What’s the secret to success? Is it being resourceful? Having grit?
Well, according to James Altucher, it’s becoming an idea machine. Altucher is a hedge-fund manager and entrepreneur, co founder of more than 20 different companies and a bestselling author of several books including Choose Yourself and The Rich Employee. In other words, he is a success. And when someone attributes their success to a certain strategy that anyone could do, my ears perk up. I want to become an idea machine.
Altucher explains that ideas are the new currency of life. Money can disappear, but good ideas ‘buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you better experiences, buy you more time, save your life’. Having ideas is like a magical power. They appear when you need them most: when your business fails, when your car breaks down and when you think you won’t ever get out of this mess. Ideas save you, they inspire you and they expand your creativity. And guess what? Once you become an idea machine, you can sell those ideas. You can use them to make money, you can help others make money and you can find creative ways to live. There is no downside to being an idea machine.
So how do I become one? The strategy is very simple: Write 10 ideas every day. Boom.
Why 10? Because writing 5 ideas is pretty easy. It’s on the 6th one that you really start to think. 10 ideas makes your brain sweat, forcing the creativity out. You can write them on a pad of paper, on your laptop or phone. The platform does not matter, it’s the exercise that does. Altucher explains that it’s not creating good ideas that is important, just ideas. There is no pressure to come up with excellent ideas.
I downloaded an app called Ideas – Become an Idea Machine and started writing 10 ideas everyday. What I like about this app is that there’s a suggested prompt/inspiration every day if you don’t know what to write your 10 ideas on. It’s a life saver. Apparently, you become an idea machine after 6 months (that’s 1,680 ideas!!). I was really hoping to find a good idea or two in those 1,680, but the results may surprise you….
Idea Machine Results
3 months later, I decided to stop writing ideas. I had 794 ideas in the app, ranging from ‘Ways to read more’ to ‘Alternatives to university’. Was I an idea machine yet? Meh. Here are some of the details:
1. It’s harder than it looks
Eh, just 10 ideas, right? NooOOOO. 10 ideas is hard. Especially when it’s something like ‘10 ways to travel more’. Eventually you do get better at it, but it’s quite a challenge to think up all these ideas; which is why you do it in the first place: to get better at it.
Good ideas are hard.
10 ideas is hard, but it gets easier and more interesting.
2. You can have ideas about literally anything
Every 10 days I would write 10 ideas of what the next topics I should find ideas on for the next 10 days, such as ‘How to make more money’ and ‘Ways to do more exercise’. And then I noticed a pattern. I kept wanting to find ideas in the self-improvement area.
How could I be more generous? 10 ideas. How could I look better? Another 10. How could I get better at drawing? This went on and on and I started feeling that I really had a lot to improve on myself. More on this in takeaway 4.
As you keep going on this cycle, you realise that ideas are infinite, and that you can literally find ideas for anything. You feel like a self-improvement machine, constantly trying to find ideas to improve your life. Eventually you realise that life is not all about you, and that there are other types of ideas to work on: ‘10 ways to clean a house’, ‘10 ways to have a shower’, etc. If you’re feeling adventurous you can think of 10 ways to have a better sex life, or 10 new things to try. Really, ideas are infinite.
3. Ideas start to pop out of everywhere
After writing the 10 ideas of the day, I go about my daily life: have a shower, go to school, meet up with people. But the topic of the day is always in the back of my mind. I’ll be walking about the street and suddenly think of another idea for that topic. Or even of the topic the day before. I’m inundated with ideas and it can feel kind of powerful (unless the topic of the day was ‘10 ways to teach English’).
And the funny thing is that the actually good ideas are the ones I have later in the day. And this makes sense: my subconscious works on the idea topic throughout the day, and comes up with the good ones later on.
4. You’re constantly changing
This takeaway would be my negative point about the whole idea machine experiment. As mentioned in takeaway 2, the self-improvement cycle becomes addicting. You’re constantly looking for ways to improve, and eventually my idea topics were mainly focused on blog improvements. Although it may sound like a good thing, I felt that I couldn’t stick to anything, because I was always looking to improve it. I wrote ideas on how to improve the blog design, redid the blog design, then repeated the process 7 days later. Does it mean the blog design actually improved? I hope so, but the constant changing probably did more harm than good.
Every time I encountered a problem I’d think: Tomorrow’s 10 ideas will be 10 solutions to fix that problem. It suddenly feels like you’re forcing problems, just so that you can have 10 ideas to fix that problem tomorrow. Very weird feeling.
5. You test your discipline
The hardest part was actually writing those 10 ideas down everyday. The first two months were pretty rigorous: everyday at 8.30 am I had a little reminder to write down my 10 ideas. I wrote them on the app, and then I was back to normal life. Simple, right? Nope, on the third month I slacked. Not only was it the holidays (which also meant not always being awake at 8.30), but writing the 10 ideas felt more and more like a chore. It only took 10 minutes but it was something I wasn’t looking forward to. More on this in the next takeaway.
It was interesting to see how my discipline faired during those 3 months. Could I really force myself to write those 10 ideas every single day? It worked well at the beginning, but the end got harder.
6. You stop caring
This is the real reason my discipline slacked towards the end. I got tired of constantly trying to improve, of not being satisfied with my current state. I can’t attribute this only to writing ideas, my life in general has been pretty hectic in the last 3 months (new flat, new uni, new travels, new goals), but it certainly enforced it.
Eventually, I stopped caring. The last week of the 3rd month, the little 8.30 am alarm would go off and I’d shout ‘F*** you’ to the phone (my flatmates were probably a little worried). I didn’t want to write ideas, I didn’t want to think of new ways to do something, I didn’t want to improve every single aspect of my life. I was done.
Writing 10 ideas everyday has been quite a journey, and it’s probably affected me much more than I thought it would. I got some really good ideas and the constant improvement means that I’m in a better position than I was 3 months ago. But it’s time for a break, my phone has received too many ‘F*** you’s’ in the past week or so. So now for the big questions:
Did I become an idea machine?
I would say: yes. The constant ideas popping into my head, the easier it got to write ideas, the constant trying to improve. I was always looking for topics for my ideas, always finding several solutions for a problem. So yes, I had more ideas than the previous Araminta.
James Altucher suggests writing ideas for 6 months, but honestly I feel 3 months was enough for me.
Was it a successful experiment?
The verdict: yes. These ideas are what helped improve my blog, make me some money and improve myself. It was tiring always trying to improve, but I learnt a lot from it.
Should you do this Experiment?
Of course. Writing 10 ideas a day only takes 10 minutes and could bring a lot of improvements to your life. But contrary to James Altucher, you don’t have to do this for 6 months for it to have an impact on your life. Even 3 months is a bit much; I suggest just one month, unless you really do want to become a machine (good luck pal).
My personal takeaway
This experiment taught me the power of ideas and how to take action with them. It’s crazy how in your own little brain mush you can create such strange and interesting ideas. It really is.
But I don’t want to become an idea machine anymore. In fact, I want to become an idea machine on demand, when I want to. Now, whenever I have a problem, I sit down and write ideas to solve it. But I won’t force problems everyday and try to find 10 ways to solve them at 8.30 am. Nope.