Here are a selection of things people have said about James Altucher that you can find on the Internet:
“Hedge fund hotshot”
“the best blogger of our generation”
“i’m going to kill him and eat his remains”
“an entrepreneurial savant”
“I hope you’re not starting a cult but if you are, I want in…”
“an absolute moron”
Like many of the examples and case studies used in the myGreenlight curriculum, the guests on the Social Capitalist are often smooth, connected players with the right pedigree, the right suits, always ready to say the right thing. James Altucher is none of those things. His pedigree is a portfolio of astounding failures. His dress is less Wall Street than Occupy Wall Street, if the movement employed an IT guy. And above all, the things Altucher says inevitably piss off at least half the people who hear him say them.
That’s what makes it so remarkable that Altucher has grown a loyal tribe of hundreds of thousands that read his blog, opened doors to everyone from the super-secretive hedge funder Steven Cohen to Mad Money’s Jim Cramer, and built enduring relationships while reinventing himself and his career in multiple industries. He’s done it as an outsider, with an unorthodox style. And there are some powerful lessons to learn from that style:
You’re afraid. Now you have a choice: Fit in or stand out.
Much of the work world is built around your fear and giving you a way to hide from it. There will always be someone around to tell you how to fit in. Because it’s not too hard to figure out how to fit in, you’ll have no problem finding plenty of examples and advice on what to wear, what to say, and how to act. Standing out is harder. You have the choice in everything you do to stand out or fit in. Fear will always play a role in that decision. There will always be a voice in your head that tells you not to speak up, stand out and do work that matters. Altucher writes: “Fear is the enemy of honesty. Fear of losing clients. Fear of pissing off family. Fear of going to hell. Fear people won’t like you. Fear of being alone. I very much have these fears. But fear never made anyone money or anyone happier or healthier…” It’s not that Altucher isn’t afraid; he’s always afraid but he knows the choice to stand out is the only one that can bring him success.
The easiest way to stand out is honesty. Which also helps to figure out what to stand for.
People are desperate for authenticity. Everywhere you look today there’s someone lying about something, some organization glossing over the truth, some person not telling it like it is. There’s a scarcity of the authentic in our culture. “So many people are liars: they lie to themselves, they lie to their friends, they lie to their lovers, clients, customers, colleagues, that if you become the one in a thousand that is truly honest, then you will stand out,” writes Altucher. “And when you stand out you will find success. You will find money. You will find happiness. You will find health.” Authenticity – which is created by the unvarnished presentation of truth - is not only scarce, it’s supremely valuable. It’s the alpha, the omega, the essence of leadership, sales, marketing – pretty much any discipline involved in motivating humans to do something. Altucher is so honest so often – revealing the most raw and real parts of him – controversy is never far away. But for every person he turns off, there are ten drawn to him. Magnetism isn’t the only value of honesty. The level of transparency he brings to his endeavors ensures he’s always receiving a healthy level of feedback.
Ideas. Everyday, new ideas.
Being noticed is not the same thing as standing out. Dancing naked on the street will get you noticed, but it won’t qualify as a distinction. Mindless provocation and cheap stunts are easy to pull off but their utility is low. A critical aspect of Altucher’s “daily practice” – a set of habits he insists is the key to every truly productive and successful period of his life – is writing down a list of ideas. “Ideas for new businesses, ideas for trading systems, ideas for people I wanted to meet. Ideas for books I wanted to write. Ideas for software I could write, websites I could make, movies I could draft, connections maybe I still had, jobs I could apply for, inventions I could develop.” Standing out provides Altucher with a platform. Honesty promises the platform will be interesting and credible. Ideas ensure it’ll be useful.
Grope, adapt, fail. Repeat.
What’s that platform, all that honesty and all those ideas, good for? How do you figure out which of the ideas are good or bad? You try things. The most successful entrepreneurs make their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and — quite literally — accident. Altucher is constantly laying the seeds for self-renewal, putting forth ideas of all sorts to see who is attracted to them and why, creating new connections and new opportunities. Failure is soon to follow. But Altucher’s honesty – his willingness to admit his mistakes and examine them in public – has allowed him to design a life that makes effective use of those failures. He engages in trial and error, learns valuable lessons, and to use a natural word, evolves. It’s that adaptability that has allowed him to be an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, columnist, blogger, hedge fund manager and software programmer. Success of this diversity and magnitude is built through a process of groping and adaptation, not planning.
Altucher’s greatest advantage is how he has replicated some of the lessons nature teaches us on how intelligent change is achieved to his own way of engaging the world. First, fearlessly seek out new ideas, new things, new people. Next, talk about and try those new things and ideas and people on a scale small enough so that their failure is survivable. Then make sure there’s a feedback mechanism (Altucher’s own honesty and the relationship that’s created with his vocal community) so you can tell which new thing is worth pursuing and which is not.
Tahl Raz is the co-author of Never Eat Alone and host of myGreenlight’s Social Capitalist series.