385 – How Failure Turned Me Into An Idea Machine

 

“I’ve been following you for a couple of years,” Carolina said. “I read your book the Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth. And it really changed a lot of things for me in my life. I want to thank you for that book.”

We were exactly one minute into the podcast. And I wanted to dive into this quickly.

“What did it change?”

“I was always beating myself up,” she said. She felt like she wasn’t doing enough. “But in the book you talk about this concept… of 1% progress financially, mentally, spiritually, physically. Then you’re in a good place.”

I started explaining the concept to her. And then I couldn’t stop talking.

The lessons just kept flowing.

“The other concept that I really loved about the book was the idea muscle,” she said. “Since I read the book I’ve been carrying around a little book. And I write down my 10 ideas when I think of them. Even if they’re crap.”

“Yeah, that’s good. I do this everyday.”

Then she asked how I came up with this idea.

Essentially, she was asking how failure turned me into an idea machine…

I was dead broke. It was 2002. I was losing both of my homes. One was upstate. And the other was right next to Ground Zero. It was a horrible, depressing area. And not just for me, for everyone.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get a job. I’d been an entrepreneur in an area that was now dead. I was trying to become an investor. But I didn’t have any professional or educational experience. No one would hire me.

I really had no opportunities.

So I read.

Part of that was because I couldn’t sleep. I was too anxious. I’d wake up early. And read through three-four books.They were all different types of books:

  • One nonfiction
  • One fiction
  • Something spiritual
  • And one about games

This got the idea muscle moving. It was like stretching before the heavy lifting.

I’d take a waiter’s pad (because this stops you from writing anything longer than a simple list. And it’s cheap. You can buy them in bulk. And it’s a conversation starter).

Then, in the middle of knowing that everything I ever loved or owned or had a relationship with was fading… I’d write 10 ideas.

Even if they were crap.

People ask me all the time, “What kind of ideas do you write?”

It doesn’t matter.

Write 10 ideas on how to improve something. Or write a list of 10 people you could reach out to or learn from. And then expand.

Write down 10 ideas for each of those people. Write how could you help them. Figure out how you can add value to their business, their life, their website. Write it down.

People get afraid to come up with ideas because they don’t want them to be bad. If you’re afraid to write bad ideas then you’re afraid to become an idea machine. Period.

Most ideas are bad.

The idea is ONLY to exercise the idea muscle.

And it works.

I noticed after three months of writing 10 ideas a day, I had tapped into something… an ability to get unstuck. You can literally feel yourself climb out of the hole of despair.

This was 16 years ago. And I still do this. Everyday.

“You’ve started 19 businesses,” Carolina said. ”And you say most of them failed horribly. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?”

“This is always a hard question. Failure is really painful. And I don’t recommend it for anyone. But most things that are worth it are so difficult to learn that you’re going to inevitably fail.”

Back when I was sitting in those cafes, I was a failure. And I had to stay above water.

Now, I try to say that it wasn’t a failure. It was an experiment.

But I didn’t always have this mindset. It took me decades to figure this out. Every failure at every level is a learning experiment. Looking at failure as an experiment makes it easier to rationalize.

—-

I was rambling. I was probably talking too much. But I couldn’t give her a short answer. I tried and it was still long.

“I like long answers,” Carolina said.

So I continued to ramble. I spoke about business, investing in yourself, why I started writing a blog and how it turned into a business.

I’m so happy to know I’ve helped even one person improve their life.

And I like when people ask me questions.

One last example about failure versus experimentation.

People always say Thomas Edison failed at making the light bulb a thousand times in a row. He didn’t fail. He was experimenting with different filaments of wire. He was trying new ideas.

And he learned every time.

Again, nothing is really “failure.” Unless you label it that way. And give up.

I treat everything as an experiment. It helps me start something new. And it helps me prevent getting stuck in the past.

FAILURE = EXPERIMENTATION

  • This was a great podcast. And I’m looking forward to some of your solo podcast experiments. Thanks for being you, James

  • Jen X

    Your idea of grabbing all the texts was executed on The Office about a decade ago–it’s called WOOF! (LOL)

  • Jen X

    I’m glad she liked your book and was inspired to start a podcast, but this is literally not an interview (or a good interview) and does not speak well of her interviewing/podcasting skills. This is not just because you talked a lot. She even says: “I like long answers.” Her questions are basic.