compare ideas. MINUS: Less is more. Learn how to teach and explain your ideas simply. If you cannot explain something simply, then you do not truly understand it.


James Altucher:It’s important to love what you do, because let’s say you’re a writer, but you don’t love it. If you don’t love it, part of your energy, when you sit down to write, is convincing yourself to write. But if you love something, you can use that energy that would’ve been required to convince yourself to do it. If you use that energy now to write better, every time I wanted to change interests, somebody was always there saying, “You can’t do that. You didn’t get an MBA. You didn’t work at a big bank.” When you’re passionate about something, sure it would be great in the top 10 in the world, but to monetize, you really maybe need to be in the top 1%. 
Eric Partaker:Welcome everyone to another episode of The 2%, where we have incredible conversations with even more incredible peak performers to help decode excellence so that you can unlock your full potential. I’m super excited to have as a guest on the show today, James Altucher. Now, James is an amazing guy. He’s been a… Well, set up a venture fund, he’s an active investor. He’s coded his own software, created software companies. He’s written over 20 books. As a matter of fact, that’s one of the things that we’re going to be talking about today. This is his latest book, Skip the Line, which I just read, actually rammed with all types of notes and highlights. So, we’re going to be talking about that today. 
 But yeah, very excited to have James on the show, and James, welcome to The 2%. 
James Altucher:Eric, thank you for having me on the show. It’s a real honor to be here. 
Eric Partaker:Thank you. So, one of the things I love about you, James, is that you’ve changed careers so much. When I read about your story, I can personally relate to it. I’ve done everything from being a doorman, to selling chocolate door-to-door, to building a landscaping company, and then I was a strategy consultant for McKinsey. Then, I joined Skype in the early days, before we sold it to eBay, just a random order of things. I always felt kind of odd in that respect, and then I look at your career profile and I go, “Oh gosh, he’s done a similar sort of thing.” I’m just so curious, two things. One, could you give the audience just a quick rundown of some of those pivotal career changes for you, and even more importantly, what’s the driver for that? Do you think it’s something that’s always been in you, or is it something that came later in life? 
James Altucher:I’ve, unfortunately, had to change career many times because I went broke. Let’s say, in the ’90s, I started a business. I sold it. I did very well. And then, I went broke. That was over 20 years ago. I made bad decisions and lost all my money. I made millions and lost it, and it wasn’t so easy then for me to just start another business, so I had to switch careers. I went into the business of… I started running a hedge fund, it’s the business of investing. I’ve always loved writing. For 30 years, I’ve written every single day. But, about 20 years ago, I started writing about investing, because that’s what I was doing, also, for a career, running a hedge fund. 
 That led to book deals and writing more and more, and so over the past 20 years, I’ve written 25 books or so, most of them not about investing. The writing itself morphed into its own full career. And then, writing led to podcasting, which is really a different kind of career. Along the way, I have passions, so I was interested in standup comedy, so I really wanted to good at it and then make money at it. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, so I started different businesses related to my passions, made different investments related to my passions, built up a network that way. Ever since I was a kid, I was a chess master, so that’s not necessarily something I monetize, but it’s something I spend time on. Of course, I’ve been a computer programmer. I’ve been, again, an entrepreneur in different fields, an investor in different fields, a podcaster. I’ve interviewed all sorts of people. 
 So, a lot of it happens naturally, but a lot of times… I’ve gone broke several times. Every time you go broke, I also have to reinvent myself with a new career or a new type of business and so on. The key is, I kept reading to get good at something, you have to do 10,000 hours of it. This struck me as BS for two reasons. One is, I don’t think I had spent 10,000 hours on anything except for maybe writing, and I sold several businesses. I was successful in a variety of areas. Also, when you’re passionate about something, sure it would be great to be in the top 10 in the world, but to monetize, you really maybe need to be in the top 1%, which is a big difference. 
 In Skip the Line, I write about all my techniques for getting in the top 1% of a brand new passion or interest or field that you’re in. Not only that, and many books don’t address this, not only how to get good at something but then how to monetize it. Even though it’s a completely different topic, it’s of course related. Why not make money doing something you love, as opposed to just having your love be your hobby. The genesis of this book, really, was every time I wanted to change interests, somebody was always there saying, “You can’t do that. You didn’t get an MBA. You didn’t work at a big bank. You haven’t risen up since you were 15 years old in the comedy world. You’re too old to be a computer programmer,” or whatever. 
 There’s always people who want to tell you, “You can’t do it. You can’t skip the line. Stay in line, pay your dues. Don’t think you can just start off and be the best and take over. That’s not going to happen.” There’s so many negative people. That’s why I called the book Skip the Line, because I’ve done it. I’ve seen many people do it, and I didn’t want to base it on academic research. These are actually the techniques I use, so that’s the genesis of the book, really. 
Eric Partaker:Yeah, and it’s so liberating, too, to realize that we can pretty much do whatever we set our minds to do, that we don’t need to go through all those prerequisites. You have so many quotes in the book that I love. One in particular, you say, “Understand that when someone tells you can’t do something, they are imprinting their own goals on you, their truths, not yours.” 
James Altucher:Right. They’re the ones who can’t do it. They’re the ones who wouldn’t dream of skipping the line the way you are. There’s a little bit of fear in that when they tell you, “You can’t.” They don’t want you to do something they concluded was impossible, which is a little bit of jealousy. It’s also a little bit of care for you. They don’t want you to get hurt, maybe? They don’t want to lose the person they knew, because if you skip the line, you’re not going to be the same person that they knew, the person who before you skipped the line. 
Eric Partaker:Yeah, yeah. Exactly. The book is jampacked with techniques. One of the techniques that you talk about, you root it originally in the Pareto principle, the 80/20 principle, and you take that a couple of layers deep, so that mathematically, we arrive at take an 80/20 or the 80/20, and then an 80/20 of that. We get close to a 50/1 rule, whereby 1% of your focus could generate 50% of the benefits that you seek in life. If we were to apply the 50/1 rule to the techniques in this book- 
James Altucher:Oh, that’s a good question. 
Eric Partaker:What’s the answer? 
James Altucher:Well, I think the answer is efficiency. I’ll give you a kind of laboratory example, not academic, but laboratory that I’m doing on myself. I mentioned earlier, I’m a strong chess master. That was a little bit of an exaggeration. I was one. When I was a kid, which was a long time ago, I was a strong, young… In my state that I’m from, I was the under-21 champion, and I was strong. But if you don’t do something for 30 years, like any muscle, it atrophies until you can’t do it at all. 
 After this TV show, The Queen’s Gambit, came out, I would go online and play chess, and I sucked. I was the worst I’ve ever been, maybe in my entire life. It was as if I had never played at all. So, I said, “Okay, I’m going to just use the techniques in my book, nothing else. I’m going to be completely efficient. I’m not going to mindless games. I’m just going to use, very specifically, the techniques in the book.” I’m going to get as good as I was at my peak, which was very, very strong, but I’m also going to get even better than I was. 
 It’s about three and a half months later, and I’ve only used the techniques in the book. I didn’t waste any time. Three and a half months later, I’m probably now a little bit better than I was at my peak, and I’m aiming for much more. That was strictly using the techniques in the book. There’s a lot of ways… People sometimes play tennis or play a game or do something mindlessly forever, and they never get better. That’s the thing with chess or tennis, whatever. If you just keep making the same bad habits over and over again, you’re never going to get better, so playing games doesn’t actually make you better. 
 I’ve proved to myself that using these techniques would make me a lot better very quickly. I would say then, efficiency, be very aware of yourself when you’re doing something mindlessly, or you’re not optimizing your training and your study. A lot of the other techniques in the book are intended to do that. I have a chapter on microskills. What a microskill is, people don’t really think about a lot. If I say, “Oh, I’m good at business.” That doesn’t mean anything. Business is not a skill. It’s a basket of many totally unrelated skills. Marketing has nothing to do with execution. It has nothing to do with coming up with ideas. It has nothing to do with management or negotiation or even sales. Marketing and sales are two different things. These are all separate skills that can be learned. 
 Maybe that’s obvious to some people but not really. People think, “Oh, you need to be good at all these things,” or, “You need to just be good at business in general.” That doesn’t mean anything. You have to kind of make a study program that’s specifically, “Okay, here’s how I’m going to get better at sales. Here’s how I’m going to get better at negotiation. Here’s how I’m going to get better at…” blah blah blah. It’s the same thing, like with chess, I’m not just learning chess, I’m learning there’s openings, middle games, endgames, tactics, positional play, and on and on. You need to use these techniques for each one of those things. That’s how you apply the 1% effort to get 50% of the value. 
Eric Partaker:Fantastic. I love the efficiency angle. That’s a good segue to- 
James Altucher:I’m sorry. I just want to add one more thing. 
Eric Partaker:Yeah. 
James Altucher:The 50/1 rule… So, just for the listeners who don’t, the 80/20 rule roughly means, in the business context as an example, 20% of your employees will generate 80% of the sales. If you have 100 employees, 20 of those employees actually generate most of the work. If you’re a big programming project, 20% of your programmers will generate 80% of the program. What does that mean? How could 1% generate 50%? How could 1% of your employees generate 50% of the revenues? Well, think about it. In most companies, it’s true. The CEO is the 1% that generates the 50% of the revenues in most cases. Or, do you play Scrabble? 
Eric Partaker:Yeah. 
James Altucher:In Scrabble, if you want to beat everybody, except the 50% who really take it seriously, the 1% has just memorized the 104 two-letter words, legal two-letter words. If you know X-I, X-U, Q-I, Z-A are words, that’s great, because it’s hard to get rid of Xs, Zs, and Qs, and it gives you a huge advantage, huge, over the average player. Not a superior player, but the average player. You needed to know just 1% of knowledge about words, even less, and that’ll result in 50% of your wins. 
Eric Partaker:Fantastic. When we talk about learning, because a lot of the changes that you’ve made, a lot of the changes that I’ve made, they force, they require us to schedule learning into our day, right? 
James Altucher:Yeah. 
Eric Partaker:It needs to be programmed into the day. You talked about efficiency, and I love in the book, you approach the lack of efficiency from two different directions. So one, you approach it from how many hours in the day are actually productive. I think the stat that you use is there’s a couple. And then you approach it from the other direction, you say, “Well, how many days from ink,” they listed all these minutes spent on unproductive stuff. It comes to about roughly to the same number, which when I’ve done a quick extrapolation, and if we look at unproductive minutes in a day, then it’s like 28% of a workday. If you extrapolate that across a number of work weeks in a year, that means that the average person is losing 13 weeks a year, an entire calendar quarter. Right? 
James Altucher:Yeah, I mean, it’s horrible. I have taken a break from social media. When my books came out, I had to go back on social media a little bit. You have to promote the book, and that’s where I have my audience. I’ve had different periods, but particularly since November to now, I’ve completely eliminated almost all social media. You save so much time. Sure, some people say, “Hey, where are you? I haven’t seen you around lately,” but they weren’t really seeing me around anyway. They were just seeing me on social media. Once you’re back, you’re back. Everyone forgets that you were gone for a little bit. Being good at Instagram doesn’t really enhance career, unless you have millions of Instagram followers. Being good at Twitter very rarely enhances anything in your career, it’s all just inefficient time. 
 I love watching TV, so I don’t really like to cut that, but I will only watch things that I love. I won’t watch random… I won’t channel flip. I like good storytelling, and television’s a great medium for that, so I’ll watch something that I think is great. Other people might not, but that’s up to them. 
Eric Partaker:What’s your favorite show at the moment? 
James Altucher:At the moment, I have a couple actually. I always have a couple. I am still watching the 11th season of Shameless, which is a great show in the US. There’s a show that I just discovered, during this pandemic, called Atlanta, which stars the rapper, singer Childish Gambino. His real name is Donald Glover. I didn’t realize how brilliant he was. He directs, writes, created, produces, stars in it. It’s just a great show. 
Eric Partaker:I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, and I just- 
James Altucher:Oh, Breaking Bad is unbelievable. 
Eric Partaker:Yeah. 
James Altucher:That’s the best show of all time. 
Eric Partaker:I’ve just started watching it right now. I’m like on Season Two, so I have all of this time ahead of me to check it out. 
James Altucher:I’ve watched that whole series maybe four or five times. 
Eric Partaker:Wow. 
James Altucher:Yeah. If a series is like art, I will re-watch it, because there’s not really that many series, or shows, that are real works of art. Breaking Bad is definitely top 10 on anybody’s list who’s seen it. 
Eric Partaker:Yeah well, so far the character development is just off the charts. Okay. Let’s play a game, James. Let’s fast forward 18 months, you’ve gone broke again. What’s the likely cause? 
James Altucher:Totally possible, but hopefully not. If I go broke again, this is what I would do. First off, I would do, again specifically, the techniques in this book. Every day, I write 10 ideas down. Not ideas for businesses… Sometimes ideas for businesses, sometimes ideas for books, sometimes ideas for the podcast, sometimes for other people’s podcasts. Sometimes, I will write 10 ideas that Google should do, and I’ll send them to Google, or I’ll write 10 ideas for Amazon and send them to Amazon. 
 None of this is to get results, the idea of this, of writing 10 ideas a day, is to exercise the idea muscle. Again, like any muscle, it atrophies. People think, “Oh, when inspiration hits me, I’ll know it.” People don’t really know it. Inspiration hits them every day, they don’t really know it. The idea muscle atrophies extremely quickly, and you only exercise it… You have to exercise it every day, so the way I exercise it every day is writing, specifically, 10 ideas a day down. I don’t keep track of them. Most of the ideas are bad. It’s just exercise. Every now and then, some ideas are good. 
 Now that I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I will start targeting my idea lists to focus on businesses I could do, or industries that still could be disrupted and changed and so on, or things that I do in my life that could be better. I will start thinking, if there’s an idea I like, then the next day I’ll make an idea list of, “Okay, what are the 10 first steps if I were wanting to try this,” or, “What are 10 experiments I could do that could validate that this is a good idea and not a bad idea?”. Most people, when they have a business idea, there’s a cognitive bias to think, “This is the best idea on the planet,” when most of the time, it’s still a bad idea. Until you really validate it, it’s a bad idea. Most ideas are bad. 
 So, that’s how I would start off. I have a chapter in the book called Spoke and Wheel. You can’t just have one spoke, like, “I’ll start a business.” You have to have multiple. So, maybe I’ll start gearing my podcast towards that industry, and I’ll start building my network. Let’s say I wanted my podcast to make millions of dollars. I would start networking the podcast a little more. I’d start figuring out best practices for advertising it, then maybe I’ll even write a newsletter, Best Practices for a Podcast. That’s another spoke. I could either charge for that or advertise once it builds an audience. 
 Again and again, whenever you have one good idea, that means there’s multiple spokes. “Oh, I have a good idea for a restaurant that’s very different and unique.” That might mean I can create a new kind of software reservation system, because I have ideas there. It might mean I might have a new way of hiring, because hiring is very complicated with restaurants post-pandemic. Everyone left town, and people don’t want to commit to a job where there might be a shutdown, and they’re laid off again, so hiring has become a difficult problem. Could that be a business? Maybe a better business idea than even owning a restaurant. Maybe it will be a business, or maybe I’ll write a high-end newsletter for restaurant owners. Here’s new technologies that will help you in the restaurant business, given the problems post-pandemic. So again, the wheels start, so one business could lead to multiple ideas that could be one overriding business. 
Eric Partaker:I like how you talk about how it’s an exercise, because it makes me think about antifragility. 
James Altucher:Yes. 
Eric Partaker:When we talk about antifragility, basically stress creates strength. People don’t think of themselves of antifragile, but you stress a muscle, it causes it to grow. You expose the body to germs and bacteria, it builds the immune system. They’re doing it physically, they just need to get it up in their heads, mentally. I just want to point that out, because I can imagine some people when they hear that, “Oh my gosh, you’re writing 10 ideas a day. That sounds stressful. That sounds like some work.” That’s also part of the point, right, is that we need to stress that muscle to cause it to grow. 
James Altucher:Oh yeah, it’s so funny. Let’s say I have an idea, like I’m going to come up with 10 different ideas for zoos. I don’t know, I’m just making it up. I’ve never been to a zoo in my life. I’ll come up seven really quickly. It always is the case, it’s like magic. Even though I know this always happens, it still happens. Starting around seven, I’ll think to myself, “Have I gotten 10 done yet?” And I’ll start counting, “Oh no, it’s just seven.” I’ll take a little while longer, it’s like I feel like my brain is sweating to come up with the eighth. Then, I’ll think again, “Did I come up with 10 yet? Oh no, it’s just eight.” The last three or four, it’s like your brain is sweating. 
 I don’t let myself do anything easy. I don’t divide an idea up into two. Once it’s in my head as an idea, I can’t divide it up. I can’t make an easier version of it. I have to push myself for each idea, particularly starting around idea number seven. 
Eric Partaker:You said that the act of doing this, you felt that it actually rewired your brain to see more possibilities. 
James Altucher:I know it did. I mean, when I started doing this, I had gone broke. I was losing my home. The IRS was after me, and obviously, all my relationships were falling apart, because I was just so depressed. I was suicidal. I had these suicidal thoughts almost every day. I couldn’t even understand what it meant to smile or laugh again. I thought that was never going to happen for me again. When I started doing this the very first time, I bought this box of waiter’s pads, and I started doing it on waiter’s pads. Every morning, I would do it. After a month or so, I was happier. 
 Not that anything had changed in my life, I was still losing my home. I was still broke and going more broke, because I didn’t have any money coming in. And yet, I was really excited about my ideas. I started emailing people about my ideas, and I started planning a couple of books that I was going to write. I had never published a book before, but I was planning it and I was getting a lot of encouragement. I don’t know, it really did rewire my brain. I was not depressed anymore, even though nothing other than that had changed in my life. 
Eric Partaker:It’s so interesting that you say that you weren’t depressed anymore, because as soon as you say that, I think about the word possibility. When you’re depressed, you sort of think nothing’s possible. There are no possibilities, right? The act of creating ideas, or as you’re saying, possibilities, that sounds like, quite literally, the perfect antidote to depression. 
James Altucher:Yeah. I’ve read a lot about depression. I’ve been depressed at a couple different points. A lot of people say, “Oh, when you help other people, that gets you out of depression,” or it gradually gets you out of depression. I’m not knocking those things. In fact, helping other people is often a part of entrepreneurship. That’s how it starts is you realize some solution that could help people, so maybe it’s all related. I really found that this was the one surefire technique for me. I was trying every medication. People don’t know this statistic, but when you’re depressed and you start taking a medication, it usually takes about eight years for the average depressed patient to find the right medication that works for them. I never found a medication that worked for me. I don’t necessarily believe I was medication resistant, it’s just there’s a lot of medications out there. There are a lot of causes of depression, and it’s hard to find the right fit. It’s almost impossible. 
 This really worked for me. I was excited, and there’s something else to it as well. A lot of people come to me like, “Well, how can you give your ideas away? What if they steal them?”. This is also almost a depressed way of thinking. It’s a scarcity way of thinking. That sort of person thinks, “I’m only going to have one good idea in my life. Nobody better steal it, because I’m never going to have this shot again.” Because I share a lot of these ideas, many of my ideas have been stolen. In fact, I encourage people to steal my ideas. What am I going to do, 3000 ideas a year, like actually execute them? Steal away. 
 When you share ideas, it builds your network. People learn to trust you. People try your ideas, and maybe it works for them, or maybe they morph it into their own. They combine it with their personality and morph it into their own thing. I know I don’t have to worry about someone stealing my ideas, because tomorrow, I’m going to have 10 more ideas. I’m abundant with ideas, as opposed to scarce with ideas. 
Eric Partaker:So, for the person listening who’s like, “Okay, tomorrow morning, I want to start this practice. I want to do my 10 ideas.” Maybe they don’t have a waiter’s pad, but maybe they have their own notebook or whatever. 
James Altucher:Yeah. 
Eric Partaker:Can you just take us through, what’s your setup? What does that routine actually look like? How long does it take you? 
James Altucher:Yeah. Yeah, great question. Usually, I’ll go to a café, but right now in the pandemic, I just do it at home. I’ll start off with reading, because you just woke up, you’re a little foggy. Reading sort of greases the wheels a little bit in your brain. And so, I’ll usually read a little bit of a good, quality non-fiction book. Take a book like Bold, for instance, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. That gives all sorts of ideas of industries that might be growing in the future and how people should be more optimistic than they generally are, because look at the history of innovation and so on. I might read a book like that. 
 I’ll read a book of high-quality fiction, because high-quality fiction is usually written by the best writers, and I always like improving my writing. And then, I might read a book about games, because that’s been my whole life. I love games, so I might read about Scrabble, or a history of Monopoly, or a book about chess or a book about checkers, just to kind of get the puzzle side of my brain going. I find that to be a lot more interesting than solving pure math puzzles. 
 By then, something will start happening in my brain, “Oh, this is interesting.” I’ll come up with a topic, like 10 things I would do if I was creating an economic stimulus plan. It has nothing to do with business. It has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, whatever. It has nothing to do with writing a book. Then, I’ll just write them down. Again, I’ll come up with seven pretty easily, like, “Okay, let’s give everybody $1400. Let’s forgive certain kinds of debt. Let’s make sure the states that had the most cases of COVID get the most money.” So, I’ll come up with seven pretty easily, and then the final three or four will be like, “Oh, I can’t. It’s really hard.” 
 The whole process, from putting my pen to paper and getting 10 ideas, will be about 20 to 30 minutes. Not so long, maybe 15 to 30 minutes. The reading beforehand might take like an hour, maybe a little longer, depending on what I’m reading. And then, that’s it, then I start my day. I go and either start implementing the ideas, or I start writing. Usually, that idea list gives me an idea of an article to write. I’ll write an article about these ideas. 
Eric Partaker:You talked about games. I can’t resist. What’s your favorite game? 
James Altucher:Well, chess is my favorite, but poker is close. I have a lot of respect for Scrabble, checkers, backgammon, bridge, hearts, other card games. The Asian game Go is the most difficult game in the world, more difficult than chess. Chess, because it’s kind of a part of American culture, is my favorite. Then there was that show, The Queen’s Gambit, it was about chess, a fictional story. Chess just sort of exploded in popularity, so I figured it’s not completely… And again, half my book is about monetizing what you do. And so, had literally about 60 million people sign up for it after The Queen’s Gambit, some obscenely huge number. There’s 62 million members, and most of them signed up after this TV show. Right now, this second, there’s over 300,000 games being played on That’s only one of the many chess servers that are out there. 
 A lot of people who are, again, not in the top 10 in the world, but let’s say in the top 1%, which might mean they’re in the top 10,000 in the world. They’re streaming on Twitch, and they’re making maybe up to half a million and a million a year. Part of getting good at chess, you always have to think about the field that you’re in, so I’ve started streaming just to learn about that. I’ve never streamed before, so I started doing that. Bit by bit, I could see my skills developing in streaming, which is not the same as developing skills in chess, but it is part of the skills of making a living at something. 
Eric Partaker:When we’re talking about… Going back to ideas and how good the ideas need to be, because you had this comment earlier that the ideas aren’t even necessarily good. There’s this wonderful part in the book where you talk about creating the room that nobody else is in. I connected that to another piece in the book where you talked about the art of combining ideas and talent, such that the underlying individual ideas or talents might not even be that good on their own, but it’s the combination which is unique, the intersection which creates the value. Can you give us an example of that? 
James Altucher:Yeah. There’s a couple things to say there, and I’m sorry if I’m a little wordy sometimes. Let’s say you and I both are professional tennis players, but we’ve never played a match. Let’s say someone who’s an amateur tennis player, they know how to play. They hit it around every couple weeks, and that’s it. They see you playing tennis, they see me playing tennis. Let’s say you’re number one in the world, and I’m number 1000 in the world. You would crush me nine times out of 10, maybe 99 times out of 100, because you’re number one and I’m number 1000. I’m like a great college-level player, you just won Wimbledon. 
 The average person, if he saw me playing and he saw you playing, he wouldn’t be able to tell that you’re better, unless we’re playing with each other where you’re crushing me. He’s not going to clock the miles per hour of your serve. He’s not going to see the spin on your forehand or your backhand, because he’s one of the two billion people who’s an average amateur tennis player. He’s not going to know all the nuances. 
 So, it’s not good enough to be 10% better or even 50% better than your competition. There’s always competition in everything. This is a good thing, but there’s always a hierarchy, no matter what field or industry you’re in, whether you’re a writer, tennis player, a businessman, whatever. There’s many examples in history where the worst product succeeded and not the better product, but people do recognize when it’s the only. We’ve seen this in tennis. I don’t even play tennis, I’m just using this as an example. Let’s say there are tennis players who, because of their personality, they stand out. Maybe they argue a little more with the ref, or maybe they dress in flashier clothes or they’re outlandish in some way. Maybe they have a weird two-handed backhand that goes against all the rules of teaching tennis. They’ll stand out, and they become the only. They’re the ones who get the sponsorship deals and get noticed more. There’s plenty of examples of people not in the top 10 who get more sponsorship deals than people in the top 10. It’s true in basketball. It’s true in tennis, and it’s true in business. 
 There’s a lot of factors other than whether you have the best product, but again, if you’re the only, you’re going to get known. Because not only will you be noticed, but in the intersection of skills that you’re combining, you actually might be the best in the world. I have a friend who traded bonds for JP Morgan. He was a finance guy for 20 years. That was his whole career, but he loved sports. He’s in his 40s, he’s not going to be a professional athlete, but he decided… During the pandemic, he had free time. He said to himself, “I’ve always loved sports. I’ve got free time. I’m going to just write up little stories about sports related to finance.” Like how do you value a baseball stadium? Why did the singer for the Super Bowl Halftime not only not take any pay but spend $7 million of his own money to produce the show? 
 Every day, five days a week, he writes this story, and he sends it out in a newsletter. Well, eight months after he starts this newsletter, he has 27,000 subscribers. He quit his job at JP Morgan. He’s literally the best in the world for a writer of sports finance. He’s probably not the best sportswriter in the world. He probably wasn’t the best finance guy in the world, but at the intersection, he’s the best in the world. 
 I know a comedian, who’s from England actually. If I remember his name correctly, it’s Chris Turner, he’s been on my podcast. He’s a comedian. He’s 27 years old, which is very young for a comedian to get stage time at a really good, high quality club. He is so good, he would get stage time at every club in the world. He’d probably even get a Netflix special if he went for it. Why? Because he’s a good comedian, but I wouldn’t say he was the best, but ever since he was a little kid, as a hobby, he was a freestyle rapper. Now, in his act, he tells the audience, “Give me five random words.” 
 He did it on my podcast, we gave him the volcanoes of Mars, James Altucher, Ethiopia. We just gave him obscure things. Within seconds, he raps the most insanely good, funny, intellectual rap using these phrases and weaving them together into one coherent story. How does he do it? It’s like incredible brain power or something, but it’s because he’s been doing it his whole life, practicing this skill. He combined them with comedy, now he’s the best comedy rapper on the planet. 
Eric Partaker:One of the things that is obvious with both of those stories, so your friend in bonds and with this comedian, is that at some point, they had to just try. They had to experiment. You talked about experimenting earlier as well. 
James Altucher:Yeah. 
Eric Partaker:It’s like the next step after you come up with your ideas. I love how, in the book, you talk about how the only failure is not trying. Really, it’s just an experiment either that succeeds if you try, or you learn something. Can you take us through the criteria for setting up a good experiment, and also maybe a person or story that the average person can relate to, so not Thomas Edison, not Elon Musk. 
James Altucher:Okay, so I have a friend of mine. Let’s call her Nancy. She comes to me with this idea that I thought was… I didn’t really know how to evaluate it. I didn’t know if it was good or not, but it seemed okay. She’s a videographer. She makes commercials. She had an idea, she had a way of automating videotaping a biography of a person who’s just died. She had a way to do software to automate the whole process. And so, she was raising money. She was raising $2 million, so she could hire software programmers, have them develop the product that she had in her head, and then she would sell it. 
 This is a horrible idea. We don’t know whether or not the idea is good, and people say ideas are nothing, execution’s everything. Execution ideas are really a subset of ideas, and you could be good at execution or bad at it. If you haven’t done it before, you’re probably bad at execution. So, I said to her, “This seems, to me, like a bad idea for executing. I don’t know about the business itself, I can’t judge, but here’s what we do. How about you find someone whose relative, whose father or mother just passed away, and why don’t you do this? Your whole process that you want automated, why don’t you do it manually for them? Exactly every single thing you would automate, just do it manually, and see A, if people like it, B, what the challenges are, C, you’ll learn maybe other things that might be necessary for this that you didn’t realize before, and it’s just an experiment. There’s no downside. At the very least, your friend gets a free video and loves you for it. The upside is everybody loves this video. Maybe do it with two or three friends, even.” 
 The upside is you find that this is a good business idea. The downside is you just learn something. You learn about your friends’ families. You learn another aspect of being a videographer and so on. A good experiment should, A, be cheap. It should cost you almost nothing, or nothing, ideally. B, it should be very fast to do, otherwise you’re wasting too much time to get it done. C, there should be little downside. The worst downside is you should learn something, and maybe even learn some unexpected things. The upside is, oh my gosh, you have this huge business out of it. 
 At any given point, I’m doing tons of experiments, probably too many. One time, six or seven years ago, I was trying to get better at standup comedy. It’s hard to get stage time when you’re first starting, so I went on a subway. For two hours, I went from subway car to subway car and performed to definitely a hostile audience, like people on a New York City subway, going through rush hour, do not want someone like me just telling jokes to them. That was an experiment in dealing with a potentially hostile audience. Also, getting quicker to the laugh, because people are coming and going, so you have to get to the laugh very quickly. 
 And then, the downside is, “Oh, people would not like me.” Complete strangers would not like me, oh no. That would be the downside. That said, I was scared to death of that downside, so I was very nervous. But then, there was nuanced upsides. I started thinking, “This could be a weird format for a late night TV show.” Telling jokes on a subway is like the monologue, then I’m riding on a subway with a celebrity, and I interview them on the subway, and we interact with other subway passengers. There’s always people on the subway station busking with music, like playing garbage cans as drums or whatever. 
 So, I videotaped all of that, and I had kind of a prototype of a late night TV show that its format is on a subway, and I pitched it to an agent. My downside was that I actually invented a whole new concept for a late night TV show, and then I did another experiment, which was put it all together in a video and pitch it to an agent, who rejected it, but that’s fine. That’s why it costs nothing and took me very little time, and I learned more about what this agent likes. 
Eric Partaker:Amazing. 
James Altucher:By the way, the downside is that you have a great story to tell about it. 
Eric Partaker:As you are right now. 
James Altucher:Yeah. 
Eric Partaker:What do you think holds people back from making these experiments, especially if they’re doing as you suggest, and they’re minimizing the downside. Why aren’t they doing the kind of Nike Just Do It mentality, which you kind of talk about in the book. 
James Altucher:Well, many things. One is it’s scary. When you’re doing an experiment, almost by definition, not only are you doing something that you don’t know. You have a theory, but you don’t know if the theory is true or not. You just don’t know what’s going to happen, so it’s a little scary, particularly when it involves something people are scared of, like interacting with other people and so on. 
 Also, people just don’t have time. Like you said, people spend a lot of time on social media. They spend a lot of time watching TV. Of course, you spend time at your job. It’s very hard to find time I think. A lot of people are low-level, simmering depressed. They’ve been, “Oh, I’ve been an accountant for 27 years,” or a middle manager at Proctor & Gamble for a billion years. They want to just rest when they get home. They’re working eight hours a day, or at least they’re at the job eight hours a day in a cubicle. They just don’t want to do it. They’re tired. You have to really be excited about what you’re doing to do experiments in it. You can’t be low-level. 
 Part of it, also, is to figure out what it is you’re passionate about. You can’t think your way to passion. I can’t think to myself, “You know, I really want to be race car driver.” I don’t even drive. I would have to do it in order to get that dopamine rush to determine if I’m passionate about it. You have to try lots of things and read lots of things to see what you’re passionate about. Similar to writing down lots of ideas to get at making ideas, you have to kind of try lots of possibilities to see which possibilities you might be good at and which possibilities you might love. 
 By the way, it’s important to love what you do, because let’s say you’re a writer, but you don’t love it. You’re doing it because you think it’s interesting or whatever. If you don’t love it, part of your energy when you sit down to write is convincing yourself to write, because it’s a very boring activity. It’s just typing on this keyboard. If you love something, you can use that energy that would’ve been required to convince yourself to do it. You could use that energy now to write better or whatever it is you love, to do it better. That’s why it’s really all about conservation of energy and efficiency. That’s why it’s important to love what you do. 
Eric Partaker:Amazing. You have a great quote as well that relates to that, where you said, “You’re reading this book because you want to be at the top of your chosen passion. You want to make money doing it, and you want to reach the potential you knew you were meant to achieve.” Later in the book, you say, “And if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Once again, it’s pushing to kind of break outside the norm, to think of new ideas, to generate new possibilities. Let’s just play with that, because you talk about idea calculus in the book, where we can combine different ideas. 
 Let’s say that we’re using Skip the Line. We’re going to combine Skip the Line and the techniques in that book with educational reform. I’m just making something up. Using that book as a guide, which lessons would you start with, education wise, with the children out there, and at what age would you start? 
James Altucher:Well, any age. Oh, you mean what age would I start, what level of education? 
Eric Partaker:Yeah. 
James Altucher:Or what age am I? 
Eric Partaker:No, how young can we get these ideas going, can we start answering these ideas? 
James Altucher:I have one chapter in the book called Plus, Minus, Equals. The plus is find yourself a mentor or a virtual mentor, which could be YouTube videos or books or whatever, to learn what’s the top echelons of this industry. What does it look like and what can you learn from it? Then, you have to find equals, people who are like you. They’re interested in educational reform, and you’re all at roughly the same level, and you challenge each other and compare ideas and so on. Then, you find a minus, so someone to teach about educational reform, because if you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t truly understand it. 
 If I was excited about education reform… Which by the way, I am kind of. I think high school and college, there’s a lot of problems with it, and I would definitely reform those, maybe even going younger. To some extent, I’ve done a little bit of this work, but I would basically either watch videos or read books about, well, what are people trying? What are the different styles of current education reform? What are experimental programs that are happening right now? I’d really try to understand the problems. And then, I would join Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups about education reform to find my equals. And then, I would start writing articles to sort of explain, here are the 10 most important issues in education reform, and I would see the feedback and response to see if I’m explaining it well. 
 And then, I would start breaking down, what are the microskills involved in education reform? Again, is it different for different age groups? One thing is curriculum. Is the curriculum correct? The other thing is what’s the role of recreation in educational reform? What is the role of memory versus practice in educational reform? So, there’s various microskills or components that we need to understand. And then, I would start writing down the 10 ideas a day, and I’d start thinking of the spoke and wheel, like am I aiming to write a book about this? Am I aiming to start a new college or a new school? Am I aiming to write a newsletter to parents who want to reform their kids, or am I writing a newsletter for educators? Am I going to do a podcast or a course, which I could sell for a lot of money to the deans of colleges? Am I going to do coaching of deans or principals or whatever? 
 That’s how I would start to go about it. Actually coming up with ideas, I would do everything from come up with curriculum or… Here’s an interesting idea list I would start with, how many things from my education, from first grade through graduate school, do I actually remember now? A better list is not remember. I don’t remember anything from biology class or chemistry class. I remember a few things from English class. I vaguely remember history class. It’s interesting, most people think they remember a lot from history class, but I will challenge anybody with the most simple questions about history, nobody will know the answers. 
 We forget almost everything. If we had to memorize something for a test, we forget it immediately after the test. There’s brain science research on this. You pretty much remember what you love, because then, it cements the memories in your brain. There’s something called myelin in the brain, which puts sheaths around the connections between neurons or synapses so that they’re firmer memories, and you build those sheaths when you think about something a lot because you love it. Most people don’t love studying 700 AD, so they don’t remember that Charlemagne the King was born in 754 AD. 
 I ask people, “Oh, you majored in European Studies at Harvard. Okay, when was Charlemagne born?”. The most important king in European history, unified all of Europe in 780 AD. People who majored in this will say, “Oh, I think like 1380,” or whatever. Nobody knows the answer within 500 years. 
Eric Partaker:Amazing. James, this has been such an enlightening conversation, really love all of your work. 
James Altucher:Thank you so much, Eric. I really appreciate it. I’m really happy you invited me on. I really appreciate it, thank you. 
Eric Partaker:Again, for everyone watching and/or listening, the book is Skip the Line by James Altucher. Highly recommend it. He’s got over 20 books. I think you said 25 now. So, definitely- 
James Altucher:Most of them bad, but I will say I’ve written maybe two or three that I would recommend. This being one of them. 
Eric Partaker:James, to take us home can we just end with the following. I love things that kind of go against the grain or make you think, “Huh, I hadn’t thought about it that way.” You talk about, towards the end of the book, overpromise and overdeliver. Can you leave us with something that you would like to, out of all the ideas you’re working on, that you would like to right now make a statement with regards to overpromising and overdelivering. 
James Altucher:Well, okay. I am in the process of setting up a new business. It’s the first one I’ve done in a while, and I’m very excited about it. Right now, you and I are doing a podcast, and we’re using Zoom as a software. Zoom is great software. I mean, 700 million people use it, but it’s not really good for podcasts. One of the reasons is the video quality is so poor that if you post this video on YouTube, the YouTube algorithm will downplay it, because the video quality is not that good. 
 Second, the audio quality is not that good. If you had a bad internet connection, we might be missing part of the conversation. Now, there’s ways to correct both of these problems, but it’s not necessary for Zoom to do it, because they did not expect podcasters to be using it or performances to happen on it. They thought it was good for office meetings, where you don’t need to do that stuff. 
 There are competitors that do some degree of what I just said, but I’m creating a Zoom-like software for podcasters that have all the qualities I just mentioned, and then the overpromise comes in that I’m throwing in so many great qualities that I would use as a podcaster. For instance, what if you could do realtime audio engineering in the software, so I could just drop in ads at their appropriate points without having to actually hire an audio engineer for $1000 to put the ads in. 
 What if I could have some social media, so anybody using the software can do discoveries, or any public, live podcasts happening right now, involving race car drivers. It’ll show me all the podcasts happening this moment that I’m allowed to join as an audience member. Not as a participant, but as an audience member, like an Instagram Live, and watch these in realtime. I have another feature called makebook. It’s a button that will automatically make a transcript of the podcast and turn it into a first draft of a book that you can then edit and publish. 
 So, that’s my overpromise and overdeliver is that I’m almost done with this software, hopefully within the next month or so. By the way, steal the idea if you want. I’ve been programming this for a year, so catch up with me, and let’s see what happens. 
Eric Partaker:Awesome. James, thank you so much. Everyone, once again, Skip the Line, check it out. James Altucher, you can also check out his website Yeah, thanks James, really appreciate your wisdom, your opinions, and the laughs along the way. 
James Altucher:Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. This is a great podcast.
Eric has been named "CEO of the Year" at the 2019 Business Excellence Awards, one of the "Top 30 Entrepreneurs in the UK" by Startups Magazine, and among "Britain's 27 Most Disruptive Entrepreneurs" by The Telegraph.

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