April 3, 2009

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Thinking about making ridiculous amounts of money

You know it’s going to be an unusual meeting when your manager asks you if you can see yourself making ridiculous amounts of money, and how you think you can get there. =)

My manager reads my blog. He knows about my experiments. He knows I like playing around with ideas, and that I’m making good progress on saving up a crazy idea fund. Not that this makes him very nervous about keeping me. I love working with IBMers, I love working with IBM and our clients, and I love the kinds of things that we do.

We talk about this in career planning discussions, too. He asked me before if money was important to me, which is probably manager-speak for “Do I need to keep a close eye on market salaries so that someone doesn’t hire you away?” I told him I’m okay, which is team-member-speak for “That’s not the main reason I accepted this position, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.” I also told him that I’m all for raises and bonuses–not because I need the cash, but because that’s a pretty good way of checking if I’m creating more value for the company and our clients year after year. I want to grow, while staying true to my work-life balance.

So when my manager asked me about making ridiculous amounts of money, I told him that it’s not about making a ridiculous amount of money, it’s about creating a ridiculous amount of value. It would be nice to capture some of that value, of course. That would make it even easier for me to learn, to experiment, and to make a difference. If you create lots of value for other people, getting some of that back makes it easier for you to create even more value. It all works out.

What I’m really interested isn’t making ridiculous amounts of money, but developing and sharing the skills to do so, and creating lots of value along the way. =) It’s the journey, not the destination.

Also, it’s not about making ridiculous amounts of money. A large part is about saving relatively ridiculous amounts of money, and–very important–investing that into making a ridiculously wonderful life for myself and other people.

It helps to have a bit of money and a lot of freedom when experimenting. Not too much money, though. Too much money makes people act weird, and even makes life dangerous. So a little money and a lot of freedom, and I can keep reinvesting or donating money beyond that.

And then, because I’ve thought about this a bit, I told him about some ways I might go about doing it.

Ken Fisher’s book on the Ten Roads to Riches is a good read. There are lots of paths. Knowing about different paths is helpful, because you can recognize them and you can prepare for them. Here are three ways that might fit me:

  • There’s the path that few people talk about with their manager, which is starting one’s own company. ;) There’s no use denying that I think about this. I’m curious about what it would be like. But I really like working with the people I’m working with, so I keep those ideas on file.

  • On the other end of the spectrum, there’s rising up in the ranks and commanding a premium salary. That’s split into two paths: non-commissioned employee and commissioned employee.

    For a non-commissioned employee, there tend to be structural limits on how much you can earn (based on time and hourly rate), unless you manage to get into a position where you directly affect revenue and you get bonuses based on that (which makes you kinda commissioned).

    Commissioned people are affected by how good their product is, how well they know it, and how the market is. It’s important to pick the right company.

    The path to wealth is to save and invest wisely. Slow and steady wins the race.

  • In the middle, there’s continuing to work with the company because that lets me make some of the differences I’d like to make, and having a business on the side so that I can explore other ways to make money. Other people have successfully done this before while still following our business conduct guidelines and intellectual property agreements, so I know it’s possible. Again, there’s more than one way to do this. If I build a business that requires my active participation, I’ll be constrained by the hours in a day and the energy that I have. If I build a business that can grow beyond me, the possibilities are wide open. 

And of course, there are other paths.

So that’s what I think about making ridiculous amounts of money:

  • It’s not the money, it’s what you learn along the way.
  • It’s not something you keep, it’s something you reinvest and share.
  • And there’s more than one way to get there. =)