January 24, 2021
In the podcast episode “Why College Sucks (& Better Alternatives), How To Win At Any Game, What You Need To Say No To, & Much More With James Altucher.,” I had a fun and fascinating discussion with the creative, brilliant, and hilarious James Altucher. Our chat included an interesting anecdote from James about how a cheap writer's pad saved his life and wound up digging him out of a huge financial and personal hole.
Basically, many big corporations didn't have websites in the mid-'90s, so James decided he would provide this service. His clients included large companies such as American Express and Miramax. Ultimately, James sold the business during the stock bubble and walked away with enough to live comfortably forever. Unfortunately, due to a lack of money skills and a variety of bad decisions on his part (which we discuss on my podcast with James) he burnt through about $1 million per week for quite some time, and eventually had just $143 remaining in an account that once contained over $15 million.
One day, while sitting destitute, disappointed, and depressed in a New York diner, James struck upon an idea. He purchased 100 waiter's pads for $10. James loved the look of them, as they were perfect for writing lists, and he loved to make lists. Thus he began, hunched over a cup of coffee in a diner and using pure creative flow, to write 10 new ideas per day on these waiter's pads.
As he sat in that diner, James would jot down crazy and creative ideas for businesses, ideas for hedge funds he could start, ideas for potential investors he could speak to, ideas for articles he could write, games he could invent, books he could write, inventions he could license, and pretty much any other random idea that happened to pop into his head.
He attributes this idea-listing habit as one of the top things that ultimately helped him restart his life after going completely broke in his 20s. Several of his creative ideas wound up manifesting, coming to life, and making him millions more dollars!
Why You Should Try Writing Down 10 New Ideas Each Day or Each Weekend
So, why is this idea-writing practice so powerful?
James theorizes that…
“…ideas work, they mate, they multiply, they flirt, they dance, they have one night stands, they grow in population and eventually create a child that grows on it’s own, a completely mixed-breed version of ten ideas you might’ve had over the years, as long as you treated them kindly, wrote them down, respected them.”
The beauty of this type of idea-listing exercise is that, of course, anyone can do it. As a matter of fact, just this week, I stumbled upon an article by Amanda Schroeder, who heard my podcast with James, and subsequently penned a piece entitled “A Simple Habit to Supercharge Your Creativity.” In it, Amanda describes how one of her favorite new habits to increase her creativity, based on hearing that podcast, is to write out 10 ideas a day on a piece of paper.
In her article, Amanda says…
“This habit is dead simple and practically free, but it has the power to completely shift your mindset, supercharge your energy, and give you ideas to get more out of your life.”
She goes on to say…
“It’s important to make sure each list has a theme or subject, this is where the challenge comes in. The more specific, the better. They can be 10 article ideas, 10 coding projects, or 10 ways to make money online, but they need to have some overarching idea. My first list was just 10 lists that I wanted to make. I have made lists for pottery projects, lists of stuff to do when I’m bored at work, lists of articles I want to write, and lists of ways to make side income…I now have a proper notebook full of ideas I can turn to whenever I want to! Most of them are pretty lackluster or lofty, but a few of them have actually turned into projects I’ve carried out.”
As a matter of fact, jotting down ideas for topics on a simple Google doc that I have synced across my phone and all my computers is how many of the articles I write, including these weekly Sabbath Ramblings posts like this, have been imagined and brought to life. For example, to give you an insider glimpse, here's what's on my current idea list of Ramblings topics I haven't yet had a chance to write:
- “Staples”: The under-appreciated or unknown, yet highly beneficial aspects of movement (book: In Praise of Walking), nutrition (book: Nourishing Traditions), air (book: Clearing The Air), light (book: Miracle Medicine), water (book: Your Body's Many Cries For Water), electricity (books: The Body Electric, Healing Is Voltage and EMF'd), aroma (books: Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body and The Healing Power of Essential Oils), sound (book: Sound Medicine: How to Use the Ancient Science of Sound to Heal the Body and Mind), and spirit (books: Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Celebration of Discipline).
- “Thorn”: Article about Paul's thorn in his side and also how his friend Timothy had stomach problems and Paul told him to drink wine.
- “The Well”: Parable of women at well in John and Augustine's “God-Shaped Abyss,” along with how Solomon could’ve had any woman he wanted – “delights of all the sons of men” (Ecclesiastes 2:8)
- “Seatbelt”: Story from Nehemiah – They pray to God each day but then they also protect their walls. Trust God but also put on your seatbelt.
- “Comedy”: Describe how in Norman Cousin's book Anatomy of an Illness he healed himself with laughter. Highlight chapter 16 of book Happiness by Randy Alcorn. Discuss stand-up comedy.
- “Honey”: What Proverbs says about honey (and food in general in Scripture) – All is created good and too much makes you sick, no matter how good.
Anyways, that's just a brief glimpse of ideas “waiting in the wings” to be materialized into actual articles.
Will Your Ideas Get Laughed At?
But, I'll also readily admit that, at least in my opinion, it's relatively simple to come up with ideas for articles or books that one can write compared to the generation of ideas that a craftsperson or engineer or corporate executive might come up with for new inventions, new businesses, or potentially more life-changing or impactful material objects. Often, imagining the prospect of your ideas becoming businesses or material objects that could be engineered, can be daunting.
After all, what if someone laughs at your ideas?
What if they're too “outside-the-box?
What if your ideas seem, at first glance, impossible?
These are all normal fears. Related to these fears, I recently read the powerful book Entrepreneurship 2.0 by legendary business consultant Jim Collins, in which I was reminded that it's essential to keep in mind that many great ideas were at first thought to be stupid ideas. In one section of the book, Jim provides a list of historically significant creations that were thought by so-called experts (he calls them “wet blankets”) to be dumb ideas. Jim recommends circulating a copy of this list below to everyone in a company and/or putting a copy on your own wall or above your desk as a helpful reminder about the importance of being receptive to ideas. He writes that the first element in making your company (or you!) more creative and innovative is to seek ideas from everywhere and, most importantly, to create a climate of receptivity to new ideas.
Here are a few of the “wet blankets” throughout history that Jim lists:
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”; Western Union internal memo in response to Bell’s telephone, 1876.
“The concept is interesting and well formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”; a Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corporation.
“We don’t tell you how to coach, so don’t tell us how to make shoes.”; a large sporting shoe manufacturer to Bill Bowerman, inventor of the “waffle” shoe and co-founder of NIKE, Inc.
“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard and they said ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’”; Steve Jobs speaking about attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Wozniak’s personal computer. Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computer Company.
“You should franchise them,’ I told them. ‘I’ll be your guinea pig.’ Well, they just went straight up in the air! They couldn’t see the philosophy. . . . When they turned us down, that left Bud and me to swim on our own.’”; Sam Walton describing his efforts to get the Ben Franklin chain interested in his discount retailing concept in 1962. Walton went on to found Walmart.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”; H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
“We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.”; Decca Recording Company rejecting The Beatles, 1962.
In 1884, John Henry Patterson was ridiculed by his business friends for paying $6,500 for the rights to the cash register—a product with “limited” or no potential. Patterson went on to found National Cash Register (NCR) Corporation.
“What’s all this computer nonsense you’re trying to bring into medicine? I’ve got no confidence at all in computers and I want nothing whatsoever to do with them.”; a medical professor in England to Dr. John Alfred Powell, about the CT scanner.
“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”; any number of experienced drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist in his project to drill for oil in 1859. He later became the first man to strike oil.
“That is good sport. But for the military, the airplane is useless.”; Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief, allied forces on the western front, World War I.
“The television will never achieve popularity; it takes place in a semi-darkened room and demands continuous attention.”; Harvard Professor Chester L. Dawes, 1940.
How's that list for a bit of inspiration? Does that help you set aside any excuses or fear about acting upon and bringing to life your new ideas? Hopefully, it does, and should you need a wonderful tutorial on how to actually bring your ideas to life once you've generated your own personal or business list, then the very best resource I can direct you to is Tim Ferriss's classic article “Beginner's Guide: How to Rent Your Ideas to Fortune 500 Companies,” in which he fleshes out the same type of brilliant concepts you can read about in even more detail in Stephen Key's book One Simple Idea, Revised and Expanded Edition: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work, which I consider to be an essential read for any serious idea-generator.
Finally, for a bit of added inspiration, I want to share with you that, for the past year, both my twelve-year-old boys (who are now beginning to describe the details of their new ideas in their healthy living and cooking podcast at GoGreenfields.com), every Saturday, sit down and generate 10 new ideas for inventions, art, books, toys, tools, games, and more. Here's a glimpse at the type of ideas they come up with:
From slushball makers to butterscotch flavored toothpaste to a baseball cap that turns into a cowboy hat, you can see how much creativity this idea-writing exercise fosters!
So, how about you?
Do you plan on trying out the 10 new ideas habit like Amanda did or like my boys and I do?
Remember: We human beings are the only creatures on the planet created in the image of the great Creator, and He takes pride and joy when we creatively create, as I discuss here; so don't underestimate your ability to generate new ideas on a regular basis. It's an enjoyable habit, it will expand your mental horizons, and it may even result in a bit of business and personal success too.
Try jotting down 10 new ideas on a few days or every day this week, or, like my twin boys, 10 new ideas each Saturday or Sunday. I dare you to give it a try and just “see what happens.” In fact, why don't you try it right now in the comments section below, or, if you do it later, transfer your 10 ideas into the comments section below. I'd love to see what you come up with.