10 Lessons from 10 Mentors

I’m a thief.

I’m constantly reading and looking for ideas or concepts to steal from people. These people that I steal ideas from become my mentors, whether they know it or not. Some of these ideas are useful. Some I try and don’t like. Some really stick with me.

Here’s a list of 10 lessons from 10 mentors that really stuck with me. I take advantage of all of these, every single day.

1. Checklists save lives. Use them liberally. (Atul Gawande)

Your mind is fallible. You forget things. You skip important steps, especially in times of stress. That’s where checklists come in. A simple checklist gives you a baseline of performance, so you never fall below that standard. At the very least, you’ll do what the checklist says. Not only that, but the very act of writing a checklist forces you to evaluate a process and ensure it’s as effective and as simple as it can be. Read Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto for more on this.

2. Take a shit ton of notes, on everything. (Tim Ferriss)

I carry a notebook almost everywhere I go. I have Evernote on every device I own. And I use Twitter to capture ideas I’m thinking about or pondering. It’s not important to me that I can reference my notes — the very act of writing things down helps to cement things in my head, and stimulates more ideas. Tim calls this note-taking tendency ‘hypergraphia’.

3. To improve anything you’ve written, read it to yourself, out loud. (Tucker Max)

At Book In A Box Tucker recommended this as the best way to edit any piece of writing. Sit down, and read it to yourself, out loud. You’ll notice awkward phrasings, weird repetition, spelling mistakes, and much more. Tucker said that any author should always record their audiobook before the written book is published, because you’d pick up so many things to improve that the book would be 10-20% better. Another Book In A Box team member, Hal Clifford, is a fantastic writer and editor with decades of writing experience. He told me that anything he writes — from a 3 word text message to a 50,000 word book manuscript — he reads out loud before he submits it.

4. If you’re thinking about buying a book, just buy it. (Ramit Sethi)

Books represent the best bargain you can possibly find. For £10 or less, you can get the benefit of someone’s entire professional expertise or wisdom, in easily digestible form. And one good idea from a book can provide 10-1000x ROI. This has personally been true for me more than once. So just go ahead and buy the damn book already.

5. Eliminate all the minor annoyances in your life. (Joshua Kennon)

Your life is the sum of all the small moments in your day. If there is something that often frustrates you or annoys you, that’s a suck on your energy. You don’t want to spend a lot of your small moments annoyed by something that’s easy to fix. So go ahead and fix it. I was annoyed by one of the door handles in my apartment — it was loose, and every time I grabbed it, it would come out of the door a little. This went on for weeks. Then I finally grabbed a screwdriver and tightened it. It took 5 minutes. And now I don’t get annoyed every time I leave the room. That’s a big difference to my quality of life. Now multiply that across all areas of your life, and think how much better things could be. You can see an example of this in Joshua’s post here about fixing his front door.

6. Cash is king and creates optionality. Debt is fragility and slavery. (Nassim Taleb)

Having cash in the bank — liquid, easily accessible cash — gives you options, freedom and peace of mind. Private investor Brent Beshore says “Cash is the ultimate call option with no expiration date or strike price.” Imagine if you have the cash on hand to buy when the market tanks. When there’s a fire sale on assets and you’re the only buyer. On the flip side, imagine if you have to be the one to sell in a down market because the bank’s called in your loan. Or you have to stay in the same job you don’t like because you have credit card debt, and can’t afford to risk taking on a new job or starting your own company. Cash is king. Read Antifragile by Taleb for more on this.

7. Minimise decision-making. Forget the trivia and focus on the important things. (Barack Obama)

In this Vanity Fair profile, Obama told author Michael Lewis that he only has two suits: grey and blue. He likes both, and looks good in both, so he either wears one or the other. He doesn’t waste time or energy deciding what to wear each morning: he just picks one and gets on with his day, to save his energy for the important things that he needs to be ready for. Where are the areas in your life that you can remove friction and free up mental energy?

8. Write down your top 25 goals. Now narrow it down to the top 5. Those are your goals — and the other 20 are distractions you must avoid. (Warren Buffett)

Your attention, time, energy and capital are limited. You can only do so much. And so you have to focus. So focus on those top 5 goals, and don’t get distracted. Goals 6 to 25 on your list may seem worthwhile and deserving of your time — that is why they are such powerful distractions. Focus on what’s truly at the top of your list, and ruthlessly cut out everything else. That’s what the world’s best investor recommends.

9. Use fixed schedule productivity as the meta-habit for your work. (Cal Newport)

Decide when you will start working, and when you will stop. Then stick rigidly to those hours. That’s what fixed schedule productivity really means, and it’s a game changer. It is a forcing function that means a) you need to make sure you’re working on the right things, and b) you’re being productive when you’re doing it. 60 minute meetings become 15 minute meetings. A disjointed, unfocused afternoon turns into a great session of important work. It takes discipline, but it’s worth it.

10. Write down 10 ideas a day to exercise your idea muscle. (James Altucher)

Just like any other muscle, you need to regularly exercise your idea muscle. You don’t have to do anything with the ideas; the important thing is that you get the reps in. Your ideas can be about anything and everything — you just need to do it every day. It will change your life within 6 months. You will become an idea machine. And hey, you might occasionally get a blog post out of it.

Those are my big 10 takeaways from these 10 mentors of mine. Do you have any big lessons you’ve learned from mentors? Drop a note in the comments.

The Uberconomy: How Traditional Jobs Are Being Replaced By On-Demand Employment

Your job is going to disappear.

It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might not be for 10 years. But eventually, the job that you’re in now won’t exist.


Traditionally your job would disappear if it got outsourced overseas. Indian MBAs or Chinese manufacturers could do the exact same job that you did, but for less, so your employer moved your job overseas.

That still happens, and it will continue to happen.

But that shouldn’t be your biggest fear. The worst case scenario isn’t that your job just goes overseas.

The worst case scenario is that your job becomes irrelevant.

If you’re a black cab driver in London, that job won’t be outsourced – but it will be made irrelevant by Uber. No matter how much you protest against it.

If you’re a hotel manager, that job won’t be outsourced – but it will be made irrelevant by AirBnB. Hotel revenue is down by 10% in some places already.

If you’re a truck driver, that job won’t be outsourced – but it will be made irrelevant by self-driving trucks (like this one).

And so on, and so forth. Blue collar jobs are most affected, undoubtedly, but the middle class will be gutted too. Average is over.

No longer should you seek a steady, 40 hours a week job for a company that’s been around for 50 years and plans to be around for another 50. If you do, you are a fragilista in a world of rapid change, just waiting for something to happen that will make your job irrelevant.

The new model is on-demand, freelance work. It’s a new model of entrepreneurship in which you are a company of one, doing five different things to earn money.

You might work 10 hours a week for Uber, rent out a spare room on AirBnB, do some freelance consulting work on the side via Freelancer.com or PeoplePerHour.com, be a runner for Instacart or Favor on the weekends and, if you want to try something a little bigger, raise money for it on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

Don’t believe me? Uber reckons they’re creating 50,000 new jobs per MONTH. Kickstarter has had almost $2bn pledged towards projects. These are not numbers that will go down. The future is the Uberconomy, and it’s here to stay.

So what are you going to do about it? Moan to the government in the hope that they delay the inevitable? Or accept the reality of the situation and get to work?


A simple mental model for business and finance

This is the simplest mental model in all of business and personal finance. Any business or personal finance issue, and the solution to it, is inevitably contained somewhere in this model. You ready? Here it is:

Profit = Revenue x Margin

Let that sink in for a minute.

Every issue your business faces, and everything you hope to accomplish with your own finances, can be tackled with that one equation.

First, let’s look at how this applies in business.


So you’re running a business, and you want to make more money. Good for you. Well, how do you do that? You can either increase revenue, or increase margin.

Increasing revenue means either increasing the number of customers, increasing the number of transactions per customer, or increasing the average order size per customer.

Increasing margin means either increasing prices while keeping costs the same, or decreasing costs while keeping the price the same. It’s that simple.

Increase revenue while keeping margins the same, or increase margins while keeping revenue the same. Either way, the result is more cash in your hand.
Increase revenue while keeping margins the same, or increase margins while keeping revenue the same. Either way, the result is more cash in your hand. (Image source:

That is almost every single business problem contained right there. In fact, it’s what a management consultant would call a Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive set of solutions. Of course, there are multiple ways to increase the number of customers, or their transaction frequency, or the average order size, just as there are multiple ways to decrease costs. But this gives you a framework to think about your problem.

Personal finance

Most people don’t think about their own personal finances as if you were a business, but you should. You might not think that profit, revenue or margin are relevant to you as an individual, so let’s substitute in some words that you might recognise:

Increase in net worth = income x savings rate

There it is: everything you need to know about getting richer. Your personal income is your revenue; your savings rate is income minus expenses, aka your margin. And the difference is your profit.

So if you’re living paycheque to paycheque, spending money on credit cards and slowly racking up debt, you’re no different to a business that continually spends more money than it brings in through sales. You will inevitably go bankrupt unless you either a) increase your income, or b) decrease your expenses.

More to the point: in a business, you might be able to blame other people for this. “Sales aren’t hitting their quotas!” “R&D spent way too much money and produced nothing!” But when it’s just You, LLC, then you’re the only one responsible for the result.

Income can take many different forms: the income from your job, a bonus, a severance package, an increase in the value of your assets, like your home, or your stock portfolio, rents, dividends, royalties, unemployment cheques, etc. They all count towards your top line.

And everything else–mortgage interest, credit card interest, food, drink, petrol, tuition, student loan repayments, clothes, DVDs, movie tickets–eats into your margin.

Therefore, the fastest way to get rich is to increase the gap between income and expenses.

This may seem obvious, and in many ways, it is. But like a lot of mental models, its simplicity is part of what makes it so profound.

Anyway, now you have a framework to start thinking about every problem in your business or your personal finances. You’re welcome.

A lesson on the power of incentives

As an Econ grad I love stories like this.

The story of the Honduran railroad epitomises life on the isthmus. In 1870, the government hired an engineer named John C. Trautwine to lay track from Puerto Cortes on the Atlantic to the Bay of Fonseca on the Pacific, but made the mistake of paying him by the mile. When the project went bust in 1880, Honduras was left with sixty miles of track that wandered aimlessly here and there through the lowlands.

That’s from The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen. Fantastic book.

Never forget the power of incentives. There’s a reason that Warren Buffett himself puts together the incentive schemes for Berkshire Hathaway managers – it’s hugely important and he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.


Given a choice of two options, if you grab both, you are a hustler.

There are some medieval Indian folktales about a witty character called Tenali Rama. The story goes that as a kid, a goddess appeared before him, holding a cup of milk in each hand. She offered him a choice: the milk of wealth or the milk of intelligence.

Tenali grabbed and drank both before the goddess could react.

Now that’s hustling.

Read Career Advice: How do I become a hustler? on Quora

To make something great, start by creating something crap

I read a story just now about iterative learning, the danger of perfection and how to get better by failing:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot”albeit a perfect one”to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work”and learning from their mistakes”the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.


That’s from a book called Art & Fear, which I’ve just added to my wish list.

Nokia and Microsoft form partnership? More like a suicide pact.

News broke yesterday that Nokia and Microsoft will join forces in the mobile phone market in an attempt to:

regain ground lost to the iPhone and Android-based devices.

Let’s try and look at this rationally.

So we have Nokia: a company who, 10 years ago, were the dominant player in their sector, only to be swept aside when they failed to adapt quickly enough when Apple and Google decided to disrupt the shit out of the mobile phone market and do stuff that was wildly different and much better than what anyone had done before.

And we have Microsoft, a company who, 10 years ago, were the dominant player in their sector, only to see their grip on the tech industry broken when Apple and Google decided to disrupt the shit out of the tech market, and do stuff that was wildly different and much better than what anyone had done before.

Worse, Nokia’s CEO knows all this, and still decides to go ahead with it. Unbelievable.

To illustrate how doomed I think this move is, here’s a passage from 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

The reality facing the Prussians in 1806 was simple: they had fallen fifty years behind the times. Their generals were old, and instead of responding to present circumstances, they were repeating formulas that had worked in the past. Their army moved slowly, and their soldiers were automatons on parade. The Prussian generals had many signs to warn them of disaster: their army had not performed well in its recent engagements, a number of Prussian officers had preached reform, and, last but not least, they had ten years to study Napoleon – his innovative strategies and the speed and fluidity with which his armies converged on the enemy. Reality was staring them in the face, yet they chose to ignore it

For further reading, here’s another article by Robert Greene comparing Google to Napoleon.

Being familiar with the ideas

Anyone who’s seen my list of google reader subscriptions or my delicious account can tell that I spend a large portion of my time online. And while my parents may think that that’s a huge waste, I do spend at least some of my time trying to learn new things, new ideas and new concepts. A lot of what I know and what I consider my marketable knowledge, I learned online (either directly from wikipedia or blogs, or indirectly from being told what books to read etc).

One of these books that I’m currently reading is The Long Tail (I know, I’m late to the party), which I was reading on Ryan’s recommendation:

There is not much that needs to be said about this book other than it defines current net economics. There’s the head of the tail which is the stuff you find in Borders, and the tail, which is the infinite inventory on Amazon. You need to be familiar with this theory.

That’s a fair point, but it made me think – what ideas or theories should people be familiar with?

I could think of another two:

What others are there? What ideas should young, smart and ambitious people know to help them succeed?

How to handle constructive criticism like a 5 year old child

I’m not an expert on web design, or coding, or hosting, and I’m not an expert on social media, marketing, business or management. However, even I can see that this probably isn’t the way to go about talking to someone who discovered a minor flaw in your website.

A staff member for Ryanair decided it would be a good idea, when someone gave them a bit of feedback, to call them “an idiot and a liar”, before going on to belittle the fact that the blogger was using WordPress (like over 200,000 other people have done today) and suggesting that he wasn’t very good at his job.

And, the icing on the bad publicity cake: the official statement from Ryanair.

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

A simple email to the guy who wrote it saying “thanks for pointing out the error, we’ve reported it to our IT team and they’re working on it” would have taken what, 30 seconds? Sounds like a much better idea than shouting at people that disagree with you and then deciding that whatever customers you have left should probably have to pay for using the toilet. Not the best way to create customer loyalty, is it?