It happened fast and I didn’t expect it.
I was on an airplane headed to Beirut in June, 2013 thinking about the last few years.
They’re a blur.
A month before this trip I left my job as a VP of the technology company that invented the modern method of showing 3D in movie theaters. I started as their Director of Finance in 2007 building the financial infrastructure then spent five years doing deals and building new business opportunities outside the core business. I’ve always written – proposals, emails, business plans – but I’ve never been a “writer”.
Things happened, the company grew and initiated their IPO in 2010.
(the day we IPO’d on the NYSE)
It is a strange experience going from a small group of people in cramped offices working on a business that gets laughed at (“3D? I thought that was dead 20 years ago?!”), to listing on the NYSE with high visibility, press coverage, and broad brand awareness. We were a success.
In many ways it’s rewarding. I can only imagine how the founders of the company, and the original two employees, the CFO and the President, felt seeing some of their dreams realized.
It’s hard to be a founder. Your idea is worthless in the beginning, until you figure out how to convince someone that your idea is worth something, then prove it.
The best ideas are ideas that help people. Every great idea from Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Nikola Tesla, your local restaurant and the most popular social media site has one thing in common that makes it successful: it helps people.
The best ideas don’t take things away from people, they give things to people. Some ideas make people money. Other ideas make people look cool, help them feel better (release oxytocin), teach them valuable skills or knowledge and give them opportunities.
Think about it. Every really popular thing out there gives people something they want. When you add up what all the people are getting from good ideas, you’ll see that it is much larger as a whole than what the ideamaker gets back. The value ideamakers get is much less than the value they create, but even that small piece, financially, is often more than one could use in several lifetimes.
But some ideamakers don’t structure the communication of their ideas such that they benefit (sometimes the benefits take several more lifetimes before they’re recognized). Nikola Tesla, for example, died penniless even though his ideas are some of the most powerful ever created while Ford, Rockefeller, Ellison, Gates, Andreesen, Thiel, Musk and Zuckerberg figured out ways of holding onto some ownership in their ideas and profiting from them. They convinced others – communicated – the value of their ideas in such a way that it activated groups of people to take action and, like dominoes, the communication of the idea flew from person to person as each one tipped into believing.
Powerful communication spreads messages like genetics on a rabbit farm.
It’s the communication of the ideas that really matters. In this post I describe the most successful companies in the world, of which many are communication companies. Newspapers, books, magazines, websites, social media, conversation, smart devices, billboards, sign language, vision, hearing, sight, taste, smells, blogs; communication may be the most valuable thing of all time. Powerful, valuable messages are carried through time and space like particles; communication channels are accelerators.
Every day we communicate outward and receive incoming communications. Processing and responding. Creating or reacting to pivot points. The stimuli meshing into micro and macro instances. Perhaps the most powerful tool we have and use is communication, but good ideas, good communication and strategic management is really tough. Think about all the people you know that communicate horribly.
Sometimes there is too much communication. Sometimes I want to hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE and start over, but not recently. Not since I figured out how to build my own momentum, creating experiments in life and adjusting as the instances are generated.
It was about eighteen months ago that I CTRL-ALT-Deleted. I felt perturbed, as if there was more I was supposed to be doing; a purpose I hadn’t yet found but couldn’t put my finger on how to find it.
It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way, but I came across some ideas that changed the direction of my life and led me to writing, increasing outbound communication – something I never thought I’d do since I’m a terrible writer.
I realized that there was a lot of time in my life spent as a drone. I’d work all day in my office, come home, maybe do something active, like run or surf. Then I’d eat dinner, sit down and “relax” by watching TV. I’d end up there for a couple hours until I was tired, go to bed and repeat the next day. It wasn’t relaxing because my brain was bombarded with messages, stimuli and emotions from the box.
But I’m not against TV. Entertainment is good. I love watching well-developed stories and the art and effort that goes into producing a good show or movie and epic sports matchups. It’s not bad living having a great job, eating good food and sitting in a safe, comfortable apartment watching good TV. It is a very privileged life of security, entertainment, health and free time. But we all have keys to our own happiness and I’m never happy unless I’m building something, so I choose building over watching.
I started an experiment.
I don’t like grand change-your-life schemes or stressful commitments with static goals. Success vs Failure. Life is not that black and white. I do believe in success and failure, and I’m not a give-everyone-an-A-on-their-test-because-they-all-have-capabilities-that-come-out-differently type of person but any time something is stressful it usually will not work out in the long run. Stress is like rust. Over time things will corrode and fail under too much stress. It could be your health, relationships, job or happiness. All these things affect one another and build off of each other.
I prefer experiments. Experiments are more flexible and start with hypotheses that can be adjusted with feedback.
Experiments grow into larger things if they go well, or can be killed if they don’t respond the way you hope them to. The key is staying agile, or lean, by taking it one pivot point at a time, considering the direction and adjusting. Ideally, this method helps avoid waste (time, energy, money, relationships, etc).
My experiment was asking the question “What would happen if I cut out the things in my life that make me less creative, productive, helpful, loving and happy? Eliminate the things that hold me back and block the conduit. What if I got rid of them?”
My hypothesis was that I’d have more ideas, better relationships, higher energy and get more done.
So I measured the things in my life that took up my time and hypnotized me, disabling my creativity and relationship cultivation.
In an average week I was watching twenty-eight hours of television/entertainment. I didn’t think this was bad since about seven hours (25%) was news. Then I asked why news was better and I realized news was one of the biggest drains, actually worse, than regular entertainment. News is scary. People are dying. Lies are spreading. Crimes are happening. Disasters are imminent. Revolution is brewing. Governments are failing. Security is evaporating! There are no jobs! Money is devaluing!! Your house is worthless!!! There is nothing you can do…except watch so you know when the next bad thing happens so you can escape to the future settlement on the moon or the compound in the mountains. A lot of bad communication.
Uggh. I’d rather watch South Park and Louis C.K. At least they make me laugh – give me some oxytocin for goodness sake. But it was all hypnotizing. Blocking my ideas and thoughts. I needed silence.
So I started with News then cancelled cable and got rid of my 73” 3D TV.
This meant no news at all and no television programming except by demand via online portals. No newspapers, CNN, news magazines, nothing. Most importantly, no more distraction.
It’s scary. media is like a thick down comforter hugging you so tightly that you are padded from yourself. When you drop the thick cushy blanket you realize you’ve been naked the whole time and your thoughts silenced, inundated with content produced by Hollywood.
I looked at relationships. How much time was I spending nurturing unhealthy relationships with negative people? How much time was I spending hoping for people to return feelings they didn’t share with me? Why was I spending time with pits in my stomach and hopes in my head?
I leaned away from negative, needy, selfish people and leaned towards creative, motivated, thoughtful people cultivating their own experiments, and towards those who care for me as I care for them. In the short run there will be pain and withdrawal, but in the long run this strategy works. Ask yourself the question “if this thing happening to me were happening to someone I love unconditionally, what would I want for that person?” You are who you hang out with, and I could see my life improve immediately. My energy redirected towards creating, communicating and ideating.
The first thing that happens when you get rid of the negative is brain diarrhea. I was scared. Lonely convulsing thoughts running out of my head and depositing fear all over the place. Like a cleanse, this was natural. My brain was jailed and now it wasn’t. Like Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption”, I was institutionalized and now I was free and freaking out. With so much freedom, what does one do first? Once your brain is free, you can get busy living.
So I focused on my job and in my free time read a lot and got obsessed with ideas. I started writing down ideas every day. About anything. Mostly the company I worked for, and then new ideas to consider someday like things I want to build, people I’d like to meet or help. I’d throw all of those ideas out a few weeks after writing them down. Most were terrible. Something funny happens when you write down ideas: once they hit the paper it’s like there’s more room in your brain and ideas just start gushing out.
Many of my ideas are business ideas. There is nothing better than creating something and putting it out into the world for people to use. Money is great. We all need it. Seeing creations come to life while getting paid for them is an indescribable feeling, but it’s rare because that’s not how we’re taught. We’re taught to work for the people with ideas, not create them ourselves.
Ideas are hard to start when you aren’t sure what to do with them or where to go next, so I started doing something else.
I sought out people I thought had the secrets to the future. These people were the rare ideamakers. Many were wealthy, had started companies, went from nothing to something, were covered heavily by media and their stories were well known. They, I was sure, could tell the stories of how they did it and maybe I could steal their methods.
So I started connecting. I’d send notes, comment on blogs, ask mutual friends for introductions or send an honest message on LinkedIn asking to connect.
Once connected, I’d tell them what I was doing and ask for a short conversation – no more than ten minutes – during which I had three questions in the area of ideas and innovation that I’d like to ask.
I was shocked to find that people actually care. They want to give and help. The secret they know, is if they are a conduit to others, giving to those that are creative, unselfish, proactive (my friend Casey calls them Doers) and sincere, that they would get back many times what they gave. Like Kevin Systrom giving us Instagram, a platform that helps our horrible photos look better so we can more easily share them, we gave him billions of photos per day, hundreds of millions of users, that brought him a $billion along with respect and fame in the developer community. This is the power of ideas. They start small, like experiments, and if they go well, they grow out of their petri dishes until they cover the earth like oxygen.
I connected with CEOs, VCs, entrepreneurs, investors, ideamakers, creatives, writers, connectors, influencers and filmmakers among others.
And that led to more clarity and ideas and inspiration and excitement. I found that my relationships were getting better, my thoughts clearer and my energy higher. Like a snowball.
Since I was spending time connecting with people, cultivating my health and creativity, the snowball was getting big and there was more to share. I got more deals done at work and had more financial security.
It’s hard when we’re just getting by, or even doing well, not to be selfish and concerned about what we’re going to get out of a deal, conversation, job or any effort that we put forth; we are concerned with our own hunger. When we have a lot, we let others have a taste of our kill, but when we’re just getting by it’s hard not to hold onto every little morsel.
When I started to realize that for every idea I gave away or helped someone else with, I would have 10 more ideas, I got excited, even giddy, about giving away ideas. I was full and since I was full, I could give without worry about receiving.
But getting started was the trick. So I connected with James Altucher on his blog and wrote a comment.
James recently published “Choose Yourself: be happy, make millions, live the dream”.
I preordered it and it arrived just prior to my flight to Beirut. I was over Switzerland when I turned the page and saw this:
James had included my comment in his book because it’s a technique that works.
His book is now a Wall Street Journal bestseller and I became a bestselling writer. People all over the world are benefitting from the technique I wrote, and I’m happy if it helps them. Maybe it will help you? It helps me every day.
James continues to give me advice on building things, and I’m grateful for his time and effort.
It’s been 18 months since I took back control of my life and filtered in the right people. Somehow I still know most of what’s going on in the world and am wayyyy more productive.
I’ve converted 28 hours per week from hypnosis to 28 hours of productive energy and experimentation. I launched two ideas (with more on the way) and the free browser app www.noppl.com, invested in a disruptive Chicago-based startup while advising three more companies on strategy and direction.
And I’ve also failed. I tried to launch other things that fell flat. I lost at a relationship with someone who didn’t reciprocate the same feelings and I had to step away. I wanted to help someone else who didn’t want help and it’s hard to see them struggle. I pitched at least 5 ideas to the company I worked for and they didn’t do them. I sent other companies at least 20 ideas and they all said “these are great ideas” but haven’t called me back. Those things hurt but being grateful is the basis I use to stay positive and happy through the ups and downs.
I’m not sure what will happen next. There are too many things I want to do and I’m not good at saying no, but the best people know how to say no. I’m working on it. I’d like to run 21 miles of trail every month in a new destination around the world, share ideas with people that need them and build something really great that matters. Spend more time with my family, find love, listen to great music, watch amazing sunsets, design cool things and hopefully keep myself financially secure. We all have dreams.
But it starts with silence so the ideas can shine through. And ideas start with saying no to distractions. And saying yes to the possibilities that are out there waiting, just outside of that numb comforter around you, preventing you from feeling the warmth and opportunities of life.
I used my technique and met my friend Kash. I’d love to know what you’re doing to create your own freedom in your life, or as Kash says, what you’re doing to #besomebody.