The Formal Education Myth
There is almost no relationship between academic excellence and success in your life and career. Insofar as it was ever true that the roadmap to success was to work hard in school, get a good entry-level job, and work your way up through middle management, it isn’t anymore. You need credentials for a few professions (doctor, lawyer, etc.), but these days you don’t need formal credentials for most things you might want to do.
There are certain practical skills that will lead to success in life—they just aren’t taught in school. This book doesn’t teach them in depth, but it does point the way and teach you how to teach yourself the skills.
How to Make a Difference in the World without Going Broke
Almost everyone wants to make a difference in the world and have financial success. Often, the choice is framed as safety vs. heroism, where you’re either a starving artist or you work a boring job and miss out on life. The following steps give you a high likelihood of achieving financial success while following your dreams.
- Get on your feet financially however you can. Your life will be much less stressful, freeing up mental energy. You won’t want to go back to being broke once you do this, and that is intended.
- Create more room for experimentation in your life. Set up your job so that you’re getting paid for results, not time. Flex time, working from home, and telecommuting are all options. These days, there’s no excuse for not creating some time for yourself.Books that will teach you how to achieve this outcome:
- Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution
- The Four-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich Chapter 12, “Disappearing Act: How to Escape the Office”
- The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line
- With this new space in your workday, begin experimenting. Adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset at your workplace, and begin solving problems you weren’t hired to solve and contributing in high-leverage ways that may not match your job description. Leading will be more fun and fulfilling than following. The book that will help you here is:
You can also use your newfound time to find meaning with artistic pursuits, charities and causes, and other activities outside work.
This step may be as far as you want to go, and there’s not much downside to living this way. There’s nothing wrong with doing one thing to eat and other things to find meaning, and there’s quite a bit of historical precedent for this.
- (Optional: for those who want to change careers, become entrepreneurs, or become self-employed) Strike out on your own. Experiment with things that might become a source of both meaning and substantial income. This path won’t be easy or risk-free, but there’s a lot you can do to make it more likely to succeed.
- Dive deeply into the success skills, especially marketing, sales, and networking.
- Don’t think of money and meaning and separate.
- Accept that failure is inevitable, plan for it, and don’t expose yourself to too much downside risk. See failure as an interesting change in life plans.
- Fail early, fail often, and pivot until something gains traction.
- Keep your overhead low and generate revenue as quickly as possible.
How to find Great Mentors and Teachers, Connect with Powerful and Influential People, and Build a World-Class Network
To succeed at anything, you will want to find exceptional people to learn from and surround yourself with them. The overarching principle in this chapter is that to connect with powerful people, you must give them value.
“Leadership is like a fountain. Imagine the leaders are the water near the top, ready to burst out of the fountain. The water about to burst out is vein pushed up by the waters below it. If you want to succeed, find leaders who are doing amazing things in the world, and push them up. Find powerful people and help them reach their goals. If you’re of service to them, they will be of service back.”
Give, give, give, and do it with no expectation of getting anything in return. Instead, be grateful for the opportunity to help. There’s no simple formula, but here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How can I give more?
- How can I contribute more?
- How can I be of service more?
- How can I help the person get what he wants more?
You can give your time to people, but doing so is limiting because you only have so much time. Give time only when it can translate into connections very quickly. Instead, accumulate and use networking capital in these two categories:
- Your already existing connections—the more connections you have, the more people will want to connect to you because you’ll be able to connect them to others.
- Your ability to give good advice about:
- Marketing and Sales: Most people have built their business around either sales or marketing, not both. You can help with the other one. Learn direct response copywriting because with it you can help people generate sales and revenue now, in which case they’ll always want to talk to you. Direct response is also a blind spot—most people are indoctrinated with brand marketing. The bar is pretty low, so you should be able to learn it in a few months of study and a year or so of practice.
- Food, Weight, and Nutrition: People are often desperate for advice.
- Spirituality, Purpose and Meaning: Almost all successful people struggle with questions of meaning and purpose—even more so than less successful people. Often they’ve realized that their success has not brought them lasting fulfillment. A few successful people will be set in this area, in which case you can give more and push them up.
- Hobbies, Passions, and Causes: If you cultivate lots of interesting and unusual hobbies, you maximize the chance you’ll be able to share and give to people you meet. All hobbies work, but less standard ones are better (Cuban salsa dancing vs. football).
- Relationships: Success is business and happiness in relationship are negatively correlated. Not do people ignore their relationships in favor of their business, successful business people are often control freaks who are terrified of being vulnerable.
Educate yourself in all these areas and you’ll get double benefits: increased personal success and more advice capital.
To figure out where to help people, once you establish trust and rapport, ask:
- What’s the most exciting thing now in your life/business?
- What’s challenging for you now in your life/business?
At personal events, ask about life; at business events, ask about business. These questions can get at people’s deepest desires, fears, worries, and dreams.
Even among successful people, it’s rare that they will have all areas of their life under control. Become a Swiss army knife of advice and you’ll be able to help almost everyone.
When you are close enough to people, you shouldn’t even wait for them to ask, call them on things they’re doing that aren’t serving them.
Knowing when to ask these questions and when to give someone a wake-up call requires social intelligence. A good book on the subject is:
Ideally, you want to become a trusted advisor. Some books to help there are:
If you have no connection capital or advice capital to offer, you can always give enthusiasm and willingness to implement advice. Read people’s books. Listen to what they tell you to do. Do it, and then tell them a story about how they’ve helped you and follow up with questions.
Other suggestions for ways to connect:
- Meet people in the most intimate setting possible. Small workshops are good for this.
- Set up events for people to speak at.
- Host people in your home when they’re visiting from out of town.
- Listen attentively and compassionately when people talk—that is often enough to make an impression.
- Recommend a person or resource—even send people books you think it would help them to read.
Note: The more money you have and the more your own material needs are met, the more you will be able to help others.
Books on effective, high-integrity networking by Keith Ferrazzi:
- Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time
- Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success—and Won’t Let You Fail
And one very useful blog post about high-integrity networking:
- From Tim Ferriss To Seth Godin: How To Interview & Build Relationships With The Most “Influential” People In The World
What Every Successful Person needs to Know about Marketing and How to Teach Yourself
No matter what business you’re in, you must learn marketing. Nothing happens until something gets sold. If you’re at a big company, you should learn marketing to bring in business. Marketing will enable you to get freelancing work. And studying marketing teaches a mindset of putting the customer’s emotional reality first that will serve you no matter what you do.
Dan Kennedy says:
“The breakthrough realization for you is that you are in the marketing business. You are not in the dry cleaning or restaurant or widget manufacturing or wedding planning or industrial chemicals business. You are in the business of marketing dry cleaning services or restaurants or widgets or wedding planning or chemicals.”
Marketing isn’t just for after you already have a product. When you are creating something you should:
- Choose a niche.
- Ask what people need:
- What’s bothering them?
- What’s hassling them?
- What’s costing them money?
- What’s keeping them from getting what they want?
- How could you help these people do their job better?
- Create something that solves a specific unsolved problem or meets a specific unmet need. (It should be for a customer who knows he has a problem.)
We hate marketing because we think of something being forced on us, but if you follow the above process, those who have the need or problem should want to hear about what you’re offering.
Learn direct response marketing specifically
What all forms of direct response marketing have in common is that they are aimed at getting a specific response such as:
- joining your newsletter
- purchasing your product
- making a donation to a cause
- calling a politician to advocate for impending legislation
Direct response is good for boot-strapping because the aim is for the response to happen directly after engaging with the material.
The alternative to direct response marketing is “brand” or “image” marketing, which is not aimed at any response in particular.
Big companies have agendas other than selling something now such as:
- looking good to board members
- looking good to the media
- looking good to Wall Street
- looking good to stockholders
- winning awards for advertising
In your business, you can safely ignore these other goals and use direct response to focus on selling something now.
- is about putting the customer’s emotional reality first
- speaks to the prospects’ needs, wants, and desires
- speaks to the prospects’ biggest fears, frustrations, and nightmares around the issue your product helps with
- feels fantastic, because the prospect is being heard, met, and understood
- is vulnerable, human, and emotionally raw
- is genuine human connection
How to write your first piece of direct response copy
- Make a list of your prospects’ biggest fears, frustrations, desires, dreams, and nightmares around the issue your product or service helps with.
- List twenty five answers for each of the above categories.
- Speak to how your prospects are feeling by asking a long list of questions of the form, “Are you … ?”
- Tell your personal story of struggle.
- End with a way for the reader to get in touch if he wants what you are offering.
When you go deep and talk to people about their hopes and fears, it is legitimate to worry about manipulation.
Here’s what you can do to ensure that you are using high-integrity marketing:
- Check in with yourself. Make sure that you are in integrity and that you have good intentions.
- Only sell a product or service that you truly believe will benefit the person enormously.
- If you see that what you’re selling is not a good match, discourage your prospect from buying and offer a reference to something else that will be able to help.
- Remember that if you legitimately believe your product or service will help, you are doing your target customers a disservice and depriving them of its benefits if you don’t let them know about it. Spread your gifts as widely as possible!
Three books to learn marketing from:
- Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
- No B.S. Direct Marketing: The Ultimate, No Holds Barred, Kick Butt, Take no Prisoners Direct Marketing for Non-Direct Marketing Businesses
- Rubies in the Orchard: The POM Queen’s Secrets to Marketing Just About Anything
How to Teach Yourself Marketing in Two Months
- Get an extra email address.
- Go the following websites, read everything, and sign up for their newsletters.
- Write a ton.
Some more resources about the psychology of direct-response marketing:
- Claude Hopkins
- Eugene Schwartz
- John Caples
- David Ogilvy
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- I Love Marketing
What every successful person needs to know about sales, and how to teach yourself
The marketing machine of higher education has done a good job of spreading the message that the better you are at your craft, the more likely it is that you will be successful. In reality, skill at craft and success are not closely related. Success is its own skill.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money—That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! is a good resource to learn a resourceful mindset about success and money.
Sales is not mysterious. You can learn it from books and training programs and the bar is pretty low.
The biggest barrier to learning how to sell is believing that you are above learning how to sell. If you have that belief, the first thing to do is to get rid of it.
Once you’ve done that, start thinking about sales like this:
- At its core, sales is getting people who don’t know about you and turning them into people who know about you and are giving you money if what you’re offering is a good match for them.
- When sales is done well, it should be a simple, honest discovery conversation.
- Sales is about influence, not about manipulation or forcing people to buy.
- At its best, sales will blend in with marketing and leadership—the ability to change the hearts and minds of people.
- If you aren’t the right person to help your prospect, refer them to someone else. Never try to manipulate them into buying.
SPIN Selling is a book that gives a detailed analysis of what actually works when you’re selling to people. (Michael Ellsberg was trained in its techniques by Victor Cheng.) Its conclusions:
- Scripts, pressure, gimmicks, closing techniques, guilt tripping, etc. don’t work, especially for big sales.
- The more prospects talk about their problems, fears, and frustrations related to the needs your product or services addresses, the more they will want to do business with you.
- Therefore, the way to sell is to ask lots of questions that get people connected to their underlying motivation for wanting to do business with you.
- You want to figure out what’s really behind the desire for the change they’re seeking to make.
- If you try to sell a solution before you have mutually agreed on the problem you’re trying to solve, people mostly won’t be interested.
A sample set of questions to ask:
- “What are you looking for?”
- “Why is that important to you?”
- “How would that impact your life?”
- “How does that feel right now? What’s it like?
- “What would happen if this problem didn’t get resolved?”
- “How would you feel about that?”
- “What is it worth to you to fix that problem and have the life you’ve always wanted?”
- “On a scale of 1-10, where are you with this problem?”
How to Invest for Success
The way to increase your earning power over time is by bootstrapping your profits and investing in yourself. Your best investment is your own human capital.
By bootstrapping, “if you can help someone achieve something valuable to them like losing weight, having a healthier relationship, or meeting a life partner, expanding their business, (you can learn this stuff from self study rather than an academic degree) and you learn high-integrity sales and marketing, 100,000 a year is not out of reach.”
In order to bootstrap you want to:
- Get to the point of profitability as quickly as possible, even if the profits are small.
- Keep expenses low.
- Generate revenue right away.
- Continually reinvest the profits to grow your earning power.
- Have a “cash generation ethic”, not a “work ethic”.
Ways to invest your profits in your earning power:
- Join a networking organization like Quentin’s Friends or BNI International.
- Study with a marketing or sales teacher.
- Buy books, workshops, and online training programs.
- Attend high-quality conferences, expos, trade shows, meetups, and retreats related to your field and the success skills.
- Find a high-quality business or career coach.
Plan for bootstrapping your earning power
- First, determine whether you want to earn more in the same field you’re currently working in or in a new field.
- If it’s the same field, ask how you can inexpensively learn to market and sell more effectively within the field.
- If it’s a different field, ask how you can gain the experience you need without abandoning your current cash flow. Ideas for doing this include:
- Learn at night or on weekends.
- Start small and moonlight.
- Find a way to “learn while you earn”.
- Find already successful people to mentor you for free or with whom you can apprentice for free.
- Figure out your life dreams and goals as specifically as possible.
- Figure out the most focused, efficient, cost-effective, well-researched educational investments you can make to put you on the path to achieving your goals and dreams.
- Ask yourself, if you wanted to get that education without going into debt, what would you do? (It’s not always bad to go into debt, but you’ll make better decisions if you’re thinking about spending your own hard-earned money now.)
Characteristics of good educational investments
- You know the reason for what you’re learning.
- Experience, including error, provides the basis.
- You are responsible for your own educational decisions and are involved in the planning and evaluation process.
- The subject has immediate relevance to your work or personal life.
- The education focuses on solving a problem instead of teaching content.
- The motivator is internal instead of external.
Successful people have a serious passion for lifelong learning and continuously invest in themselves over time.
Build the Brand of You
Your brand is what people think about when they hear your name. You want people to have a positive impression of you before they even meet you. The next best thing is for them to get a positive impression of you as soon as they google you.
Even if you work for another company, it’s always worth building up a brand around your own name as well, since your personal brand will stay with you for your whole life. The only reasons to operate under a name other than your own are if you have something insanely catchy or you’re planning to build up a business that you eventually want to sell. Otherwise, it’s usually a mistake.
Buy yourname.com and use it as a meeting place for your entire online presence.
To impress people when they google you:
- Create stuff.
- Sell stuff.
- Market stuff.
- Lead stuff.
- Make sure it’s good stuff.
- Make sure there is a google trail.
Your personal brand should be fearless, original, and authentic. Free your mind from its cultural programming, escape the tyranny of the resume format, and make your presence known!
To make your name known in a particular industry, you may want to:
- Figure out who the top 20 online influencers of the industry are.
- Get online and make friends with them.
- Read everything they do and comment on their blogs.
- Network with them in person.
The entrepreneurial mind-set vs. the employee mind-set: become the author of your own life
Dan Sullivan says, “There are two decisions you need to come to in order to be free, and to be more effective. First is that you are not entitled to anything in the world, until you create value for another human being first. Second, you are 100 percent responsible for producing results. No one else. If you adopt those two views, you will go far.”
The mind set described in this chapter is the most important thing in the book.
We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we get to choose what it means. This chapter is about choosing to escape passivity, victimization and entitlement, stop making excuses, and become the active ingredient in your own life.
Successful people will do whatever it takes to create their lives, including figuring out what “whatever it takes” is.
Do not wait for:
- someone else to give you the answer
- someone else to give you an opportunity
- things to be safe or easy
Six key distinctions between the employee mindset and the entrepreneurial mindset:
- Focus on contribution vs. Focus on entitlement: You want to be paying attention to how you can contribute to any person or situation you care about.When you lose a job or client, instead of thinking that you lost something you had, think, “Wow, I need to contribute more” or “How can I contribute more in the future?”
- Focus on outcome vs. Focus on output: Successful people engage in deep inquiry about exactly which outcomes they want to create and relentlessly engage in only the activities related to producing those outcomes in their lives.Don’t let yourself get satisfaction from working hard if it’s not producing results, though it may be tempting to think of things this way because the modern workplace was designed to crank our more work without focusing on real-world outcomes.Avoid situations where you are expected to drone away at lots of hard-work output without regard for value and seek situations when you get paid for results.When you master this skill and get financial security, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you will always be able to generate resources for you and your family.
- Sorting for what’s needed vs. Sorting for what’s requested: In school, you get trained to do what the authority figure says. In your organization you want to find out what people need and give them that service. Solve problems and you will get paid and have people gravitate towards you.
- Working yourself out of a job vs. Working to protect your job: You want to make yourself obsolete, dispensable, and redundant so that you can do something higher-leverage.
- Moving towards big decisions, even without authority vs. Turning away from even the small decisions you have the authority to make: You will make mistakes. Accept the consequences because when you make an impact you will become indispensable.
- Seeing your circumstances as illusory and temporary vs. Seeing your circumstances as fixed and permanent: The world around you is largely made-up. Societal rules are arbitrary and outdated and can therefore be broken, bent, bypassed, or just plain ignored to good effect.When you look at the world you should see how malleable and flexible it is. Successful people bend the reality around them toward the reality they prefer by writing their own life script.“What script would you write if you were the author of your experience—the active ingredient of your life—rather than the passive receptacle of society’s program?”
If you start at the bottom, you don’t have to stay there. No job need be static.
Every job can provide:
- Exposure to the values of work in an industry
- Opportunities for meeting mentors
- Income and savings that will be come capital
Don’t make your job your identity. Instead, look at everything as an apprenticeship that will prepare you for something greater some day.
See yourself as the guy who is going to do X one day, where X is your dream job.
Your best bet to achieve success is to be thinking ten years ahead, and do the thing will give you the strongest chance of getting there.
Success is still not guaranteed, but social and financial reality are less predetermined than you think.
Believe in the your power to blaze a trail. When you see problems in your life or surroundings, fix them. See yourself as responsible for the impact you have in your workplace and your own advancement.
Seek help when you need it and take responsibility for finding the best help and answers; don’t settle for what is immediately available.
A book that will help you see things this way:
Finally, four summaries of books that Michael Ellsberg recommended by Derek Sivers: