Why Bigger Goals = Less Competition (Plus: Major Media Opp)



I had to bribe them. What other choice did I have?

My lecture at Princeton had just ended with smiles and enthusiastic questions.

At the same time, I knew that most students would go out and promptly do the opposite of what I preached. Most of them would be putting in 80-hour weeks as high-paid coffee fetchers unless I showed that the principles from class could actually be applied.

Hence the challenge.

I was offering a round-trip ticket anywhere in the world to anyone who could complete an undefined “challenge” in the most impressive fashion possible. Results plus style. I told them to meet me after class if interested, and here they were, nearly 20 out of 60 students.

The task was designed to test their comfort zones while forcing them to use some of the tactics I teach. It was simplicity itself: contact three seemingly impossible-to-reach people—J Lo., Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton, J.D. Salinger, I don’t care—and get at least one to reply to three questions…

Of 20 students, all frothing at the mouth to win a free spin across the globe, how many completed it?

Exactly… none. Not a one.

There were many excuses: “It’s not that easy to get someone to…”, “I have a big paper due, and…,” “I would love to, but there’s no way I can…” There was but one real reason, however, repeated over and over again in different words: it was a difficult challenge, perhaps impossible, and the other students would out-do them. Since all of them overestimated the competition, no one even showed up.

According to the default-win rules I had set, if someone had sent me no more than an illegible one-paragraph response, I would have been obligated to give them the prize. This result both fascinated and depressed me.

The following year, the outcome was quite different.

I told this cautionary tale and six out of 17 finished the challenge in less than 48 hours. Was the second class better? No. In fact, there were more capable students in the first class, but they did nothing. Firepower up the wazoo and no trigger finger.

The second group just embraced what I told them before they started, which was…

Doing the Unrealistic is Easier Than Doing the Realistic

From contacting billionaires [here’s how one reader did it] to rubbing elbows with celebrities—the second group of students did both—it’s as easy as believing it can be done.

It’s lonely at the top. 99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming. It is easier to raise $10,000,000 than it is $1,000,000. It is easier to pick up the one perfect 10 in the bar than the five 8s.

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

Unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve for yet another reason.

Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel.

If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort. I’ll run through walls to get a catamaran trip through the Greek islands, but I might not change my brand of cereal for a weekend trip through Columbus, Ohio. If I choose the latter because it is “realistic,” I won’t have the enthusiasm to jump even the smallest hurdle to accomplish it. With beautiful, crystal-clear Greek waters and delicious wine on the brain, I’m prepared to do battle for a dream that is worth dreaming. Even though their difficulty of achievement on a scale of 1-10 appears to be a 2 and a 10 respectively, Columbus is more likely to fall through.

The fishing is best where the fewest go, and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit homeruns while everyone else is aiming for base hits. There is just less competition for bigger goals.

(Excerpted: Chapter 4 – System Reset, The 4-Hour Workweek)

Case Study: The Eco-Bounty Hunter Competition

Two months ago, I issued a challenge to all readers of this blog and others with the help of Treehugger and Gizmodo:

Get a committal response from CEOs [of carriers or manufacturers] on why they would or wouldn’t test a [cell phone recycling] solution such as this in 2008/2009. “We’ll take this under review,” “we’re constantly seeking eco-friendly options,” and other vacuous corporate blow-offs don’t cut it. Get the CEO or someone of that level to respond with his or her verdict on the solution and whether or not they’ll test it and when. If there are problems they see, ask them to name them.

The grand prize electric Tres Terra motorcycle/bicycle was claimed by Adrian Reif, and the runner-up Strida folding bicycle was claimed by Christian Paredes.

The Strida

Here’s the interesting part: neither of them completed the challenge.

Both attempted, and based on that effort and their reporting of results (or lack thereof), they were entitled to the prizes. Showing up was more than just half the battle — it was the single deciding factor.

Does this mean that the challenge was ineffective?

Not at all.

Media mentions of the challenge were enough to expedite internal review of recycling proposals at several major manufacturers, whose project leads contacted me via e-mail from the original post. Several million people were exposed to the damages of cell phone disposal and alternative options in the comments of more than 50 related posts, including two on Technorati top-20 blogs.

The objective was to elicit progress towards an improved solution, not to get dozens of responses from CEOs.

Here’s how it works:

The former as the end, the latter was the means to produce a competition that would result in dozens of blog mentions on high-traffic sites and lead to offline media, which would then reach executives at the target companies via corporate communications departments who watch LexisNexis in addition to Google Alerts.

It only takes a few to show up to make a difference.

Strive to be one of the few. It’s easier than it looks.


Odds and Ends: Major Media Opportunity

For a cover story on retirement for a large national magazine, a writer wants to find people who felt pessimistic about their retirement prospects a few years ago, but then started their own businesses, and were either able to retire earlier than they’d ever imagined, or at least live a richer, more fulfilling life once they got to retirement because they had a little extra cushion of income.

If you’re interested in being featured, please post a comment below this post of at least 3 sentences explaining your situation and be sure to mention the following if comfortable: age, married or single, and if you have kids.

Deadline for posting a profile in the comments is before June 25th (Wed.).

Recommended reading for this post:

How to Get George Bush or the CEO of Google on the Phone
Picking Warren Buffett’s Brain: Notes from a Novice

Posted on: June 19, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

96 comments on “Why Bigger Goals = Less Competition (Plus: Major Media Opp)

  1. Hey Tim!

    I read your book, got inspired, and started my own company a year ago. Right now I’m a semi-finalist in the Big Business Contest, and of course have given you bigtime props. Check out my video (your book is in it!):


    Thanks for the inspiration Tim. If you’re ever up for an adventure packed, ultra-endurance mini-retirement, shoot me an e-mail!

    All the best,


  2. Tim, thank you for the link again. I am sadden that no body was able to accomplish the task of contacting a CEO. I commend you for making a difference in how cell phone batteries are dealt with. I am sure the seed has been planted. Once again I would like to thank you for inspiring me to contact those who seem unreachable. That drive recently paid off again, in a huge way, with a local CEO leading to a rather large consulting contact.


  3. Tim,

    On the subject of choosing to lead. I love this point. It’s amazing how true it is, and how – even while knowing better – we are forced to constantly battle with ourselves, fighting to drive towards our potential.

    As someone who independently got into Ballroom dancing and who has traveled extensively I find it both interesting and intriguing that many of the concepts you’ve written about and that seem to be fundamental to your ideology parallel with my own experiences.

    I mention Ballroom and Travel because looking back and trying to understand what choices, moments, and actions have been pivotal catalysts in moving me forward I consistently have found these two activities have been central to my self realization.

    Both have increased my confidence, ability to interact, and self belief exponentially – particularly the time I’ve spent traveling in foreign countries on my own.

    I would love to hear your thoughts/experiences on this explored. Have you experienced a similar impact? Have you noticed bleed-over from the lessons you’ve learned while on the road and while dancing and traveling?

    Keep up the great work,


  4. When I was a college freshman, a very intimidating professor challenged my class to “knock on doors to get what you want.” The idea was not to be annoying, but to seek out people who could help you achieve what you truly desire.

    It was a great lesson that I try to practice to this day. I always make sure to introduce myself to people that share a genuine interest of mine. On the other hand, I don’t bother people when I have nothing to say to them, even if they’re famous.


  5. I agree wholeheartedly.

    There’s a thrill out of doing those things people are scared to death to even try. Just because 99% of the public thinks something can’t be done doesn’t make it true.

    The greatest accomplishments and achievements throughout history are done by those who didn’t listen to the crowds.

    How does that saying go? There are no statues dedicated to pessimists.


  6. Tim, this is in regards to the retirement media opportunity and your book in general. I’m 27, married, and recently left corporate America to pursue my online ventures full time. I actually did so after reading the Four Hour Work Week when I realized I was being irrational in my fear of both the unknown (I realized I was more afraid of going 40 years in corporate america wondering “what if?”) and not having to fill up an 8 hour work day to feel “safe.” I was always aggressive in saving for retirement (maxing out Roth IRAs and 401(k)s) but now I’m enjoying a far richer lifer because I have enough money to keep me happy but, more importantly, time to spend it on the things that matter to me. Unfortunately, one of those things is golf so all this free time might be fleeting. :)

    Thank you.


  7. Tim — I’ve read a lot about the importance of striving for “achievable” goals. As one reaches these goals, one gains confidence and the next goal can be one notch higher on the totem pole. Also, the thinking is if one tries to reach goals that is not realistic, one will often not reach the goal and then will get demoralized, insecure etc.

    I have also read that it is better to set goals that are “shoot for the moon” goals in that they seem impossible to reach. The thinking is that one might not achieve the goal of hitting the moon. But even if one misses, one might hit the tallest mountain and be better off than if they had set a realistic, achievable goal.

    Sounds like you would recommend the latter. But I’m not sure. Would be interesting to hear your take on this!



  8. Thanks Tim,

    Reminds me of phone call i made about 10 years ago to the board member of a large corporate I worked for.

    He was a bit of a maverick within a traditional hierachical firm and was telling us that as a middle management team we should be challenging the status quo much more – and feel comfortable to contacting anyone – regardless of how senior they were.

    A few days later, I called him on his direct line, re-introduced myself and asked if i could help out on a project he was working on that really interested me.

    Given he was 5 layers of management above me – this was not ther done thing to do.

    But he loved the fact I called: “I say that stuff all the time – but no one bothers to call me!” he told said.

    That one call did more for my confidence and career than any of the ‘hard work’ I did.

    As you say, sometimes you’ve got to aim much higher than everyone else. When you do that, its often much easier than you’d imagined


  9. Tim,

    When I read the book, this was one of the principles that you taught that really stood out to me. And I’m finding that its true. The easier the goal, the more people are tryign for it.

    I’m surprised you didn’t end this post with another challenge. I’d be up for it.



  10. Hi Tim,

    I’m interested in being featured for the Major Media Opportunity, and here is my story:

    In 2005 I was in Audio/Video sales for 7 years. I was married, and my wife had a good job. I was bored, and my future looked bleak. Retirement wasn’t even on my radar. I decided to start my own In Home Dog Service (Gopher Dogs) company in the fall of ’05 and haven’t looked back.

    I’m not quite comfortable in my current financial situation. I get closer every day. Besides money, here are my rewards thus far:

    I get to stay at home with my 7 month old. I have a location in Boston that generates passive income. My business generates (almost) passive income. My days are spent researching, reading books (like 4HWW), working on (not in) my business, and learning about anything that fuels my creativity like web design and Tai Chi Chuan. The future is wide open.

    I am no longer tied to a physical location. In a few years my wife will be able to quit her job and our whole family can live anywhere in the world and travel as often as we like.

    On a side note, I wanted to thank you for writing such an eye-opening book and blog. I find my self using bits and pieces of it all the time in my business and personal life. Keep doing what you do – inspiring a new generation of the endless possibilities and opportunities!


  11. Tim,

    Can I just say that this is about the most inspiratonal blog I have ever read? I have had the same desire for, and belief in, a life filled with pleasure, rather than the standard work to death and then retire, er, until death. I have not read your book yet, but I am going to start right away.


  12. I might not be making millions, but life is fantastic and (while only knocking on 50 at present) I can’t see myself ever wanting to retire…I’m having far too much fun.
    I’ve been raising my 3 children solo since before the youngest was born (that’s coming up for 17 years) and in that time have established a rewarding textile practice rooted in ecological sustainability, using natural fibres and plant dyes. I’ve attained an MA (to prove to myself the grey cells still function), published a couple of books (the most recent being ‘ Eco Colour’ in March 2008). I exhibit internationally, have a small fashion label ‘Prophet of Bloom’ and from time to time make costumes for contemporary dance (clients include West Australian Ballet and Leigh Warren & Dancers).
    Occasionally I allow myself to be lured away from the family farm (where 3 generations of us live happily together) to teach workshops in ‘recofashion’ or plant-based dyeing : this is the best way to travel, with a purpose and with things to do and explore at the destination. Teaching, exhibiting and costuming has taken me around the world to favourite places including Latvia, USA, Japan, Austria and New Zealand. I manage three languages fluently, and have an impressive collection of ‘teach yourself a dozen words of………(fill in whichever language needed)’ books. with a bit of luck I’ll still be doing this when I’m ninety!!!

    I’m a newcomer to your blog, Tim, but am throughly enjoying it! best wishes,
    India Flint


  13. If “semi-retired” is okay, I wouldn’t mind being profiled for the magazine piece. I’m 46, and started my own business nine years ago – in Japan. The business is doing fine, and I’m about to take my first two-month semi-retirement to be with my mother, who’s starting to exhibit some signs of Alzheimer’s. I’m single (but engaged), no kids (but hoping to get started on that soon). If the writer is interested, I can be contacted at chrischardon[at]gmail[dot]com.


  14. I’m 25, single, and no kids. I don’t consider myself retired although I can say with some certainty that I will never work for anyone else the rest of my life. I quit my job to work for myself about 3 years ago and put my time into a fledgling little business that I’d started a few years prior. I grew it to the point where I could make ends meet and have been spending the past few years investing in other income generating assets (real estate, other businesses, my blog, etc). Would be happy to contribute if you’d like. You can read more at http://www.StartBreakingFree.com


  15. Tim, unrelated but very important question for you; In setting up your affiliate programs, what form of corporation do you use (I am assuming, as with Brain Quicken you used LLC, the best option with its pass through nature), and how do you set up the LLC quickly, and most importantly, cheaply??
    I have set up a few in the past using my tax attorneys, but that gets expensive.
    Also, do you set up a separate program for each program?
    Thanks, and I am sorry for how unrelated to the thread this question is, but I couldn’t find any article about this specific topic. If I have missed, please send me the link.
    Appreciate it, and look forward to hearing from you


  16. Tim,

    I’m writing for two reasons.
    First, I’m responding to your opportunity to learn in public about shaping retirement options and the future.
    Second, I’m writing because I had a really hard time accepting your book.
    On the one hand, I teach acceptance and remaining open to learning and growing in my book Breakthrough Parenting, Moving Your Family From Struggle to Cooperation. I’ve been teaching Parenting Education classes from that book in Santa Monica for the past 25 years. I had become so involved in the familiar way of doing things I had done almost nothing to prepare a legacy as I approach 80 years old. A student of mine asked me about creating an online learning and teaching community and it took years for me to let it all come together.
    He asked me to read your book and I told him I almost “threw it at him.” I blamed it on colorful metaphors and ridiculous examples. It took some time to admit I was over-attached to “my way of doing things”.
    Outsourcing my Inbox was hardest, and I’ll admit, I still have some issues with it, but I’m working on them. Now we have an e-learning community combined with a social networking environment (something I’m seeing barely come into view in other places in the Internet world). There is a team of six people either professional or volunteer who are helping us get the message out.
    We have plans to expand into five languages in nine months, and we’re preparing an environment that will complete the equivalent of our last ten years work in the next year-and-a-half.
    I don’t really know what it will mean financially, but I know that for the people who’ve held this as a service project it has created a great deal of good in their lives. It also has had a quantum effect on the reach of Breakthrough Parenting in the world. For example I’ve been asked to be a weekly guest on an Orlando based radio show called the Parent Empowerment Hour.
    You are welcome to browse the Online Parenting Community. We are currently between enrollment periods, so I’d have to set you up a temporary access pass (actually, my assistant would do it).
    I’m using the honor system here, so my instructions are simple. If you, Tim, are serious about looking around, have amy (at) fourhourworkweek (dot) com reach out to juliamaki3 (at) gmail (dot) com and refer to this post requesting a 48 hr pass…
    ** Anyone else – please follow the Fonzie Law above – we are donating portions of the funds this site creates to Performing Arts and Music programs in elementary schools.
    Thank you for the opportunity and the consideration.

    Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.


  17. Hi T,

    I’m interested in being featured for the Major Media Opportunity, and here is my story:

    One of my passions in life is to inspire, motivate, and inform others that they can stand up, live a life that they imagined as a young dreamer at any age. In that aspect Tim, I believe we are kindred spirits. So here’s to you. Keep up the great work.

    I am 43 years old, happily married (now that I call the shots as my own boss) for 14 years and have two incredibly beautiful daughters Kiana (12) and Lexi (10). I am living a dream life. But it has not always been that way. In fact, just a few years ago, the stress of not growing and evolving as a man, and not helping any one almost took me down. I almost got a divorce, I was depressed, and I almost lost it all.

    Presently I am making 500% more money now than I did 8 years ago when I ended my 18 year career as a truck driver for UPS. I will make $750,000 in 2009, and 5 Million in 2011.

    In Aug. of 2001 my wife forced me to do something “friggin” nutz. I quit. I left insurance benefits, steady pay check, Teamster “union” benefits, 401K, & most of all guarenteed retirement at the age of 62.

    Just like everyone of my buddies, we all hated the grind of UPS, and it was quickly taking the pep out of our once young athletic bodies. I am convinced that it was not the physical wear and tear (300 deliveries & 250 pick-ups with packages that could weigh up to 150lbs.) nearly as much as the menteal and emotional wear and tear of doing something a monkey could do. No offense to anyone intended, but I just knew that the quality of my life was directly related to the ability to grow and help others.

    So, when UPS went on strike about 10 years ago, I did the only thing that I knew how to do to feed my family, I worked out. I ran an ad in the local paper and got 3 clients to train. UPS was on strike for 8 weeks (no pay) and I found how I could help people.

    So I got an ACE certification and started training one client at the local fitness center when I went back to work at UPS.

    1 1/2 years after the strike, I quit and took a 100% commission job as a personel trainer at a club 45 minutes north toward the city (Chicago). Since my family was living paycheck to paycheck as a UPS”er, If I did not sign clients withing 2-3 weeks, I would not be able to pay my mortgage.

    Well Tim, you know what happens when you “burn the boats” (no recourse of going back). You only go forward. You do things you never thought possible. Well you get it by now. I was successful, I opened up my own shop 2 years ago, wrote a book, and now I am writing another one and meeting some of the best holistic / longevists people in the world to try to come up with what I think is the “Worlds Best, Fountain of Youth”. Exercise, nutrition, positive mind-set, goal setting, stress reduction, and social support.

    You can be, I should say you are on my social support team. Well, gotta go, the limo is out in the driveway to pick us up, we are off to Florida to hook up with Dr. Al Sears to see if I can learn some more .

    Sorry so long, Keep up the great work Tim, and get a hold of me anytime :)


  18. I actually read this (excerpt) directly from your book a few months ago on my first mini retirement to the Dominican Republic. I love your teachings (muse/lifestyle design) and also love Donnie Deutsch teachings (do what you love -BTW he just didn’t get you on the today show). I put both ethos’s together and started a company for Jet Setters who are into the 4HWW. Haven’t looked back since. Thanks. Enjoy your road trip with your bro.


  19. Re: media opportunity

    When I picked up 4hour work week, I was working 80 hours a week trying to market and build and a “million dollar estate planning law practice” so that in about five to ten years I would be able to retire and travel and start working on a book.

    Reading your book, along with others you recommended, such as Randy Komisar’s The Monk and the Riddle, opened my eyes to the folly of my “deferred life plan”. After doing an 80/20 on my client base, I realized that most of my income came from low maintenance real estate work that I could do from anywhere in the world with just a laptop and an internet connection.

    So, I stopped marketing to for high maintenance estate planning and probate work, cut my overhead by 50% because now I don’t need fancy marketing materials and a lot of support staff. I still have a virtual assistant/paralegal that helps me with ongoing cases, but in a few months those will be phased out and I will be free to work part-time and generate about the same net income I generated when I was trying to build the “million dollar estate planning practice” all the consultants were telling me I should want.

    So, although I am not completely retired, I am semi-retired making a good living and able to live anywhere in the world. My husband’s business still has us tied to our current location, so a move abroad for an extended stay is not feasible at this point, but I feel liberated and thrilled that I actually have time to be creative now. My next project is to create some products I can sell so that I can have passive income which will allow me to completely retire.

    I am age 41, married, no children.