4 Things I’ve Learned From James Altucher

I first became familiar with James Altucher through a Yahoo! article, I think, of which the headline was something like “10 Reasons Never to Buy a House.” At the time I was going through a buying-a-house-is-stupid phase, and so I clicked on it and agreed with almost everything he was saying. From there I found his blog and began to read it on a semi-regular basis. It’s part memoir, part self-help, and he usually has an amusing anecdote or an interesting way of looking at things. From time to time he will write a post like “15 Interesting Things I Didn’t Know About Warren Buffett” or “10 Things I’ve Learned from Shark Tank.” So, for a meta-post, I will lay out four bullet points of things I’ve learned from him:

  • No matter how crazy your ideas might seem, there most likely are a lot of people out there who agree with you. James is full of “crazy” ideas. He encourages kids not to go to college, he says he will never own a home again, he thinks the Presidency should be abolished, and he does not go to weddings. And the list goes on. Someone with these kinds of ideas could just retreat into their own little corner and live their life thinking that no one will understand them, afraid to ever come out and share their ideas with the world. James, on the other hand, comes out boldly and declares his unconventional thoughts and finds, happily, that there are a lot of people who not only do not think he’s crazy, but who wholeheartedly agree with him. They thank him for saying what they either could not articulate or were too afraid to say themselves. So, you should never assume that you are “too different”; instead, your unique views just might inspire or enlighten others, or lead them to say “Oh, and I thought I was the only one!”
  • You don’t have to be a great writer to be a successful blogger. This sounds a bit harsh, but let me explain. James Altucher’s writing style is sort of write-as-you-talk. Is there a word for that? Maybe just a more down-to-earth stream-of-consciousness. (That was a lot of hyphens.) It doesn’t seem like he spends a lot of time trying to come up with just the right word or sentence structure. He just kind of spills it all out on the page; sometimes it is messy and cumbersome, and sometimes it is quite elegant. There inevitably are typos, misplaced apostrophes, or double periods. I am a bit of a grammar, spelling, and punctuation Nazi, so when I see people making these kinds of mistakes on content they have spent time thinking and writing about and that they are putting in front of readers, I just can’t help but take them a little less seriously. And I wonder how a writer could amass a large following while making these mistakes. There are two possible answers to this question: 1) Other people don’t care nearly as much as I do about typos, so either they fail to notice them in the first place or they don’t let them affect their judgment; 2) If the content is good enough, people forgive the typos. Since I am here writing about this guy’s blog and what he has taught me, despite the spelling errors, it seems the second answer must be true. And really, he’s not a bad writer. There are blogs that I come across where the writing really is painful to read, so painful that I navigate away from them before being able to conclude how good the content is. When I started this blog, I wanted every post to be perfect. I hadn’t written in so long, so I really wanted to rediscover my voice and push myself to be a great writer. While this is still a good goal to have, I need to remind myself from time to time that a good writer and a successful blogger are not always the same thing, and if I want to be a successful blogger, I need to couple my fastidiousness with real, living content.
  • Ideas aren’t everything. James likes to say, “Ideas are useless.” That’s a bit extreme, and I think he puts it that way just to get people’s attention. I think what he means is “Ideas by themselves are useless,” or “Ideas are just the beginning.” In other words, if you have what you think is a great idea, but you either can’t execute it or no one actually wants it, then your great idea isn’t really worth much at all. On his blog he has made a list of a hundred (or so) business ideas and pretty much says, “Here are a bunch of ideas that maybe someone should bring to fruition; I don’t really have the desire to act on any of them myself, but maybe someone should.” He doesn’t hoard his ideas, afraid that someone will steal them. Instead, he makes them public, knowing that the ideas alone aren’t very valuable. I came across a similar and similarly helpful piece of advice here. Basically, if you have a business idea and you’re afraid of telling anyone about it for fear that they will steal it (which is unlikely), then if they were to steal it and make a successful business out of it, shame on you for not acting on your own idea and blaming your unsuccess on their success. I need to constantly remind myself of these things because I fall in love with my ideas but don’t take them much further than the idea stage. James Altucher helps me practice seeing past my ideas to think about what they might actually look like in the real world.
  • Be generous with your ideas and connections, and you will be rewarded later. This is pretty much a karma bullet point, but it’s helpful to be reminded of nonetheless. In business, it’s easy to think that you need to be selfish to get what you want. However, James Altucher stresses (as do others in the business networking world) that sharing what you know and who you know with others is a step on the path to success. Some of the marks of a “super connector,” as he calls it, are introducing people who could be of value to each other, as well as being the “Google” for their network. This means that if they can’t provide the product or service a customer is asking for, they will direct them to someone who can, even if it is a competitor. This builds trust in the mind of the customer and makes it more likely that the customer will return to them in the future. I have used this advice in trying to build a customer base for my online boutique, The Genius Loci. In addition to curating a selection of clothes, accessories, and gifts on the site itself, I also decided to market myself as a personal shopper, so if someone is looking for a particular type of item that I do not have on the site, I will offer to find it for them elsewhere so as to build that relationship. So then hopefully in the future, they will come to my site first when shopping online. Aside from business, being a connector is just a great skill to have. If you can connect interesting people to interesting people, and people to products and services they need, you will be the hub of your network and people will listen to what you have to say. And who doesn’t want that?

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