Mr. James Altucher in his hotel suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Thursday, Feb 21, 2013.

Book Review – Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth by James Altucher

Adam Books, Entrepreneurship, Reading 1 Comment

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Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth

As James Altucher says, “my life changes every 6 months” and that’s quite evident when looking at his bio. He’s been a hedge fund manager, day trader, underground poker player, chess master, entrepreneur of a dozen companies, and is a prolific writer, appearing in major publications across the web as well as his own site. He’s a podcaster (with 2 shows) and the author of 11 books, most notably Choose Yourself. James is a real contrarian. At any given moment you can hear him telling people never buy a house, don’t go to college, quit your job, and lots of other advice you don’t hear everyday. While often times I believe what he’s saying is for shock value and controversy, and I would bet this view is much more nuanced, it serves as a strong contrast to the “wisdom” we’ve all been ingrained with from childhood. Occasionally we really disagree, as you can see on post about his 401k views.

I read Choose Yourself before I was writing book reviews, but I plan to come back later with an update. Let’s just say Choose Yourself is about principles and mentality, but light on actionable strategies. He answered those criticisms with his follow-up best seller, The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth.

I’m an avid listener to James podcasts and I read his articles, so I already knew his general thesis, but I was excited to get some details he doesn’t often break out. I don’t think he disappointed. If your feeling trapped in your cube or just need some inspiration to get started, I think this is well worth a read.

“Ideas are the most valuable currency of our time.”

My Notes

James presents us with an idea matrix that’s a useful reference for where you fall in the idea world. The average cube employee is bottom left. Not working on ideas at all. As you work your way up and cross you work on other people’s ideas, you work for yourself, and finally your an “idea machine” as a successful entrepreneur, artist, author, etc…

“A century of corporatism has fooled us into thinking that if we just pay our dues and climb the ladder, we’ll find a pot of gold at the end.”

The key to the top right of the matrix, is that this person is planting a lot of seeds.

  1. The “Save Big Rule” – Saving on a cup of coffee won’t make you rich. Earn big
  2. Investing is a tax on the middle class
  3. The Daily Practice – are you taking care of yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally

James sets up the bulk of his book on the premise that the implicit promise of the middle class is dead. You can no longer go to college or start on the manufacturing line and be guaranteed a quality corporate job, pension/401k, and retirement. Tuition, housing, and healthcare costs are up and up while income is flat. Therefore, to succeed and thrive in this new world, we have to “choose ourselves” through entrepreneurship.

1 of the 2 themes I see James hit more than anything, I really love – The Daily Practice (4 areas)

  • Physical
    • Sleep enough, eat well, and exercise
  • Emotional
    • Be around people who love and support you
    • Ignore everybody else
  • Mental
    • Write down 10 ideas
    • Read a lot
  • Spiritual
    • Don’t complain
    • Be grateful

Part I

Information Products – Monopoly, Scalability and Brand

“Don’t stay at your job for safe salary increases over time. That will never get you where you ant – freedom from financial worry.”

Why you need to quit your job

  • The middle class is dead (I disagree strongly)
  • You’re being replaced (by tech and temp staffers)
  • Corporations don’t like you
  • Money isn’t happiness (avoid life style inflation)
  • Too many people at your company can ruin your  life
  • Your job isn’t satisfying your needs
  • Your retirement plan is for shit (again I disagree)

Abundance will never come from your job

Idea Machine

The concept of coming with ideas being similar to weightlifting. That you working out a muscle that must be built, was a new concept to me and one that resonates. James suggests come up with 10 ideas every single day. Give yourself permission for them to be bad. 6-12 months later you will have a strong idea muscle and will pump out value. Once they’re pumping, give them away freely without expectation.

Remember the key is 10. Not 4, not 8 – 1o. You need to make your brain work and sweat to build up the muscle. He also gives a great list of lists (very meta). I won’t list them all here.

How to Sell

James gives some great advice on sales. A few highlights below:

  • Be a friend – People buy from people they like
  • Learn to say no (consider opportunity cost)
  • Over Deliver. Always.
  • Never take no for an answer
    • Learn the art of the check-in
  • Underprice
  • Be the source
  • Sell everything
  • Sell the dream
  • Fire bad customers

My favorite quote from the book:

We spend years building a garden. We plant seeds. We tend the soil. We water the plants. But we are also the sun. The sun shines no matter what. It doesn’t care which flower blossoms. The sun is always there providing value every second of the day. Be the sun and you will create abundance.

How to Persuade – The 4 U’s

  • Urgency (why you need it now)
  • Uniqueness (why your solution is better and different)
  • Useful
  • Ultra-specific
  • User-friendly
  • Unquestionable proof

Leading

To lead well, show gratitude, present a unified vision, give constructive criticism. Be ok with change. There’s always a real reason (the reason behind the reason). Find it.

Public Speaking

Watch great speakers. James prefers comedians. Avoid powerpoint. Pause. Always have a Q&A

Negotiation

  • Say no.
  • Don’t be a child.
  • Let the other side help you.
  • Ask them what you should do. (literally, ask them what you should do)
  • Bring a long list (the more you ask for the more you can negotiate on)
  • Options equal freedom
  • Negotiations should always take place on the side where the value is higher
  • Negotiate with your gut and heart (listen to them)
  • Patience and Preparation are key

Network

You build relationships by helping people. Give ideas. Introduce people. Help make connections. They keys to being a super connector:

  • Introduce other connectors
  • Introduce people with a specific purpose in mind
  • Host a dinner of interesting people
  • Follow up
  • Reestablish contact
  • Show up
  • Interview people
  • Provide value

Mastery

Find what you love or are talented at and be persistent. Practice, study your failures, gain experience, and learn pattern recognition.

Don’t make excuses

To-Do Lists

James hates to do lists. I’m personally a big fan, though I agree with his statement that they sometimes do make me feel a bit guilty and stressed for not making it to the bottom. He brings it back to living by themes. I think you can do both.

Part II – Making Money

Learn to see trends. They’ll help you build businesses, buy stocks, and be ahead of the game. Here James gets in to some very specific trend recommendations that I won’t detail.

Building a Business

  • Do the dirty work
  • Provide as much content as possible
  • Outsource in incremental stages
  • Diversify your customers
  • Don’t worry about the competition
  • Make something you would use
  • Always be Deal making

There’s a great FAQ and Cheat Sheet on building a business and valuing a business. Go buy the book.

He talks about his interview with S.J. Scott. There’s a great podcast with him if you want a preview.

The Zero to One approach:

  • Monopoly
  • Scalability
  • Network Effect
  • Brand

The 3 D’s Model

Look for a business going through one of the following or a good deal.

  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Debt

Part III Keep and Grow your Money

Here we get in to the sections where James and I fundamentally disagree. He just flat out says, don’t believe the myths. You don’t need a college education, don’t buy a house, and don’t save in your retirement plan (along with a lot of other myth’s that I may agree with)

There’s some other good advice. Diversify your income streams. Don’t put too much money in to any one investment.

Make long-term investments that you hold forever. He essentially describes Buffet and Graham value investing.

10 Rules of Investing

  1. Invest with someone smarter than you
  2. Remember that cash is king
  3. Invest in hard to value companies (to build wealth)
  4. Invest in dividend aristocrats (to keep wealth)
  5. Allocate
  6. Invest in at least 2 people smarter than you (private investing)
  7. The S&P 500 index is the best hedge
  8. Investing in you is the best hedge against hyperinflation
  9. Never invest in anyone else’s ideas
  10. Never invest for tax reasons

As always, James has a few more interesting suggestions that you can find in his writing many places. I suggest you google his opinion on $2 bills, doctor’s coats, and waiter pads.

One of the best things he ever wrote was getting an MBA from Eminem. It started in a blog post but it made the book. I can’t recommend reading it enough. I don’t know how he made the connection between rap battles and selling/psychology, but it’s genius. I won’t spoil it here.

Mr. James Altucher in his hotel suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Thursday, Feb 21, 2013.

Conclusion

A few reviewers on Amazon complained it was too similar to his blog. These people are assholes. James writes prolifically and has for years. Of course a lot of the topics have been covered in blog posts. In fact a lot of it is verbatim (and even more repetitive if you listen to the podcasts). But most people don’t want to dig through 100x blog posts and try to put them in to a coherent narrative. Buy the book and get everything in a nice neat package and support an author that’s likely given a lot to you for free already.

I’m a big James Altucher fan and Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth is worth the read if you want to do almost anything entrepreneurial or creative.


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