Making gains and paying to play

Feb 10, 2024 6:00 am


This is an email I send to keep in touch with people and share a bit about what I'm doing and thinking about.

This month, I'm:

  • Rearranging book stores, again
  • Starting a pointless quest
  • Worming my way into people's heads

You're receiving this monthly email because you signed up for it at, or you opted in after reading my book The Price Of Money, or I added you manually because we've spoken one-to-one.

If you don't enjoy it, feel free to unsubscribe at the bottom – I won't be notified and I'll never even know!

📚 (I'm a) Paperback writer

Almost a year ago, I released a book called The Price Of Money. It hit the Sunday Times bestseller list for precisely one week, which means I get to call myself a “Sunday Times Bestselling Author” for the rest of my life.

This week, the paperback edition came out. I still don’t understand why paperbacks always come out after such a delay, but never mind.

So if you want to understand how the financial world really works – why the pound relentlessly loses value, how billions can be created out of thin air, and whether it’s a problem that the government is in such a stupendous amount of debt – you can pick up a copy on Amazon.

(If you’ve already bought the hardback, Kindle or audiobook version, it's exactly the same – so skip it unless you're a Rob Dix completist. Which only one reader of this newsletter is, and we share 50% of our DNA.)

And me? It gives me an excuse to reignite my campaign to reorganise the stock of every Waterstones branch I pass.


What? No, I found it here when I walked in

The power of newbie gains

You know how you’re supposed to start new projects with a strong, motivating “why”? With goals, and a plan, and accountability?

Not me.

I’ve recently started learning Mandarin. I have no plans to visit China, and no illusions that I’m ever likely to encounter a Chinese person where my Mandarin will be better than their English. There’s no point, no goal, and I haven’t told anyone except my wife (and now you, I guess).

But I’m not in it for the reward of achieving mastery, or opening up new social or professional horizons. I’m doing it because I’m addicted to newbie gains.

“Newbie gains” is gym speak for the person who starts working out for the first time and immediately packs on some muscle and drops fat. Pretty soon, the pace of change slows down – and it might take another year or more to equal the results they achieved in their first 12 weeks.

You see the same phenomenon when learning anything or acquiring any new skill: the rate of progress is fastest at the beginning then levels off over time.

Newbie gains are why I love the early stages of learning a language, or playing the piano, or memorising world capitals, or learning about coffee – all things I’ve done recently. The journey from hopeless to “better than 80% of people” is lightning fast – then when the going gets tough (screw you, Kyrgyzstan and diminished 7ths) it’s more rewarding to jump to the next project than to inch frustratingly slowly towards mastery.

There’s another mental benefit too: the mindset shift that comes from tackling something seemingly impossible, and realising it isn’t.

Take running a marathon. For years I thought it was literally impossible, and flat-out didn’t understand how other people of my species managed it. But then I started training, ran one in 4 hours, and realised I’m capable of way more than I thought. Is it worth the hundreds of hours of training and dedication to work towards a 3 hour marathon? For me, no: I’ve had the mindset shift already.

It’s the same with Mandarin. I mean… it’s little pictures and words where a tiny difference in tone changes “mother” to “horse”! Surely impossible. Yet walking around London, I’m already experiencing the mindset shift of looking at previously incomprehensible signs and recognising the odd word.

I’ve previously written about the benefits of being a jack of all trades, and this is another one: it keeps you constantly on the steepest part of the learning curve. And that’s a fun place to be.


Lifehack: Using the cinema in my building to record an audiobook to save money on a recording studio. Still a horrible process, though.

💵 Pay to play

We live in a world where we can potentially interact with millions of people, but our brains haven’t had time to evolve since we lived in small villages: Dunbar’s Number says we can only maintain social relationships with 150 people.

So if you want to attract the attention of someone online who has a large audience, how do you win one of those limited “slots” in their head?

I have a crass but effective answer: pay.

Two of my friends recently paid to be customers of people with huge online followings. These people will be receiving hundreds of unsolicited inbound messages per day – but their number of paying customers is a fraction of that size. And of course, they’ll naturally be more inclined to dedicate attention to people who’ve given them something of value (money, in this case).

As a result of grabbing their attention in this way, one of my friends got hired by their “target” famous person to produce a podcast for them – immediately earning back far more than they spent and opening further doors. My other friend had a call with his “target”, and got shouted out by him on Twitter – leading to an influx of hundreds of followers.

Importantly, this was never a manipulative masterplan: they wanted what they were paying for anyway, and gaining access was a nice side-benefit. And critically, once you’ve captured someone’s attention you need to be able to maintain it. My friends are highly impressive people: if they weren’t, getting a foot in the door wouldn’t have led anywhere.

If this is all sounding a bit transactional, it shouldn’t – because “something of value” doesn’t have to be money.

You can pay with attention: whatever the audience size, people appreciate those who regularly leave thoughtful comments. Or you can pay with interesting or valuable information: although people have huge numbers of inbound messages, most are asking for something rather than offering something helpful.

🔗 Odds and ends

  • Since ChatGPT I’ve found that I’m Googling way less than I used to – and when I do, I’m mostly appending “Reddit” to get real opinions rather than SEO garbage. You can speed this up by using the Gigabrain extension. which runs a Reddit search for you and uses AI to summarise the results to save you reading through a whole load of threads.

  • Nearby Wiki shows you places close to you that have their own Wikipedia entries. It’s a great way of learning more about your local area, or somewhere you’re visiting.

That’s it for now! Feel free to write back and let me know what you've been up to.



p.s. You can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram.