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. =)
  • Henry B.

    Sacha, I’m sure your manager is indeed nervous about keeping you. Your ideas and wealth of experience at such a young age will certainly attract headhunters. And I agree, it’s not about the money – it’s about making a difference. Invest your money wisely so that you won’t need to worry about having to make “ridiculous amounts of money”.

    Speaking about investing – check out, a Canadian blog that is showing people how to build wealth through saving and investing. Like your blog, it’s a good read.

  • I have a childhood in a family business (retail), so I’ve got a good sense about upsides and downsides about working outside of a big corporation. I have encountered consultants who have left to put out their own shingle, and then return to the company. When asked why, they provide simple answer: “accounts payable”.

    Yes, it can be freeing to “do your own thing” outside of the constraints of a big business, but companies that endure tend to have processes that cover the mundane. I’ve talked to other consultants who said that it’s good thing to know that your travel expenses will be reimbursed … because they’ve worked at companies where they weren’t made whole again.

    There’s a separation between being commissioned and non-commissioned that is separable, but loosely coupled to career paths. Certainly, sales people tend to be commissioned, and it gets to be a bit tricky when we talk about technical sales people.

    Coming from an industrial style of management, there actually isn’t a long history of knowing how to manage and develop knowledge workers. Peter Drucker wrote about this, and most people probably didn’t pay attention until the 1990s, when the dot-com phase happened. You might take a look at Jonas Ridderstrale’s books on Funky Business (Forever) and Karaoke Capitalism to see how the world has changed.

  • There are a lot of things that people tend to take for granted in a large company. I happen to like appreciating things that most people take for granted, which is why I’m glad we have Lotus Notes even when I’m having problems with it. =) And it’s incredible being able to work with so many people who are so good at what they do. Harder to build those relationships as an independent, I think! =)

  • Very nice. I think I will keep this. :D

  • i’m sorry for going off-topic, but I find nothing to be happy about in the usage of Lotus Notes. Given a choice between using it and being dipped in a hot vat of steaming nuclear waste — I’d choose the latter. overboard? not much. :))

    And I agree — there are so many things we don’t notice while we’re employed in a large, or in any company for that matter. Ex. — Filing for taxes in this country personally would make anyone want to run to the hills screaming.

  • Sacha, as always, a great read on your blog. In this world, we are too much about material things and so therefore we think about making ridiculous amounts of money. You’re right about it’s more about making ridiculous amounts of value, but also to share that value and feel good that you’ve had the opportunity to serve and help others. Also, you need to be happy and satisfied. A lot of people make ridiculous amounts of money, but they are not happy and satisfied, like famous celebrities.

    Fortunately, for me, I’m very satisfied at the work I’m doing, the value I’m creating, and the ability to share my ideas. It’s like working in a small company but having the resources of a big company at my disposal.

  • When I am tempted with a proposition that is too good to be true and promises me “ridiculous amounts of money” I tell myself that

    “Money is a means to an end and not the other way around ” ;-)

    Happy Easter !

  • Ed Zaron

    Hi Sacha,

    I stumbled upon your site through interest in emacs muse-mode, planner, and org. Then I started to explore. Very nice.

    But I have to tell you that I really think your perspective is incomplete in this post about “making ridiculous amounts of money.”

    One way of looking at this is precisely as you have approached it. From your value system, it is important how you use your time, so it is important to be using your energies creatively to generate valuable interesting things. This has intrinsic value for you, right? Plus, you mention that you are paid well-enough to satisfy your own needs, for the time being.

    What do you think about a Marxist critique? You work and you create value. Once you have created value commensurate with your pay, any additional value you create is taken by your employer. They may or may not have interest in creating artifacts of general cultural value, but they have interest in monetizing your creations and keeping that money for themselves, no? You may trust the moral and ethical qualities of your direct supervisors, but how about higher-up Board members or share-holders? You are giving away value to them. Do you think they will spend this value in a way that aligns with your vision and principles?

    Another important perspective is related to maintaining a stable balance-of-power between yourself and the corporate entity you work for. Most likey, if you are giving away excess value, there are other people who are going slack off. Particularly with the imbalance that occurs between people or entities (i.e., IBM) that control vast sums of money and assets, their virtual monopoly in many areas will create inefficiencies that slow the growth of novelty and innovation. If you acknowledge your power as a significant creator of value, it is only logical that you should use this power to extract resources from the less-efficient parts of your corporation.

    Do you see my theme? I think the choice to work for less money than you are “worth” has really far-reaching consequences. Other people are not so moral or motivated by intrinsic value as you are, but once they gain control of resources, we all suffer from their lack of vision, ignorance, and greed. Consider the stagnation in wages in the US over the last 20 years, even as worker productivity has increased. I think this has contributed very negatively to a concentration and imbalance of wealth and resources among people who are not particularly deserving.

    Equally, I think the global economic imbalance has not occurred by happenstance. Much of the world lives in poverty because there are large, powerful interests that have arranged things in precisely this manner. We all have different values, and the values of the rich and powerful are largely reflected in their current status and in the status of the un-rich and un-powerful that surround them.

    Because you obviously hold yourself to high moral and ethical standards, I would really encourage you to think more about how your skills as a knowledge worker fit into the larger socio-political system we live in. I think there is a great deal of greed and evil that feels utterly justified in taking money and resources from others. And it is simply not right for those of us with actual skills and productive capacity to let those gargoyles have their way.

    Best Regards,


  • Hello, Ed!

    It’s interesting that you say that, because I’ve often thought to myself that I get tremendous value from being within this larger infrastructure. One of the things that drives me to look for ways to create more value for myself and other people is that I’ve received so much. Many people have helped me along the way, and it’s always a pleasure when I get to help someone else.

    I’ve never yet met anyone who was a complete drag on the resources of the team. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of working in a large company instead of on my own, in the marketplace – everyone has someone who not only holds them accountable for results, but also for how they get those results. And they don’t need that kind of supervision – the people I’ve been working with hold themselves to their own high standards. It’s such an honor working with such amazing people. =)

    I create more value than I’m paid for–but that’s normal, and even entrepreneurs must create more value than they receive. If I continue to work with people and clients who are more interested in mutually sustainable win-win relationships than in win-lose ones, we’ll all create lots of value and enjoy lots of happiness.

    I know there are people who have chosen to–or feel they need to–act selfishly and focus on greed. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who help me watch out for those, and who also help me learn to recognize things like that myself. The world I live and work in is full of too many great people for me to be paralyzed by fear of others. And I don’t need conspiracy theories to explain poverty – philanthropists can be found in any level of society, and even someone like me can begin to make a difference–perhaps not in the way the world works, but for one life at a time. =)

    I’m not in a one-up position. I don’t feel put-upon or taken advantage of. =) I feel really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I will have, and I’d love to find ways to not only share these with others but also create even better ones!

  • Ed Zaron

    “I feel really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I will have, and I’d love to find ways to not only share these with others but also create even better ones!”

    — Yes, wonderful. I can tell. I can imagine it is a pleasure to work with you.

    Thanks for sharing with us.


  • Rick Innis

    You’ve got a very healthy perspective on this. Thanks for sharing it!