What I learned (in person) from Claudia Azula and James Altucher
“We, as women, need to become idea machines, pronto! There’s no winning in playing small anymore.” Claudia Azula closed our podcast interview with these words.
Would you consider speaking at an ad agency? I asked.
“Absolutely, I’d love to!”
I had traveled to New York dozens of times and somehow I had chosen my least favorite neighborhood to stay in — Hell’s Kitchen. Bombarded by tourists in Time Square. Mediocre food. I couldn’t find much to do for the first time in the city.
Arriving at the lobby of the Arnold New York Office at 9am, I was one hour early for Claudia’s session. I caught sight of James Altucher. He was wearing a Quora 2014 Top Writer zipper jacket. Claudia wore an elegant, simple black dress. She stood with perfect posture. She looked as if she’d been ready for ages.
They waited in line just like everyone else. The security guy looked at them with suspicion.
I jumped ahead and explained to the man that that my dearest guests had arrived. He couldn’t care less. My company pass from Boston was useless.
“Get in line!” he said to me.
The elevator was so tiny that the 5 to 6 of us could barely fit. “No one recognized Claudia or James?!” I thought to myself. What’s wrong with these people? If they read or listened to 10% of what the Altuchers teach, they’d be in a much better mood.
There was a sign in front of the reception desk welcoming Claudia and James Altucher. I was pleased to see that but wished the font was 10 points bigger.
We started our tour. I was embarrassed to not remember what the office looked like and where we should start. The best-looking spot was the kitchen, stocked with various breakfast cereals, coffee and drinks, so I started there.
“Just water, please.” said Claudia and James
“Just water?” We have all kinds of fruit juices here that looked appealing to me.
The tour was quick. Claudia and James paid close attention to the details of the office. How things are arranged. How people were seated. They had visited Google, Facebook and LinkedIn before. I wondered how the ad agency setting looked and felt to them.
The largest conference room was reserved for Claudia’s presentation. 40 or so people gathered there, waiting in silence. This was an open invitation for all departments, an opportunity for people to chat and brainstorm together.
Claudia taught cross-culture marketing through her own experience. She almost danced on stage, and almost sneaked in some yoga moves as she told us the story of how she experienced Coca-Cola for the first time, as a young girl growing up in Argentina. “I wanted to come to America and drink Coca Cola everyday. America = Happiness. That’s the power of advertising. An American brand spoke to my heart.”
The story reminded me of myself, a little girl drinking coke for the first time, in Beijing, 1989: Life never felt so good.
“Let’s have a conversation I want everyone to introduce themselves — what’s your role at Arnold and what does ‘cross-culture’ mean to you?”
The first girl waved Claudia off, like a baseball catcher. She looked nervous and wasn’t ready. The second person jumped in, then the third, until we got to everyone in the room.
Everyone has a story.
It surprised me to find out how many people in our New York office weren’t born and raised in the US. Many speak two, or even three languages.
I could relate to most of the people in the room. I remember nodding at the Asian girl who said her mom doesn’t get her at all.
After the intro, Claudia asked us to write down a list of 10 ideas — things we want to do, things we feel grateful for at that moment in time. This is a method introduced in her latest book called “Idea Machine”.
The first 5 ideas were easy enough for me, but the remaining 5 got increasingly more difficult. Then she asked us to do it again this time for ideas related to Hispanic culture. Finally, she said: “You need to write down 10 more ideas that are the marriage of the first and second lists with a twist — they have to be useful for your clients and their customers. When you are done, turn to the person next to you and tell them what you come up with. Go!”
Chris Campos, our Managing Partner added: “Let’s call it Idea Sex!” And #IdeaSex became the official title for Claudia and James’ second visit to Arnold Headquarters in Boston.
A typical brainstorm session takes a couple of hours, often without a clear agenda, loosely facilitated, with no clear output. By the time we are yelling out our ideas back to Claudia, it had only been 15 minutes! Each exercise is tightly time boxed and our neurons were on fire.
It was time to find a partner to listen to my ideas. I nervously turned to James who was sitting next to me. He’s the guy behind the Idea Machine Empire and has been writing down 10 ideas a day, for years!
“Hey James… I was thinking, what if we can create a new line of hair products, tutorials for Hispanic customers with a cultural twist — for example, we can combine hair accessories that aren’t commonly used in the US to showcase how one can look sassy and different.”
I recalled living in an international student dorm in high school, when all the South American girls were asked to help with everyone else’s hair and choice of outfit. They stand out effortlessly, leaving the rest of us girls insanely jealous.
James said that’s a pretty good idea. Then he asked me: “How did you find out about Claudia?”
“The Ask Altucher Show. I listened to it nearly everyday. I love how you co-host the show.” I said.
“Interesting. Why Claudia?”
“I was looking for strong women who are willing to share their stories. Have you noticed how difficult it is to find women who want to speak up and be podcast guests?” I asked, a podcaster for only 6 months.
James eyes widened: “On my god, that’s so true! Men just lined up one after another. Women are often very hesitant.”
It was time for the entire group of 40 people to share their ideas with one another. People began raising their hands without being prompted.
Very few people in the room had worked together on a project. In one short hour, they listened, they collaborated.
They became a team.
Before we knew it, an hour has passed. The session came to an end. Everyone thanked Claudia. Some stayed to ask more questions.
I peeked at James, who couldn’t look more proud of Claudia. To me, they were the cutest Power Couple, who spark ideas in one another and continue to grow every day.
Lunch was next and my producer instinct kicked in. I began to worry because I saw no restaurant in sight on my way in and I was too focused on the session to research on Yelp.
James was completely relaxed and directed us to an Argentinian restaurant right around the corner. The atmosphere was perfect and the food was outstanding.
How random, I thought. It was Claudia’s first time to the restaurant that happens to be Argentinian. She confidently ordered her food that sounded delicious. “I will have what she’s having please.” I smiled at the waiter.
“Why did you start your podcast Fei?” Claudia asked me, anticipating a story as I sure had one.
“I read James’ Choose Yourself, and I chose myself.” I said.
“Good answer!” Claudia smiled.
“Well, there’s more. I wanted to start something on my own.”
“That’s interesting!” James said. Then the magic moment happened. He pulled out a waiter pad, some papers had already begun to fall out, and wrote down start something on my own.
I looked puzzled. So was everyone else.
“This is a powerful thing.” James went on explaining, “So many people want to start something, but they are always waiting for someone else, and all the stars to line up, but you went ahead and did your thing.”
“Yes!” I couldn’t hide the excitement in my voice. “I learned so much along the way. I could add and subtract too instead of imaging all the things I may or may not need. I took actions and more importantly, I shipped! It was very scary and made me feel vulnerable. I’m glad I did, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Lunch flew by too quickly. More ideas sparkled. I asked James to consider writing about a few topics and he wrote them down on his notepad. It made me want to have that exact notepad.
For the entire hour we sat together, James and Claudia didn’t once pull out their phones. It was one of the most mindful conversations I could remember.
I hugged them both goodbye, and said I’d see them both soon.
And I did.
Claudia Azula and James Altucher returned to Arnold Headquarters in Boston two months later on June 16th 2015. This time they greeted a crowd of 70+ people who each received Claudia’s latest book “Idea Machine” and a special gift.
Our president Pam couldn’t be there for the session and recorded a video to welcome Claudia and James.
I worked with our in-house designers and copywriters to create the one and only Idea Sex flyer. Some people liked the name. Some didn’t. But it certainly left an impression and a hashtag that’s still referenced today.
Did I mention lunch? Yeah, it worked out perfectly at Stephanie’s on Newbury. I had home court advantage. All three of us ordered the tuna tartar appetizer and we were all shocked by how amazing it was.
Saying goodbye to Claudia and James the second time was more difficult. They went from inspirations, to guests, to friends. Their work changed so many people’s lives, and I felt blessed to experience as a reader and then witness transformation in person, in action.
Claudia Azula is the author of two bestselling books: WSJ and USA Today Bestseller “The Power of No” and “Become and Idea Machine”. She is a certified yoga instructor and her book: “21 Things to Know Before Starting a Yoga Practice” was #1 on Amazon for Yoga. She has given talks at Google London and she held two workshops at Kripalu. Learn more about Claudia at http://www.claudiayoga.com
James Altucher is a trader, investor, best-selling author of 11 books, entrepreneur and podcaster. He is also one of the first Influencers on LinkedIn. His latest book “The Rich Employee” will be released on September 1st, 2015. Learn more about James at http://www.jamesaltucher.com/.