The Thinker: Make It Happen

In a world that is turning unleashed by the millennium and the internet, we need a new breed of thinkers that can transform and move the world forward

This post is the third part in a three-part series of a preview of my book The Thinker, a playbook that makes you a better thinker. The book uncovers the elements of change and liberates your thinking. Every element features an illustration, a quote, a historical anecdote, a personal story, and a short lesson, or rather a reminder to myself.

The first part was about understanding yourself and the world. The second part was about how to think about thinking, giving you elements for more structured ways of thinking. The third part — this part — is the action part and helps to translate your thoughts into action.

At the end of the day, learning and thinking is mostly useful when it is applied. We spend most of our time learning and thinking, yet we need action to grow and move forward.

If you haven’t read the two previous parts, I recommend you to read those first. Keep in mind this is a very rough draft, and far from the final version. It is not entirely clean, and didn’t go through rounds of edits and feedback yet. It was an experiment to share the work in a more visual form and make it accessible who couldn’t afford the book.

Element #74 Accept Your Position

No matter where you are or come from, what matters is where you are going

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” — Voltaire, French philosopher, historian and Enlightenment thinker

Helen Keller was blind, but that didn’t blind her to the world’s opportunities. Two years after she was born she turned blind, deaf and mute. She developed a relationship with Martha, the daughter of the family cook, and learned a sign language through which she could communicate. She had a difficult time dealing with this and would give both Martha and her family a hard time, understandably. When she met Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who worked with deaf children at the time, she changed how she understood her position. From there she met Anne Sullivan, who taught her in an isolated cottage. She improved and improved, and soon had the goal of going to college. She made friends with Mark Twain, who introduced her to a Standard Oil executive, who paid for her college. After college she began her journey of helping others and understanding more about the world. She turned into an example that no matter what position you have in life, you can always turn adversity into achievement.

Born and raised on a small farm by the countryside, my father learned from an early age to be self-reliant and think for himself. His mother died of a rare type of cancer when he was only three years old. My father barely had a childhood since he worked on the farm whenever he wasn’t at school. He walked forth and back to school every day for hours. When he returned from school, he worked on the farm. He took care of the animals on the farm, chopped wood and helped planting and harvesting crops. Most of the work remained manual labor as his father didn’t have proper machines and equipment. In the evening, he worked on his homework, often lighting a candle as the house didn’t have any electricity.

Life was harsh for the family, and his father did not manage the farm very well. His childhood was largely filled with physical labor, but it instilled in him a strong sense of work ethic. Growing up in poverty without a mother taught him to take responsibility and make his own decisions. Despite his bad luck, he was determined not to let that define the rest of his life.

My grandfather had been drafted into World War II as infantry soldier. He told my father stories of how soldiers whom he had had breakfast with in the morning wouldn’t return in the evening. After a grenade exploded right next to him one day, his left ear was impaired. On more than one occasion, he feigned his death to evade Russian troops. He was lucky to be alive by the time he returned home.

After World War II ended, however, my grandfather was unable to return home. Imprisoned by the Russians, he spent the next five years in cold weather and severe confinement. As a prisoner of war, he was asked to repair what his side had destroyed during the war. When he returned home in 1950, the war had rusted him out. He had lost the spirit and imagination for a better future.

He was dragged into an unnecessary war that he had no interest or benefit in participating. It was egomaniac politicians that appealed to his and his fellowman’s worst instincts in what unnecessarily ended up costing millions of people their lives. Not the politicians, but soldiers such as him paid the price.

He returned as a changed man to a changed land. The country that had formally belonged to Germany, was now part of Poland. He was poor but compared to being a soldier it was not that bad. He was poor, but at least free. In relative terms the pain of being a poor farmer was bearable. Leaving the status quo was not a necessity. My grandfather associated change negatively. The reminiscences of the war had eternally marked his life and tainted his outlook on life. He was unable to imagine a different future.

Conversely, for my father the status quo became unbearable as he got older. He craved for a better future, and imagined what it would be like to live elsewhere. He imagined seeking a new life in Germany, where he believed he would have more economic opportunities. He was hungry. Although having no money, he began saving money from additional jobs that he took on.

When he had enough money saved, he bought a one-way train ticket to Paris to avoid the authorities. With no command of the local language, and no money, he worked hard to get by. He was determined to make a better life, fueled by the old status quo that he left, and his imagination for a better future.

You have to look forward, and accept your position, no matter how bad it is. You can’t complain about it. Life is not fair, but you can’t just have pity over your position and use that as an excuse.

Element #75 Focus

Concentrate your attention

“The mind that engages in subjects of too great variety becomes confused and weakened.” — Leonardo da Vinci

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company was a mess. He thought it was better to focus on making great products. His strategy was only to have four products. Apple had a line of multiple products for different customers, so the first thing he did was cut the product line. He reduced the number of products by 70%. It enabled Jobs to focus on product excellence. He had a word for it, “insanely great.”

As an entrepreneur it is tempting to do a lot of things. I remember being at Harvard, and there were so many projects I was working on. I worked on my startup, coursework, my book, writing articles for the student newspapers and interviewed people. Slowly I learned that it is important to focus, and finish whatever I was doing. If I was trying to do everything, I couldn’t achieve excellence. I would achieve the opposite: mediocrity.

Focus is difficult. We get distracted all the time. But we can’t get anything done if we don’t focus. If we do a little bit work here and there, we won’t get the results that we are seeking. Focus is easy said but difficult to achieve. It means eliminating all the things that you want to say yes to but you realize that something else is more important. Focus entails sacrifice. It means you want to do some things, but you can’t do because you are focusing on something else.

Element #76 Set Goals

Write down where you want to go

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

“Life favors the specific ask and punishes the vague wish.” — Tim Ferriss

When Demosthenes was born, he had a speech impediment, and not a good role in Greek society. People laughed at him and made fun of him, but he had a goal. Inspired by speeches by famous orators of his time he had listened to, his goal was to become an orator as great as the one he observed when he was young. He was bullied and made fun of but he channeled all of this rage into becoming a better orator. Every day he would work on transcending his natural disadvantages. To realize his goal, he developed exercises. He filled his mouth with pebbles and kept talking. He rehearsed speeches and gave speeches with one breath. Whenever he had a chance, he practiced and slowly became better. And one day he made it happen: he became the orator that everyone feared.

When I was in graduate school, as I was working on doing this fellowship, I wanted to produce a body of work that would be worthy of my time there and would encapsulate the research that I had been working on. But I had never written a book, and partly giving this preview away for free is to get better feedback. I realized that it was far from perfect, but I thought getting feedback would be more important than only shipping something that is perfect. I never wanted to be a writer, or journalist, but to get my research published as a book, I practiced writing every day.

You need to have goals. If you don’t have goals you don’t know what to focus on. You can have the best idea but if they are not directed, you are just going to wander around.

Element #77 Eliminate Options

Make a commitment

Stag at Sharkey’s by George Bellows

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” — William Hutchison Murray

In the summer of 1777, against all odds, the Marquis de Lafayette, French aristocrat turned American major general, sailed to America. Only a few days longer and the food supply would have ran out. If he had been unlucky, waves would have capsized the ship. If they had they ran into privateers or pirates they would not have arrived at all. After a journey that lasted fifty-four days on sea, he arrived on the coast of South Carolina.

“The next morning was beautiful,” Lafayette recorded in his journal, “Everything around me… combined to produce a magical effect and fill me with indescribable sensations.” After months of preparations, overcoming resistance from home, and obstacles from abroad, he had finally arrived, as he said beyond the reach of his pursuers. “When I felt American soil under my feet for the first time that night,” Lafayette wrote, “my first words were an oath to conquer or die for America’s cause.”

Born into a wealthy family in the Old World and used to socialize with the European elite, Lafayette was only 19 years old upon his departure. Despite being a foreigner to America and its people his passion for liberty was strong. One time he had bought a plantation simply to free slaves. Indeed his heart belonged to the New World. For him, America was destined to become a safe and venerable asylum of virtue, tolerance and liberty. He joyfully swapped his life of luxury for a life filled with sweat and toil as an unpaid volunteer.

Before joining the American cause, however, he needed to push through resistance at home. Upon hearing Lafayette’s plan to embark on a journey to America, his family forbid him to set sail, reminding him of his pregnant wife. By then King Louis forbade Frenchmen to serve in any colony. The British and French royal families did their best to try to stop Lafayette.

Abroad, his commission into the Continental Army involved more than just taking a large ship and loading it with men and supplies. At the request of General George Washington, Congress had stopped giving military commissions to foreigners. Unattached to the country and ignorant of the language, Washington argued that foreigners were ill-suited to give orders to soldiers. Lafayette’s first petition was rejected. He was only admitted when an exception was made after his friends exaggerated the importance of his mission.

To say that Lafayette left for America without any doubts would be wrong. In fact, he was constantly torn between aborting the mission or following his heart. But he believed it was the right thing to do, and followed through. He was determined to return more worthy than when he had left. Lafayette thought that the trip was going to be short.

At the battlefield, Lafayette quickly proved himself worthy and his devotion to the cause of liberty extended beyond his commission into the Continental Army. Upon returning to France, he lobbied alongside Benjamin Franklin to send additional troops to America. Even Washington complimented Lafayette of having, as he said, a large share of bravery and military ardour. Long after the war, when Lafayette had reached old age, he returned to America. He was celebrated everywhere he went. Founding Father John Quincy Adams thought so highly of him that he advocated to put his name on the list of the “pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind.” As a friend of world leaders through the revolutionary period, Lafayette became a symbol of liberty.

As Lafayette, you need to have conviction if you want to escape the status quo. Like a car that doesn’t run without fuel, a vision will only materialize if you believe in it. You need to find a mission that you believe in.

Without conviction, you will succumb to the many voices that are trying to stop you. Your own voices that will doubt you. The voices of society that will tell you that you lack the capacity or skill. Imagining a better future will only get you half way there. It just represents the possibility of a different future. But if you want to put it into reality, you actually need to determine that the goal or mission you are trying to achieve is really something that you believe in. To fully escape the status quo, you need to deconstruct the status quo and then reconstruct a different, more compelling future in its place. Conviction, which is vision married with belief, is what helps you to do that. As Roman philosopher Seneca writes, a life that is not worth dying for is not a worthwhile life.

When I was coming to America, I didn’t have the resources, or knew anyone, yet I made it happen because I made a commitment. It wasn’t just a dream, but by making a commitment, I made it happen step by step. Since college was the only gateway to immigrate to the United States, I searched for hundreds of schools and emailed them, since I couldn’t afford the tuition cost. I got many rejections, yet one school in New York took an interest in my phone call, and accepted me later when I applied.

You need to make a commitment. If you do not, you’ll be distracted all the time. You will want to maximize your options, instead of focusing on what matters.

Element #78 Embrace Failure

Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 
 — Michael Jordan

Before Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States, he had to endure a series of failures. What separated him was that he embraced every failure, and learned from it. When he was seven years old his family was forced out of their home, and he had to work to support them. He failed in business and lost when he ran for the state legislature. He couldn’t get into law school. He borrowed money from a friend to start a business, but got bankrupt the same year, paying of his debt for the next 17 years. When he was engaged, his fiancee died. When ran for congress, he lost, he also lost the re-election. He ran for the Senate twice, he lost twice. He got less than 100 votes when he sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention. This guy just wouldn’t give up.

Throughout my journey in America, I have had many failures, but I tried to get up and continue despite the failures. I got kicked out of Columbia University, and was fired from my job at the United Nations, but I continued my work regardless.

Its important to embrace failure, because if you are afraid to fail, then you will never do something new. Nothing works out the first time. You have to keep trying, and don’t take defeats personal. Failure is part of the necessary evolution of making anything happen.

Element #79 Build Your Army

Gather people around your mission

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist and women’s rights activist

When Frodo and his entourage had escaped the Nazguls that tried to prevent him from destroying the powerful ring that he carried, Elrond called a meeting in Rivendell from all the leaders of the good world as to what should be done with the ring. The fate of the ring was considered during that discussion. The council decided that the ring needed to be destroyed but none of them wanted to do it. Frodo surprised everyone when he stepped forward and volunteered. As Frodo stepped forward to volunteer, everyone else joined his leadership, and from that point onward sacrificed their lives in clearing Frodo’s path. The group consisted of different people, but they were all in alignment with Frodo’s mission. The mission was to destroy the ring.

When I used to play World of Warcraft, we would found a guild — Ascent Guild, where we would organize groups of people to do different raids, which are difficult to explain but basically the purpose of the game was to defeat these different instances and raids, and you had to get other people on board, and it was all virtual. You had to mobilize them, so we created this structure, and then 40 people over a voice chat would coordinate how to fight the raid, and every boss that we fought had a different level and skill that was needed to defeat him. You needed to gather hunters, priests, magician, warriors, rogues, and all different kinds of characters to get a diverse group to defeat the opponent.

Years later during my time in graduate school, my university offered an innovation lab, which brought entrepreneurial students, mentors and resources together to kick start ventures. It was a perfect laboratory to meet like-minded students and tinker on ideas. It was the perfect place to move ideas into action. I would do everything myself. I couldn’t delegate, and from that I learned that I was unable to do bigger things, because I wasn’t involving other people in my mission. Maybe my ego was too much in the way. I would start a magazine, and I would try to get people on it, but I couldn’t really convince them. I was even rejected by my school to incorporate the magazine as a society. It wasn’t really going anywhere. I realized that if you want to go far you have to go with other people.

Its important that you have people who play on your team. Create win-win situations, incentivize people in the right way. Nothing gets done alone. If you want to go far, go with other people. To be effective in the world, you need to work with other people. You need to understand that nothing works in isolation. You can study business in school, or you can learn business in real life. But nothing can be done alone. All great things happen in collaboration with others. As the African proverb goes, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.

Element #80 Move Fast

Have a sense of urgency

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.” — Leonardo da Vinci

“We had about a week’s cash in the bank or less and there was very little time in the year to resolve these things,” Elon Musk recounts, “I mean there were two or three business days left in the year.” Tesla Motors, the electric car company, he had helped to co-found, desperately needed funding in order to stay alive. After the financial crisis had cast a dark shadow over the global economy, finding investors was tricky. After all, the company was selling what seemed at optional car.

“I had to make a choice then,” Musk recalls, “either I had to take all the capital that I had left from the sale of PayPal to eBay or the company would die.” Musk decided to put his entire fortune into the dying company. It sent a signal to other investors. And in the last hour of the last working day of the year, the financing round successfully closed. If the money had come in a few days later, the company would have gone bankrupt.

Happening around the same time, SpaceX, the space exploration company, was burning through its three launches. When the third launch failed, it seemed that the company was about to die. Immediately following the third failure, Musk walked past the press. As former SpaceX employee Dolly Singh recounts, he stood undeterred in the face of all odds and unimpressed by the fear of failure he addressed his colleagues. They knew it was going to be hard, he told everyone. It was rocket science after all.

“For my part,” he added, “I will never give up. And I mean never.” He announced to his team that he had secured funding for two additional launches. Everyone began to cheer. In an outstanding demonstration of leadership, Musk turned the failure and the gloomy mood just minutes earlier into constructive feedback. Following his speech, everyone returned to work with a rekindled spirit.

Rejuvenated by Musk’s mental strength, colleagues unleashed a work ethic that has been unparalleled in space exploration. What usually takes months, took weeks. As soon as the team discovered cause of the launch failure, they prepared for another rocket launch. On September 28, 2008, SpaceX became the first private company to send a rocket to orbit. In December, Musk got a phone call from NASA, which promised to purchase 12 flights, a contract that was worth $1.5 billion. Upon hearing the news, and barely being able to hold the phone, he blurted out, “I love you guys.”

In a remarkable turn of events for Tesla, Daimler invested into the company and the U.S. Energy Department granted a $465 million loan. SpaceX’s and Tesla’s funding problems had been solved, and both companies were put on a new trajectory.

Against all odds, Musk showed remarkable sense of persistence through steering his two companies from the brink of collapse to the triumph of billion dollar revenues. If you want to escape the status quo, you need to stay persistent. If you don’t have it, success may just be around the corner, but you will give up. When your conviction is tested along the way, you must not give in to temporary failure and stay persistent.

Every year my visa expired, it was time to make a new decision. Over time I learned that the sense of urgency that came upon me with every imminent visa expiration helped me not to be complacent.

Never delay for tomorrow what you can do today. That’s why having deadlines are good. That’s why having accountability buddies are help. Do what you can to move forward with a sense of urgency.

Element #81 Seek Feedback

You won’t be improving much without it

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

When young F. W. Woolworth operated as a store clerk, he was interested in improving the business. He would go off and give his boss feedback, one time asking him to do a ten-cent sale to reduce inventory. Since it was to reduce inventory, he agreed. It was a resounding success, but the boss was still skeptical. He didn’t really like to believe that someone else had a better idea. When Woolworth approached him again, this time asking him for capital to open a store where Woolworth would only sell five and ten cent items, he didn’t think that a store like that would work. He thought it was too risky. “There are not enough items to sell for five and ten cents,” his boss told him. If he had taken his feedback, and even considered a different point of view, he could have build a great partnership with Woolworth. Woolworth went ahead anyway and opened a store, and it became so successful that he opened stores all over the country. When Woolworth became successful, his former boss remarked, “As far as I can figure out, every word I used to turn Woolworth down cost me about a million dollars.”

Whenever I start a new project, I see feedback as the glue that holds the product and customer together. You have all these ideas in your head, but if you don’t get feedback from people, it may all be in your head. In order to improve the product, you need feedback. It is indispensable. What I realized is that people don’t give you good feedback by themselves. You need to ask for it, and be specific. Honest feedback is even harder to get.

As Elon Musk says feedback is like gold, which you need to solicit actively. As Tom Chi said you have all the ideas in your head, but then its up to you to go out there and figure out a solution that people want.

Element #82 Start Small

Take one small step toward your goal every day

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” — Arthur Ashe

A s an industrialist in Germany, Oskar Schindler sheltered over 1,000 Jews by employing them in his factory. At first, he helped only one person in his immediate environment. It didn’t start out as this big operation. He got government contracts to sell kitchenware, and through that he hired Polish Jews because they were cheaper than the Polish workers. When the Nazis targeted Jews, Schindler changed his views, and proactively hired Jews. He protected them and argued with SS officers that these workers were essential for the war efforts. He put his life on the line. Later he would be able to bribe officials in return for releasing Jews who were targeted to go to a concentration camp. He became an unforgettable lifesaver, as it says on his tomb. By the time he died he had saved over 1,000 jews, and when he lost his job the jews would take care of him.

When I was doing military service in Germany, I was able to help refugee families immigrate to Germany. From paperwork, to helping the kids learn languages and math, I would be an all-purpose aid. It required only small steps, but when I look back at it now, the impact seems larger. Many small steps lead to a big achievement. One time we would have a project, where we’d build a house, and every day it got better.

Start small, focus on actionable steps that you can execute every day. Rome wasn’t build in a day. As Angela Merkel said you have to go step by step. There is always something that you can do to help your immediate environment, from there it can grow into more, but it all starts from here. Focus on whatever you can do in your immediate environment. Focus on the can do part.

Element #83 Rapid Prototype

Move fast and break things

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

When Thomas Edison grew up, he was told that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He became home schooled. On his first two jobs, he was fired. As an inventor, he says that he has failed 10,000 times before he became successful. When he was asked Edison replied, “I have not failed 10,000 times — I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” He famously has said that when it came to his inventions, that he didn’t fail, he just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. Thomas Edison embraced failure at every turn, and learned his lesson, incorporating that into his future. He is now considered one of the most prolific inventors with over 1,000 patents to his name. When something didn’t work out, instead of saying regretting it, he said that he had fun trying it out. He built an electric pen, but it was too noisy. From that he learned to make inventions that would have a market.

I used to think that I would have all the answers in my head, or just by reading books I could find them. But then I realized that all the solutions are out there, and I can’t think through everything on my own. I need to build something, and test out assumptions in the world.

Rapid prototyping will help you turn your big ideas into actionable steps.

Element #84 Eat Healthy

An apple a day keeps you more actionable

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

From time to time, I do like to eat unhealthy, but I also see the benefits from having a better diet. I have more energy, and that energy I can dispense toward things I want to work on. It makes me more productive.

Not surprisingly already ancient philosophers had written books on the connection between food and health.The right diet gives you a boost of energy. It will make you more effective at what you do. It will help you to focus and support whatever you do in the right way.

Element #85 Set A Routine

A daily routine will make you more effective

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” — Warren Buffett, legendary value investor

Mozart has been able to do a lot of successful compositions, but how did he do it? He settled in as a freelancer composer in Vienna. In order to manage his time though, he had a rigorous plan. In a letter to his sister in 1782, he explained how he structured his days:

My hair is always done by six o’clock in the morning and by seven I am fully dressed. I then compose until nine. From nine to one I give lessons. Then I lunch, unless I am invited to some house where they lunch at two or even three o’clock, as, for example, today and tomorrow at Countess Zichy’s and Countess Thun’s. I can never work before five or six o’clock in the evening, and even then I am often prevented by a concert. If I am not prevented, I compose until nine. I then go to my” Dear Constanze, though the joy of seeing one another is nearly always spoilt by her mother’s bitter remarks.… At half past ten or eleven I come home — it depends on her mother’s darts and on my capacity to endure them! As I cannot rely on being able to compose in the evening owing to the concerts which are taking place and also to the uncertainty as to whether I may not be summoned now here and now there, it is my custom (especially if I get home early) to compose a little before going to bed. I often go on writing until one — and am up again at six.

I have a morning ritual where I get up and start off with something that I am excited about to get momentum for rest of day. I used to not like morning rituals, but they make you more effective. I use to wake up late, and then would create a bad momentum for the rest of the day. The most important ritual for me is to block off a couple of hours every day where I can focus on creating something of value. When I am not doing that, I am being pulled into different directions.

A routine will set your day and build momentum for the rest of the day. It will increase creativity, and encourage focus. It will help you to get the things done that you plan to get done.

Element #86 Embrace Serendipity

Happy coincidences happen when you believe in them

“All things are ready if our minds be so.” — William Shakespeare

I n 1994 Barnett Helzberg, Jr. crossed Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, passing by The Plaza Hotel. It was a normal day until he ran into Warren Buffett. He took all his courage and approached the legendary investor. Helzberg introduced himself as a shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway and a great admirer of the investor. Then he pitched his venture as sharply and quickly as possible. When he finished, Buffett replied with four words: “Send me more details.” One year later Helzberg sold his company. A powerful pitch was turned into a successful sale. A speech, whether it is a 1-minute pitch, or a 10-minute speech can be turned into a catalyst for change. It was a serendipitous encounter and he made the most of it. He pitched him.

When I met Jack Dorsey at Harvard, he was so calm and equanimous that it inspired me. Jack shares one way he stays creative. He leaves his house every day at 7 a.m., only arriving at the office at 8:30 a.m. He walks to work, taking different routes each time. He says that observing ordinary life helps him to see things he would otherwise not see. At the office, his mornings are entirely scheduled. But his afternoons he leaves open to wander around in order to leave room for unexpected meetings or encounters that would otherwise not happen.

Serendipity is a way of living. It is the perfect complement to routine. It allows you to get things done in an unexpected way.

Element #87 Leverage Your Resources

Resourcefulness can make you more creative

“A resourceful person will always make opportunity fit his or her needs.” Napoleon Hill, legendary self-help author mentored by Andrew Carnegie

When Jack Ma started Ali Baba, he build the startup with limited resources. But years later when he succeeded, he revealed that not having all the resources to begin with turned out to be an advantage. It forced the team to be creative.

I couldn’t officially make money when I was studying in America, but I had to pay rent and food somehow. So I learned how to be resourceful, saving a dollar wherever I could. In supermarkets, I would only buy things on sale, and I would take food home whenever I could. I applied these resourcefulness principles in all aspects of my life.

A dollar saved is a dollar earned. You can’t be too extreme and save everything, but being resourceful is a good way to increase your creativity.

Element #88 Keep Shipping

Perfection is the enemy to get started

Galveston Wharf with Sail and Steam Ships by Julius Stockfleth

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” — Voltaire

When I started out writing this book, I was excited. But soon I got overwhelmed. Having a sense of perfection makes it difficult to get started. Even know with 3 previews totaling almost 50,000 words and not being able to afford an editor I feel that the final version is not as professional as I thought it could be. The more I could focus on small deliverables, the more I was able to get done with the book.

If you aim for perfection, you will never get started. You need to set small deliverables every day, and focus on keep shipping. The perfection comes from the execution of all the thousand steps. Perfection comes from paying attention to detail. Shipping beats perfection.

Element #89 Tame Your Demon

Don’t be your own worst enemy

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.” — Steven Pressfield

When Warren Buffett attended Columbia Business School, he was scared of public speaking. “I was terrified of public speaking when I was in high school and college,” Warren told BBC in an interview. “I couldn’t do it.” He enrolled in a course by Dale Carnegie to face his fear. Today he is a superb public speaker, encouraging students to practice the art of public speaking. “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life,” he says, “If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

I used to be my own worst enemy. I would be in my own way. I had no confidence, and I would feel guilt when I didn’t do anything wrong. My friends would tell me that I need get out of my own head, but I would continue my conversation. These days I just acknowledge the demon, but I use it as a way to fuel me rather than be discouraged and self-destruct.

There will be rejections, and times when you are overwhelmed. But you can’t be your own worst enemy. There will be voices in your head saying you can’t do this, you’re not good enough. Don’t listen to them.

Element #90 Always Be Bold

Do what you are afraid of

“Be bold, still be be bold; always be bold.” — Mirebeau

When Philippe Petit was 16 years old, he discovered his passion for the high wire and incorporated it into public performances in Paris. With every performance he would became more audacious. In 1971 he walked between the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral and two years later he crossed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Then he put his eyes on the World Trade Center. He assembled a team of friends to help him. He spent months preparing and studying the Towers. On the night he was doing it, he assumed a disguise, hid the equipment and went on the tower. When it was morning, walked on a high wire that he suspended between the two towers. 1,300 feet above the ground, Philippe did want no man had ever done before. In an act of courage, he did this.

When my great grandmother lived in Poland during WWII, in 1944, the war was almost over. Her grandfather was fighting in the war, and it was a normal day for my great grandmother, she left her home to get food for her children at home. But on the way a Russian snatched her and wanted to bring her to the camp. She asked her to stand in front of the house, while the Russian woman was looking for more people. But she was just thinking that if she wouldn’t make it back home her kids would start, so she mustered all the courage that she had and just sneaked out defying the orders of the Russian lady. She left and was hiding in a house until it was dark, and when she felt it was safe to leave. It was a game between life and death.

What you need is not more intellect or knowledge, what you need is courage to do the things you really want to do, and pursue them. Take risks.

Element #91 Clear The Path

Move others forward

Balrog vs Gandalf by Luke Alagonda

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” — Anne Frank

After the fellowship of the ring had almost left the mines of Moria, they just needed to cross Bridge of Khazad-dûm, but one more obstacle awaited — a huge Balrok, a menacing creature, both in control of fire and shadow, wielding a fiery whip with several thongs. Gandalf started to fight him, but in doing so he lost his life. He gave his life for Frodo’s mission. By standing between the group and the Balrog, he cleared the path for the others to leave and continue their journey.

It was the day that an earthquake had hit Japan and I had my first meeting with Prof. Niall Ferguson. He was busy as usual, but I indicated my interest in working with him. As a first job, he asked me to research the financial and economic consequences of the earthquake. I dropped everything that I had and skipped classes, and for the next 12 hours was focused on this opportunity. I completed the research and with the help of a friend cleaned up the document and send it to him around midnight. From that point on I would do small research projects that helped him move his work forward.

This is what Ryan Holiday calls the canvas strategy. The strategy originates from Roman times with the word anteambulo which meant clear the path. That forerunner traveled in front of a patron making his life easier. Like a movie, there are so many ways you can help, maybe you can be a supporting actor for someone else’s movie, or the producer of someone else’s life.

Element #92 Have A Plan

A bad plan is better than no plan

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” — Antoine de Saint Exupery

When Manhattan implemented its grid system, it had been criticized for its monotony and rigidity, but it soon turned out to be visionary. The plan led by DeWitt Clinton required changes in funding how roads were build and a multigenerational commitment, while the plan also considered interruptions for public places. It changed from how the city had organically developed when the British took over from the Dutch. He appointed the planning commission that designed the grid system of streets and avenues. The Council said its goal was “laying out Streets… in such a manner as to unite regularity and order with the public convenience and benefit and in particular to promote the health of the City.” DeWitt Clinton also worked on the Erie Canal, which connected the East with the Midwest, which turned New York into its powerhouse. When it was finished it encouraged immigrants to build cities along the canal’s path. It was instrumental in making New York the global power city that it became. It was only possible through the plans that DeWitt Clinton engineered.

When I wrote this preview, I organized every element in advance, writing a post-it note for each element and putting it on a wall. Having this visual plan helped me to organize my thoughts.

It is important that you set a plan. If you don’t have a plan, it is even better to have a bad plan. It will help you to stay focused.

Element #93 Never Regret

It’s never too late to do what you are meant to do

“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” — Henry David Thoreau

Before Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, he was in prison for 27 years. He taught other people how to forgive, leaving bitterness and hatred behind when he was released. First he tried nonviolence, it didn’t work. Then he used violence and that’s what got him into prison. The majority of his sentence was in Robben Island with harsh conditions. “I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life,” he spoke of his time there, “There was no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks,” Nelson Mandela once said of his years in prison. After becoming more militant in his efforts against apartheid, he was imprisoned. Yet he became president at the age of 77. He was committed to liberate the South African people and human rights and dignity. He wasn’t bitter or hateful when he left. He moved on and changed the world. “I went for a long holiday for 27 years,” he said.

When I was in high school, I often regretted the things that I couldn’t do. These days I have come to learn that whenever you think you are late, it is just a story that you are telling in your head. You are looking for a specific narrative, so then you think it’s impossible. It’s never really too late. It’s only too late if you have given up.

Its never too late. Age doesn’t matter. Don’t be trapped that you think you can’t do something. Whatever you want to do, start now. Whatever you regret that you haven’t done, instead of being upset by it, use it as a compass for what you really want to become.

Element #94 Treasure Time

Prioritize what matters to you

There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time.” — Napoleon

This passage by Seneca shows best how we need to value our time:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

Manage your time as it the most valuable commodity that you have. Don’t waste it with things that don’t excite you and fill your heart with a sense of wonder.

Element #95 Find Your Medium

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” — Steve Jobs

I n the 1860s, Claude Monet and his friends, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-August Renoir, and Paul Cézanne were trying to sell their art. Broke and hungry for attention, they met every evening at the Café Guerbois in Paris where they deliberated and discussed how to distribute their art. Their art was different, and as it was so different it didn’t fit into the existing establishment. The existing establishment, the Salon, was the most prestigious art exhibition in Europe at the time. It showcased traditional paintings that were accurate and obvious. Its audience, conservative, knew what they were going to see when they visited the Salon. At first, Monet and his friends attempted to have their art displayed at the Salon, but it was an uphill battle for the Salon didn’t appreciate their type of art. Besides, due to the competitive nature of the Salon, rejections were the norm and those artists that were displayed got limited space. When occasionally one or two pieces were exhibited it created an outrage among the audience. If they wanted to get more pieces into the Salon, they needed to conform to the accepted esthetic standards of the time. However, that was something that they were unwilling to compromise on. If they needed to change their art, they would have to find a different way to distribute their art. After many rounds of coffee and deliberations, the artists recognized that they had tried to sell a niche product to a mass audience from the beginning, when what they needed to do was find a niche audience for their niche product. At the first exhibition, they displayed 165 paintings and less than 200 people showed up on the first day. Through the exhibition that lasted a month they got attention from a small group of people. By avoiding competition, they served a very small niche. “We are beginning to make ourselves a niche,” Pissarro wrote in a letter to a friend. “We have succeeded as intruders in setting up our little banner in the midst of the crowd.” Slowly but surely they began to dominate that niche, and today that niche is known as impressionism. Today each piece sells for Over time they dominated that niche, and expanded it to a wider audience. Today that niche is known as impressionism and each piece sells for millions of dollars.

When the Wright Brothers first encountered an object that could fly they were mesmerized. “Instead of falling to the floor, as we expected,” Wilbur recounted, “it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor.” A moment that only lasted second made an impression that lasted a lifetime. After building their own helicopter, they dug deeper into the subject. Our personal interest in it [aviation] dates from our childhood days. Late in the autumn of 1878, our father came into the house one evening with some object partly concealed in his hands, and before we could see what it was, he tossed it into the air. Instead of falling to the floor, as we expected, it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor. It was a little toy, known to scientists as a “helicoptere,” but which we, with sublime disregard for science, at once dubbed a “bat”. It was a light frame of cork and bamboo, covered with paper, which formed two screws, driven in opposite directions by rubber bands under torsion. A toy so delicate lasted only a short time in the hands of small boys, but its memory was abiding. We had taken up aeronautics merely as a sport, the brothers wrote later, We reluctantly entered upon the scientific side of it. But we soon found the work so fascinating that we were drawn into it deeper and deeper. It is astonishing that the two brothers Wilbur and Orville didn’t spend much time during their youth and their early career with their interest in flying, as both of them went to high school and became editor (Wilbur) and publisher (Orville) of a weekly regional newspaper, when starting a printing business. The brothers interest in flying reignited when opening a sales and repair shop for bicycles that allowed them to fund their aeronautical experimentations.

After three straight championships, Michael Jordan retired at the height of his career to pursue another dream — playing professional baseball. His father always dreamed of him playing baseball. When he died in 1993, the turning point had arrived. Michael Jordan played baseball, but he was not that good at it, and later returned to basketball, where he played. For a year played for a minor league team, the Birmingham Barons, as an outfielder for, but since it wasn’t his medium he soon returned to basketball. When he returned he won many more championships proving that basketball was his medium.

Finding what you are good at is important, so you can leverage your position and be paid for what you are good at. It is a combination of doing what you are good at and what you also enjoy doing. It is that sweet spot. The best way to find your medium is not by sitting and hoping for an eureka moment, but doing little things, different things and doing things and then finding what suits you most. What you feel drawn to.

Element #96 Play The Detective

Focus on observing everything around you

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” — Sherlock Holmes, fictional private detective and master observer

When English street artist Banksy observes the world, he pays attention. His works of political and social commentary stem from observing what is going on around the world, and then seeing what other people don’t see. He displays his art on publicly visible surfaces, drawing attention from the public and drawing what is unobserved to the public. His black and white stencils provoke what the world is missing. His art is accessible to everyone, and shows what others are missing. He makes social and political statements with a sense of humor, that pokes fun at society. His art is filled with wit and metaphors. He observes society and then makes a commentary out of it.

Always be observant of what’s happening.

Element #97 Seize The Opportunity

Grab the window of opportunity

The Stages of Life by Caspar David Friedrich

“Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.” — William Arthur Ward

When Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady, she used that opportunity to redefine what the role meant. She assumed an active role in the office. She was an activist first Lady. She was connecting with the people. She leveraged mass media. She showed the world that the first lady was an important role. She stood in for women’s and civil rights. She remained an active political figure. She seized the window of opportunity that she was given.

Whenever I see an opportunity now, and I think it’s valuable, I go for it. The problem is that often opportunities disguise as something else, and you don’t recognize them right away. But you can usually feel them.

Prepare your elevator pitch. Timing matters, because when the window of opportunity expires, then it will be too late. Don’t let that opportunity go. Seize the opportunity and then create your own job. Don’t wait for others, just wait for the window of opportunity.

Element #98 Eliminate Desire

Exercise patience and play the long game

The Heart Desires by Edward Burne-Jones

“No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” — Warren Buffett

When Facebook launched on February 4, 2004 its popularity quickly spread around Harvard. For students the social network was a tool to stay in touch with other students. Mark Zuckerberg, however, had a bigger vision. He wanted to connect the world.

When investors started knocking on his door to buy the platform, they were surprised to hear that he was not interested in selling. “It’s not about the price,” he later told The New Yorker. “This is my baby, and I want to keep running it, I want to keep growing it.”

When an anonymous financier from New York offered $10 million, Zuckerberg quickly rejected the offer. “He didn’t for a minute think seriously about accepting,” writes David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect. Later that year when Zuckerberg moved to Palo Alto, he rejected Google executives, who wanted to know if he was interested to sell the growing social network.

In 2005, Viacom offered $75 million, which would have netted Zuckerberg $35 million. He was not interested. Viacom’s second offer was also rejected. When MySpace asked for a meeting, he and Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, only took the meeting because they thought the CEO was cool. But they knew they would not sell.

When Yahoo offered $1 billion in the summer of 2006, Peter Thiel, the first outside investor of Facebook, thought that they should at least consider the offer. Zuckerberg walked into the board meeting, however, as Thiel recounts, and announced, “Okay, guys, this is just a formality, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. We’re obviously not going to sell here.”

At every turn Zuckerberg rejected offers because he thought the company was more valuable than everybody else thought. “We built this to last, and these guys don’t have a clue,” Zuckerberg told Kirkpatrick.

What made him stick to his vision? On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg lists “Eliminating Desire” as one of his interests. “I just want to focus on what we’re doing,” Zuckerberg explained in an interview with Lev Grossman, “When I put it in my profile, that’s what I was focused on,” he said, “I think it would be very easy to get distracted and get caught up in short-term things or material things that don’t matter. The phrase is actually ‘Eliminating desire for all that doesn’t really matter.’”

I had to finish high school in Germany which requires an additional year. I had to do military service, which took up another year. Then I had an initial failure until I got to America, which took another 9 months. Then I had to study just so I could stay in America. Then I did another bachelor degree as I didn’t see way to get a work visa. Then I had a work visa, then it expired. Then I had to go to school again. The American Dream requires a lot of patience.

You have to be patient in life. Nothing works out right away. There is not trick in doing sometimes. You can say the way you get patience is by delay gratification. You look for playing the long game.

Element #99 Appeal To Interest

Learn how to negotiate

“It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.” — Nelson Mandela

If you want to have action, you need to persuade by incentives, and by reason. Understand incentives.

Element #100 Serve Others

Helping others helps you

“The desire that guides me in all I do, is the desire to harness the forces of nature to the service of mankind.” — Nikola Tesla

When Mother Theresa was teaching for 17 years in India before she got her call to serve the sick and poor. She wasn’t born Mother Theresa, she forged that image day by day. I’m sure she had her own problems. As she was taking a train from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills, she received her true call assisting the poor. She did not think about herself fully, but about other people.

During my very first meeting with what I didn’t realize at the time was going to become a good mentor, Frank Macchiarola, former Chancellor of St. Francis College, advised me on my choice of major. I was torn between deciding between business and economics. He told me that business you learn in real life, but economics is something you can study in college. I was always in awe how Chancellor Macchiarola was giving back to society. When he finished high school, he decided to give back instead of getting a high paying job at a law firm.

At the end of the day whatever you do should help other people. Your work should be in service to other people. And there is always someone in your immediate environment that you can help.

Element #101 Strive For Excellence

Pay attention to details

“I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” — Oscar Wilde

At 90 years old, Jiro is not your typical restaurant owner. He is the chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro of a Japanese restaurant and has devoted himself to his craft for his entire life. He is considered to be one of the best sushi chefs in the world. Customers from all over the world pay top dollars to visit his little restaurant in the Ginza district of Chuo, Tokyo. To be able to eat there you need to have a reservation months in advance., After his father abandoned him at age 9, Jiro worked at apprenticed at a sushi restaurant, a profession he never left. He still takes the metro to work every day. His work ethic has meticulously stayed the same and his focus has intensified. He has been awarded for his excellence around the world. Yet his excellence came at a cost, it was intense focus that made Jiro into the greatest sushi chef of our time. His quest for excellence would have been impossible if he had been constantly distracted with other things. By continuously focusing on his craft, he has innovated the art of sushi. “All I want to do is make better sushi,” Jiro revealed, “I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top.” The key to his success he explains the following way: “You must dedicate your life to mastering this skill.”

What I noticed is that excellence requires paying attention to detail. It is not that difficult, but it requires constant training of paying attention to detail. Excellence is an attitude that you always work on delivering the best no matter what you do. It is not that you are excellent in one thing, it is something that permeates through your entire life.

You need to master something, and pay attention to details. As Aristotle said excellence is a habit not an act. You need to continuously work hard.

Element #102 Listen Up

Solve problems of communication

“Give me the gift of a listening heart.” — King Solomon

Whenever I go out and engage with others, I try to listen rather than being in my head. If you are caught up in your own head, you can’t listen.

So many problems have their origins in communication, and action is obstructed in bad communication. Since to do anything in the world requires other people, you need to listen to what other people have to say. You can’t be just in your own bubble.

Element #103 Persevere

You can always turn a negative situation into an opportunity

The Raft of the Medusa

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

During the American Revolution, George Washington used a similar strategy to win over the British. In December 1776, six months after the declaration of independence had been adopted, things were looking dire for General George Washington’s Continental Army. In fact, failure seemed just around the corner. As the underdog, the American army lacked guns, ammunition, and artillery. It lacked steel for bayonets, clothing, tents and blankets. The British had already captured New York City and Rhode Island.

Fortunately, British arrogance spared Washington’s army to be wiped out early. The British didn’t see the colonists’ resistance as revolution and believed thought that a little display of force would suffice to end this insurgency. They didn’t understand the anger and pain that colonists felt.

When the British descended on New York with thousands of soldiers, they were confident that they would win. The first battle confirmed that when Washington’s army lost three times as many men as the British. But instead of pressing on and eliminating Washington’s army, the British, under the command of Sir William Howe, were so confident that they waited for another day.

Under the cover of darkness, Washington relocated his troops from Brooklyn Heights into New York, saving thousands of troops in the process. For the following weeks, there were a series of battles, but Washington always skillfully retreats when circumstances are not in his favor. It wasn’t a pretty strategy, but an effective one. Despite this effective strategy, as armies headed into winter quarters, Washington’s situation was still far from good. The British had sent more troops, and Washington’s army was reduced to about 3,000 soldiers. Meanwhile, food supplies and pay for soldiers were at an all time low and soldier enlistments would run out by the end of the year. During that time, Thomas Paine, enlisted as a soldier, wrote a series of Crisis essays, to encourage his fellow soldiers. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he wrote, “we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” After Washington made a personal plea to his soldiers to stay around until Christmas, he planned a surprise attack. On Christmas Day, Washington attacked a group of sleeping German mercenaries and captured thousands of prisoners. That battle and the following battle at Princeton boosted the army’s morale. As an Englishman observed, the soldiers had recovered their panic when they had almost given up on the cause just a few days ago. Washington’s strategy of retreat and surprise was powerful because he understood that he didn’t need to defeat the British. He simply needed to tire them out. The British underestimated the colonists’ efforts, which they in turn used as an advantage. Like David against Goliath, Washington against Howe neutralized the British advantages and turned his disadvantage into an advantage. As this was a war fought on land, the British weren’t used to that.

It’s a classic example where the underdog, perceived to be inferior, uses a strategy that yields victory over an opponent whose strength are overestimated.

You can always make the best out of anything. It is really a question of attitude. You can turn your disadvantages into advantages. Its how you look at it.

Element #104 Create Alternatives

Build the new instead of fighting the old

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” — Thomas Paine

If you create a compelling alternative, people will switch, but it needs to be much better. Just fighting the old is not going to create any innovation. You should build a new world for other people to go into. So they can create their lives there, like a platform. If you can’t create them, join one.

Element #105 Fight The Old Guard

Don’t expect the guardians of the status quo to lose without fighting

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” — Mahatma Gandhi

When Galileo was advancing his science, he was up against the church for supporting Copernicus heliocentric model of the universe. The Church declared that theory as “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” The church believed that the earth couldn’t move, so for Galileo it was a difficult stance. The church discouraged Galileo from pursuing his stance or from spreading it any further. He was basically banned from talking about it. After a long trial, the Church made him gave his theory up and sentenced him to a prison term, confining him to his villa in Arcetri, where he lived until his day. And that was the father of modern science.

When I first made plans to go to America, people would tell me it was impossible with my means. They would say I don’t have the money and I don’t know anyone there. But I stopped listening to them, and forged my own path.

Don’t expect the guardians of the status quo to lose a fight by just giving up. There are those who are complacent and they will do everything to retain the status quo. Fight them.

Element #106 Spot The Hummingbird

With every new industry, there are thousands of hummingbirds of opportunities that

“Change almost always comes as a surprise because things don’t happen in straight lines. Connections are made by accident. Second-guessing the result of an occurrence is difficult, because when people or things or ideas come together in new ways, the rules of arithmetic are changed so that one plus one suddenly makes three. This is the fundamental mechanism of innovation, and when it happens the result is always more than the sum of the parts.” — Steven Johnson

During the American Revolution, there was an opportunity to create a flag for the young nation, it required an able seamstress. She and her husband started an upholstery business, making flags for Pennyslvania during the war, a habit she continued even when her husband died in the war. Legend holds that George Washington requested Betsy Ross to make the first American flag. He was a frequent visitor to the house, and he knew her skill with the needle. In 1776 he returned and requested to make a flag. Washington pulled out a sketch of a flag and requested to have it made. After George Washington visited, her she made the first glag. It is not an established historical fact, she is still an icon of American history. Whoever made the flag, it shows that there are always opportunities with trends and big opportunities. Whoever did make the flags understood this opportunity.

When the iPhone came out, to make money I was selling iPhones on the street. I noticed that there was a demand for unlocked phones, and Apple had a generous warranty at the time. I would scout Craigslist for low offers and buy them, sometimes repair and then sell them at a higher price. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it allowed me to offset rent a bit.

Always find how you can create innovation from the second-order effects. When there is a big innovation, it usually increases the demand for so many other things. Find what that thing is and then serve the market. Gutenberg’s printing press increased demand for spectacles, as the increased reading realize that most people were farsighted.

Element #107 Ridicule The Status Quo

Speak candidly and truth to power

“Common sense is not so common.” — Voltaire

Voltaire wanted to be a playwright but his father opposed it and wanted for him to work in a public office. At first, Voltaire obliged and tried to fulfill his father’s wish. He was a law student, later a lawyer’s apprentice, and still later secretary to a French diplomat. He strived to be an independent man of letters. He retreated into libertine sociability of Paris and established himself as a popular figure through his wit and popularity. He was influenced by Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, which had political criticism embedded in its work. His biggest criticism was his social criticism. In his most famous work Candide, he satirized and ridiculed of the philosophy of Optimism espoused by Leibniz and Pope and also organized religion such as the institution of the Church. He made fun of a Dutch orator cares more about his theological doctrine than helping people. He exaggerated the irrationality of certain beliefs and mocked the aristocratic belief in natural superiority by birth.

Called the Jon Stewart of the Middle, Bassem Youssef is a comedian that belongs in his own class. my class and how he called me voltaire, and his experience. he told us how he had his show. Bassem showed us how you can use satire as a way to criticize and top over the establishment. He had a satirical news program while he was in Egypt during the revolution. Originally a surgeon, he used his sharp wit to criticize the establishment. What started out as a 5-minute show turned into the most watched show in Egyptian television history with more than 40 million average weekly viewers. He used humor to criticize the existing regime.

Ridicule can be a good way to make fun of the status quo, and question how society works. You have to be careful though that it doesn’t swap over into being ridiculous.

Element #108 Find Constants

Look for what is not going to change

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’” — Jeff Bezos, founder of

Warren Buffett often likes to invest into things that are not changing. He says that people will still consume ketchup in twenty years, so he focuses his opportunities around business where he knows the world will still would want to have it.

Whenever I invest, I try to ask myself the opposite question: what is not going to change? And by answering that question, I can have a better idea of opportunities. It is a counterintuitive idea, because everyone constantly looks around for things that are changing. Thinking of constants unlock new opportunities.

Some things will be the same. They are either timeless or constant. Not many thing are constant but some things will stay the same, no matter what. Find those that stay the same.

Element #109 Be A Renaissance Man

Merge your skills and interests

Otto van Bismarck understood politics both as a statesmen and as an entrepreneur. he and his finance minister Otto von Camphausen realized early the opportunities offered by running efficient public enterprises — railway companies, utilities, and postal services — and by issuing state debt to finance their engagement in profitable investment projects. Against the background of severe speculative crises in the 1870s, Prussia decided to nationalize the railroad companies and run the businesses itself. The cunning soon paid off: by the 1890s, more state revenues were generated by public companies than by either direct or indirect taxes. Bismarck and his advisors realized that it was worth increasing debt levels in the short term — Prussian debt/national product increased from a mere 14 percent in 1872 to three times this volume in 1892 — whenever the money could generate higher returns than prevailing interest rates.

A lot of opportunities are crowded in fields, but if you look at the intersections you can find unique opportunities.

Element #110 Build Bridges

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” — Aristotle

When La Guardia began his term, the city and the country were in the midst of the Great Depression. A year earlier, the stock market had collapsed. Unemployment was at a record high. The budget was severely depressed.

La Guardia was disciplined enough to follow with his agenda. He built a close relationship with US President Frank D. Roosevelt. As a result, a good portion of federal money flowed into the city’s annual budget. HE

His public programs were wide reaching. He built bridges, health clinics, and playgrounds. He cleared out slums and provided cheaper housing opportunities to the poor. He frequently held radio programs to maintain a good relationship with the people.

He was able to work with people, even the ones he did not like. In collaboration with Robert Moses, whom he did not like much, he created some of the most beautiful parks in the city. Initially in building them they created jobs, and provided New Yorkers with an opportunity to retreat from city life.

Build bridges, and rather than multi-task, single task that kills multiple birds.

Element #111 Reimagine

Combine idealism with realism

“Let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.” — Barack Obama

A s one of the oldest aspirations of mankind, humans always longed for the ability to fly. Think of the legends Icarus and Daedalus. Leonardo da Vinci sketched out the logistics of flying in his notebooks, where he made drawings of what looked like a parachute or helicopter. Aristotle and Newton tried but never figured out how to fly. Ancient Rome used slaves to test flying, where equipped with feathers on the back of the slave, they were plunged from great heights. Throughout time scientists had studied how were birds were flying, but couldn’t emulate them.

In 1868, the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain concluded that, “with respect to the abstruse question of mechanical flight, it may be stated that we are still ignorant of the rudimentary principles which should form the basis and rules for construction.” It was really not seen as something that possible.

Until two brothers came along — Wilbur and Orville Wright, who building on the work of others aspired to build a flying machine. Men had built hot air balloons and dirigibles, but they were susceptible to weather and unsafe. The accident of the Hindenburg Zeppelin killed almost half of its passengers. George Cayley had invented engines, steerable parts and fixed wings but couldn’t put them together in the right way. Otto Lilienthal by observing birds learned how to build gliders that were able to fly and logged that way over 2,000 flights. Samuel Pierpont had built a heavier-than-air machine but it didn’t carry a man. Octave Chanute recorded his studies and observations of past attempts of flight, which laid the foundation for future pioneers in aviation.

Although the Wright Brothers lacked formal education, they possessed the conviction that it was possible to build a flying machine. But when they started, they were still running a bicycle shop and the attempt for human flight was merely a hobby. Indeed there were many times when they thought of giving up.

In 1901 when one of the brothers delivered a speech to the Western Society of Engineers in Chicago, he explained that manned flight was possible. They gained more insights after one year, and two years later they had built a propeller.

Four years later, on December 14, 1907, it happened. They had asked their friend John Daniels to record this historical moment. When the machine started, Wilbur assisted his brother briefly, but towards the end of the track, the aircraft took off. The flight lasted a mere 12 seconds but it was enough to make history. As the brothers explained, it was “the first [flight] in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in free flight, had sailed forward on a level course without reduction of speed, and had finally landed without being wrecked.” Orville sent a telegram to his father that day. “Success. Four flights Thursday morning all against twenty-one mile wind. Started from level with engine power alone. Average speed through air, thirty-one miles. Longest 57 seconds. Inform press. Home Christmas.”

Their younger brother pitched the news to The Dayton Journal, a local news editor, but he was rejected. “If it had been fifty-seven minutes,” the editor reasoned, “then it might have been a news item.” The New York Times and The Washington Post did not find the story newsworthy. French newspapers called it a bluff. Nobody believed that two brothers from Ohio had solved the problem of flight. Even after it had happened, people were skeptical. The Paris edition of The New York Herald wrote, “The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It’s easy to say, ‘We have flown.’”

The Wright Brothers were secretive because they had funded all experiment at their own expense. The brothers were also more eager to focus on improving the machine instead of taking care of the business side. Although the patent was quickly approved, the brothers had to wait until 1908 before their first contract by the U.S. Army. Initially nobody wanted to buy into the plan because the brothers were so secretive.

When I was running my first Marathon in California, I had barely prepared for it. It was good for the first half, but then every mile after that was exceedingly difficult. I almost gave up but I kept on going, and it wasn’t easy. And that point I was just trying to finish. But then I met this old guy when I almost gave up, and he told me this tactic of going for 1 minute and then taking a break for 30 seconds, and with this help I made it all to the end. Life is a lot like a marathon, I was thinking at the end of it, and giving up is easy, but success sometimes just lays around the corner when you try one more time.

Apply our idealism in the real world. If you can’t connect it, it is useless. That requires compromises sometimes. It requires sacrifices.

Element #112 Search For Catalysts

Be or find the missing catalyst

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Seabiscuit was a racing horse during the Great Depression, but it had an unlikely start but became a symbol of hope. His first 17 races he failed to win. The horse became a joke, and was a frequent loser. When Charles S. Howard pairs him with a new trainer and hockey he wins all the time. The jockey had a new way of training with the horse and he became one of the most remarkable racing horses in history. It was the missing catalyst that the jockey and the trainer provided. The care that the trainer and jockey gave him and in the new environment he flourished. The right catalyst brought this horse to championship. At a time of depression, Seabiscuit inspired countless people.

Thomas Paine, an English political activist, accelerated the advent of independence. When he released Common Sense, a short pamphlet, the future of America was uncertain. But Paine’s rhetoric was optimistic. “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” he wrote. He explained that a nation’s bravest deeds always occurs in its youth. Written in a simple language, Paine’s pamphlet addressed what colonists felt but failed to express. It sold over 125,000 copies within the first two months, making it an instant bestseller.

Paine questioned the monarchy and legitimacy of the English constitution. He ridiculed the Old World’s corruption and decadence. “In free countries the law ought to be king,” he argued. Instead of impressing with fancy vocabulary, he expressed his ideas honestly. He advocated for commerce, equality and social mobility, which appealed to colonists. He convinced colonists that they would have flourished far more if they had been allowed to exist outside the control of their mother country. In Paine’s view, Britain’s maternal role had crippled the colonists’ ability for self-determination.

As historian Bernard Bailyn points out, Paine helped people to think about the unthinkable and stimulated them to think of a different future. Founding Father Benjamin Rush recalled that, “its effects were sudden and extensive upon the American mind.” General George Washington acknowledged that the pamphlet was “working a wonderful change in the minds of many people.” Historian Joanne Freeman suggests that Paine’s text shattered the psychological resistance to the idea of independence and invited people to the political conversation that hadn’t been part of it before. By promoting simplicity in government and championing individualism, Common Sense expedited the American cause for liberty because it made revolution a possibility.

Independence did not arrive as a result of Paine’s pamphlet but its rhetoric was powerful enough that it helped transform British colonists into American revolutionaries. If Paine hadn’t published his pamphlet, another catalyst would have accelerated what now this seems inevitable.

In June of that year, Virginian statesman Richard Henry Lee called for independence through the following motion: “These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” On July 4th, 1776, to be precise, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The thirteen colonies now took on the mightiest nation on earth.

A catalyst is defined as something that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. You can be the supporting actor in someone’s movie, or produce the movie.

Element #113 Redefine Yourself

Every turning point is an opportunity to grow

Picasso Woman

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” — Bob Dylan

Katherine Graham’s father bought the Washington Post, and her husband managed it, until he killed himself. When she was 63, it was a turning point for her and the paper. She had no business experience, and three children. She had to redefine herself, and the newspaper. She had to wrestle will all the issues that she didn’t understand, but she learned how to redefine herself. She trusted herself, and replaced the conservative board with a new executive editor. Against the wish of the board with an imminent IPO of the company, she decided to publish stolen government papers — today known as the Pentagon Papers — ended up being an important milestone in the history of journalism. She got Warren Buffett as an investor, who mentored her through the many trials. She became one of the most successful CEOs of the century. She took all the trials and converted them into opportunities to redefine herself and grow. She went through situations that she never went through.

Every turning point is an opportunity to redefine yourself. If things don’t go well, you can use that to make the most of it.

Element #114 Never Give Up

Persistence is key to success

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.” 
 — Thomas Edison,

From Palermo to Paris, from Frankfurt to Budapest, 1848 went down as the most volatile series of political upheavals in European history. What began as political uprising in January of that year in Sicily quickly spread to Naples and merely one month passed by before people fought on the streets of Paris. The wave quickly spread to Munich and Vienna, later Krakow and Budapest, reaching over fifty countries in total. In what is known as the Spring of Nations, liberal protesters challenged absolutist regimes and constitutional monarchies.

As historian John Merriman explains, political, social and economic tensions had been building up in the decades leading up to the revolutions, eventually leading to a credit crisis and thousands of bread riots on the streets in Europe. In 1846, a famine across Europe had doubled food prices. As prices increased, wages had remained, at best, stagnant, which had lowered consumer demand and profits. European states had raised taxes and imposed duties on its citizens. Population growth strained existing resources and unemployment became rampant.

In a wave of festivities to celebrate the end of decades of oppression as the revolutions unfolded, commentators were quick to call 1848 the turning point of modern history. The Communist Manifesto, a pamphlet penned by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, added to the romantic euphoria. The revolutionary governments, however, were short-lived. The revolutions had threatened security and quickly gave rise to counterrevolutionary successors that were closely related to the regimes overthrown in 1848. As AJP Taylor said, “German history reached its turning point and failed to turn.” The revolutions that promised so much had failed.

There are many reasons why 1848 failed, but no matter how hopeful, a revolution always harbors the chance of failure. Indeed the probability of successfully escaping the status quo through revolution is low. In the case of the American Revolution, if the resistance had been stamped out early, as the British had expected, things, as the original Latin phrase of the status quo suggests, would have returned to the state in which they were before the war. Since a revolution is a process, it takes time. It rarely succeeds at the first attempt. But that’s alright, because a failed revolution can still bear the seed of success in the long-term.

You need persistence. Nothing will work the first time when you try. You can’t give up. Stay hungry, and don’t stop thinking and trying to do things.

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