Tools of Titans: How the Most Successful People Got Where They Are

Tim Ferriss is a tech investor, entrepreneur, and serial-experimenter, who is best known among personal finance junkies for his first book, The 4 Hour Work Week. This book made terms like “lifestyle design” and “mini-retirements” commonplace, leaving readers seeking a change in their lives.tools of titans

Ferriss’ most recent project, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, is a byproduct of his top-rated podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. On the show, Ferriss interviews top performers from all walks of life, to include billionaire investors and entrepreneurs, A-List celebrities, military leaders, top athletes and coaches, and even Youtubers and bloggers. Tools of Titans attempts to condense important take-home points from each 1-2 hour interview into a couple of pages of key insights and lessons. Ferriss then intersperses these chapters with a few chapters of original material to synthesize and reinforce key themes.

The massive, 673-page Tools of Titans is divided into three sections. These are based on the old Ben Franklin Mantra: “Healthy,” “Wealthy,” and “Wise.” Since this is a personal finance website, we will focus on the “Wealthy” section of the book.

Short Stories and Big Themes

Despite the length of the book, Tools of Titans can be an easy read. Ferriss divided the book into very short chapters, each only a few pages long. Every chapter contains individual stories or lessons that can stand alone. This makes it easy to pick up the book — even if you only have a few minutes a day — and learn something from each individual feature or concept.

However, the true value of the book, in my mind, is in linking together common themes and patterns among people from very diverse walks of life. This information can then be applied to your own wealth-building process. I will share a couple of these themes that I found particularly interesting, as they relate to money and personal finance.

The Power of Wealth

Two of my favorite stories in the book show the power of money if used properly. Many people think of money as a means to retirement, or a new car, or a fancier house. These stories show that the power of building wealth can mean much more.

Entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers shared how he became successful by saying “yes” to nearly every opportunity that came his way. This allowed him to build financial and social capital. However, as he became successful, opportunities became more plentiful and he pivoted. Wealth allowed him to stop needing to say yes to everything. He changed his decision-making framework. Now, when presented with an opportunity, he makes a binary decision. He says, “Hell Yes!” to only the things that he is most excited about. Everything else is a no. This allows him to focus on the opportunities that add the most value to his life.

On this theme, Arnold Schwarzenegger — known around the world as an A-list action movie star — shared his little-known career path. He was actually a millionaire real estate investor before making it big in movies. He used this bit of financial freedom to wait for the starring roles he wanted, while saying no to bit roles or roles that would type-cast him. Most young actors struggling to survive do not have this luxury.

Then, after becoming a massive action movie star, he wanted to try his hand at comedy. When no one would take a chance on him, he again leveraged his wealth to do something very unusual. He was able to get the movie Twins made with Danny Devito, by agreeing to a very low salary. He essentially took the risk off of the studios and put it on himself. Twins turned out being the most personally lucrative movie of his career, due to the back-loaded structure of the deal. Again, the freedom allowed by his earlier financial success allowed him to have even bigger future successes.

Best Investments

Most people tend to talk about investments in terms of stocks, bonds, or real estate. Well, Ferriss has interviewed two of the “sharks” from ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Daymond John and Chris Sacca. He asked each what they would consider to be their best investment. Their answers may surprise you.

John answered that his best investment was investing his time to be a foot messenger in Manhattan while in high school. It exposed him at a young age to “all different types of people,” from “miserable high-profile executives” to “extremely happy entry-level employees.” He says it “completely opened up my eyes to opportunity.”

Sacca shared that his best investment was buying a cabin in the mountains in Truckee, CA, and moving away from Silicon Valley prior to becoming a successful tech investor. This allowed him to avoid constantly playing defense while having his day eaten up by unwanted meetings. Instead, he decided to play offense. In his words, “Everyone loves coming to the mountains. Over the years, that’s helped me build lasting friendships. Some of those have been the catalysts for my investments in Uber, Twitter, and others.”

Think Differently

After reading this book, the most overriding theme that I noted can be summed up in one quote from performance coach, author, and speaker Tony Robbins. He said, “The quality of your life is the quality of your questions.”

Each of the people profiled think differently than the masses, in their own unique way. They ask unique questions of themselves, their jobs, and the systems they encounter. The book also contains many thought-provoking questions and ideas that challenged me. A few stood out.

Billionaire entrepreneur, investor, and author Peter Thiel suggests the following: “So if you’re planning to do something with your life, if you have a 10-year plan of how to get there, you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months?” Author Seth Godin asks on a similar theme, “If a narrative isn’t working, well then, really, why are you using it? The narrative is something that you choose.” Over and over, this book pushed me to challenge my assumptions.

Hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, and best-selling author James Altucher was also profiled. He has started over 20 companies and written 17 books. Most of us struggle to come up with our one “big idea,” so it’s amazing how he manages to do it over and over. He shares with readers his habit of writing 10 ideas on paper every day, to build his “creativity muscle.” So, what does he do on days when he simply can’t come up with 10 ideas? He forces himself to write 20 ideas, even if they are all terrible. He shares that this helps overcome fear of or embarrassment about bad ideas, which stop most people from ever getting started.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Results

The beauty of Ferriss’ podcast, captured in Tools of Titans, is that no matter how successful people are, he shows they are just people. Ferriss manages to get these “titans” to be vulnerable and share their secrets to success. Just as importantly, they also share their failures and vulnerability. This is a theme throughout the book.

Serial billionaire Marc Andreessen emphasizes not putting people on pedestals with the quote, “Get inside the head of the people who made things in the past and what they were actually like, and then realize that they’re not that different from you. At the time they got started, they were kind of just like you…so there’s nothing stopping any of the rest of us from doing the same thing.”

Can “Tools of Titans” Make You Wealthy?

Tools of Titans contains interesting and unique insights, as well as practical tools that can be immediately applied to your own wealth-building process. Ferriss does a great job curating all of this material and interspersing his own unique content. For those who are willing to apply the lessons contained in the book, it may be the best investment you will make.


Topics: Book ReviewsInvestingMoney and LifePersonal FinanceTools & Resources

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