Paulo Coelho. Tim Ferris. Martha Nussbaum. David Mitchell. Jen Sincero. James Altucher…the list goes on and on. These are all people who, when their next book comes out, I buy it — no questions asked, no price tag looked at, no hesitation experienced.
Always, always, I’m richly rewarded when I do. And yet, with James Altucher’s latest book, Skip the Line, I almost broke my own rule.
For a moment or two, I considered that I may have been too “advanced,” too far ahead, too successful already to learn from what he had to say.
This doesn’t get any less painful to say — even though I’ve had to admit this thousands of times every year from the time I was born until now — but: I was wrong.
I learned a ton from his new book, and I’d love to share a few lessons with you here today; about success, about life satisfaction, about achievement, and about making the absolute most out of the most infinitely valuable gift I’ve ever received: my own life.
James Altucher is going to teach you (through me) how you can quickly rise to the top of any field, he’s going to teach you about the power of rapid experimentation, about how you can come up with the best ideas you’ve ever had in your life, and so much more.
You can get my complete set of notes from this book here, and my popular suggested reading list is here, but let’s get right into how you can “skip the line,” and reach the level of personal and professional success that you desire — and do it much faster than you may have been led to believe.
How to climb quickly to the top 1% of your field
“Uniqueness plus new knowledge lets you enter the top one percent of any field you choose.”
-James Altucher, Skip the Line
Forget about James Altucher for a second. Let me tell you about how the creator of the Dilbert comic strip is a genius. Scott Adams is actually another author whose new book I will always buy sight unseen. I’ll take you way back to when I first read (or, well, listened to) How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, when Adams dropped one of the greatest professional success strategies I’ve ever heard.
According to him, he’s not the best cartoonist or artist, but he’s pretty good. Definitely in the top 10–20% I’d say, maybe higher. Alright, so he could work for any decent-sized newspaper he chose to work for. And he’s pretty damn funny, but he’s not nearly the funniest person that most people have ever seen or heard.
But that combination, his cartoonist skills and his sense of humor, when put together, made Dilbert one of the most popular and successful comic strips in the history of the printed word. What’s more, he didn’t stop at just being “pretty good.” He’s worked and worked on aspects of his profession that one wouldn’t necessarily think about:
- He stays ahead of trends in business so Dilbert always stays relevant. Dilbert changes as often as the business landscape changes.
- He’s a trained hypnotist with a deep knowledge of persuasion and psychology, so he can tweak his Dilbert cartoon to appeal to more and more people. Example: The reason that no reference is ever made to Dilbert’s precise industry is so that more and more people can feel as though Dilbert works in their office.
He’s basically doing everything that James Altucher would tell him to do if he came to James and asked him to teach him how to become as successful as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.
James and Scott have each crafted unique value propositions — some combination of skills and attributes that only they possess — and that has made all the difference.
You and I can use this as well. I’m not the absolute smartest person in any particular room (if that ever happens, I’m heading for the next room), but I’m fairly intelligent. I certainly have read a lot. And I’m intensely curious. So that’s good. But what else do I have? What else can I combine?
Well, I’ve also been working at bars for about a decade as a nightclub bouncer and have been talking to and chatting with tens of thousands of people for many, many years. I’m also combining this (earned) extraversion and my deep knowledge of books and literature with my evolving mastery of video production and performance to create a successful YouTube channel and book summaries membership program.
There are other skills that I’m combining with other skills, but one of my skills is knowing when to stop talking about myself, so I’ll move on. The point is: you have undeveloped skills and potentialities latent inside you that you can bring out and combine in interesting, novel, and valuable ways that other people will really come to love. You just have to get a little creative. That’s where the 10,000 Experiments Rule comes in.
The 10,000 Experiments Rule
Nowadays, the 10,000 Hour Rule is kind of like The Marshmallow Test; something that appears in Every. Single. Pop. Psychology book that ever gets published and it just makes your eyes glaze over and skip ahead two pages to the author’s point.
However, in the entirely plausible situation that you’ve never heard of it before, all it is is basically the idea that world-class experts usually have to spend about 10,000 hours practicing until they attain mastery.
There’s something to that number, but it’s not a hard and fast rule, and the quality of those hours counts a lot too.
Anyway, Altucher found himself asking, Why can’t I skip the line? Do I really have to spend 10,000 hours practicing something so that I can reach success? Everyone is dutifully putting in their hours, day after day, hating their lives and never getting to where they want to go. Can I skip the line?
Enter: The 10,000 Experiments Rule
Take thousands of experiments that cost you nothing — or very little — but have tremendous upside. We’re talking fast, cheap, low-cost experiments that will enable you to find out what works and what doesn’t as efficiently as possible.
This is Minimal Viable Product-type stuff we’re talking about here. Try stuff. Find out which ideas have legs. Which ideas are better off abandoned. Which experiments will teach you something that might be important, so you can design a better experiment and move closer to where you want to go.
One of the many examples James uses was a smartphone app called “Going Steady.” Both people in the relationship sign in to the app, and then select the other person. Then, when that’s done, the Going Steady app deletes all the other dating apps on their phones. If either one of them ever downloads a dating app again, the other person gets notified by email.
I forget the exact reason why it didn’t work out — something about it not working on iPhone or something (kind of important haha) — but that little tiny experiment cost James next to nothing, and he came away with so much. Coding skills, a deeper knowledge of what smartphones were capable of and not capable of, etc. He learned what didn’t work, and he was able to take what he learned from that one failed experiment to design an even better experiment.
He’s been doing this for pretty much his entire life and this approach has earned him millions and millions of dollars, not to mention quite a few disappointments.
But here again, this approach is open to all of us, and we have so little to lose. The key is not to bet some staggering amount of money or time that you can’t afford to lose. Just take an idea you have (or several ideas: next section) and figure out the easiest and fastest way to test it.
For my YouTube channel, I bought an iPhone microphone and a cheap lighting kit, scripted out some videos, talked to the camera about some of my favorite books, and figured out that this was something I wanted to double down on.
If it didn’t work, I would only have been out like $100, and a few hours of my time. Low downside, potentially huge upside. In the next section, we’re going to talk about idea sex. It’s even better than it sounds.
The mathematics of ideas
I’m always conscious of length when it comes to writing articles, so I don’t want to keep you here much longer. Thanks for sticking with James and I so far!
So, all that “idea sex” is is the combining of one or more ideas in interesting and novel ways. In this way, ideas can often become greater than the sum of their parts.
Idea addition: This is where you take one great idea and then add another idea onto it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you love music, and you love working out, working out to music is an example of idea addition.
Idea subtraction: This is when you start with what won’t work and then find a workaround that will let you bypass the reason or reasons why it won’t work. The example James gives is that if you can’t find a publisher for your book, you can self-publish it instead. You wanted to publish a book, but you don’t have a publisher, so you work around that by publishing it yourself. Subtract the part of the idea about needing a publisher.
Idea multiplication: This is when you take one idea and then apply it in a completely different context or at a different scale. If you can help just one person start their own online business, why can’t you teach 1,000 people how to do it? Take what you know, and what you’ve helped that one person to do, and then turn it into a process that anyone can follow to build a successful blog.
And then lastly:
Idea division: This is when you take an idea that’s too big and you make it smaller. For example, if you want to cure malaria, there comes a time when you realize that that problem is simply too massive for you to handle by yourself. Obviously. But you want to help somehow. So what do you do? Well you can cut that idea down a little bit and start or volunteer with a charity that does something specific, like provide mosquito nets to help fight malaria in specific communities.
So from all this, you can see that ideas don’t exist in isolation. They can be added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, mated with each other in all sorts of different ways.
There was much more that I found within the pages of this book that I could share with you, but in the interest of time, I’ll just leave you with some isolated bits of wisdom that you can build upon yourself. Maybe you could even combine them in some new and profitable ways. Home stretch, here we go.
Conclusion: One-liners and one-offs
“Is it my life? Or is it just a reflection of everyone else’s values?”
The outside world is only interested in making you valuable to it, not the other way around. The responsibility is on you to extract the value you seek from the world. There are good people out there who would love to help you, but the world asks something of you — no, demands — that you take massive action and start making beautiful things happen.
As James says:
“Nobody I’ve ever known has ever woken up in the morning and said, ‘I can’t wait to go out and make James Altucher a huge success today.’”
But, for us today, opportunity surrounds us everywhere. Ideas are cheap. You can — and should — easily come up with at least ten ideas a day. Every day. Just list them out, and see what comes up. See how many ideas you can think up one day, and then try to beat that number.
Think up a business idea, and then think of 10 reasons why it won’t work. Then come up with ten reasons why you could be wrong about why it won’t work. Then come up with ten more ideas for other businesses that other people should start.
Look at the things that are wildly popular and successful and profitable today. Who doesn’t have access to these things yet? Why not? Can you help provide access? Think of ten things that most people don’t have access to, and then think up ten ways that you could provide access to those things. Or ten ideas for how…you know, just take it from here!
The point is to get the idea muscle activated and firing and then try some shit. Find ten ways to fail at losing ten pounds. Ten ways to fail at making one dollar online. Try, try, try. Smash some ideas together and see what sticks.
And when James Altucher comes out with a new book, buy it.
All the best,
P.S. These are my best and most popular book recommendations — separated by genre — for curious people who love life and want to know what it all means. And here’s where you can download my Top 20 Unconventional Reading Strategies for free.