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.

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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)

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

  1. Hi Tim,

    Regarding your media opportunity:

    A few years ago, I was running my own business…but really, it was running me! I was in debt and didn’t make very much money to pay myself with. Last year, I read your book, and with its help and help from my friends I was able to turn the business around and sell it.

    After I sold the business, I “temporarily retired” and took several months off. Now I am starting a new business with the goal being to make $10,000 a month by the end of the year while only working two hours a day. I’m blogging my progress at erica.bi — a recent post is titled “Changing Your Perspective About Work: The 2-Hour Work Day.” http://www.erica.biz/2008/changing-your-perspective-about-work-the-2-hour-work-day/

    I’m interested in this media opportunity as an example of someone who “retired” at a young age (I’m 26). I’m determined to be in control of my own destiny and never again have a “job” disguised as a small business!

    I’m single — my boyfriend and I live together in San Jose, CA.

    You can contact me through my email address or website.

    Thank you for your consideration!

    -Erica Douglass
    Sold business and “temporarily retired” at age 26


  2. I was pessimistic a few years ago, did nothing much about it (still kinda pessimistic). Until recently. I have had, actually, a few different ideas that I have worked on – (trying to problem solve/found-reading 4HWW/found your blog) – working on. Only this current one, it seems, might be taking hold. [Hummmm...... major opportunity.......His other winners were out of the box solutions - 'go for it'] Last October (07) I became certified as an Image Consultant – TODAY I completed my first day of a five day (3hr/da) summer camp teaching job.{Fashion Camp} -FIRST PAID JOB- yea! I was petrified of dealing with five 12 year olds. Actually, it turns out they were delightful -nice children. I made it thru the day. I look forward to completing the week AND turning this type of “Fashion Camp”(fashion, history of fashion, style and color, lots of other topics -girl stuff) into an income stream. That is where this post comes in – - MAYBE I will win. Yea!
    I am 58, single, two ‘not children anymore’ people attached to me (28 & 23).
    Retirement?? One needs a purpose for living… I would just like to get paid pretty well for doing a hobby I like alot/while helping out others.


  3. Re: Major Media Opportunity

    I was born in Camden, NJ, which is one of the poorest cities in America. My parents, a school teacher and nurse, were never raised with the idea that financial wealth was available to everyone, and didn’t study the art of financial success. Luckily for me, I’ve always enjoyed learning what it takes to be successful (both financially and on the happiness scale).

    While I was working for a consulting firm, my wife decided that she wanted to pursue her dream and leave her job to become a teacher. In the private pre-school at which she taught, she made less than $17,000 a year. At that point I knew I would never be able to retire, especially with the almost guaranteed evaporation of Social Security by the time I’d come close to retirement.

    Therefore, in 2000, I left my consulting job and started a company with two partners. I focused on using technology to simplify our consulting tasks and begin billing by the job instead of the hour. I leveraged many of the techniques explained in the 4HWW (if only you had written it a few years earlier, oh the time I would have saved), including virtual assistants and employees in India, The success was remarkable. Two years ago, at age 35, I retired (15 years ahead of my goal). I now have all day, every day, to spend with my wife and three children (ages 4, 2, <1).


  4. Being a bipolar entrepreneur, I find only my (ridiculously) big ideas motivate me. The question is how to capitalize on my bipolar high and actually get traction. My link is to my blog post where I use techniques I learned from Tim to do this.


  5. Hello,

    My name is Jose. I used to work at the fitness chain Bally Total Fitness when I was 20 and decided to quit. I had gotten inspired by a lot by the tools that Anthony Robbins had suggested. I am now 26 single and have no kids. I am currently starting another company and the best advice I can give is to have the outcome in mind. No matter if you don’t know how to achieve it, just write it down. I did this my first year in business and more than 10X my sales goals. I can prove this and wish the best to all.

    Pura Vida



  6. Hey Tim,

    Just started your book, my sister turned me onto it. I am at some what of a cross roads before even getting your book or reading this blog (first time today).

    Long story short, because of a death in my family I came upon some money, quit my job, and moved to Nebraska to start a land development company. I convinced the others in my family to contribute their money as well to fund this adventure. Things are going good, I like to be in charge of my future and I like to design. Not sure how to outsource it yet, but your book has me thinking.

    One thing that gets me though and that I realize after being out here by myself. Part what I liked about working in an office was the socialization, camaraderie and relationships I formed. Do you miss this or get lonely being a one man show? Do you have the above mentioned?



    Thanks for the comment. The socialization aspect of a formal office is one very redeeming feature. I think it’s not only important but critical to ensure you maintain constant human interaction, so I build this into my schedule with sports, clubs, dinners, wine nightcaps with friends, etc.

    Hope that helps!



  7. @Jonathan,

    Thanks for the comment. The socialization aspect of a formal office is one very redeeming feature. I think it’s not only important but critical to ensure you maintain constant human interaction, so I build this into my schedule with sports, clubs, dinners, wine nightcaps with friends, etc.

    Hope that helps!



  8. Since it seems that only men have commented on the “perfect 10″ question, I would like to add my input. Tim is right, because most men don’t have the guts to approach the “perfect 10″.
    I was never asked out, not once, for all of high school and college. My husband, who was also my first serious boyfriend, was the first man who actually actively pursued me. He’s also shorter than me and a bit overweight.
    I’m not calling myself a perfect 10, but I was in really good shape at the time, and at least an 8 or 9 in my opinion. However, I’m not blonde, lol.


  9. I really enjoyed your book Tim!

    How does one meet other people who live the “Four Hour Work Week” lifestyle, and get up and travel at the drop of a hat? Any social groups that support this kind of lifestyle? I started a business over a year ago which combines club/lounge-style events with world music and travel. Currently, I am promoting an event, which aims at the under 40 crowd with that kind of “four hour work week” mindset and desire.


  10. I have a book I want to publish. I am curious Tim, what are the steps you took to get the 4 hour work week published? You are in your twenties, like me, and also a first time author. What was the strategy?



  11. Tim,
    After reading your book I decided to follow my passion and start my own business. I have been creating professional development guides for “professional do gooders” (people who work for nonprofits) and I am loving it. I am able to help people manage their careers, instead of letting their careers manage them. It hasn’t yet made me financially independent yet but I am happy and know that I have something to fall back on if I need it. That alone has taken away a ton of the fear that comes with relying on a job for your sole sustenance.

    Thanks for encouraging us all to reach higher,


  12. Tim,

    While I’ve known about your blog for a while, thanks to RyanHoliday, I only started reading last week and just received the book which is easily one of the most important I’ve ever read. In your bio you mention that you’ve raced motorcycles in Europe. This is absolutely my #1 goal in life.

    I raced karts for 10 years (ages 12-22) but am wondering how someone with no history of racing, such as yourself, went about reaching that goal? Where did you race? What was your greatest triumph and what was it like?

    Thank you for the inspiration.




  13. Hi Tim,

    I loved your book and some advice you gave us was to contact “the unrealistic,” well I’m making my unrealistic person YOU. I think that your an extraordinary person and rather then swoon over celeberties I wish to meet you. My name is Tammy and I’m 23. I would like to keep this short and to the point so here it goes; I was a ward of the court and put mysef through college. I have made my life all work and no play and all that i have to show for it is 80,000 dollars of debt and a peice of paper called a diploma. This is no longer a world of what you know but one of who you know. I have so many dreams that i’ve put on hold and i’m asking for some guidance. I’ve gone this far without asking for help and it hasn’t been working so for the first time I am saying “will you please help me?”

    Look forward to hearing from you,
    Jersey girl


  14. SO glad I stumbled across this website… kindred spirits here…

    Thought I’d throw my 2 cents in here: have studied bus. mgmt & admin. off & on for approx. 30 yrs – at first I wanted to get any kind of handle on it, but (like our boy Warren B. ["...read, read, read."]), I assembled, over the years, a very good synthesis of successful business practices.

    What I find absolutely astounding is the dearth of adventurers today, especially in this respect: next time you find yourself in the library or a bookstore, go to the business section, especially the management section, and count how many other people are in there with you. Usually it is less than the fingers of one hand.

    I have worked a number of jobs over the years, and the vast majority of bosses I’ve been exposed to all seem to be ‘winging it’. Needless to say, the work day wasn’t an all-day party.

    Ego, I guess – ‘cuz many, if not most, of the successful business methods are known, out there, and being used. When studying, I like to concentrate on folks who’ve done what they’re writing about. Don’t really know why someone would not want to assemble a cash machine (successful and smooth-running business) that regularly spits cash out at you.

    Ya gotta WANNA succeed, folks. There IS a line between 100.000% and ANYTHING else…

    Will be getting the book very soon, and reporting on my application of its principles to this blog.

    Two quotes: 1) Reader’s Digest, from about 30 yrs ago, author unknown to me: “Greatness consists of TRYING to be great.”
    2) “Who Dares, Wins” – motto of the U.K.’s Special Air Service, U.K.’s elite fighters

    Thanks for the inspiration, Tim and others!


  15. Not to create a tangent here, but to some, equally or more important are, not just famous/high-power personages, but also places and events.

    New here – any threads on folks aspiring to visit special places/events, etc.?

    Like Mecca, or that holy mountain in Tibet (I believe), or the top of Everest, or the Marianas Trench, or Lourdes, or Olympus, or, well, you get the idea.

    Events – a Cabinet meeting (prob’ly MUCHO hard to get into, so maybe it could be ANY country’s Cabinet), UN session, Super Bowl winners locker room, etc.


  16. Hi Tim,

    I’m a fellow NR … I’ve created this great “job” travelling (Italy mostly) and reviewing spas — (I get pampered for free.) I stay in some of the dreamiest place and of course would normally not be able to afford to do that — You know the story. Last spring I took that leap to Italy (31 at the time, never been outside of the U.S); I lived there for 3 months (cheaper than living in California by the way) and didn’t do a lot of planning, just winging it along the way. Crazy as hell…fun as hell.
    Anyway, is the editing opportunity for your book still open?
    Also, any quick tips on helping me with my Italian language … I’m so-so.
    Grazie Mille!
    Melissa, Santa Barbara (most of the time … otherwise you might find me in Italy, Colorado, Wyoming or Austin TX)


  17. Nevermind getting hold of the CEO of Google, or Bill Clinton, or even Tata Nelson Mandela to wish him a Happy 90th Birthday….just try get hold of Tim Ferriss!

    Hope to hear from you to introduce you to my new project, titled the same as that of my email address.

    I look forward to reading your book.


    Cape Town, South Africa.


  18. Hi, i love your book and it has deeply inspired me. I was thinking why this challenge wasn’t given to me when i read it. Haha. I will have got the round- world trip ticket! I was thinking whether there is some way for a 14 years old to start working and get a good pay.


  19. Hi Tim,

    Just wanted to say that I have been reading your book and already I feel really energized by the way and the manner in which you write. I just got off working on a cruise ship and I tell you – the philosophy on ships is work for the sake of working. However, I definitely did not gain any points for pointing that out to managment. Instead I was told to ‘shut up and obey’. Wow – that one made me laugh – and shudder a bit.
    Anyway, it’s nice to pick up a book that is not dumbed down for the masses, reads intelligently and is inspiring. I feel like you’ve read my mind sometimes! Creepy :-)
    I’ve been living my life to the tune of my own drum for a decade now (much to the chagrin of my father and Grandmother – who think I should settle down and study computers – rather stick a fork in my eye thanks). Good to see somone write about freeing oneself from societal shackles and outdated beliefs.



  20. Hello,

    I really liked how the idea of ‘simply trying’ was the most effective, as told in the link with Warren Buffet. I tried contacting an actor once, and became discouraged, but I see that I have to perservere. Thanks for the great article!


  21. Tim and fellow New Rich Members,

    I am launching my own internet based business as well as a real estate holding company that buys cash flow properties and I was wondering if anyone had a good mentor/coach they would suggestion. I believe that success leaves a plan to follow and I want to be mentored by people who are currently living the life of the New Rich.

    There may even be people reading this Blog who want to “Pay it Forward” and help an entrepreneur just starting out. I am committed to helping others live the life of the New Rich when I live the life of New Rich myself in next 6 months.

    Thanks for your help,



  22. Hi Tim!
    I was at the Naional Society for Collegiate Scholars convention in Orlando earlier this month (17-19) and heard you speak. What you had to say was amazing and when you gave us the challenge to get answers to 2 questions from a celebrity/unreachable, I was inspired to go out and try it. But I must say its easier said than done. I tried to get ahold of several people by writing letters, e-mails, networking word of mouth, etc. During my networking srategies I even found out where to find Kobe Bryant, but by the time I got there, he was gone. I also happened to find out that my friend’s friend was working at the same resort that Mariah Carey was staying at, but when I tried to reach her at the resort (the yacht & beach club), I had no luck. So now i think I’ll just ask you 2 questions.
    How on earth are you able to network so well and what is the biggest secret to your success?



  23. So True!! Most people don’t even attempt something just because they think it can’t be done. When I was younger I tried and succeeded in contacting one of my favorite NBA players. Back then I was just excited that I got back a real reply. Now I think about the mindset I had that made me able to attempt something like that in the first place. I guess when you are a child you think less about what is possible and what isn’t.


  24. Tim,

    Post not explicitly related to blog entry outside of “aiming high/bigger goals”.

    - Want to build primitive log cabin in Alaskan bush with hand tools, hunting and gathering food.

    - Looking for insight into financing, training, and realizing my goal. What help/insight/advice can you/community offer?

    - Other long term goals include:

    1- circumnavigating the globe on sail power as a “live aboard”
    2 – becoming a proficient primitive bow hunter
    3 – and building a skin kayak.

    Thoughts? Input of any kind? If interested please contact.



  25. Tim,

    Your book really inspired me — you, too. It’s really inspiring to hear about a late 20-30 something who has found a way to actually live their dreams rather than buckling to the drudgery of a life of hard work (or, worse, become a hopeless dreamer of a sloth). I’d kill to simply meet someone like yourself. If you can recommend tips/resources/etc. or are finding yourself going through Northern Ohio one day & need a place to crash, you should have my e-mail above.



  26. Hi Tim,

    I am currently trying out the challenge of getting in contact with someone who is seemingly impossible to contact.

    I am trying to contact high-profile literary agents who can work with me to get my novel(s) to one of the major publishing houses. So far I have had a response from author publicists, automatic emails, and secretaries. I have had no responses from any of the literary agents yet. I even wrote to one on facebook.

    I am going to keep trying because I want that result!!


  27. Tim,

    So I am a jazz musician and am currently reading your book. I am trying to incorporate your philosophy into my daily life and it is interesting so far. I am not sure if you are familiar with a pianist named kenny werner, and if you are that is great because much of his mantra is similar to youre, and if not you most definitely should check him out. His book “Effortless Mastery” is eerily similar to yours and I am wondering if you both had similar muses.

    I also was wondering, if you had any thoughts about the jazz music world and if there is a way for my generation of musicians to revive it. Finally, if you have any thoughts about finding ways to make money when you have none to start with that would be awesome to hear about too, and if you ever need a trumpet player, horn section(from 2-10piece) or band of any kind please let me know.

    Thanks much,
    Jon Lijoi


  28. Hi,

    I’m Chris Formoso, from the Philippines. Im 23 years old, single with no kids.

    I started business when I was 21. My role models have been Richard Branson, Trump, Warren Buffet, Michael Dell, My mum, tycoons in the Phil. and so many more!

    Trying to recall now how I got into business and the small success I enjoy I believed was pure luck, until I recently read Outliers and finally this article. True enough, I know now that simply showing up was what made me this lucky.

    I was taking up business mgt in one of the most prestigious colleges of our country, yet deep inside I saw bs/ a lot of things i thought we would never use in a true work setting especially in business, having seen my mom grow her small advertising firm. I ‘rebeled’, got bad grades and on my 2nd year I got kicked out. My mother despite being furious, asked what i wanted to do with my life. I didnt know, and I was lost and depressed having disappointed mum so much.

    Then during summer I remembered how much i enjoyed the book, Losing my virginity by Richard Branson, i picked out as we were required to read and talk about a book in our english subject. I was hooked. How awesome would it be to build a life like he did? I read more about people like and eventually turned to studying entrepreneurship in a newly established college. I soon started my first business outside of school out of coincidence.

    My good friend from my previous college happens who happens to have the same complaints with our previous school and interests in business (yes we both got kicked out and transferred to the same school at the same time, happened to be looking for scrap cartons and asking around my mom happened to have a friend that has a factory which had lots of them to sell! With as little as 5 thousand pesos each (a little over 100usd) we became partners. And the rest is history!

    I have since recently sold my shares to him for a small fortune. But still have one running business with him also as my partner which manufactures 100% recycled paperboard products like file boxes and desk organizers, and three other projects in the making. I dont know yet how things will turn out but Im having the time of my life living it! The best part about it is the freedom of being able to go where and do what Ive always wanted (not quite there yet especially this crucial time but Ill definitely get there!) and getting to live my dream  (at the least in a smaller scale. For now.) :)

    Chris Formoso


  29. 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.