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May 22nd, 2012

The Most Important Connections I've Ever Made - and How I Made Them

I’m a lucky guy. I know this.

I’ve been fortunate, over the years, to have many mentors, friends, and collaborators that care about me and my work. The people I’ve met, without question, are what helped me get where I am today.

I’m sure everyone that’s “made it” feels like they’ve done it themselves. But if they’re honest, they discover over the years that it isn’t true.

Now, I’ve begun to realize that I am who I am largely through the sum of the lucky breaks I’ve had. Most of those have to do with people I’ve met.

So I want to do a few things. One, I want to write this post in order to thank those people, who at one point were just strangers but are now friends. Number two, I want you to know how to get amazing people in your life. So after I list my peeps below and you go check them out, I’ll also offer some tips to help you get yours. Check it out.

Part I

CC Chapman. Before I ever did anything big online, my first big break occurred when I started podcasting in 2004. I was one of the first podcasters in the world, and definitely one of the most vocal. I had been doing it about a year and was introduced to a group called the Association of Music Podcasters. This is how I met CC Chapman. We didn’t get along at first (we argued over how to build a website), but as time went on, we become really good friends. Now I’ve known him 7 years.

CC introduced me to Podshow, who was run by Adam Curry, giving me my first big break on working on the web. I become one of the first professional podcasters in the world. In about a year I was producing enough income to live and then some. So thanks CC. You gave me my first break, and you changed my life. :)

Chris Brogan. I met Chris in 2006 at the first Podcamp in Boston, which he helped run alongside Chris Penn. I had come there with some other Canadians (Bob and Mark I think) and met a ton of people, one of whom was Chris Brogan, who I said hey to because he was wearing a t-shirt he had drawn himself. We got along and kept in touch.

He wasn’t the Chris Brogan at the time. He was just about to get hired by Jeff Pulver to run community for Network2 and the VoN Conference (which is how he met pretty much everyone). But we kept in touch, kept attending conferences together, and eventually started doing talks together and did a few ebooks. One of these turned into Trust Agents, a New York Times bestseller.

Chris also introduced me to Twitter, making me one of the service’s first 10,000 users, and has helped me more than I can imagine. The dude is sincerely a godsend, like if you realized that your significant other totally outclassed you in every way. Chris already knows that I appreciate him– I don’t need to tell anyone publicly– but I’ll say it anyway. Thanks Chris.

Seth Godin. I’ve actually only met Seth one time (we had noodles in NYC), but he had a big enough influence on me that he makes this list. We were introduced by Chris for a collaboration on the Domino Project, Seth’s publishing venture, which eventually became The Flinch.

For a very long time I had read Seth’s blog and his books. He was an early influence, particularly books like the Dip, Purple Cow and Linchpin. While I was doing my epic Spain trip I listened to The Dip on audiobook and thought “if only I could make my book this good.” When I got back, I told him that’s what I wanted to do.

With the Flinch he pushed me more ways than I can imagine. Seth was my editor, but he was so heavily invested I would almost call it a collaboration. He gave consistent feedback throughout the process. He would not settle for anything less than the best.

I think I lost a year of my life working on that book but I am so proud of it. It now reaches a huge number of new readers every day and is closer to being “my legacy” than anything else I’ve ever done. So thanks Seth. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Mitch Joel. As cheesy as it sounds, I met Mitch at a Toastmasters meeting. I started going there because I had begun to speak at conferences and was extremely bad at it, and he was practicing for his first big talk at The Power Within. I reviewed his talk in typical Toastmasters style and we have become closer with every passing year.

Mitch has been a constant like… I don’t want to say it, but– “mentor” to me. It’s weird because we walk on the same path, but he has so much more life experience than I have that he’s constantly helpful. He introduced me to Jim Levine, my agent (that I share with Chris), who got us our second big book deal, and he’s done a lot more that I can’t even begin to get into. Thanks Mitch.

Justin Evans. Now we’re getting into people who are not internet famous, but should be. The first one of those is Justin, who I met in Ontario California at the first Podcast Expo. He was meeting with Scoble for StartCooking.com. We hung out in a hotel room with CC, drinking really bad American beer and talking about how Stresslimitdesign worked harder than any other firm out there.

But that was only part of the story. Stresslimit worked harder because it’s one of the few small agencies filled with crazy, super smart people that regular agencies are too straight-laced to hire, and it’s because he’s one of the most ambitious, out of the box thinkers I’ve ever known. He’s also always in my corner. He introduced me to Greg Isenberg (below) and many of the artists and friends I have today. He and his wife support a whole community of artists with their work, the most famous of which include the bands [redacted] and [redacted].

You need someone like this. He’s in the background, and he’s quiet, but he has your back. The way this dude has designed his life is an inspiration. Thanks Justin.

Nicole Johnson. Nicole is like a secret weapon. People kind of talk about her in hushed whispers but I met her randomly in the lobby of a hotel at SXSW. Now she does something with Summit Series (I think?), something with Founders Fund (maybe??), and something else (probably everything???). Basically if you’re ever having dinner with a bunch of awesome people, anywhere in the world, it’s likely that Nicole both knows them all and has orchestrated the whole thing. The places this has happened before, just to me, include San Francisco amongst billionaires, Utah with the hipster-famous, and anywhere on the streets of New York and restaurants of Austin, TX. Oh and once in a limo in Paris, too.

Nicole has connected me with tons of people, from non-profits who help Thai children get out of the sex trade to the Thiel Foundation (for whom I am a mentor). And she does this for people every single day. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked she agreed to let me write about her. Thanks Nicole. :)

Greg Isenberg. I specifically told Greg to get his blog up because of this post. Greg had heard about me through Justin but we met only much later and with some trepidation. Neither was sure what to make of the other. But we progressively began hanging out more and it developed into really unique weekly chats.

Greg basically helps keep me hungry and foolish these days. He’s 23 and he’s done more than most people do by the time they’re 40. He’s gotten me involved in investing and put me at the table with a million smart people. He wants to change the world and it shows. He doesn’t let anyone stand in his way, ever, while remaining deeply loyal to family and business commitments. Great guy.

Greg has also connected me to a bunch of angel investors, VCs, tons of people from all over the tech community. This dude is up-and-coming. Get to know him. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks Greg.

Part II

Ok, so this post is already pretty damn long, but I can’t prevent myself from putting together a short list of things you may notice about these guys and my relationships with them.
A. I have value to each of these people. Not to be arrogant or anything, but for the few things I do, I actually do great work, and I have a history of it. I used to do one of the ballsiest podcasts out there, my writing speaks for itself, and I offer value to the people in my network, as anyone who knows me can attest. If I were a sycophant or a hanger-on, I would have been ousted by now. I am within these guys circles of trust because I’m offering something back.
B. I met almost all of these people at conferences. In almost all cases, I met these people in a totally cold social environment. In the case of Nicole and Chris, it was like “Hey, you seem cool.” “Yeah, you too. Let’s hang out.” BAM. In others it was mutual, trusted connection. But in almost all cases social media was not involved. When it was, it was only for a short while, until an in-person connection could occur.
C. I met each of these people as an equal. I almost never went into the situation asking for something. In fact, I notice that whenever I go in quasi-cold and asking, I almost always get refused. It could be that I’m not good enough at it. But what I tend to do is just “make it known” that I’m the guy for the job (or whatever). And it tends to just happen. This, by the way, is why I never walk up to speakers at conferences unless I have a warm introduction.
D. I am not their “type.” None of these guys are tattooed, pierced badasses who swear a lot. They are artists, entrepreneurs, writers and photographers who have their own work and their own style. I offer something different than these people do. I’m not saying “be me” – I’m saying “be yourself to the hilt.” Rock your thing, whatever that is. That’s what I did.

* Filed by Julien at 3:48 pm under strategy

January 25th, 2012

Making a Million Bucks vs. Reaching a Million People

“Thank you my friend I have never met. […] I found your blog post “fuck the internet” on a day I was in a bad way.

[…] You know what the best part is? You didn’t even charge me a dime. Thank you so much. I could never have heard what you had to say if you were charging admission. I would be glad to pay you now but I’m currently broke. :) I’m going be doing real good real soon and I will help you out if you need it then.

12 1

I get a lot of emails from people, it’s true. But this one really hit home.

Some people I know charge $300 an hour for their time doing basically what I do on this site for free. I met a guy last week who charges $15,000 a year or something for mentoring a few people. I hear they’re very good at it too.

I actually could do these things. I know that I could because I kind of do already with some people that I know– I just do it for free– but I know that people would pay. Sometimes I’ll get an email going “are you coaching so-and-so? I can hear your voice coming out of his mouth,” and I’ll reply, “we talk every little while, yeah,” or “he reads my blog I think.” Not that I’m saying that I influence everyone with a voice like mine, not at all.

Anyway, I had a conversation with someone last week where they kind of hinted that I have “issues around money” or whatever (I’m paraphrasing) because I would rather get a great book out for free to 100,000 people than make a dollar or two per copy and sell 10% of that number. It’s the truth though, and I’m not sure it’s because I’m awkward about it, I just really believe that amazing stuff should be available for free. This is the internet, I figure you can charge if you want as long as you’re ok with competing with free.

I’m not making a secret out of the fact that I’m doing fine financially, and I understand that not everyone can experiment with this. That’s fine. But even if I had sold millions of books I would still probably give much of them away or find a way to give them away for free. I just think it’s the right thing to do.

Free worked for Paulo Coelho. He seeded torrents of his own work and it increased sales.

Free worked for Vice magazine– nobody would have paid for that– and now it’s ubiquitous.

Free worked for Angry Birds. Now people play it for more than 1 million hours per day.

But it’s not just about free. It’s more than that. Soon, it’s going to be GREAT + FREE.

And how in God’s name do you compete against that?

* Filed by Julien at 1:54 pm under random, strategy

August 30th, 2011

The Complete Guide to Learning from Criminals

Whenever I’m in doubt and I don’t know where to turn, I turn to my idols, who never let me down: Brainiac, Two-Face, and Spongebob Squarepants.

Ok, just kidding about Squarepants. The rest is real though.

You know, until recently, if I were asked about my idols, I might have said someone like Marshall McLuhan, or maybe Hunter S. Thompson or something. Boring people. Real people.

Not any more. I have evolved. I now get my advice exclusively from imaginary criminal psychopaths.

It’s time you did the same. Here’s why.

What criminals get wrong

Let’s say a guy wants to rob a bank. He’s a normal guy like you or me. He doesn’t want to do a horrible job for 40 years, but he’s not qualified for anything either. He doesn’t think he has any choices in life, and society isn’t giving him of the upside he sees on television or anywhere else. He’s like “screw it, I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Now, let’s just say that this guy is like most people. He has reservations about killing people. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Thankfully, a bank isn’t people. If the bank gets robbed, nobody feels bad for it. After all, banks rob us every day; they just gradually introduce it so that they slowly get your consent. Besides, all the money is insured.

So our guy figures he’ll end up in a tropical country somewhere with a beautiful half-Latina half-Asian girlfriend or something. Who loses? Nobody. Exactly. Why would a bank losing a million dollars be a bad thing? Seriously, everybody would be happy. I’m not even kidding. Banks fuck over everyone.

So here’s the thing: if nobody feels bad for a bank, and all the money is insured and nobody gets hurt (in theory), why does nobody do it?

Well, simple. Too many things could go wrong, and the consequences for anything going wrong are massive and dangerous. In other words, it’s too high risk.

They deal in social deviance, doing things that most people aren’t willing to do in order to get ahead. This, by itself, is actually fine. There are lots of methods of social deviance that aren’t illegal.

So the problem isn’t social deviance at all. It’s that criminals do it in an old-school way, for which there are laws, and because of that, there’s collateral damage, death, destruction of private or public property, etc. In other words, the problem isn’t that they break the law, or that they’re criminals. It’s that, in doing so, they might harm you or your loved ones.

Criminals do what they do because they see it as a high-risk, quick, low-effort way of making a bunch of money. They go to the edge of what’s acceptable (and over) in order to get what they want. Some of them are horrible people, and others are doing the equivalent of cheating on their taxes– in other words, not much.

So not all criminals do things that are damaging to society. Some do things that average people consider totally fine, but that just happen to be illegal for larger, sometimes antiquated reasons.

So here’s our first distinction. Violent criminals go to the edges of acceptability. They do high-risk things in order to obtain large rewards quickly. They do this because they are impatient and fail the marshmallow test. This is why they end up in jail.

But hold on, there’s more.

What criminals get right

I was watching a movie the other week about Jacques Mesrine, the public enemy number one in France and Quebec in the 60′s and 70′s. He’s a sociopath if I’ve ever heard of one, but also an epic success in his own way. They literally had to ambush this guy in the middle of the Paris and blast him with automatic weapons in order to kill him. He was like a modern-day Rasputin. Epic.

It was while watching this movie that it really started to click for me.

Here’s a guy that flaunts the rules in a way that nobody else can. Seriously, this dude escaped from jail and then proceeded to return to jail with automatic weapons in order to help his friends escape.

As homicidal as this dude was, I have no words to describe how much guts he had.

So, in that sense, this is a guy we can learn a lot from. Not murder, not mayhem, rape, or anything else of that sort, but definitely what a few friends of mine and myself have now dubbed “skipping the line.”

Ok, imagine you’re going to a bar and the line is long. You stand at the back of the line like a good customer, and the hostess says your wait is going to be like 15 minutes. That time goes by but you still don’t get a table. You’re still waiting. You’re starting to get impatient.

Then, some guy walks in, goes right up to the hostess, whispers something in her ear and she nods and shows him to a table. How do you feel? Pretty annoyed, I’m guessing. WTF, right?

Now, another scenario. Imagine you’re at the airport. There’s a long line for security, as there was for my flight today, but this guy goes to another line, one that you hadn’t noticed, and just whizzes through everything. You watch him show people his iPhone, and he speeds past a giant line. Everything’s the same, except in this case, the system for skipping the line isn’t covert or hidden. He used a 3D barcode or something to get into a special category.

Now, here’s a trick question. Out of all the preceding examples, which one do you consider the most wrong? The bar, the airport, or the bank robbery?

All of these, done right, are victimless social deviance. They’re just deviance with different levels of risk, correct?

Let’s ask another question: If no one got hurt in either of those circumstances, from a one to a ten, how wrong are each of them?

What you need to do is not “play it safe”– which is downright idiotic– but to find is something as high-risk and high-reward as a bank robbery, but without the massive downside.

Let me give you another example. I end up in France fairly often, and since I mostly deal with Americans for work, one of my easiest conversation points revolves around a guy called Loic Le Meur.

Some of you may know Loic, but you’re probably not French, so you don’t know his reputation in France– a country where the majority view government work as being amongst the highest forms of service and status. Where Loic comes from, he’s considered socially deviant as well. So is my French friend Erwan Le Corre (Movnat is doing a workshop in Montreal, btw, which you should check out).

Guys like this, and they differ by country, have labels that their homelands consider fringe or weird. They aren’t easily accepted. They trot the edge in their own way, and are willing to take risks that others aren’t. They’re skipping the line as well– defining themselves differently and placing themselves at the top of their categories.

Normal people are not willing to do this. We don’t have models if we want to be out on the edge. For most people, they have no one that can relate to their need to be that far out.

Entrepreneurs won’t do. They are too acceptable. Politicians won’t do. They are too criminal and unethical (no, seriously, they are). We need someone else– a group we can look to and emulate, the same way people think “What would Jesus do?”

Society is far too boring. There is no one we can look to, so we have no choice. Magneto, Moriarty, and Mr Freeze– that is who it has to be.

Acting like a criminal for fun and profit

Let me ask you a question: according to Rotten Tomatoes, 94 out of every 100 critics thumbed up the Dark Knight. Why do you think that is?

Is it because of Batman? Guess again.

It’s the Joker.

The Joker is the personification of risk, something the average person finds thrilling. He does things that others would never dare to do, but everyone sees inside themselves. Why is that?

Modern society is stifling. The options for how to behave are limited and unfulfilling. Max Weber called it the Iron Cage because it eventually stifles and crushes anything polarizing. We have no choice but to submit in the majority of our lives.

What we start realizing if we spend enough time in cities is that this society breeds sheep. This isn’t even necessarily bad– it’s largely responsible for the stability of the age we live in. And these people can’t even be held responsible for it– the pressure of our society is so crushing that you have no choice but to submit, even at the cost of your long-term happiness.

The thing is, society also seems to have taken a wrong turn. When you combine it with the technological advancements we’ve had in the past several years, what we have turned ourselves into is a giant garbage production factory that is throwing itself off a cliff. There’s a fucking giant continent of plastic in the Pacific ocean for Christ’s sake, all made possible by the modern division between our actions and their consequences (Marx would have had a field day with this).

Clearly, social deviance is necessary at this point.

So who’s here to save us? Who’s here to make us feel alive once again, like a normal human being whose soul longs to be free and able to live without the crushing consequences of a drone-filled modern environment, where you can’t seem to make a difference and often don’t even know how to muster up the energy to care?

The only people who are capable of doing this are those who have lived outside society, those who have no place inside of it, and who ignore society’s rules.

The Joker is the personification of anarchy and freedom, and those feelings, when expressed to us in theatre or film, are deeply moving. It awakens a part of us that yearns to be free, but doesn’t quite know how.

But no modern hero exists for those that want to figure this out.

Now, here’s the thing: We don’t have to deface property, kill people, or rob banks in order to find edges. There are lots of modern edges to explore. They are valuable because they’re risky, and only through learning from criminals can we truly know what the edge is.

Finding an edge

Imagine a map of the world, but flat like it was thought to be a long time ago. At the edges, you fall off and die. But what about right before that, the places before these giant imaginary waterfalls? What’s there?

These are places nobody knows about because no one returns from them, or because no one even goes. If you go there, it changes you. You come back different.

But there’s a problem. The map doesn’t exist for these places. You don’t know how to get there. You need a guide.

Here is my suggestion. If you are looking for an edge and you can’t find one, ask yourself what you would do if you were a criminal, or a sociopath, or had delusions of grandeur, didn’t think you could fail, or that there would be no negative consequences. Ask yourself how you would act if you thought no one had the balls or brains to stop you.

The trick is to take on a personality. Play a character– one with no fear whatsoever, no conscience and no understanding of society’s rules.

Play a total sociopath. Find things with high reward, and act towards them as if there were no negative consequences.

Hard decisions will suddenly seem easy.

Fears that have no consequences will reveal themselves for the mirages that they are. Barriers will vanish.

My guess for what happens next? Your hurdles will have to be set a whole lot higher.

* Filed by Julien at 3:10 pm under direction, guide, humour, random, strategy

February 23rd, 2011

How to Survive the Social Crash

I have to leave the house right now so I’m going to publish this post early. It is not polished, but I think the ideas are strong. If that means it gets ignored, whatever.

I am not a real investor– just a writer who wants to survive from one bubble to the next.

But today, I am pretty confident a social crash is coming. Whether you agree or not, it’s important that you read this.

We think all of this social stuff is building value for us– building wealth for some and just well-being for others. This is somewhat true– but I suspect we are overvaluing what it can do for us– most of us anyway.

It is true that there is a massive population going social online, but this growth might just be building value for established companies like Facebook. A few of us are making money off of it, but many people are at the bottom of this pyramid and will be left without anything to show for it at the end.

Because most people are not financially invested in this space, the bubble will not leave people broke. But it will leave people thinking they’ve wasted a few years of their lives.

If you’re like most people, you did not start here early, which means you’re closer to the bottom of the pyramid than the top. So it’s possible you’re being had.

But I want you to avoid this, and I will endeavour here to show you how.

But first, why.

“Friends” are valueless. Well, maybe. I’ve written before that audience is an asset, but is it really? Most of your “friends” on Facebook, if you’re a typical social media douche, will never do anything for you except social proof your popularity, an effect which is blunted over time anyway as more people realize the reality of the situation.

I view the hyperinflation of friends the same way I see the valuation and false growth of companies based on inflated/purchased ComScore traffic stats. They convince those with money to spend, or those not savvy enough to tell the difference. But eventually valuations become so unreasonably high that they are unbelievable to even the uneducated.

This collective “A-ha!” moment is when the bubble bursts. It’s when we all call bullshit on online friends, comments, and connections as a reason to know someone– online, that is.

Most startups have no business model. I worked for a startup in the late 90′s with a great idea but no business model or revenue (it was an early Google Maps type thing). It was very interesting but the decline was evident. The model was clearly to get bought.

I had a discussion with an angel/VC type the other day who is very smart. I asked him why people do this instead of, say, real estate. One of his answers was “ego.”

I think another may be that people now feel that anyone can do it. This collective sentiment is based on watching regular guys be able to develop massive followings, but it’s common to all bubbles to find an “anyone can do it” mentality. Think housing, dot-com, and many others.

Everyone is looking for the “next” Facebook or Twitter. This is probably the question I get the most often from conference attendees, as many of you probably know. Possibly many of you are looking for it or are trying to build it. God bless you and I hope you do well.

But it’s likely that the “next” anything will not be social at all.

What’s really interesting is that Facebook, Twitter, etc actually benefit from this inflation. Their valuations are not public and therefore don’t impact the public at large, but those of us inside here will definitely feel it, especially if we work in the space.

Now to the next question. How do you avoid a crash?

You must exit. This means convert to cash.

Your assets must be diversified. You cannot sit there with your Twitter expertise– you, and your company, must do more.

Your assets must be real. They must be outside this space– or if they’re in it, they must provide actual profit.

If you do not have the ability to do any of these things, your personal stock may plunge– soon.

There are those who know how to really turn networks into an income stream, by the way. They are called SALESPEOPLE.

Do you consider yourself a salesperson? This is not most of us. Most people are anxious about turning weak ties into money, but for some, it may be necessary.

So your options are to step out, or to learn to create value from what you have built by stretching your social contract to include selling to them.

Final note. During the dot-com bubble, some very interesting people emerged. I think of Frank Schilling, who is quoted as saying that, after the dot-com crash, everyone just went back to using the internet every single day. And this is where Frank picked up over 300,000 dropped, and valuable, domain names– while everyone thought they were valueless.

Now, he lives in the Cayman Islands earning… well, let’s just say a lot.

There will always be people who survive crashes, or who grab undervalued assets and use them effectively to make a killing, one way or another.

But there are many more people who think “everything will be fine” and who walk along with people all the way off the cliff.

The choice as to which kind you will be, of course, is yours.

* Filed by Julien at 11:18 am under risk, social media, strategy

January 18th, 2011

Build your own classroom with these 23 books

This post endeavours to help you learn more quickly– about any subject.

If you just want to see the list, see below, but before we start, try this thought experiment.

Let’s assume that you would be automatically successful at any project you took part in. You could make a startup into a billion-dollar company, become an Olympic athlete, or achieve enlightenment (assuming such a thing was possible). You aren’t guaranteed to be the best in the world at anything– just to do well.

Now, imagine that it wasn’t just you that could do this– some others would, too– and that you could succeed in each “category” only once. So you could only start one company, for example, or excel at one sport. You and all these other people would be a sort of Highlander-esque group that would go around, doing really great things. (Incidentally, I am writing this post in the Highlander Cafe in Singapore. Hello.) :)

I suspect a sort of competition would emerge, at a very high level, between people such as yourself, for top positions.

So here is the question. What order would you pick for your successes?

In other words, how would you choose what to be successful at first, and how would you prepare?

As it happens, I happen to have considered this for a very long time– and so have many other people– but not for the reasons you’d think.

One result of this thinking is the Hinduism’s ashramas, stages of life which every man must go through. Early stages prepare for later ones.

Another is education of the children of the very rich, where success is assumed, but needs to be optimized.

I personally considered this because I was trying to create the most awesome Dungeons and Dragons characters I could possibly make. Geeky I know– but true.

Wherever you get your reasons, thinking about life this way helps you ask certain questions, like “If physical capacities decrease– and mental abilities increase– with age, then what is the order I should do things in?”

Life is more complex than making D&D characters. People have different priorites and goals, so any system that is in place should be flexible enough to accomodate them. Also, the world itself changes, so your system should be adaptable to a changing technological and social environment.

I know this is maybe a bit convoluted. But here is my theory.

The most important things to have at the beginning of life are education, a wide network, and a bit of money. These three things facilitate all other endeavours– one provides understanding, another provides opportunity, and the third provides freedom to pursue that opportunity.

This implies that the first things life should be about is those 3 things. If you disagree, please say why in the comments, but I think they’re the fundamentals of any really successful life. But what comes next?

This is what I want to ask you.

What did you wish you knew earlier in life, and what do you think you need to know only later?

And finally, what books could teach you to obtain those things?

The result of this post could be nothing– or it could be a very comprehensive list of the best books to read on any subject (like a Personal MBA). So leave a comment with your suggestion, and I’ll add it below with a link to you.

Since I’ve read a lot, I’ll start.

The List

The best books I can think of to maximize income while minimizing work are Work the System and the 4-Hour Workweek.

For mental models of reality, I would say Poor Charlie’s Almanac and Seeking Wisdom as well as anything by Nassim Taleb (who is incidentally paleo and a student of Erwan le Corre like myself– expect to see some of that in his new book).

For meeting people, I am going to say something controversial and say Rules of the Game (there’s a story behind this), as well as Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.

I could be wrong, but along the lines of “only book you’ll ever need” on marketing could be Purple Cow and the only career book might be Linchpin.

The only book on diet you ever need could be (maybe) Why We Get Fat.

The best book on relationships might be 5 Love Languages.

Joshua and Ricardo say the best book on people and relationships is How to Win Friends and Influence People.

A good lesson in humour is Breakfast of Champions, suggested by Jackson.

Ryan thinks the best book on influence is Influence (it is pretty great).

Mike and Ryan recommend The War of Art.

Monica suggests Amusing Ourselves to Death.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty was recommended by Daan. I’ve read it, and it’s pretty great.

Patti and I both recommend Man’s Search For Meaning. This is one of my favourite books of all time, actually.

How to Think Strategically was recommended by Roland.

Please Understand Me was suggested by Jeremy.

Rick suggested Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.

My friend Chris Guillebeau‘s book The Art of Non-Conformity was suggested by Peter.

Now, add yours below. I’ll update with your suggestion and a link to your blog.

* Filed by Julien at 11:17 am under book a week, strategy, systems

December 16th, 2010

How to Reprogram Your Brain: 4 Paths to More Willpower in 2011

What if there was blueprint to help you break bad habits?

How would more willpower change you? What would you become capable of?

Over the past few months, I’ve been talking with Todd Becker, who claims that willpower, eyesight, body weight, and more can be improved through hormesis– a normal biological reaction the body has to short, moderate stress, and which anyone can use to their own advantage.

By using these reactions to our advantage, he says we can change ourselves into the people we want to be.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing him– learning why he takes daily cold showers, or abstains from food for up to 30 hours at a time. I’ve also been doing it myself– fasting once a week and more– with great results.

Today, we’re going to show you how it’s done.

Why you would expose yourself to stress on purpose? Answer: To have a transformative effect on your mind and make 2011 the year you want it to be. Enter Todd Becker.

Positive change doesn’t happen without taking risks.

It doesn’t happen without facing fears, getting off your butt and taking the first step.

But when you face those fears and take the plunge, you usually find that things aren’t as bad as you imagined.  You almost always gain by taking on the new challenge. Even the failures become learning experiences.

That’s good advice for making one-time changes like leaving a bad job or relationship, starting a new venture, or getting yourself organized. The problem is that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s all well and good to bite the bullet and join a health club and start a diet. But can you sustain your efforts past the initial resolve and enthusiasm — or will you inevitably backslide? You can resolve to be more diplomatic at work or more understanding at home, but can you do that when feel stressed out and frustrated, when you’re at your weakest?

To make lasting changes to your behavior and habits, you often need to change the way you react.

Your reactions to food, people and events can be deep seated, visceral, and automatic. Hunger pangs sabotage your attempts at dieting. A hot temper undercuts your relationships. This often seems to be where “free will” ends and physiology takes over.

The conventional wisdom is to accept that we have such “hard wired” responses while finding ways to sidestep them.

Diet experts advise us to eat frequently to avoid cravings and the risk of bingeing. Drug and alcohol treatment programs like Narconon and AA promote the gospel of lifelong abstinence: once an addict, always an addict. That’s certainly one approach, but it leaves you vulnerable to relapse from the slightest chance encounter with the forbidden fruit.

I think there’s a better way.

Use behavioral science to “re-wire” your urges and your emotional and physiological responses. A century of science shows us how to do this, starting with Ivan Pavlov in the early twentieth century and continuing through to more recent breakthroughs in neuroplasticity, backed up by studies of brain imaging, neurotransmitters and hormone signaling.

Here’s the key insight. Our emotional and physiological responses are conditioned by cues in our environment, and these cues are often subtle and act synergistically.

Let’s take the example of appetite for food or the urge to drink. We get hungry at certain times of day, in response to certain aromas, visual cues and even social situations. These cues activate the hormones and neurotransmitters that control our appetite.

I used to find that just driving up to my house triggered my urge for a cocktail.  It was a conditioned response. A similar thing happens when a particular person’s nagging tone of voice can get you riled up.

It’s enough to make us seem like robots without free will. But the opposite is actually true. Within the last decade, neuroplasticians and behaviorists have found strong support for a radical idea:

Our responses to these environmental cues are not hard-wired. They can be changed, often within a matter of weeks.

This approach has been developed into a method called cue exposure therapy, a rapid yet long-lasting way to “extinguish” cravings or negative feelings. Among other uses, it has been found to be effective in overcoming drug addictions, with low relapse rates.

The idea is to expose yourself to the cues that normally trigger the problem response, but without letting it happen. Repeat this enough times and the response eventually dies out.

Here’s the real meat of it. A study of the most effective elements of cue exposure therapy found four key success factors:

1. Make the cue exposure as realistic and varied as possible.

Alcoholics who detox in articifical hospital settings often relapse. A more effective alternative is to practice avoidance– or even moderate drinking behavior– at the bar and at home. Apply this lesson to dampen your appetite: Expose yourself to different aromas and visual cues in different settings and times of day– without eating. Mix it up.

2. Repeat the exposures frequently, and at varying time intervals.

Frequent cue exposure leads to more rapid and permanent deconditioning. So plan multiple “sessions” with several unreinforced exposures at each session, and vary the time intervals between sessions.

This helps prevent “extinction bursts,” where cravings will come back stronger than before. Think of casinos: they know well that unpredictable payout schedules at the slots are a powerful inducement to gambling. Firmy resist these delayed extinction bursts, since they’ll undermine your success.

3. Include an active behavioral component.

Deconditioning works best when addicts don’t merely view and handle their drug, but actually go through the motions of smoking or shooting up without actually ingesting the drug. One very effective thing I did to decondition my own food cravings was to prepare scrumptious meal for family and friends, without partaking myself. They feasted, with some amusement, while I sipped an iced tea itself.

4. Follow up the cues with an alternate response, not just the lack of a response.

Extinction works best when addicts replace their habit with an alternative response to stress. Apply this idea the next time you are stuck in traffic or are confronted by a cranky boss. Have an enjoyable CD ready for the traffic slowdown. Actively plan to intently listen to the boss without firing back.

Think of these actions as training exercises– ways to strengthen your ability to handle stress without overreacting.

Finally, reward your success! Whenever you outwit your bad habit, follow up with some pleasant activity. Go for a walk, call a friend, or read a good book. Get creative with this. Plan your training episodes in advance, just as you schedule visits to the gym.

Remember: Willpower is a muscle. Training makes it stronger.

Good luck! And if you’d like more stuff like this, please enter your email here and press enter:

* Filed by Julien at 6:00 pm under strategy, training

November 9th, 2010

Take It All In

There is no piece of knowledge, anywhere, that is useless.

Everytime you read a book, a blog post, or have an insightful conversation, you learn more than. Each piece of knowledge is applicable in certain circumstances, but also leads towards a broader understanding of the world, showing patterns in human behaviour, systems or more if you look for them.

Everything in the world works at patterns. We are pattern machines (in fact, all of life is) so for good or ill, we see them everywhere. If I learn about retail businesses, then biology, and then stereo equipment, I will learn things in each that apply to the others.

Most of the highly valuable information falls into two structures: people and systems.

An understanding of human beings means understanding emotions such as fear and greed and others, how people view themselves and those around them, as well as how they behave and for what reasons.

A knowledge of systems means that you know the math of how things work, how to use leverage and how to invest, how to debug and find solutions to technical problems.

Often, the two overlap. They’re also masculine and feminine, yin and yang, etc. You can view them through any lens and apply archetypes to them if you like– the trickster, the magician, the king… whatever. It’s all the same stuff with a different shell, so the more you absorb from the largest variety of sources, the better off you are.

That is when you can find the patterns in human behaviour, and in systems– which means the patterns in everything.

I guess that’s kind of like being psychic… sorta.

* Filed by Julien at 12:55 pm under strategy, systems

October 21st, 2010

Leaving Money on the Table

Spam is a hell of a way to make money– or so says my neighbour.

“I have a friend who sells Viagra online– makes over a million dollars a year,” he said to me a while ago, as I nodded in acknowledgement. “You could get into this business if you wanted to.” This was true, I guess.

The other day someone told me that my blog “had no business model.” In a sense, they were right. I’m not trying to get you to buy something on here, except maybe my credibility. This blog’s purpose is basically to help me build audience, which helps me sell books, and eventually to charge pretty decent sums for speaking fees, etc.. All are credibility buys to get to the top of the food chain.

But that’s not an excuse. I do leave money on the table. So do you.

A few weeks back a pretty well known speaker told me he was hanging out in Vegas with some affiliate marketers, and that after leaving the stage, they told him he’d “left over $100,000 on the table” by not selling the audience on something at the end of his speech. This was also true. I’ve been in the room during hard-sell talks that caused feeding frenzies. They work.

When you get into this space, you realize that because you’re speaking, writing, etc., you can basically insert a sales pitch anywhere. Some of these are classy, but many of them are not.

What money you choose to leave on the table says a lot about who you are. My friend Mitch has something called The Gladwell Test that he uses to decide for him, that goes “Would Malcolm Gladwell do this?” If you are a certain calibre of speaker/writer/blogger, then there are things you just won’t do.

Look, there is a lot of money to be made on the web these days. It’s everywhere, and if you can think about selling it, someone is already doing it somewhere. But if you are one of those hard-sell, squeeze page people, that is all you will ever be.

Delay monetization (or cancel it) as often as possible. Here, you will rise as high as the best work you do, but you will also fall as low as the worst tactics you’re capable of. Choose wisely.

* Filed by Julien at 6:00 am under strategy

October 5th, 2010

About Being Cheap

There’s always someone who will do your job for cheaper than you will. In fact, you can bet on it.

That’s because there’s always someone who’s more desperate, who wants the sale more, or who is doing it for something other than money. So how do you know if you should discount your services? Of course that you don’t ever truly know. But here are some hints.

1. If someone tells you it’s an opportunity, it probably isn’t.

If someone has to convince you of the opportunity they’re presenting in front of you, they’re trying to sell you something. Opportunities are obvious, but sleight of hand is subtle. You can tell which is which.

To find out if someone is being cheap, you do the math on the kind of business that they do, how much they make per customer, and then calculate how much they make per month. Then you not only know that they’re cheap, but just how cheap they are– which in turn tells you how much they do (or don’t) value you. By this point your pride should kick in, and you’ll know what to do.

2. See if you can leverage it.

Leverage (or lack of it) makes something either easier or harder to achieve. If someone is leveraging you (which they usually are in one way or another), you can usually do the same with them. Speakers doing free stuff can suggest a mailing list or to visit their blog, or if they like that kind of thing, they can sell a product (ugh).

Once you start making an ok living, you figure out pretty quickly that (some) money is actually the easiest stuff you can get access to, and that a big network, a powerful platform, or other different forms of value are much harder to obtain. So if you’re making a living, the next steps are to obtain those, since they’ll expand your capacities in ways currency cannot.

3. Pricing is entirely about perception.

Someone that charges $50k for a website design tells people what they are about, instantly. Someone who starts at $1,000 and then discounts to $750 says something else entirely– namely that they’re willing to find 25% more clients to make the same amount of money, and they’re comfortable with that (ugh).

All pricing is a matter of framing and perception, which is why discounting is usually bad. That said, if you’re on the edge of a “yes,” it might be appropriate– but a good reason should be presented to the person, not just because you need the money. If you discount yourself early, it means you’ll probably be comfortable with doing it again, later. Imagine a marriage based on that principle– fun right? ;)

Anyway, people are in all kinds of situations, where they may need to drop their prices or make another kind of sacrifice, but I guess I’m trying to say that, more often than not, you should stand up for your value, and raise it more often than you’re already doing. The result is less work, more choice for you, and the ability to spend more time on what matters.

All that is so much better than pandering to the lowest common denominator.

* Filed by Julien at 8:14 am under strategy

June 16th, 2010

How to get paid for what you do for free

Bartenders make $500 a night in tips. Baristas make $20.

Their drinks are equally complex. They serve similar numbers of clients. They perform the same job, but during different hours and in different settings. Why do bartenders make so much more?

It isn’t performance. Some bartenders are sloppy, and some baristas are excellent, but their compensation will never go up or down enough to reach the other, no matter how good they are, so quality has very little to do with it.

Could it be an issue of how much we order? Bar patrons order several drinks, but rarely have as many in a Starbucks. Would baristas get better tips if the size of drinks were smaller? Maybe, but that doesn’t seem right either.

To be treated, and paid, like a bartender you should act and put yourself in the context that bartenders are in. After all, we feel like bartenders deserve their dollar, but it’s the rare individual who’d tip a barista the same.

Bloggers have the same problem with speaking events. They work for whuffie but aren’t sure how to be taken seriously or get paid. They move from one Podcamp to another, hoping to make it onto a bigger stage but often, it doesn’t seem to work.

I think I have an answer as to how to make it happen, but it doesn’t involve doing more speaking events, though practice helps. It’s about gaining credibility, changing context and applying leverage.

Method 1: Testimonials/Word of Mouth

A few weeks ago, I was introduced through Twitter to Erwan le Corre. Erwan is the founder of MovNat, an exercise method which is founded in evolutionary principles and usually goes hand-in-hand with my paleo diet. I already thought it was cool stuff but my opinion was changed when I found out that Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, had done it.

This, of course, is totally irrational. Taleb is a smart dude but the system itself doesn’t change based on whether he knows about it. He isn’t even in good shape, really, but I’m still influenced. I can’t help myself. I hold it in higher esteem because some famous dude did it. You might too.

What we can learn from this is that the more passive the method through which other people find out about you, the better. If you make it look like you worked for it, it cheapens the recommendation, but if you are just sitting back while someone else hears about you, you’re doing great.

Word of mouth is actually how I get the majority of the speaking gigs I do. This method works, but only if people really do think that you’re great, are willing to talk about it, and those people are highly credible in other circles. This brings us to #2.

Method 2: Your Easy = Their Difficult

I love how impressed we are by movie stars, how we feel that they’re talented, etc., no matter how they got there. In a way, it gives the impression that the end justifies the means despite the fact that all our moral teachings tell us otherwise. Sons and daughters of movie stars, specifically, are clearly not selected by talent but rather by proximity. This is the same thing I’d like you to take advantage of, in your own way.

What is easy for you that’s hard for others? If you’re loaded, fly everywhere and meet everyone– it’s comparatively difficult for others, so you’ll gain an advantage. If you have a ton of time, produce more content than others so you’ll get on people’s radars easier. It’s all about the gates you can cross but others can’t.

One of the big lessons from this method is that it isn’t impressive for you to be a social media expert in the social media space.. everybody can do it, so nobody cares. You have to bring your expertise to a place where it’s magical, and show them stuff that’s bleeding edge to them, but normal to us. As Arthur C. Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What you do isn’t magic in your circle, so you have to go somewhere where it is.

Method 3: Be Aggressive

I loved this so much when I saw it on Put This On, so I have to share this advice with y’all as well. Often, you are already speaking at an event or getting asked to come, it becomes a kind of “well, we have no budget, etc. etc.” conversation that heads back down the slope of free. You have to fight this with an actual belief that you are worth paying for. Here’s the best quote from the post:

Pretend you’re giving it all up and going back to school in a year. Act like you have one year to make it work before you give up and try something else. What haven’t you done? Where aren’t you being aggressive enough? Go do it and embarrass yourself with your pushiness- after all, you’ll be doing something else in a year anyway, so who cares what people think? Push until you feel uncomfortable, and then double it.

I wouldn’t go as far as this, but it’s still great advice. We are so shy about doing what we do, and not being self-promotional, that we often sell ourselves short. We become the unsigned hype instead of becoming Jay-Z, all because we refused to hustle.

This final method is a third form of social proof, one that completes the equation with the other two: proof from others, proof from the environment, and proof from yourself. When you put together all three, you have evidence on all sides telling everyone that you’re worth a premium. Apply enough pressure on each of these, and you’re golden. But don’t apply enough, and there will be a lack of congruence when people look around, so they won’t believe it.

Here’s the thing though: You actually have to be good at this thing you’re doing for free. You can be average and apply all of these methods I mention and still get paid, but people only feel good about it once they’ve gotten great value from your work. So you might be able to convince a few people, but then you’ll quickly go back down the ladder again. When you start to get paid, realize that you need to up your game very seriously and it’ll keep you up there. That’s when it’s even more important to work your face off.

Have you ever had success with any of these methods, or others? How did you make it work for you?

(Hat tip for inspiration: Taylor Davidson)

* Filed by Julien at 11:50 am under strategy