How to Advance Your Career By Becoming an ‘Idea Machine’

james altucher

I love James Altucher.  In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s an investor, writer, and entrepreneur.  He has a popular blog, podcast, and a bunch of books.  You can find all his material here:  www.jamesaltucher.com

[Photo: James Altucher, source: www.jamesaltucher.com]

One of James’ most popular books, and my personal favorite, is called “Choose Yourself:  Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream”.  In this book he talks about how the nature of employment is changing, and how we all need to become entrepreneurs.  There are several principles that he advocates that I’ve started to utilize at work and have noticed a huge change.  All software managers, really anyone in a leadership position, can benefit from the advice in this book and put it to immediate use.  I highly recommend you check the book out for yourself.  I also recommend you check out his podcast where he interviews various celebrities (from rappers to venture capitalists to authors).

Here are top 4 lessons from the book that I try to put into practice every day:

Become an ‘Idea Machine’

One of James biggest pieces of advice is to flex your mental muscles by generating a list of 10 ideas a day.  He posits that the act of getting into a habit of generating ideas, including lots of bad ones to start, and then eventually more good ones, will help you in all aspects of life.

I have tried to put this to work in my role as a Dir of Software.  Initially I thought that to be successful in my role I just needed to get my team to execute well.  I knew I needed to also manage across the organization and promote my team, but it was all about me getting my team to be the best that they could be.

In my most recent job, I’ve tried to shift my mindset, and instead become an ‘Idea Machine’, and just try to generate value for as many people as possible in the company.  I no longer focus on just my direct reports.  I’m now equally focused on working with folks in IT, finance, admin, business development, sales, and the other engineering groups.  I push ideas out everywhere in the company.  Not all of them stick.  I’ve noticed at least a 10x improvement in my overall effectiveness as a manager using this approach!

Yes, there are some downsides.  I have less time to focus on my team directly.  But, this is forcing me to get my team to take more ownership of their projects, and to manage the work themselves.  I mainly pop in to help prioritize issues, and facilitate discussions when needed.

Overall, if you can generate high quality ideas, whether it be process or tool improvements, product ideas, new business strategies, etc., you are creating immense value to your company.  As a manager you are getting paid to solve problems, and you solve problems by generating ideas!

Say ‘Yes’ to Everything

Another lesson James teaches is to say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity.  The combination of this approach with the ‘idea machine’ is incredible.  I volunteer for everything.  I totally oversubscribe.  There are a lot of projects I don’t even finish.  That seems to be OK, at least in a startup environment.

I’ve noticed that people are now coming to me for help on projects, from all over the company.  I’m now building stronger relationships throughout the entire org, and becoming deeply embedded into the team.

I highly recommend this approach, especially if you are a new manager to a team.  Don’t just worry about your own group, try to help everyone out.

The Daily Practice

Another lesson James gives is to do what he calls ‘the daily practice’.  This is where each day you focus on nurturing your 4 bodies:

Physical – Are you eating well?  How about exercising?  I’ve recently tried a simple step just using the standard ios health app to try to get to 10,000 steps a day.  Hitting 10,000 steps is harder than you’d think, especially working in an office environment all day and commuting via car.

Emotional – Are you surrounding yourself with positive people?  One of James best quotes is, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend time with the most”  Do you find yourself having negative thoughts?

Mental – Are you flexing your brain muscles, learning something new and challenging yourself every day?  James recommends writing down 10 ideas every day to strengthen your idea muscle.

Spiritual – Are you able to be in the present moment?  Also, do you practice gratitude?

Obviously, the whole point is to become a well rounded human, and the key word here is to practice.  You are never going to be perfect at this.  Some days you may forget.  The goal is to try to get better at it a little bit, say 1%, each day.

Become a Master Salesmen

This is another one that I’ve learned is key as a software manager.  You need to become a salesmen.  You are responsible for communicating the successes of your team to the rest of the company.  The key here is to promote your people, not yourself.  Noone can stand working for a self promoter, who wants to take credit for everyone else’s work.  You need to create the opportunity for everyone on your team to shine, and give them the stage to do so.

If you have to give a regular status report to your manager, be sure to give praise to your team, and call out their accomplishments by name.  Another thing I’ve tried is creating a blog post on our intranet to keep the company up to date with everyone’s accomplishments.

Summary

Overall I’ve found James Altucher’s advice to be incredible helpful in my own personal and professional life.  He doesn’t come across as ‘preachy’, and is quick to point out his own mistakes.   I’ve included a link below to his Choose Yourself book on Amazon.  It’s only $7, definitely worth checking out.  I’d love to hear from folks in the comment section.  Have you been following James and checking out his material?  Any recommendations of other ‘self help’ authors in a similar vein?

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