Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written ten books. His latest books are I Was Blind But Now I See and 40 Alternatives to College. Please follow him on Twitter @jaltucher.
Ugly men don’t get clicked on. Every week for three years, I interviewed four prostitutes, drug dealers, criminals, potential dates (for me), and homeless kids. I have written about this before but my job was to go out on Tuesday nights at 3 in the morning, find out who was roaming the city, for what purpose, and photograph them and interview them.
I learned a useful skill: how to build a quick rapport within seconds with potentially violent criminals and their closest friends. On more than a few occasions we were chased and bottles were thrown at us. In other words, I learned the exact skills that would later become useful to me as an entrepreneur.
- Guess which one people clicked on.
After the interviews, I would transcribe the results, get the photos, and I got designers to compete to design the web page for each interview. But on the front page I would experiment. Who would get the most clicks? Men, women? Black people? White people? People with glasses? People without? By a factor of 3:1, I realized the secret: slutty blondes were No. 1. No. 2 were slutty looking transvestites. It’s as if hookers gave off a specific look that made you want to click on them. They knew how to work it. No. 3, but further down, were blonde models. Didn’t matter how pretty they were – they were No. 3 even after the ugliest but slutty-looking blondes.
So it was an experiment. I make use of the results of that experiment almost every day. If I were to put together a family album, I’d put slutty the slutty looking transvestites front and center.
Another experiment I did: In 2006 I wanted to start a website company. I created over a dozen websites. Dating websites, content websites, information websites, etc. The one website that took off: a financial media site called Stockpickr.com, which I sold to thestreet.com a few months later. Because I viewed it as an experiment, I had no problem shutting down the ideas that weren’t working.
- One of the sites that failed: a dating site for smokers. Why not?
Another experiment. When I was dead broke, separated from my wife, living in low quality myrtle beach hotels and first entering the craziness of the dating world, I had to experiment to see how to keep sane, how to get motivated, how to find someone I loved, how to learn who I was for the first time in a dozen years and then how to take that “self” and get off the floor in order to succeed and flourish. I was depressed. And only through an attitude of “let’s experiment” was able to take the bad events and learn from them to get better experiences in my life. To get a better life.
Every day, wake up and see what you can experiment with. Foods, lifestyle, exercise, people you associate with and how they make you feel, methods of meditation and self-improvement, methods of feeling contentment when everything seems to be falling apart around you. It’s all an experiment.
Scientists don’t fall in love with an experiment. Neither should entrepreneurs. You have an idea, you test it with customers, with investors, with your friends. You modify the product. You test again. The business life is an ongoing experiment. There is NO GOAL.
When things don’t work, you don’t get disappointed. You come up with 10 more experiments to do that tweak of your initial experiment.
In your current business you can test:
- Your sales pitch.
- Your method of reselling products to current customers.
- Your design (A/B testing so some users see one design and other users see another design)
- Where do eyes go on the page? There is software to test this.
- Using analytics to determine what marketing strategies work. It may seem basic but it’s amazing how many companies don’t do this simple testing.
- If you are a content company, what titles get the biggest traffic. Which titles get the most comments.
[In the comments, please share other experiments you’ve done in your companies].
And don’t just do it with your business. To be the true scientist and entrepreneur, cultivate the feeling of experimentation in everything you do in life. Then it will naturally and seamlessly carry over into your business. The immediate benefit is that you don’t fall in love with the results. You don’t get obsessed with the goals. Your goals transform from finite end points into themes. A theme of enhancing the lives of your customers, investors, employees, partners. Business is not about making yourself rich. It’s about enhancing the lives of everyone around you.
If you become fixated on any one goal, then the theme of enhancement can drift away until it is impossible to recapture. But focusing on experimentation allows you to easily back up without getting disappointed so you can try new things. Try again and again.
Here are the benefits:
1) Improve the world. Why do scientists experiment? Why do they try different cancer drugs on rats? To see which rats get cured. To see how humans can get cured. To increase life. To increase quality of life. To improve the problems they see in the world. It’s rare that a scientist experiments to see how quickly they can destroy the world (although that happens). Mostly, people develop a theory about life and want to know if it holds true. Your experiments in your life can improve the world around you. The lightbulb inside of you will shine brighter and cause other people to see the results you found through your experimentation. It is also rare that a scientist experiments purely with the goal to make money. These experiments seldom turn out well.
- Always be experimenting.
2) Curiosity. You are curious about something. Will a girl like me if I compliment her dress? Or if I compliment her smile first? If I’m polite to the officer who pulls me over for speeding as opposed to being argumentative, is he more or less likely to give me a ticket. I’m curious. You find out answers to the questions and problems life throws at you every day. What do you need these answers for? See below.
3) Self-improve. Is it better if I call the girl right after the date? Or wait awhile. If don’t eat carbs for a week will that do better than if I don’t eat meat for a week. If I smile at people, will my day be better? If I throw out a price first, will the negotiation be better. Maybe I should wait for her to throw out a price first. But as you learn, your life will improve. Every day, every moment, you can think of the things you will experiment with that will improve your life. That will improve your business. Exercise: Write 10 things you can experiment on your business this week.
4) Detachment. It doesn’t matter the results. A scientist tests because he doesn’t know if the answer is “A” or “B.” He might guess it’s “A” but he doesn’t know. This gives you some detachment from the results of your efforts. When you get too attached to the results, to a future outcome, you can get disappointed and frustrated. But detachment allows you to say, “ok, that didn’t work in the past so I will try something new in the future.” You stay in the present, reformulate the experiment and begin again. That’s how Thomas Edison failed 9,999 times on the lightbulb but succeeded on bringing cheap light to the world on the 10,000th try. That’s how musicians fine-tune their greatest works until they produce masterpieces.
I want my life to be a masterpiece. But in order to do so I can’t let my brain get limited. It has to be plastic and molded and grow with each new experiment. The more experiments, however big or small, the smarter I will be. This has deep consequences. See below.
5) Share the Results. Once you know something works for you, you can share it with others. It may or may not work for them. But if they trust your abilities as a scientist of life, they will try and see if it works. Buddha did this. He said, “don’t believe me. Try it for yourself.” He was an entrepreneur. What a better sales pitch than this: “All I know is, it worked for me.”
6) Focus. When you view life, or your day today, or your moment right now, as an experiment, you are able to focus on what you are doing. If you do the experiment wrong everything can blow up! So you have to focus. This keeps you from getting lost in the future or the past. In past regrets or future anxieties. “What if my business fails and everyone hates me!” If you get lost in what you hope to be the results, it might skew the experiment. Being a good scientist requires impartial focus.
A friend of mine just had a deal blow up. He was going to sell his company. He got screwed at the last moment. It’s ok to mourn such a loss. A loss like that is sad. But after a day or two of mourning, view it as an experiment. What happened? Find the experiment in the experience so that your mind expands and your life improves.
7) You Can Change Contradictory Beliefs. For instance, if you grow up believing owning a house leads to happiness, you can look at people who own houses and those who don’t and develop a metric for determining who is happier and less stressed and test to see if the hypothesis you grew up with is true. Again, the key is not getting attached in advance to the results (“I MUST own a house to be happy!”) but to have a detachment about it. It’s an experiment. And you TRUST that the results will help you form newer and more accurate beliefs.
8) Keeps Me Grounded. When I used to be a day trader I had two choices. I could form complicated opinions about companies and the economy that may or may not be true. Or I could experiment. I wrote software that would ask questions like: if MSFT went down for five days in a row after their earnings announcement, what was likely to happen next. If 99 percent of the time MSFT would go up the day after from 9:30am to 10:30am then I would buy. Then I could forget all about the past and future of Microsoft and all about my stupid arguments as to Microsoft’s viability. I would trust my experiment. And that kept me grounded so I wouldn’t get too emotional in the trade.
Similarly, when I get paranoid now about a person I could say to myself: after hundreds of times I’ve been paranoid about people, none of my fears have come true. That is an experiment that I can tell myself next time I’m feeling very paranoid. It grounds me in the truth. In my own experience. It takes me back to the moment instead of getting me lost in the distant past or the far away future.
9) Mystery. If you treat each action as an experiment, each thought as an experiment, each business idea, each marketing pitch, every emotion, each day and moment as a secret still waiting to be discovered, then you will begin to see all life as a mystery. A treasure waiting to be discovered inside of each moment. How do we unlock those treasures? By experimenting, observing, and then observing who is observing. You can’t experiment enough.
Every entrepreneur and every artist experiments. With colors, ideas, styles, business models, everything. Now all life is your canvas. Make it a beautiful work of art.