Finding Hidden Education Subsidies

March 22, 2013 — 20 Comments

I never got a PhD or anything but from what I understand, the transaction goes like this: The school covers tuition of promising students and pays their living expenses in exchange for the student doing all the work the professors don’t want to do–research, grading papers, hosting study sessions.

But the real value for the student–which some fully take advantage of and some don’t–is in the fact that the professor gives them their own set of keys to the laboratory. Oh, and they’re allowed to trade on the prestigious name of the university and the professor’s reputation.

This transaction is not all that dissimilar to the one I made with Tucker at 19 years old, or the one I made with Robert Greene a little later. In some ways with American Apparel, too. They not only covered my education costs, but let me into their laboratory. And I got to explore all sorts of amazing opportunities merely by association with them. (Before this even, I met Tucker because I was writing for my college newspaper. The paper was paying me to go out and meet people who’d have never talked to me otherwise)

I’m realizing that identifying opportunities like this has been the secret to whatever success I’ve had so far. That is: identifying hidden subsidies. Finding someone or something that will cover the costs you otherwise would have (or perhaps, could not have) had to cover to yourself.

For instance, I’ve been doing some speaking lately. This is not something I had any experience or expertise in. In fact, I found it quite terrifying. I knew that getting good at it would require a fairly large investment on my part, both in time and in possibly hiring a coach.

Then, Creative Live (through my friend Chase Jarvis) asked if I would try out a marketing class to see if it worked on their platform. Doing 10 hours live on camera was not exactly my idea of a good time–but I noticed that subsidy again. Here, someone was offering to pay me to break myself of stage fright, to craft my message, to develop my materials and best of all, put me in front of a large audience. Of course, I said yes.

I think the same thing when journalism schools or universities ask me to come in for Q&As. These don’t usually pay, but the institution is offering me the opportunity to introduce my book to young audience and lending me their credibility as well. And I also get to test my material in a relatively safe and low key environment.

And now, as a result, an hour keynote (which does pay) is easy and painless for me. I had my education and development not only covered–in fact, at a profit–and now I’m booked with a bunch of cool talks this year.

It’s not always something you’re “asked” though. More often than not you need to seek it. Let’s say you see some client or would be client suffering from a problem. It might be something outside your current specialties or capabilities, but try offering to take a crack at it for way less than what someone else would charge (or for free if you must) Why? They’re paying you to learn how to do something you can then charge other people for.

Your education is covered. You’re learning in someone else’s laboratory–in a safe way. If and when you succeed, you can add that service to offering. I try to think about this when people approach me with products they want to market. Will this open up a new avenue for me?

Another example: No one asked me to put my Reading Newsletter together. But it works on the same logic. I realized I was already reading all these books, I figured there had to be a way to get it subsidized. Now, the email more than covers the books I buy each year (thousands of dollars worth a year). In fact, I actually have the Amazon Affiliate revenue just roll over into Amazon gift cards each month. It worked out quite nicely–oh, and it was also the single biggest driver of sales for Trust Me I’m Lying as well (In fact, two of my foreign rights deals came from editors who subscribe).

The way to think about it is like this: You’re already going to try to do things. That’s who you are. You’re not the type who sits idle. You’re curious, motivated and resourceful. Guess who else is interested in those traits? Basically every successful business, entrepreneur or institution. So find them and ask them to subside the cost. Let them think they are harnessing that energy exclusively for their advantage. Let them think they’re getting a deal. (This is the essence of Charlie Hoehn’s strategy)

Really though, you’re the one leaving on top. You’re getting an education. You’re developing a business on their time and on their dime. And you’re benefiting from their direction, connections and access the entire time.

For young people increasingly turning away from school, this is the path you’ve got to take. No one is going to take you by the hand and lead you. Subsides don’t fall in your lap. Find them, take full advantage of them, move on to the next. And then never ever forget to repay the people who helped you along the way.

Accounting for Unfortunate Events

February 25, 2013 — 16 Comments

Some unexpected expense comes your way. Like you get hit with a fine or have to replace something that breaks.

You can see this as an unmitigated loss. Or you can try a little trick.

What was the last thing you got for free? Someone picked up the tab at dinner? Or that work bonus that was bigger than anticipated?

Ok, don’t think about it like that. Instead, you paid for half the dinner–and then you got half off reduction on that parking ticket. Or just see your bonus as actually having been X% smaller. Whatever ratio you have to jigger to get it to work.

Keep your gains in limbo and then shave a little off when life inevitably swings the other direction. It’s so simple. Yet saves so much anguish.

It’s called framing. Make it work for you.

Stop seeing simply the things that go wrong. Don’t keep an account of misfortune. Run the balance the other way: what were the things that you skated on, that you got away with, that got comped? Now when something goes wrong, count it against that–if you have to count it at all.

Because when you really look at it this way you’ll realize that you’re still ahead of where you started. And you’re prepared to account for the bad shit that will inevitably come your way as well.

Welcome Creative Live

February 22, 2013 — 7 Comments

To all the new people who are just coming to this site from my Creative Live course, welcome. To all my regular readers, go check out the class–it runs for the next two days and it’s free. To both of you: a new post is coming Monday and a reading newsletter as well.

Reading newsletter? Yes, I give book recommendations to more than 5,000 people each and every month. (see my favorites from 2012). You should sign up.

For some of my recent marketing writing at the New York Observer and Fast Company read:
Hail Corporate: The Increasingly Insufferable Fakery of Brands on Reddit (from today)
Why Books Are The Ultimate New Business Card
Out of Reach: If the Media Covers You, You’d Better Bring an Audience
Broken on Purpose: Why Getting It Wrong Pays More Than Getting It Right
Everything Is Marketing: How Growth Hackers Redefine The Game

For some of my bigger posts here read:
Advice to a Young Man Hoping to Go Somewhere (Or Get Something From Someone Succesful)
The Narrative Fallacy (also see The Soundtrack of Your Life Delusion and The Second Act Fallacy)
The Dress Suit Bribe
Contemptuous Expressions
A False Sense
Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

Anyway, glad to have you. Stick around. Enjoy the class. We’ll be back to regular programming shortly.

Seen vs Unseen

January 24, 2013 — 17 Comments

We are most often held back by obstacles we aren’t even aware of–bad habits, flaws, ego, neuroses, self-destructiveness, aversions and fears we hardly know we have.

The world doesn’t usually take the time to plead, argue and convince us of our errors. Feedback is usually whispered, in the form of small failures, small problems, little trends. But we’re too thickheaded and resistent to hear it. We’re soft bodied but hard headed. We have too much armor to fail well.

So when you bump up against something that is clearly an obstacle and hindering your progress–from an a business deal gone wrong to your car getting stolen–you’d do well to say: “Hey at least I know about this. It’s an exposed issue that either has a solution or it doesn’t. Now I can try to solve it.” Don’t complain. Be thankful. Celebrate the fact that at least you’re not fighting yourself on this one.

And try to do a better job listening in those other types of situations. Because it’s time you understand that the world is telling you something with each and every event. Things about you, things about others, things about life. It’s all feedback–easily translated into precise instructions. It’s trying to wake you up from your cluelessness. It’s trying to teach you something.

Best Book Recommendations of 2012

January 6, 2013 — 22 Comments

I recommended close to 200 books through my Reading List Email this year. I know you’re all very busy people and I imagine only a few of you ended up reading more than a handful of the suggestions. Don’t worry, that’s on me and not on you.

Now, If I could only recommend 3 books from 2012, what would I pick? I couldn’t actually narrow it down to 3 exactly, but I tried my best. Below are the my favorite books for the year and the ones that made the biggest impact on me. There is no question they are worth reading and your time.

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen
The book sucked me in completely. The subject, Samuel Zemurray, is fascinating and compelling. The writer has a voice that is utterly unique. Since reading this book, I have explored all of this further: I studied Zemurray (whose house was not far from mine in New Orleans and still stands) and am using his story in my next book. I interviewed the author, Rich Cohen. And I read his other books, am particularly found of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons and Gangster Dreams. The book has all sorts of things going for it: it’s the American Dream, it’s history via microcosm, it’s drama/violence/intrique, and it’s a course in business strategy and leadership. Everyone I have recommended it to was blown away. I won’t say it’s as good as The Tiger, which was my favorite book of 2011, but in terms of an author I’d never heard of taking a subject I don’t care about and making it AWESOME? This book deserves to be talked about in the same breath.

The Civil War
I went so deep into Civil War in 2012 that I lost track of all the books. I started this last year when I read Sherman by B.H Liddell Hart (and recommended as a favorite). I came to admire Sherman so deeply that I read two more books about him: Sherman’s Memoirs and a big old book from 1933 Sherman: Fighting Prophet. From there I went on to Grant’s Memoirs, which are incredibly readable and deeply moving as well as the biography Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 by Brooks D. Simpson. I loved learning about Lincoln, especially in Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. I read two important memoirs from slaves as well, and strongly recommend 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and A Slave in the White House about Paul Jennings. In terms of obscure or unusual books related to the war, I love Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War by Admiral David Porter (1885) and Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin (plus his WWII article which is the best essay I’ve ever read). Fiction-wise, I read all of Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War Stories and was blown away–it is dark, beautiful writing. I also read discussions of a bunch of Southern/Civil War writers in Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson and The Legacy of the Civil War by Robert Penn Warren, which helped me understand and contextualize what I’d already read from the people listed above. And most of all, I was inspired by following Ta-Nehisi Coates’s provocative journey through the same subject on his blog for The Atlantic. Instead of getting into why I read all these books or why they’re important, I’ll just say that nothing has given me more pleasure or expanded my understanding of history and humanity than reading these books. Try one of them and see what happens.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow
A biography has to be really good to make read you all 800 pages. To me, this was one of those books. Since reading it earlier this year, I’ve since found out it is the favorite book of a lot of people I respect. I think something about the quality of the writing and the empathic understanding of the writer that the main lessons you would take away from someone like Rockefeller would not be business, but life lessons. In fact, when I went back through and took notes on this book, I filled out more cards for Stoicism than I did for Strategy, Business or Money. I found Rockefeller to be strangely stoic, incredibly resilient and, despite his reputation as a robber baron, humble and compassionate. Most people get WORSE as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. Rockefeller did neither of these things, he grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. Does that excuse the “awful” things that he did? Well, the things he did really weren’t that awful so yes. (By that I mean I’d certainly choose him over the robber barons of this age like Zuckerberg or Murdoch.) If you do enjoy this biography, I followed it up with a few others I consider to be in the same league: Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel by David Fraser, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and Mencken: The American Iconoclast.

See my recommendations from 2011 and don’t forget to sign up for the Reading List Newsletter if you haven’t already.