The Best Investment of 2017

After many years on Wall Street and studying the greats, I’ve discovered one investment that provides the best returns.


(This post contains affiliate links.  We get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.  Miss the previous post on making 2017 great? Read Act I here.)

The best return on investment you can make is an investment in yourself. I don’t mean in a fluffy way that really means nothing. No, I mean making the year better by making yourself better—by picking up a skill.

First, we’ll see that self-initiated skill acquisition is a habit the greats share, and then we’ll explore how to pick out a skill.

Want 2017 to Be Great? Emulate the Greats.

The greats draw upon the past to shape the future. Those who lived lives worthy of being written about, read, and studied voraciously—with a purpose. They knew books unlocked knowledge and the best practices from those who came before. They knew once they obtained this knowledge, they could build upon it.

  • The Greats read—a lot. In Alexander Hamilton (which inspired the musical), Ron Chernow writes, “Hamilton constantly educated himself, as if equipping his mind for the larger tasks ahead.” Even amidst the chaos of war, Hamilton lugged around two very large volumes of Malachy Poslethwayt’s Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce crammed with articles about taxes, public debt, money, and banking. He wrote down his learnings in a notebook—he was studying everything he read—even in a time when bullets whizzed past his head.

How about a recent example? Let’s take Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, whose goal is to colonize Mars. In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance describes young Musk as vacuuming up books. From books, he taught himself how to program as a kid, creating software and selling it. He practically memorized textbooks that taught him how to build space rockets cheaper and better than what NASA could do. Recalls former SpaceX employee Jim Cantrell about Musk, “He would quote passages verbatim from these books. He became very conversant in the material.”

The greats not only read, they take their knowledge and do.

  • The Greats copy—a lot. They take the experience of the greats who came before them and apply their own flavor. I suppose the more appropriate description for it would be remix.

Musk learned from Steve Jobs of Apple that design matters and that great design simplifies the complex. You can see how Apple’s design has been remixed in Tesla’s cars. Also, Tesla product announcements have a familiar flavor—Musk saw the marketing boost from a hyped event (Jobs himself remixed this from the movie industry thanks to his time at Pixar).

We see remixes in sports as well. Ron Harper, who was teammates with both Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, recalls thinking about Kobe, “Okay, this guy is really trying to be MJ. He’s trying to be the greatest of all-time.” Kobe didn’t just limit his study to Jordan’s on-court moves. In a dinner early on with Kobe, it’s touching to think of the prodigy inquiring Harper of the old master. “How much did [Jordan] practice? How did he work out? How did he evolve his game? How did he carry himself?” 

Copying your smart friend’s answers on a test is dishonest—a shortcut from hard work. Learning from them and copying their habits is a shortcut to doing great things. Although I’m not even in the same league, I am trying to remix Chuck Feeney.  (If you haven’t read The Billionaire Who Wasn’t, put it on your list!)

  • The Greats Can Predict the Future, Then Help Shape It: Chernow writes that, after surveying the British forces one summer, Hamilton “hazarded several predictions that later sounded clairvoyant.” In another instance, he foresaw “that someday the struggling confederation of states would be welded into a mighty nation.” (This sounds obvious today, but back then, many envisioned young America as a bunch of autonomous states.)

As for Musk, we are witnessing his vision for the future unfold. Very few argue that Musk will shape the future of humankind more than almost anyone else in our generation. This is wild, but if Musk can pull it off we will colonize Mars in our lifetime.

The greats use the knowledge they obtain from reading to help them figure out the future and respond accordingly—people describe them as being ahead of their time. Good analysis has a future orientation. So let’s look at the future, shall we?

The Future

I’ve written some about the Automatized Age (where robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality make babies). What it means is that someone is trying to figure out a way to replace you. You may not see it now, but the pace of this innovation is quickening and spreading until it becomes your daily reality.

The New Yorker wrote about this recently in the article “Our Automated Future.” The article quotes Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. Ford notes, “A computer doesn’t need to replicate the entire spectrum of your intellectual capability in order to displace you from your job; it only needs to do the specific things you are paid to do.” He cites a 2013 study by researchers at Oxford, which concluded that nearly half of all occupations in the United States are “potentially automatable,” perhaps within “a decade or two.”

M.I.T. researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, in The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, provide a nice framework that helps us categorize skills.

Welcome to the Matrix

Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee organize skills into a matrix with two axes: Manual vs cognitive and routine vs non-routine.

It’s no surprise that routine jobs are disappearing and that all job growth since 2001 has been non-routine according to research from Henry Siu at the University of British Columbia and Nir Jaimovich from Duke University.

Cognitive non-routine is the hardest to replicate and therefore the most desirable in the Automatized Age. When machines and robots are making the goods, that makes them the producers and us the consumers. Which means when you learn how to create, you’re obtaining a skill that is diminishing in supply but high in demand from a growing society of consumers. Cognitive non-routine skills are what you want to acquire. Examples include:

  • Creating content to read (blogs, books)
  • Creating content to watch (Youtube, etc.)
  • Marketing products or services
  • Selling products or services (eCommerce)
  • Creating visual art and design
  • Analysis of complicated things (people, products, investments)
  • Investing (real estate)
  • Writing or producing music or video
  • Creating a new or improving a product

Don’t Wait to Master a Skill

By now, you’re thinking about what skills you want to master.  But they seem big and scary.  How do you start mastering it?  Download my FREE 17-page Guide to Achieving Your Goals and you’ll get tips on how to clarify your goals, create a plan, map the future, and help get past times when you feel discouraged.  (You can preview it here.)  Start achieving your goals today!

Tired of waiting for “someday?”  You have a dream you’d like to come true, but going for it seems too scary.  So how do you do it?  This FREE 17-Page Guide is exclusively for subscribers. It will help you clarify your goal and develop a plan that will maximize your chance of achieving it.


We’ll also let you know as we come out with additional guides and tools, so you won’t miss a thing!


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What Skills Are JMC Acquiring?

In 2016, we started creating content to read. This year, we’re going to learn marketing and product creation. We recently took a course on affiliate marketing and will be applying what we learned. Then, later this year, we will be applying what we learn about eCommerce.

Investing in yourself is going to feel hard and at times overwhelming. That’s a good thing. You want to make yourself uncomfortable because cognitive non-routine skills are challenging. When discomfort is a choice, it’s liberating and energizing.

I’ve got an investment proposal for you, and it’s you. What skill are you acquiring this year?

Related:  How I’m Going to Make $1,000,000 to Give Away

(P.S. I’m taking part in the Money Making Madness Linky hosted by Charlotte Burns from Lotty Earns, Emma Bradley from Mum’s Savvy Savings, Emma Drew from EmmaDrew.Info and Lynn from Mrs Mummy Penny!)


  • Stephanie | January 11, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Incredible read – you picked two of my favourite reading materials and succintly summarized it for a better 2017! Well said!!

  • JT January 11, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Thanks so much, Stephanie! This was a fun one to write because I found the people and subject matter so interesting. Onward and upwards in 2017!


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