[00:00:46] My Quick Hunting Story
[0:04:12.0] Podcast Sponsors
[00:06:29] Guest Introduction
[00:08:33] The Magic That Comes From Writing Down 10 Ideas Per Day
[00:13:20] Reading And Writing During A Pandemic
[00:20:37] Saved by His Writing Practice
[00:33:24] Podcast Sponsors
[00:35:53] More on James' Writing Practice
[00:41:13] James' Love Of Games Improved His Health And Well-Being
[00:46:12] The Importance Of Game Theory
[00:51:13] Things People Should Say “No” To More Often
[00:56:13] Never Say “No” To Doing Stand-Up Comedy
[01:05:28] The Necessity Of College
[01:14:41] Closing the Podcast
[01:15:55] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
James: I just realized I was basically dead broke, I was losing my home, my house was for sale, I had $143 left, and now I had shit all over my head. You know, when you lose all your money, you find out who your friends are, and I realized I actually had no friends. I had zero friends and zero family. If you own and build hotels as quickly as possible on the orange properties, St. James, Tennessee, and New York, you'll win. So, and I'll tell you why.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Oh, my goodness. Hello. This is Ben Greenfield. I am back. I just got back from a week of hunting in–where was I? I was in New Mexico. It's all just a rush. I hunted for five days hard and in burning heat for the first three days, and then bitter cold for the last two days, and it was a great hunt. I learned a ton about elk hunting, elk tracking, elk calling. And on the final day, just called in a monster bull elk, which I planned to fill my freezer with after dry-aging in my steak locker for a while. By the way, I'm sure I've already lost all of my vegan listeners. Don't worry, vegan listeners. You don't have to eat meat to listen to the show. And then, I was going to get in the freezer, give a whole bunch to my local church, and feed some people in the local community. And I was super excited, so I called in this big bull and he stopped in an open spot, about 40 yards out from me, standing completely broadside, and he stood there forever as I began to drawback. Didn't even glance my direction. I was wearing this thing called a HECS suit, which apparently blocks the electromagnetic field of the human body, which was possibly the reason that he just stood there. I don't know. It's called HECS suit, H-E-C-S. Kind of a cool idea.
Anyways though, so I got about halfway through my draw and my bow stopped. The bow I've shot more than a hundred times, hundreds of times in the past few months wouldn't drawback. And so, I looked down and the string was lodged and stuck outside of the cam on my bow. And then, when I slowly let the arrow back down, it twisted and even farther and frayed. And so, I laid down on my belly and attempted to fix my bow while the bow wandered around the left side of the tree that I was at. These things are like white-tailed deer on steroids. I'm shocked it didn't run off. Stopped 30 yards to my left. Again, broadside shot I could take in my sleep, and I had no weapon, and I'm laying there trying to fix my bow frantically thinking, “God, God, please, please let me fix my bow. I've been working my ass off for the past five days to track and hunt and harvest this animal.”
And long story short is the string completely broke. I had no weapon. I thought about perhaps just taking a photograph, but by the time I finish fumbling around for my phone, he wandered off and took off over the mountain. It was about a 360 for those of you who know how to score elk. So, a pretty big bow, and that was going to be my big early season archery elk hunt. So, I am very, very heartbroken, and have a huge fire in my belly now to go out after another elk at some point in my life because it was just an amazing hunt. So, I digress. I'm probably boring all of you. If there are any hunters out there, or outdoorsman, who know their elk game, feel free to contact me because I've got some things I need to learn and I got to get this bow repaired, and then let me back in action.
Anyways though, so a couple of things before we jump into today's podcast, which is a kind of fascinating one with my friend James Altucher. We had a ton of fun on this. I don't know if you know who James is, but super cool, quirky, fun entrepreneur, and we just jammed hardcore for over an hour. And you're just going to love this episode, I think. One of the things that you should know is that today's podcast is brought to you by a pretty cool, new little immune product that we've been working on over at my company Kion. Really cool product. It's a blend of two of the most studied and clinically proven nutrients for immune health, vitamin C, and zinc.
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Alright, let's go talk to James.
Awesome, man. Well, we finally connected. I'm stoked. And this discussion today can go in any direction really, but of course, as you know–
James: Yeah. I have no agenda. I just like hanging out and chatting.
Ben: Word. Me, too. Me, too. It's going to be a ton of fun, and I'm already recording. So, we're just going to jump right in and have fun with this. Okay. Alright.
Well, here we go. Alright, folks. I've never interviewed this gentleman that you are about to hear on today's show. However, he is a fascinating guy. He's published 20 books. I'll link to all his books in the shownotes, but two that I really like. One's called “Choose Yourself” and one's called “Reinvent Yourself.” He is a frequent contributor all over the place, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post, his own blog, and his own podcast, which are really amazing. He gets a ton of interesting guests and he's a fantastic interviewer. He's a hedge fund manager. He's an author. He's a podcaster. He's an entrepreneur. He's made millions of dollars multiple times, lost millions of dollars multiple times, and is, therefore, a wealth of knowledge, and he is just intriguing gentleman. His name is James Altucher. Everything we talk about on today's show you can find at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/altucher. And if you don't know how to spell his name, then go google that shit because you'll probably figure it out pretty quickly.
And that all being said, I think that's enough of an intro, James. What do you think?
James: Ben, that was great. That was maybe the most comprehensive intro I've ever had of me, so thank you very much.
Ben: I practice in front of the mirror a lot.
James: Well, that's good for you. Like, I don't like looking at myself in the mirror so much, so I can't really practice in front of a mirror.
Ben: Somebody's got to be narcissistic. Somebody's got to do it. I'm going to take it.
So, you know what, there's something that I want to jump right into because I had my kids start doing this, and they came up with all sorts of crazy ideas, and I got this harebrained idea from you. I told them that what they should do for a week, and then they shifted to just starting to do it on Saturday mornings during breakfast, was to write down 10 new ideas each day. And there's a lot that goes into that idea of writing down 10 new ideas a day, but it's also–
James: So great that you got your kids to do that, and they were into it?
Ben: Oh, anything that involves writing or illustrating, they're all over it, and they're very creative. So, they come up with all sorts of crazy ideas. Their last one was a magical world comprised of fruits that do crazy things like papayas when you break them open, so they have seeds, or a whole bunch of magical spiders that come crawling out and scramble over the place, and coffee trees that grow coffee beans that are already covered in chocolate for you.
James: Oh, my god, that's a great idea.
Ben: Cherry trees that grow in the winter and make you like frozen cherries, and grapevines that grow in the winter and make you frozen grapes, and all sorts of crazy things that they're now putting into a book about magical fruits.
James: That's a great idea, and it makes me even think there's like business ideas out of that. It's not inconceivable that you can mix coffee grinds or whatever with chocolate somehow and use them both in the coffee machine at the same time to make the perfect chocolate coffee.
Ben: Oh, yeah. There's all sorts of directions that they're going with it. I mean, smoothies that you could pre-grow on trees. And maybe sometime I'll have them share all of their ideas with you, but they're working on it. Oh, they've got a few others. Dragon fruit, and the dragon fruit is actually tiny little miniature dragons. Dragon fruits that's actually shaped like dragons. So, when you cut it open, you get that nice pink, white fruit with the seeds inside it. They're all shaped like dragons. Or like coconut water, but the coconuts are kind of like red on the outside, and then when you crack them open, the coconut water is like blood-red because they've put like a beet powder and beet genetics in it, but then the flesh is bright red, so you get like this whitish red coconut. And then, the one I like the best, and then I'll shut up because I want to hear your backstory of how you came up with some ideas–
James: That was great.
Ben: –is you do an apple tree, but they're very sweet apples that grow from the tree, and the inside of the apple instead of a core, it's caramel, and you have like this kind of sugary grain outer coating on the apple. So, when you eat an apple, it's literally like biting into apple pie.
James: You know, I feel there's a future in genomics for your kids.
James: I feel like with CRISPR, one of these gene-editing things, you could potentially achieve some of these magical fruits in real life.
Ben: Well, that's so funny.
James: It is not inconceivable.
Ben: That's so funny that you bring that up because they're homeschooled. They're actually unschooled and they wanted to know about where they came from, so they did the DNA Ancestry test, the salivary DNA Ancestry test. So, anytime they want to learn about something, we block it into their schooling. And they're literally out in the living room right now studying DNA and learning all about Crick and Watson, and G, C, A, and T, and helical sequences. And just last night, I told them about CRISPR, and actually about some of the F-ups in China that happened during CRISPR, and explain to them all of that. And then, they didn't quite get the idea that the general idea for DNA was partially inspired by the use of lysergamides by, I believe it was Crick, as part of the Crick and Watson crew, who–
James: Oh, really? I didn't know that.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. No. He was on LSD when he came up with that idea for what DNA would actually look like.
James: You're kidding.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. So, I haven't yet given my kids LSD to work on their fruits book, but they are literally studying DNA right now.
James: How old are your kids?
Ben: They're 12, 12-year-old twin boys.
James: So, I don't know if they're quite ready for this book yet, but there's a really good book for layman called “Hacking Darwin” by Jamie Metzl, M-E-T-Z-L, about genomics. And he's not a genomisist, which is why– he was like a science fiction writer, who wanted to really write a nonfiction book explaining CRISPR genomics, gene editing, all this stuff. And I thought it was an incredibly valuable book for learning more. So, I don't know if they're quite ready for that, but it's not technical at all. It's a very good read.
Ben: As long as they can practice on like their dragon lizard or their dog and not me, then I'm cool with that. I'll link to that one in the show. I think this is a pretty new book, isn't it, “Hacking Darwin”?
James: Yeah. It's in the past–I feel like everything was like two months ago because there's like this six-month blackout right now, but it's like in the past year.
Ben: Do you think people are going to be writing a lot more books and will see a lot more books getting published because of the lockdown and a lot more people being stuck at home writing? Because a lot of people I know are writing a lot of books.
James: Yeah, I think so. I don't necessarily think there's going to be a lot more great books. I think that's a skill that takes time to learn like any other difficult skill. But I do think you're going to see a lot more books written during this period. In fact, one of the things that I've been doing is coming up with what I call 30-day book challenges. So, I'll come up with a broad outline for what I think would be an interesting book that could be written within 30 days, and I described exactly the step-by-step process of how to write one of these books in the 30 days. And the outline is broad enough that everybody I tell it to, even if it's 100,000 people, everybody will write a completely different book and all 100,000 books will be what I would say is equally interesting if they use my step-by-step process. And so, I've done about six of these book challenges, and people really respond to that. I think people want to write books.
Ben: Yeah. And I think it'd be interesting, too, because I'm interested in how the future of books progresses with this new–there's this new artificial intelligence algorithm. I think it's called like GST or GDT or something like that.
James: Yeah, GPT-3. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah. GPT-3 that supposedly can–you can plug in a few instructions for what you'd want a website to look like, some other websites that you like, and it will literally create for you a big, beautiful website in a few seconds that's exactly what you want. And I'd be curious if you were to feed like a script, some characters, your general hero's journey into an artificial intelligence-based algorithm like that if it could begin to generate books that literally are thrilling titles that seem as though they were written by actual humans.
James: That's a great idea. So, here's the idea I would try. I would feed in like 40–you have to train it. So, I would feed in 40 Harlequin Romance novels and say, “Go,” and have it spit back Harlequin Romance novel to me and see if it's good. And then, submit it to the editors at Harlequin and see if it's good enough to publish.
Ben: But the problem is you'd know when you're reading it. If it was written using the GPT-3 algorithm, there would still be that sense in the back of your head that it was written by a computer. And I think you'd have some kind of a bias knowing it didn't come from the mind of an actual real human.
James: I wonder because as these things get better, you won't really have that bias. There's a lot of interesting things like–there's a story–so there's this writer, Jerzy Kosinski. He wrote the novel, which became the movie “Being There.” And he wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel called “Steps,” which was published I think in like 1967, won the Pulitzer Prize that year, or the National Book Award. A few years later, a guy copied the book word for word, did not change a single word and submitted it to 20 publishers. Back then, there were 20 publishers. There's much fewer now. And he got rejected by all of them. So, nobody realized that not only was this book published before, but it was a National Book Award winner. It was like the best book in the country, and they all just uniformly rejected this book from this guy.
So, it's amazing how little awareness people have. They don't really think like, “Oh, has this been written before?” or, “Oh, is this an AI engine? It sounds a little bit weird.” They just read it and Harlequin published it. So, it must be like a decent romance novel and they just move on. And 50 Shades of Grey, if you read that, that almost seems like it was written by a robot. By the way, I think I'll credit to E. L. James, she wrote something that– 100 million copies sold. So, she's brilliant. But it's not the best writing in the world. You could sort of feel that right away, even when you're reading it, but nobody cared. They became like the best-selling book of all time.
Ben: Yeah. It's interesting about that. I mean, some people think that J. K. Rowling was really not the person who came up with all the ideas for the Harry Potter novels, and that that was an entire team effort, and it's just too far-fetched for her to have done all that on her own, and that it must have been like a team or some kind of computers that were assisting, or artificial intelligence. Like, if you were to google J. K. Rowling, conspiracy theory, like pretty much the claim is that a team of writers collaborated on the series and Rowling was just kind of like an actress.
James: Oh my gosh, I feel like an entire book or podcast could be done just on the controversies around J. K. Rowling, because there's that, there's the whole recent turf thing. And if you don't know what turf is, I'll let people look it up. There's her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, where she started writing mystery novels and how people uncovered that it was her. So, there's like a lot of interesting stories about her. But I will add to what you just said about her, which is that prior to Harry Potter, there was a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, who's obviously a famous writer of comics, novels, movies, and so on. Neil Gaiman wrote a graphic novel called “The Books of Magic” about a boy magician who didn't realize at first he was a magician. And the boy has like black, straight hair and glasses, and looks exactly like Harry Potter. So, there is some suspicion that she got, maybe not consciously, but at least subconsciously, the idea from a fellow British author who had a popular comic book about two years before Harry Potter came out.
Ben: That's crazy. And by the way, that's on my list of books to read. I listened based on the recommendation from Tim Ferriss to Neil Gaiman's “Graveyard” on Audible, and it's really good. And I actually want to read his new book “American Gods.” Have you read that book?
James: Yeah. “American Gods” is great. I really like his stuff. “American Gods” is great. And then, I would say maybe “American Gods” is the best thing. I love “Books of Magic.” He has this beautiful, it's like artistically beautiful novel called “Signal to Noise,” about the last days of a man dying of cancer. So, it's a little depressing. And then, his opus, his magnum opus is “The Sandman” series, which was a series of about 100 or so comic books. It's gathered into six graphic novels, and that was just brilliant as well.
Ben: Oh, that one is called “The Sandman” series?
Ben: My kids love graphic novels, so I'm going to have to look that one up. Maybe I'll buy them the series. That's amazing. They're reading a different series called “Wings of Fire” right now. It's a graphic novel series. But what I do is I'll give them weird tasks like writing a book report and some massive tome that I'll hand to them. Right now, they're doing this huge book reports on– it's basically like the life of Christ. And before that, they actually did–what's the controversial speaker who wrote the “12 Rules for Life“? Jordan Peterson.
James: Jordan Peterson, yeah.
Ben: So, I'll give them books that a 12-year-old wouldn't normally read. But typically, after they write the book report, they usually have two weeks from the time I hand them the book to generate a two-page book report. I'll gift them with something cool like a book that they actually get super excited to read. And maybe this Sandman set would be a cool one for them.
James: Yeah. They will love it. I guarantee they'll love it.
Ben: Okay. Cool. So, how did you come up with the idea? Because I know it's related to how you wound up making some money. And a lot of my listeners don't really know your story, but I know this idea of writing down 10 ideas led to you being able to dig yourself out of a hole, so to speak, and generate some business for yourself. Can you get into that story a little bit?
James: Yeah. So, in the '90s, there was this brief period where the web was up and coming, but not yet fully out there, and a lot of companies did not have websites. So, I was one of the few people, I would say, in New York City who really knew from beginning to end how to build a website. There was no WordPress. There were no tools for making websites, like you had to just dig in and write software, and hire graphic designers, and really make a website. So, I started an agency and a software company to make websites for companies. And I wasn't just doing it for the local locksmith or whatever. I did americanexpress.com, that was their first website, the timewarner.com.
I did every gangster rap record labels. So, Bad Boy Records, loud records, Interscope's Death Row records, Jive Records. I did a lot of movie studios that existed then like Miramax, October Films, New Line Films, and so on. I did a lot of movie websites. So, I built up this business, a really good business specializing in the entertainment industry, mostly, building websites. And then, I sold it during the internet stock bubble, and I made a lot of money. I made enough money that it's like I have post-traumatic stress even thinking about it now, how much money I lost. So, I made about 15 million. And then, there was one summer where I lost about $1 million a week through–and you would think it would be through something like just decadent, like drugs, women, whatever. But it was nothing like that. I did not do anything like that. I lost it simply on making bad money decisions, bad investing decisions. I really had no knowledge of the money.
Ben: So, the $15 million wasn't–
James: It was cash.
Ben: It was actual cash. So, this wasn't like equity or stocks that you hadn't cashed out. And you actually had cash, you lost $15 million?
James: Right. I had cash and I upped my lifestyle because of the cash.
Ben: Holy shit, I guess you must have.
James: Yeah. And then, I was just–you think when you make money, you think, “Oh, I must be a genius. If I could make it here, I could make it anywhere.” And I don't know. It was almost like this self-satisfying circle about it, like everyone would suddenly ask me for money advice because I had money, and it was just really–look, I built up an agency in an internet bubble and I had no clue. Like, money is a very difficult skill, and there's three subskills. There's making it, keeping it, growing it. And so, I made it that one time. I didn't even know if I had the skill really to make it again, and I didn't know how to keep it, and I certainly didn't know how to grow it, and all of those are separate skills. So, I was making like horrible investment decisions, like I just did not know what I was doing, and it would take a long time of self-study to figure out how to have money skills.
No, I had no guide, no mentor. I wish I had asked for help, but I was too prideful. I had ego and I really thought, “Oh, no. I must be an expert because I'm a genius. I sold a business. I'm the smartest person.” And I didn't even want to be in business. I didn't really enjoy being an entrepreneur, but it just happened accidentally because people needed a website and there was like five people in the city who knew how to make one. But anyway, I made all these horrible decisions and I was getting so depressed. I remember one point, I looked at my ATM machine and I always avoided looking at the balance. I knew I was going down, but I just did not want to look at the balance. And by accident one time, I looked at the balance and I had $143 left in the same account that I once had $15 million in there, and I couldn't believe it.
And I remember I called my wife at that time and– I went to a payphone. There are payphones back then. I picked up the phone and I'm dialing it, but I'm not getting a ringtone. And then, I realized the entire phone, for some reason somebody maliciously did this, the entire payphone, the phone itself, was covered in shit. So, I don't know, dog or human, I have no idea. And so, then it was all over me, like all over my head. So, there, I realized–
Ben: That's good for your immune system though.
James: Maybe that's why I didn't need to go to a doctor that year. I don't know. But I just realized I was basically dead broke, I was losing my home, my house was for sale, but because I lived right next to what had been called the World Trade Center, what was then called Ground Zero, I wasn't getting any offers. I had $143 left and now I had shit all over my head. And I was really depressed and I thought, “Gosh, I have two babies.” They're not going to remember who I am, but I still had one thing going for me is I had a life insurance policy. So, that brought me down a dark place, which fortunately, I didn't–the problem was I wanted to figure out how to kill myself without hurting myself because I was scared and there's no way to do it. I will conclude that there was no way to do it after much research, and not recommending this choice for anybody. And I didn't know what to do. So, I called even my parents and I said, “Hey, can I drive down and borrow $1,000? And as soon as I get rid of this house, I will give you back $1,000.” And they refused me. I just had nothing going on. When you lose all your money, you find out who your friends are, and I realized I actually had no friends. I had zero friends at zero–
Ben: And at that point, you had already washed the telephone shit off of your head in hand. So, it wasn't because of your odor or stature.
James: Right. Yeah, yeah. I had no excuse for having no friends. That would have been a good excuse. “Oh, sorry, I forgot to wash this off.” So, one day, I was–and literally, I wasn't surviving, like I wasn't eating, but I was too depressed to eat or sleep or anything. And one day, I was walking around just taking huge walks around New York City and I walked into a restaurant supply store for whatever reason, I don't know why, and I saw a box of waiters pads. I could buy 100 waiters pads for $10. So, 10 cents a pad. And I just love the look of a waiters pad. It was like a small little pad, so I can fit it in my pocket. It wasn't these fancy pads, the Moleskin pads that people pay $1,000 for. It was like [00:27:40] _____, and I like the light blue, and it's small enough you can't write a novel on a waiters pad. You have to just write lists like orders.
And so, the next day, I take it out with me on my walk, I go for a coffee, and I just start writing down ideas. I had an idea for a book. So, I wrote down 10 chapter ideas and I got a little excited about this book. I felt it inside myself. Like, “Oh, it's like the stirring in my heart that was also connecting to my brain.” Like the writing of ideas was connecting something I desired was something I was being creative about in my brain. And the next day, for each chapter, I wrote down 10 ideas for, “Okay. What will be a sub-outline of that chapter?” And then, I started writing down just randomly like the next day, business ideas, or I'd write down, “Here is 10 people who I'd love to have as a mentor.”
Ben: Right. Just like purely in creative flow, anything goes when you're writing down these ideas, anything.
James: And this is why I love the list that your kids made. A lot of times people ask me, “Do you write down business ideas every day, or do you keep track of all your business ideas?” And the answer is no. The point of this really is ideas and creativity and possibilities are a muscle. And like most muscles, they atrophy very, very quickly. Let me ask you, Ben. If you didn't exercise, or let's say you just stayed in bed and watched TV for a straight amount of time, you didn't get up at all, how long before your muscles would atrophy to the point it would be hard for you to walk the first time you got up?
Ben: Typically, it's about two to three weeks. It kind of depends. There's things that you could do to keep them from atrophying, like if you're really hot, that seems to keep muscles from atrophying, which is why people who can exercise, if they just go sit in the sauna, it could stave it off, those–
James: I knew by the way you're asking this [00:29:34] _____.
Ben: Yeah. All those made for TV electrostimulation devices that can help a little bit. There are certain things like SARMs and some things called peptides that you can take that will stave off muscle atrophy. Interestingly, even creatine, which is dirt cheap, can help out a little bit, but yeah. I mean, after anywhere from two to four weeks depending on how fit you are going in, you're going to see some significant muscle atrophy. Absolutely.
James: And I will say it is the exact same thing with the idea muscle. So, that's why I love what your kids did or these types of lists. Like, yeah, you could do a lot of lists of businesses, businesses I could do, businesses other people could do, but it's really just about exercising that muscle every day. And you feel it. Like after you write down your first seven ideas, the final 3 of the 10, you feel like your brain is sweating. And what I noticed after like a few weeks, maybe after a month or so, was that– it's like literally, I felt new connections between the synapses of my brain. I felt like my brain was electrified a little bit. And that was a real feeling. It was a visceral feeling. And I remember one time I wrote email. I made a list of all the people I wanted to meet, and I wrote emails to them, and I said, “Hey, can I please meet you and buy you a cup of coffee, blah, blah, blah?” Nobody responded. And so, of course, nobody responded, like Warren Buffett's not going to suddenly say, “Oh, my gosh, I've got to hold everything. James Altucher‘s coming to Omaha and is going to buy me a cup of coffee.”
Ben: Right. Hold on, Charlie Munger, I have a more important meeting going on right now.
James: Right. So, what I did instead was I started making idea lists for other people. So, here's 10 ideas for your business, here's 10 ideas for your business. If you're a writer, here's 10 article ideas you could write. And then, I sent those out and I said, “Hey, I love what you do,” and I would mention something specifically that they did. “No strings attached. Here's 10 ways I thought your X, Y, Z could be better. You don't have to respond. Good luck.” So, I ask for nothing. I just gave. I gave these 10 ideas to each person. I wrote about 20 different people and three of them responded. And one person was a writer and I said, “Here's 10 ideas for articles you could write, and then I'll subscribe to your publication.” And he wrote back and said, “Wow, these ideas are great. Can you write these articles?” And that literally started my career as a writer, like that was it.
And another person I said, “Here's 10 ideas for your–” I knew his hedge fund style, “so here's 10 ideas of software that I'd written where I found patterns that mimic your style and you could try these out. I'm happy to train your staff or they could learn on their own, and good luck.” And then, another person was a writer also and I'd given him some ideas. He wrote back and said, “Yeah. I would love to have lunch.” I actually didn't respond to him until 12 years later, and I simply hit reply and said, “Okay. Instead of lunch though, how about coming on my podcast?” So, that's when in 2014, the writer Nassim Taleb came on my podcast.
Ben: Oh, wow.
James: Sometimes that's a good technique to just go back to somebody you blew off and respond as if he just wrote you a second ago. And I find that it's like funny enough that people ignore the fact that you didn't write them back the first time. So, the hedge fund guy, he actually said, “It doesn't quite fit my style, but I like these ideas.” And he allocated money to me and it started me off on a hedge fund career. So, creating these ideas lifted me out of my depression. I don't know why. It excited me enough that it lifted me out of this depression, and then it got me actually doing things, and then it created opportunities for me.
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Just imagine if during, for example, we're recording this during the lockdown, even though it's going to be a classic and people are going to be listening to this by the millions 20 years from now. But right now, we're in lockdown. Just imagine if people who are struggling with finding a career or pivoting and making an income in lockdown where to sit down and write down 10 new ideas each day. I mean, I can just imagine the ideas being generated would be profound. And as you alluded to, it is a muscle. I mean, if I write every day, because I've been working on these Sunday blog posts that are more kind of like creative ramblings, and it flows from me, the first, first few weeks I was working on it because I'm just so used to technical, sciencey writing, it was a chore. And now it just flows, the ability to be able to write more spiritual, more pros-esque type of material, but it took a while and it was all related, more vulnerability, all related to what you're talking about, the neuroplasticity and the change in the way that the synapses fire when you repeatedly perform a task, including a creative task like writing new ideas or writing in a specific style. Your brain does change in a very, very similar way as exercise. And on the flipside, as you also alluded to, when you don't, it atrophies.
And so, there's so many different directions that we could go with what you've just outlined, but I have a couple of comments. First of all, I also recently lost a lot of money, but it was only on paper. About three years ago, I wanted to invest in cannabis because I thought that it was going to be a hot sector. So, I bought Canadian cannabis and I bought this company called Aurora, and I put about $100,000 into it. I think it was at about $9 or $10 when I did. This was like 2000, mid-2017. And then, early last year, it was at 115. And so, I think if I cashed out–this is of course before capital gains, but I would have realized like maybe three million.
And then, I had some issues with computer sharing and transferring. And so, I kind of like walked away for a few weeks and get around back to it. And then, I went back in and checked on the stock a couple of months ago and it's at $8. It's less painful though when it's money that hasn't actually materialized or wound up in your bank account, and it was all just on paper and you can set it out and wait it out anyways. But it was an interesting moment for me feeling as though I'd made a whole host of millions of dollars in a relatively short period of time and then just seeing it all disappear. But that's the volatility of the stock market in cannabis, in particular, of course. And then, before I ask you another question, you did mention that you were looking into a painless way to die. I would imagine that this is probably controversial and could get the podcast pulled from any podcast platform in multiple countries, but–
James: We could take that part out if you want.
Ben: But we could always take it out if we need to. No, but I was going to tell you that the U.S. government has actually approved a painless way to die. And it's supposedly, if you do it through lethal injection, which is where first, they give you an anesthetic, which is I think they use thiopental right now. And then, they follow that up with a paralytic agent, which kind of like stops you from breathing, but then the anesthetic they give you before that stops any pain. And then, they finish that up with potassium chloride, which basically just stops your heart instantly. Apparently, there is zero pain and zero time to die with the lethal injection. That's supposedly the only way to do it and not feel a thing, is you have to have those three chemicals though. So, there is a way to do it. It's not parking your car in your garage and doing the carbon monoxide thing or jumping from the Empire State Building or anything like that, but–
James: Yeah. Those are all horrible ways. But then also, I was worried if you wouldn't get life insurance. If they knew you killed yourself there, I wasn't sure about my life insurance policy.
Ben: Oh, yeah. That's true.
James: So, that was the other issue as well.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. It's a good point.
James: But in general now, I'm glad–I mean, we all go through periods where we're miserable, or depressed, or anxious, or something. This wasn't the first time I went broke. It was like three or four times later, I kept doing it, I kept being miserable, I kept being depressed and depressive. But I'm glad my kids are older. I finally figured out some basic skills that I was missing, including exercising the idea muscle as much as possible, which was really not only an antidepressant, but created so many opportunities for me over the years. And then also, it takes a while for a young person I think to learn, or at least for me, hey, toxic relationships are just as damaging as not exercising, or not eating good food, or whatever. And of course, then making sure you sleep. All these things are related to creativity, to depression, to your ability to function as a business person and as a member of society in the community.
And so, I realized every time I made money, I would stop being a useful functioning member of society and I would essentially stop taking care of these various muscles like an emotional muscle, the idea muscle, physically. So, I just stopped bad behavior like that, eventually, and that helped me on a more consistent growth spurt. But with the idea muscle, always 100% of the time brought me back from the dead financially. It was amazing.
Ben: Yeah. I think another muscle that's really good is gaming strategy muscle. I was pleased to see, when I started reading some of your blog posts that are really good, how into games you are, not just chess, which I think you're relatively well-known for being a really good chess player, but you also have some great posts on poker, which I found interesting because I have a lot of poker players who hire me to coach them for things like sleep and mental optimization, and how to use things like nootropics and smart drugs, and what to do after night in the casino to bounce back and have your cognition the next day, et cetera, which is important for them because that's how they make a lot of money. And it's interesting. I never would imagine that I would wind up coaching poker players for things like cognition, or sleep, or heart rate variability, or anything like that.
But as a result, I'm talking to a lot of people who are playing games. And then, we also at our dinner table, at least five nights a week, we have hour, hour and a half long family dinners where we'll play Quiddler, Boggle, Scrabble, Stratego, Chess, Canasta, 10s, Texas hold 'em, you name it, like we literally have an enormous game closet that we go into and dig into almost every single night for dinner, unless we have company. And sometimes we just talk with the company if we have company.
James: That is such a great thing. It's so important for your kids, and I agree with you. And sorry to interrupt, but when I would go out, even that first day that I used my waiter's pad, I would always start off, I would read some passages from some book on games. I would solve game problems, and I still do this every day. I solve game problems every day. So, you could have a book of chess puzzles, or a book of Checkers Puzzles, or backgammon, or poker. All those games you mentioned, I've spent–actually, my very first idea list, you'll find this funny, my very first idea list that very first day was an idea for a book that I outlined. And the book was “Beat Your Friends and Family at Every Game in the Universe.”
Ben: At every game?
James: Yeah, at every game, because the idea is most people, they're amateurs, but usually they think they're pretty good at monopoly, or Risk, or poker. Like people usually think they're better than they are. You can't be a professional or a good player this way, but with a few little shortcuts, you could beat any player off the street like a family member at Thanksgiving or something. You could beat them with just a few shortcuts. Like Scrabble, you mentioned, you just know the list of two-letter words, you'll beat anybody at Scrabble.
Ben: Only two-letter words?
James: Yeah. There's like 101 two-letter word, something like that, like QI, XI, XU. So, that helps you get rid of the Qs, the Xs, KA, helps you get rid of the Ks. And then, if you know, the second tip was if you know the Q without U words. So, like QAT, QOPF, [00:44:04] _____.
Ben: Oh yeah, good point. Yeah. QI, Q-I.
James: Q-I, yeah. So, if you just know these two lists, you'll easily beat anybody who thinks Scrabble–most people think Scrabble is about vocabulary. And you can say, “Okay. I'll play you.” And you just play two and three-letter words, you'll crush them.
Ben: Okay. Tonight's game night and I'm going to propose Scrabble. That's what we're going to do and I'm going to beat everybody. And if I don't, I may be calling you up on the phone. And then, I want to get back to why game theory is important, but first, some of this stuff that you're talking about for this idea that you had, what about monopoly, how would you win at monopoly?
James: Okay. Monopoly, you guess what color is the most important to buy. There's the yellow, green, red–
Ben: Light purple. The light blue ones, the ones that come right before jail, like Connecticut and all the light blues.
James: Decent guess, but if you own and build hotels as quickly as possible on the orange properties, you'll win. There's a luck component in monopoly with the dice, but you'll win almost every time.
Ben: That's like St. James and–
James: St. James, Tennessee, and New York. So, and I'll tell you why, because the most popular square to land on is jail because you could land on jail with the dice, you could land on jail if you land on the “Go to jail” square, and there's two community chest cards that take you to jail. So, there's all these extra opportunities to land on jail. The most common dice roll is a seven with two dice. So, that puts you right in the middle of the orange properties. The six, eight, nine lands you on the orange properties. So, the orange properties are the properties people are most likely to land on over and over and over again. If you're the one who owns the hotels there, I would even trade like Broadway, which is an expensive property for like New York if it makes me have all three orange cards. So, the orange cards are key in monopoly. And that's all you need to know and you'll win almost every game.
Ben: What about games that aren't board games like rock, paper, scissors, for example? You were looking at any of those?
James: No, I haven't, and that's an interesting one. There's even a rock, paper, scissors world championship. So, there's a lot of psychology to that one, and I haven't quite–that's an interesting one. I haven't looked into that one to figure out how to master it.
Ben: Okay. Why is game theory so important?
James: Two reasons. One is every position on the board is like a puzzle, [00:46:20] _____. Every position on the board is a puzzle in front of you. You could ignore the fact that there is competition, and it's just like, here's a board, like the chest position, here's a board, it's blacks turned to move, what's the best move? It's like a puzzle. So, first off, it engages this puzzle-solving, problem-solving party of game brain. And it's hard enough that you know it's going to be a hard puzzle to solve because that's why it's a famous game. Second, competition is incredibly important to learn, like essentially, competition is a safe way to practice everything from fighting to war to business competition, but it's safe. You're just in the comfort of your own home. You totally want to destroy and annihilate the other person, but it's a safe way to do that without violence or putting much at risk.
And third thing, which I think is more useful maybe than people think, is a lot of these games are metaphors for life. Like, you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about life by getting good at these different games like chess. Just simple things like controlling the center. There's metaphors for that in life and different aspects of being patient in balancing defense and offense. There's a lot of metaphors in poker for life, like the psychology of it. So, all of those things provide useful lessons in addition to the competition aspect and the puzzle-solving aspect.
Ben: Yeah. I think just the whole idea of game theory helps people understand not only people, but how to make decisions based on assessing outcomes. And I think there's some logic that's worked in as well. For me, there's even some amounts of morality built-in. And by morality, I mean something as simple as when you're playing Scrabble–I don't usually have my smartphone on the table, but it is within reach a lot of the time and I can easily, If I wanted to, say during Scrabble, “Oh, I got to look for a text,” when really I could just type in a word on Google and see if it's an actual word.
And so, there's a great deal of morality and ethics built into proper gameplay as well. And I've just seen my children grow dramatically by dragging out these games every single night in terms of their ability to reason, their ability to engage in decision making, understand other people, make decisions even when–doing the right thing when other people might not know that you're doing the right thing, making a moral decision like even though nobody knows, I'm going to look up this word in Scrabble, I'm not going to do it anyways. So, yeah. I think it's incredibly important. I want to link in the shownotes, and again, the shownotes for those of you listening in are at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/altucher, to a really great article that James wrote called “How to Master Every Game.” I think it's fantastic.
And if you guys want to leave some of your favorite games in the shownotes as well, that would be great. We sometimes modify our games, too, James. I also lost some money recently because I paid a licensing. It's only $400 to do this for me, but we have this game called Quiddler, which is like Scrabble with cards. And what I did was because we were making so many modifications to the game, like we thought it would be cool if there was a card that you draw that would force you to pass all of your letter cards immediately to the right, keeping only one, or double the points if you spell a word that rhymes with your first name, or a wild card that automatically makes all your vowels worth double points.
And so, we came up with like 20 special rules for this game called Quiddler, and I gave them all to the IP attorney and had her go to the original game manufacturer, and try to see if we could license a new game or our version of the existing game back to them. But it turns out they don't make the game anymore. And they also own all the IP even though they don't make the game anymore. So, it would have been really difficult for us to do. But we also have gotten to the point where we play these games so regularly. We just like to modify them and make up our own rules.
James: I like that. Game construction is also an interesting game in itself.
Ben: Oh, yeah.
James: But you're right about studying like game theory and strategy and why you can learn from it. Like I find in many situations–like I'll watch the president, the Democratic primary debates, for instance, and I'm sort of half-listening to hear what they're saying about the issues. But I'm also sort of half-listening to really break down what's the game. Like, every one of them is playing a game. They want to be noticed the most and they want to have the most favorable–it's a game with measurement. They want to win the debate. They want to have the most favorable improvement between pre and post-debate. And so, I'm always listening for what's their strategy, how are they playing a game, because it's not like–they prepared pretty heavily from a game theory point of view for these debates. So, I always like looking at everything as a game, and that's a useful way of solving problems without getting personally involved.
Ben: Yeah. And in addition to game theory, you've also written a lot about– kind of decision making when it comes to saying no, saying no to certain things. I of course live my life now by the “hell, yes” rule. If I didn't want to be talking to you right now, if this podcast wasn't a “hell, yes,” we wouldn't be recording it. I just. don't bother with anything–
James: Oh, I appreciate that.
Ben: It's not a hell yes. You're welcome. Those are my sneaky way of blowing smoke, too. But anyways, do you see people, and this is kind of a broad question you could take anywhere you want, but people who should say no to things more often that they don't, like other things people should say no to more often that they don't?
James: Oh, yes, everybody. And, A, sometimes people say yes when they really want to say no. B, sometimes people say no and then they lie about why they're saying no. And then, there's a small category of people who only say no when they really don't want to say yes and they're honest about it. And I try very hard to be in the third category. And I've spent a lot of time in the first two categories, unfortunately, and that's why I was able to write a book about “The Power of No.”
Ben: Yeah. I remember that you'd written that book. That's why I wanted to ask because I know you studied up on this. So, you brought the book like I think five or six years ago, “The Power of No.” But yeah. In writing that book, I'm just curious if there are, from a practical standpoint, things that people should just say freaking no to more often that you wish they would, or that you think would make their lives better.
James: Yeah. And by the way, this really varies per person, but I think most meetings and most socializing people should say no to because a lot of times, I'll go out and the first thing and the only thing I want to do is go home. Like, I'll go out, meet with a bunch of friends in a loud bar. There's like zero chance I'm going to have fun.
Ben: Right. But you're there because you want to be seen. I think that's what happens a lot of times. You want to be seen and you think maybe something is going to happen that's going to be slightly interesting. And this happens to me, too, James. I'll go to a function, organize a big dinner, sometimes I'm responsible for the function together, or I'll show up at a party that's supposed to be amazing, and five minutes in, I realized that had I stayed back in my hotel room during the four hours I'm at that party talking shallow with a bunch of people with a cocktail in my hand, I could have learned like two songs on the guitar, and read an amazing book, and done something meaningful and impactful.
James: Right. That's exactly it because, let's say every day, you improve your life 1%. Compounded, that's 3,700% a year. You make your life 37 times better in a year if you take a little bit more time for yourself, and like you say, read a book or part of a book, or play a musical instrument, or learn something. I remember one time I was going out with some friends and they were talking about the books they wanted to write and all their ideas. And it was around 1:00 in the morning, we're closing down the restaurant and I realized why they never wrote their books. To this day, this is 20 years later, to this day, they haven't written their books. It's because they kept going out every night instead of saying no.
James: And so, basically, the more I was able to say–you know what's been great about this lockdown is that I canceled about seven business trips. I almost have never made money traveling for business. Like if I had to travel across country to have a sales meeting with a potential customer from whatever business that was involved in, I think maybe zero of those meetings out of 100 times of travel for business, or hundreds of times, zero of those meetings have actually worked out. So, in retrospect, I should have said no to many of those. So, I say no now to almost all travel, I say no to almost all meetings. I don't even answer my emails really that much.
Ben: Do you feel like there's certain things you myopically focus on every single day and even makes you feel guilty sometimes that that's just like what you get to kick out of and you never get bored with those things? Because I run into that a lot. Like I wake up, I want to write some stuff, I want to research and read, I want to be with my family, I want to play my guitar, I want to make some really cool meals and spend some time outdoors, and there's like 30 other things that I could be doing. And sometimes I ask myself, “Am I too boring? Am I just saying no to too much?” Does that happen to you?
James: Oh, yeah, all the time. And I get insecure about it. Like, I ask my wife, “Is it okay? I don't really want to socialize with the neighbors today or whoever.” Yeah. I feel guilty about it because I really like just sitting in my office and reading and writing and coming up with my 10 ideas a day list. I get very excited about that.
Ben: Okay. So, reading, writing 10 ideas. What are the other things that are just like you'd be happy as a clam and you could just say no to everything else?
James: Really, those things. And I always say yes to opportunities, and this is going to sound a little odd. I always say yes to opportunities to do stand-up comedy. So, about five years ago, maybe a little more, I got up on stage. Someone asked me randomly. A comedy club owner asked me, “Hey, do I want to go up?” He had heard me give a talk and thought I was funny. So, I said, “Sure, I'll go up.” I was really scared to death to do it and it was such a thrill to make people laugh. I couldn't believe it. It was like such a big dopamine hit.
James: And so, I started–yeah, and I went back a week later and I bombed horribly, like people booed me off the stage the second time. It was awful.
Ben: And was this the initial time you got up? Was this like the deal words, like an open mic, now you got five minutes?
James: It wasn't an open mic. I was up with the professionals because people knew me. And so, I was up there with people who had been on Showtime, HBO, Comedy Central, and I did good the first time. And I had prepared, but I was scared. I was really scared. And looking at the video later, I always take videos of myself doing this, looking at the video later, it's so clear to me now what was going wrong and why I was so scared. But so, the second time, or the third time, whatever, I completely bombed and it was like shameful. It was like I bombed so bad the emcee had to apologize for me, which is something you never do. You keep the show going if you're the emcee. And I felt so bad and I figured, Okay, but I love this. I'm just going to really study it and practice and get good at it.” And I started doing up to 10 shows a week. So, three, four nights a week, 10 shows a week.
Now, it's a much different story. So, now I go up pretty much. If I go to a city, I'll go perform in whatever local comedy club. I toured through The Netherlands right before the lockdown. That was actually the last time I performed. And I've been all over the country performing. And now, I feel really good that–it's probably the hardest skill I ever had to learn, actually, out of everything. And that includes business, investing, writing, chess, day trading–
Ben: Do you practice comedy a lot?
James: Yeah. Well, I mean, like I said, I do up to 10 shows a week. I mean, right now, because of the lockdown, I don't.
Ben: Well, I mean, yeah, you do the shows, but do you have to practice a lot in between, your writing?
James: No. I mean, yeah, I'll write a little bit each day. Or if I think of jokes, I always try– every time I perform, I try to do 10% to 20% new material. And most comedians don't do that. And the key, I realized, has actually changed my whole philosophy of learning. So, I was really grappling with the–Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule, which is the idea that if you spend 10,000 hours in what he calls deliberate practice, you'll be the best in the world at something. And I didn't want to spend 10,000 hours at this. I'm over 50 years old. I wanted to learn really quickly. And I was struggling with this though. I contacted Anders Ericsson, who was the original professor who developed the 10,000-hour rule. I talked to other people who had written about it, and it just wasn't sitting right with me, the whole 10,000-hour thing.
And so, I changed it to be what I call the 10,000 experiments rule, which is that if every day I do an experiment, then I'm going to move the envelope of my knowledge because the whole concept of an experiment is I'm going to try something I don't know the answer to, but I have a theory about. And so, I'm not going to try something randomly. I have a theory that this might be good. And then, I'm going to try it and I'm going to–whether it succeeds or fails, there's little downside, it's just an experiment, there's huge upside. If the experiment works, I really move my knowledge quite a bit in my experience. And if it fails, like it doesn't work or it doesn't make people laugh, then okay, I learned something. I at least learned something new.
And I do this now for entrepreneurship. Like, if I want to validate a business idea, the first thing I'll think of is ways to experiment on this idea. Or like for instance, right now, and even the last time we spoke when you were on my podcast, I'm wearing pajamas. I'm experimenting with full time 24 hours a day wearing pajamas for some potential business ideas I have that I probably won't do, but they showed up on my idea list, so I decided to experiment with it.
Ben: Wow. Some people's version of pajamas would not be acceptable for calls, just so you know. Like for me, pajamas is my birthday suit, so I can't do that.
James: Well, yeah. No. That's a good point. And my whole thinking is that now with this lockdown, nobody really needs to wear uncomfortable outside wear ever. And pajamas, by definition, are the most comfortable clothes because you could sleep in them. So, my theory is is that, “Oh, maybe there's some twist I can find on pajamas that are good for outside wear.” I don't know.
James: I'm just experimenting.
Ben: It's interesting. Yeah.
James: No one said anything.
Ben: They're comfortable. I interviewed a guy named Paul Chek, who's a health pioneer, and he's convinced that everything from like breast cancer due to tight clothing and restricted bras to men who have poor drive or erectile dysfunction due to tight-fitting briefs, and poor movement patterns due to inability to squat, lunge, et cetera. Like a big part of it is just the kind of clothing that we wear. And if we were all to wear like loosey-goosey pajama-esque clothing, that we'd all function better and be healthier in life. So, you may be on to something. You might be–
James: I like that.
Ben: — launching a new health trend.
James: Right. I could tell people it's Viagra or these pajamas, you choose.
Ben: That's right. See, that was funny right there. And so, I could tell that you're probably naturally funny, but I did want to ask you as a follow-up to the comedian thing, do you ever feel like you're posing impostor syndrome at all? Do you feel like you're both funny in real life and funny on stage? Or is the you on stage that much different?
James: That's a great question because I would say the me on stage, in the beginning, was very different because I thought I had to be something different to be a comedian. I thought that a comedian had a certain structure to it, like a stand-up comedy had a certain structure to it, which it does, but it's looser than I thought. And so, I would get into that. Here, I've had so many more experiences in life than the average stand-up comedian, not like a Dave Chappelle or someone who's like god in comedy. There's thousands of comedians going on stage.
So, I would tell like these standard style jokes with my own little twist, and it just wasn't good, like I wasn't good for years and years. And it was only when I started really just going on stage and saying, “You know, man, 2020,” and saying it in a certain way and acting a certain way, and then talking to people in the crowd, and then figuring out how to draw from what they're telling me in the crowd to material that I've used before and combining them to make new jokes. Like, just being myself and making interesting observations, but making them in a funny way or talking to people. Like, I would talk to people about colleges. I'm really against people taking on student loan debt and wasting four years of their life with a degree they'll never use.
And so, I'll ask the crowd like, “Who here has debt?” and some will say, “Oh, I've got $100,000 in debt.” And I'm like, “What did you major in?” And he says, “Well, I'm still majoring in business.” And I'm like, “Oh my gosh. Well, you need to switch majors, sir, because business 101 do not get $100,000 in debt before starting your first business.” And usually, the crowd will go along with that, but now I'm able to veer in an entire pre-written set of material about the college experience, and my kids going to college, and so on. So, I'm able to segue in and out of material, but conversing my own observations with the crowd and so on.
Ben: Yeah. That's interesting. My friend who's a financial analyst or a financial advisor, Garrett Gunderson, he just got into stand-up comedy. I think you know him. You know, Garrett, yeah?
James: Yeah, yeah. We met at Jayson Gaignard's mastermind.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Good guy, and I'm actually going on a five-day elk hunt trip with him in New Mexico next week. And so, I might be stuck in a tent with him for five days and learn a little bit more about stand-up comedy because it's actually something that I'm interested in doing, but have a little bit of impostor syndrome. I love to be on stage, I love to crack jokes, I love being in front of people, ironically, even though I'm introverted. As you know, a lot of times introverts can do well on stage. And so, it's something I'm interested in, and that's inspiring that you just got up and started doing it. So, that's very cool.
James: And I was really bad. I was funny in person, but I was really, really bad. So, it took a lot of experimenting and a lot of studying other comedians. And before I finally realize–like something started to click, like a rhythm started to happen where I essentially–I don't want to say I never bomb, but I pretty much stopped bombing and then it was just a matter of, am I killing or am I just doing okay? And then, I always study the video of myself, and every day I experiment.
Ben: Yeah. Well, that's good to know that you sucked because that gives me hope. So, you briefly mentioned one thing, and this was probably the last thing I want to ask you, but you talked about college and you mentioned in passing there like your thoughts about whether or not young people should go to college. And I know you do have some feelings about that. My kids aren't of college-age yet and I'm homeschooling them/unschooling them. Yet at the same time in the back of my mind, I don't want them to turn 16 or 17 or 18 and look back and say, “Dad, I really want to be an engineer, or a physician, or a lawyer, but you didn't supply me with what I needed to be able to take an entrance exam or go to college and be embittered about that.” But at the same time, I'm not structuring their education with the goal of them getting in an Ivy League Institution or with the ultimate golden pot at the end of the rainbow being college, for various reasons. But I'm curious what your thoughts are about college and its necessity.
James: Yeah. So, I first wrote about this for the Financial Times in 2005 and everybody thought I was completely insane. And people would argue with me, and people would write me letters, and professors would debate this on their own blogs. And so, it was a weird conversation then to have, but now starting around 2015, I would say, it was starting to be a mainstream conversation.
Ben: By the way, was that your article that was entitled “College is a Waste of Time and Money for Kids?”
James: Probably, because I've written about like 10 different articles.
Ben: I'll link to that one in the shownotes for people. Go ahead.
James: And there was one time even Georgetown University did a study on the financial benefits of going to college. And the study was so poorly done that you didn't even–like just basic statistics, and I was able to tear it apart, but they mentioned me in the study as like, “Well, guys like James Altucher say it's so good, but here's the actual statistics.” But they're taking statistics from the '70s, which have no bearing on how people view college now. So, it was horrible. But look at right now. Now, college, the scam is over. Colleges are telling students, “Look, go home. You're going to do remote learning. Forget everything we used to say about the campus experience. You're not going to have it this year because of the coronavirus, but we're still going to have to charge you the full tuition.”
Meanwhile, they can learn from some of the best people on the planet for like $300 on Coursera, or Khan Academy, or Skillshare, or Udemy, or master class. Like you could learn from Wolfgang Puck. You could learn screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin. It's unbelievable to me what I've learned on online courses versus what I learned back in the day when I went to college. Google has even said, “Look, don't worry about college. If you take these kind of certificate programs at Coursera, it's just an online school, very cheap, we'll consider you for a job.” So, major companies now are saying, “You don't need college, you just need these skills.” Skills trump college. They are much more important than college.
And I also think tuition has gone up faster than inflation for 40 straight years in a row. So, tuitions are out of control because the government backs all these student loans. So, the college presidents know they're always going to get paid by the government. So they just keep upping the tuition. It's totally in scam territory at this point, and it's not necessary. There's all sorts of things like, “Oh, maybe the socialization.” Trust me, your kids do not need to spend a quarter of $1 million to make friends, like that's ridiculous.
Ben: No. I told my kids that if they really, really want, I don't think this is a great idea for a kid anyways, but if they really just want to go drink and meet girls and be with people in a highly social environment, which is the reason a lot of people go to college, maybe watch and play some sports, then I'll buy them a round the world plane ticket. They can go to Amsterdam and Sydney and Rome, and all over the place, come back and they will have gotten all that out of their system, and then they can basically start to learn from amazing people, and amazing both online and offline institutions that aren't college at a fraction of the price or free and get everything that they need to succeed in life, except maybe if they need a demonstrable demonstration that they've completed some kind of coursework that's necessary for, say, like doing surgery on somebody, or building a bridge. Like, there are certain things that you do need to show demonstrable coursework having completed for, but those things are pretty few and far between, in my opinion.
James: And the way those things are going to be taught is going to change. Like, the things are going to change coming out of this out of 2020, but you made a great point. Traveling around the world, that is so much more valuable. I mean, I would offer any of my kids. I would say to them, “Look, you have two choices.” I'm not going to hold them back from anything they want to do because they'll hold it against me for the rest of their lives, “but I'll give you the money for college if you use to just travel around the world, or if you use it to start a business.” Again, skills even for socializing–and let's say they want to be around kids their own age, which is by the way, the last time you'll ever do that in your life–I don't know anybody my age, everybody, all my friends were different ages, older and younger.
Ben: Yeah. I don't even know the age of most of my friends.
James: Yeah, right. So, college is the last time you're really around people your own age. But even if you wanted to do that, instead of going to college, go to a college town, get really good at shooting pool, and then you could go to any bar and you'll make friends instantly.
Ben: It's a good point, or poker.
James: Then you learn games and you learn a skill.
Ben: Yup, yeah. And if you need money, go apply for Peter Thiel's fellowship. You got 100,000 bucks to build things instead of inside a classroom. He's got a great two-year program for people who just want to build shit and not have to sit and learn things that are getting forced down your throat that you don't want to learn anyways.
James: Or tell the drunk people who are challenging a pool that, “Hey, if you have an essay due tomorrow but you're out here playing pool drunk instead, for 100 bucks, I'll write your essay for you by tomorrow.” Start a little business on the side there with no money at all, and then you make a decent living doing that. I don't think people will be going–by the time your 12-year-olds are 18, college will be one of maybe many, many options that are much better. Right now, there are options that are better. And fortunately, my kids are all going through this process. Some of them are deciding to go, some of them are not, but it's interesting.
Ben: Yeah. Look, it's woven into our culture as an expected necessity that when you really step back and look at it is ridiculous, and I totally agree with you.
James: Yeah. It was a big marketing scam because they knew they could keep raising prices, so they encourage people like, “Oh, it's the part of the American Dream. Go to college. We'll pay for you.” This entire generation is ruined because it used to be you could graduate college and start inventing and innovating. Young people should be doing that. Instead, you got to be like a salesman in an eyeglass store, nothing wrong with that, but you need to start paying back your loans immediately or they'll take it from you. It's the one kind of debt you can't get rid of in a bankruptcy, interestingly enough, but they'll lend $250,000 to an 18-year-old.
Ben: In 1901, Andrew Carnegie said a college education unfits rather than fits men to affair. So, 100 years ago, one of those richest and successful men in America, Andrew Carnegie, he thought college was not only unnecessary but detrimental. And a lot has changed since then, but–
James: I did not know that quote.
Ben: Yeah, Andrew Carnegie, way back in 1900, he said that. And then, a whole bunch happened during 1900 where it just became woven into our culture. And now, I think we're coming full circle after just 100 years, which is not that long a period of time, and we're realizing that a lot of it is a scam and unnecessary. And I'm glad that people, even during the COVID pandemic, are realizing how much of a scam it really can be.
James: And I'll just mention that I have made almost all my current net worth from either writing or investing. That pretty much covers 100%. Those two things are skills I learned long after college. So, I can't attribute any of my–I didn't do any writing at all in college and I didn't do any investing or studying in investing. I wasn't interested in investing. I knew nothing about investing then, and I learned these skills much, much later. And that typically happens now. We have long lives. Our interests change, our passions change throughout our life, and you have to learn how to learn more than you have to remember what you learned when you were 18.
Ben: Yeah. I agree. There are certain things I did in college that maybe I wouldn't have been able to [01:14:24] _____ more difficult for me to do in the private sector, like dissecting human cadavers or having access to really good like microbiology or biochemistry equipment. But even that kind of stuff, like if you really do want an internship or an apprenticeship in the private sector, you can get access to. So, you just have to be creative. And, James, you are an intensely creative guy. I'm actually really glad to be able to introduce you to my audience because–
James: Thanks, Ben.
Ben: — you write really good shit, and I think that people need to at least read books like “Choose Yourself” and “Reinvent Yourself.” Even though all of your books are on Amazon, I haven't read them all, but those two I have, and they're really good.
James: Those two are my favorite.
Ben: Yeah. And then, you have a lot of really good articles. You interview really interesting people on your podcast. So, for those of you listening in, James is a good guy for you to know about. So, I'm going to link to everything that we talk about in his website and his books at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/altucher, A-L-T-U-C-H-E-R. There you go. You're welcome. I actually spelled it for you, for those of you who chose to stick around for the end of the show. And James, dude, thanks for coming on the show, man. You're a pleasure to speak with.
James: I appreciate it so much. I'm a big fan. I love “Boundless.” I loved having you on my podcast and I super appreciate this. Thank you.
Ben: Awesome, dude. Well, keep on rocking the pajamas and I'll catch you on the flipside.
James: Okay. Thanks a lot, Ben. I will talk to you soon.
Ben: Alright, folks, until next time. I'm Ben Greenfield along with the great James Altucher signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
James Altucher is a fascinating guy.
He is an American hedge fund manager, author, podcaster, and entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded over 20 companies. He has published 20 books—including the really great books Choose Yourself and Reinvent Yourself—and is a contributor to The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and The Huffington Post.
During this discussion, you'll discover:
-The magic that comes from writing down 10 ideas per day…8:35
- Ben's kids do this with hilarious results
- Potential for a future in genomics
- Come up with business ideas or ideas to pass on to clients/employers
- Book: Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl
-Reading and writing during a pandemic…13:20
- James' 30-day book challenge
- Broad outline
- Step by step process
- Can be written in 30 days
- GPT-3 AI algorithm
- Jerzy Kosinski, author of the book Being There
- Book: Steps by Jerzy Kosinski, which won The National Book award
- Years later, a guy copied the book word for word, submitted to 20 publishers; all 20 rejected the submissions
- J.K. Rowling conspiracy theories
- Books by Neil Gaiman:
- Graphic novel series Wings of Fire by Tui Sutherland
- Book: 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson
-How James' writing practice dug him out of a huge hole, financially and personally…20:40
- Many big corporations didn't have websites in the mid-'90s; James provided this service
- Clients included American Express and Miramax
- Sold the business during the stock bubble; enough to live comfortably forever
- Lost $1 million per week for a time due to bad decisions
- Money skills: making, keeping, growing
- Had $143 in an account that once contained over $15 million
- Purchased 100 waiters pads for $10; James loved the look of them, perfect for writing lists
- Began writing 10 ideas per day planning a book
- Pure creative flow
- Business ideas, mentors you'd like
- Ideas and creativity are like muscles; they atrophy over time
- Final 2-3 ideas you feel the brain really working, like a physical workout
- Idea lists for other people (businesses, writers, bloggers, etc.) then ask for a coffee date
-How James' love of games improves his health and well-being…41:15
- Poker players hire Ben for cognition, nootropics, etc.
- Family game nights
- Solve game problems every day
- Hacks to beat family members in games:
- Memorize all the 2- and 3-letter words in Scrabble
- Build hotels on the orange properties in Monopoly (location, location, location)
- Rock, Paper, Scissors world championship
-The importance of game theory…46:15
- Every position on the board is a puzzle
- Competition in a game is a safe way to practice fighting, war, business, etc.
- Metaphors for life
- Morality (googling words while playing Scrabble)
- Blog article: How To Master Every Game by James Altucher
- Quiddler word game
- Game construction is also an interesting game in itself
-Things people should say “no” to more often…51:15
- Book: The Power of No by James Altucher
- We sometimes say “yes” when we really want to say “no”
- People saying “no” and lying about why they're saying “no”
- Precious few are honest in saying “no”
- Most meetings and most socializing
- Lockdown forced James to cancel business trips (oftentimes making no money)
- James never turns down an opportunity to do stand-up comedy
-Why James never says “no” to doing stand-up comedy…56:15
- Tried it out one time and did really well; second time bombed horribly
- Stuck with it; did 10 shows per week until it became natural
- It's the hardest skill James has ever had to learn
- Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule, a common theme in his book Outliers: The Story of Success
- 10,000 hours rule originally a study by Prof. Anders Ericsson
- 10,000 experiment rule, rather than hours
- “Trying out something I don't know the answer to, but I have a theory about”
-The necessity of college…1:05:35
- Financial Times article: College is a Waste of Time and Money for Kids by James Altucher
- Skills trump college every time
- Tuition out of control due to government backing of loans
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
– The topic of suicide is briefly mentioned in this podcast. If you're struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, They are open 24/7, 365.
- James' books Choose Yourself, Reinvent Yourself, and The Power of No
- Other books by James Altucher
- Article: How To Master Every Game
- Article: College is a Waste of Time and Money for Kids
- Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl
- Being There by Jerzy Kosinski
- Steps by Jerzy Kosinski
- The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman
- All other books by Neil Gaiman
- Wings of Fire by Tui Sutherland
- 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
- Article: GPT-3: A New Breakthrough in Language Generator
- Article: Conspiracy – Fact or Fiction | J.K. Rowling’s swift rise to fame
- Article: How to win rock-paper-scissors (almost) every time
- Garrett Gunderson comedy
- Thiel Fellowship for $100,000
- Quiddler word game
- Prof. Anders Ericsson
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