On Becoming An Idea Machine

“You’re in crisis. Time to change. Time to become an IDEA MACHINE.”

Author, podcaster and entrepreneur James Altucher (@jaltucher) thinks ideas are the “currency of life.” In his Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine, he says it’s ideas, not money, that are the key currency.

“Money gets depleted until you go broke. But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you better experiences, buy you more time, save your life.”

Top tips from Altucher include:

  • Exercise your idea muscle every day: “If your idea muscle atrophies [which he thinks takes about two weeks], then even at your lowest point you won’t have any ideas.”
  • “Take a waiter’s pad…start writing down ideas….the key here is, write ten ideas.”
  • If you can’t come up with ten ideas, come up with 20 ideas. Why? “For the obvious reason. You are putting too much pressure on yourself. Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle.”
  • What about execution? “When I am writing down ideas that I think I might want to act on, I divide my paper into two columns. On one column is the list of ideas. On the other column is the list of ‘FIRST STEPS’.”
  • How to keep track of ideas? “I make a list of ideas and then I usually just throw them out. The whole purpose is to exercise the idea muscle.”

Taking the Altucher challenge, the following are 50 of my ideas:

5 Ways To Learn

  • Visiting great organizations/schools
  • Talking/listening to smart people
  • Reading challenging material
  • Travel internationally (as Seth Andrew described here)
  • Write 500 words every day to find out what you think

5 Edu Idea Combos

5 Cool School Ideas

  • Traveling school (but closer to $8K than $80k/yr)
  • Farming school with AgTech and/or organic focus
  • Boundary school: study intersections of subjects, societies & environments (example)
  • Community as school (#PlaceBasedEd)
  • Entrepreneurs school: everything in the context of launching impact orgs

5 World Leaders I’d Like To Interview

  • Barack Obama
  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
  • Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary
  • Xi Jinping, president of China
  • Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

5 Deceased 20th-Century Leaders I’d Like To Interview

5 Poets I’d Like To Interview

  • Billy Collins
  • Mary Oliver
  • Rita Dove
  • W.S. Merwin
  • Claudine Rankine

5 Deceased Poets I’d Like To Interview

5 Innovators I’d Like To Interview

  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon
  • Larry Page, Alphabet
  • Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX
  • Susan Wojcicki, YouTube
  • Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe

5 People I’d Like To Interview On Machine Intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive of Google
  • Jeff Dean, Google Brain Leader
  • Eric Horvitz, Microsoft Research
  • Virginia Rometty, IBM
  • Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy, Westworld Creators

5 People I’d Like To Interview On Computational & Systems Biology

OK, now it’s your turn–grab that writer’s notebook, crank out 50 or 100 ideas and exercise that idea muscle.

What do you do once you become an idea machine? “Now you have super powers. Now you’re ready to take your unique place in the world,” says Altucher. “You will know what to do. I don’t know. Nobody else knows. You’ll do it and the world won’t be the same.”

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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