"Coming up with ten ideas a day is like exercise. And exercise makes the idea muscle stronger."
When we work toward a challenging physical endeavor — training for a marathon or preparing for a big competition — we expect it to take extraordinary effort. We change our diet, alter our routines to include more training sessions, and hire an expert trainer to whip us into shape. We know that when the only way to push through when the pressure is on — to summon extraordinary focus when the shot clock is ticking down or get a “Runner’s high” when the final mile is in front of us — is to have prepared rigorously in the weeks, months and even years prior. You must already be in shape to push your limits when it counts.
Altucher makes the argument that coming up with ideas in a pinch is no different, and requires the same regimented training of the “idea muscle.” Enter Become An Idea Machine, a 180-day workbook with daily prompts for generating ten ideas to help build your idea muscle to peak performance.
The lists range from practical and professional — “Ten Ways In Which You Can Improve Your Sleep” and “Ten Weekend Workshops Ideas You Could Offer In Your Local Community Town Hall”— to reflective and emotional — “Ten Relationships That Could Use A Talk” and “Ten Things I Fear Losing With Age.” But each one challenges you to think deeply and differently. And, best of all, the lists are numbered rather than dated, so you can get on your way to becoming an idea machine whenever you pick it up.
You Better Work
"The muse, or the inspiration, does not just show up, it requires sweat as an offering."
As with building up your biceps or increasing lung capacity, working on your idea muscle takes daily practice. It’s not something that will come without regular effort, so Altucher opens the book by stressing the importance of really sticking with your practice, whether five days a week or seven.
Claudia’s husband, James Altucher reminds us in the book’s Foreword that muscles left unused quickly begin to atrophy. After just two weeks in bed, your legs will need training to walk again. The same, he says, is true with your idea muscle. Two weeks without any idea activity, and your mind will struggle to come up with new ideas under normal circumstances, and especially when the pressure is on.
“If you do practice the 180 exercises in this book your mind will start to operate from a different place,” the author says. A mind trained to create answers and solutions shifts your automatic response from one of fear or negativity to one of positivity and possibility. “If you practice, your life will transform for the better, magical things will start to happen, and you will find yourself in the right place at the right time.”
If you’re not sold yet, Altucher has an answer for that too. Convinced you don’t have the time? Make a list of ten ways you waste time every day, or ten moments during your day when you can close your eyes and sit quietly. And if you can’t come up with ten ideas, then that’s all the more reason to get started!
To Infinity, and Beyond
"We all go through the moment. I call it the ‘idea freak out moment.’ But this is also the vortex on which we have the option to turn pro. It is where we own our idea machine power. Only the brave ones cross it by admitting that they feel it, and in spite of, it, finish the job."
As with working out at the gym to achieve peak physical condition, you can’t expect to become an idea machine if you only do the minimum. A single push-up does not a bicep build. You really have to push yourself to improve, and that’s why the prompts must be challenging and you must come up with ten each time.
Because coming up with one idea is easy. Coming up with 4 or 5 requires a bit of effort. But pushing your mind to come up with ideas 7, 8, 9 and 10 is a real challenge. That’s where the magic happens: at the very edge of what you think you’re capable of.
While most of the lists in the book ask you to come up with 10 ideas, a few will push you even further, with lists that require two-part answers on each of the 10 lines. Once you’ve gotten up to speed, Altucher really ups the ante: Day 46 asks readers to come up with 100 things they’re grateful for.
The point is to come up with ideas, she says, not just what you consider to be “good” ideas. There are no good or bad ideas when you’re making lists; throw feasibility, originality and all other parameters out the window. Once you can push past those limits, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an idea machine.
Connecting the Dots
"All of life is about connecting the dots."
Some of the best ideas are combinations of other ideas, and Altucher emphasizes this as a vital means of coming up with “the next big thing.”
She gives a great anecdote from a workshop she held, where she asked participants to name heir favorite books, and then paired them up to create new books that were a combination of the favorites. The ideas, she says, may not have been the most widely marketable (“How To Make Toast In Space,” for example) but they helped people to think differently.
Several of the prompts in the book ask readers to refer back to other lists and combine ideas to create new mental connections. For example, Day 158 asks you to identify ten trends you see coming in the next century, and Day 159 asks you to come up with ten inventions as answers to those ten trends.
When you become an idea machine, Altucher says, you will have so many ideas that you cannot possibly execute on them all. Perhaps you won’t have the time, the money, or the motivation, or perhaps your ideas weren’t meant for you to execute at all. You’ll have to share your ideas with others, and you’ll have to do it for free.
And that, she says, is the true power of being an idea machine. You’ll be able to produce ideas so freely and easily that you’ll no longer feel the need to protect all of your thoughts for fear that someone else might be taking your “million-dollar idea.” An idea machine knows she’ll have more ideas, and not just one. An idea machine can make the world a better place by sharing her strength with others.
But if you haven’t stumbled upon the million-dollar idea yet, never fear. When you combine insight 1 and insight 2 (IDEA SEX), you’re reminded that every idea is a step toward training your idea muscle; even if today’s idea won’t change your world or the world at large, it may later prove to be half of the idea that will.
Why not list ten ideas you’ve had that you can’t personally execute on in the comments below? You never know — you just might be able to make it a reality by sharing it with someone who can.