Kyle MacDonald
Social Adventurer

“Don’t hold back. Do more challenging things.” These are two pieces of advice Kyle MacDonald would give his 14-year-old self. Famous for his experiment where he traded one red paper clip for a house he now calls himself a Social Adventurer and is responsible for his ideas and projects. Sometimes it’s highly competitive work, but even if someone else is doing a more interesting or remarkable project, the coolest thing is: “I can’t be fired from it.”


Was steht auf Deiner Visitenkarte?

My name is Kyle MacDonald and I'm a social adventurer.

Worum geht es in Deinem Job?

My professional life is distinctly trying to figure it out as I go along. When I wake up tomorrow, I don't actually know what I'll be doing in terms of professional things. I have things on the go right now that I've been working on projects and I have people working on things with me. Then tomorrow, I'll check my email and there will be a bunch of new things that I'll either react to, build upon or start something new with. It’s constantly changing. I'm most well-known for the One Red Paper Clip project, where I started out with a red Paper Clip and traded it for bigger and better things for an entire year until I got to a house. It was 14 trades. I worked for 14 different people through the year to make the trades, but there were literally hundreds if not thousands of other people involved with the project, from website building, media, travel, different things to make that happen. It was completely seat of the pants, shoestring budget. All the clichés of not knowing what you're doing and figuring it out as you go along to make the project. My specific goal was to trade with people, hopefully wind up with a house at the very end, and that was about it. Everything else was done as the project progressed. Looking back at the project, it allowed for unlikely outcomes, like surprising, crazy things that happened because of that. If you were to sit down and say, "How do you want to build up? How do you want to wind up with a house?" You could get a job. You could start a company. You could buy a cheap house. You could fix it up. You could do all these different things. I just chose to trade with people and it kind of worked out.

Wie sieht Dein Werdegang aus?

I've been doing what I'm doing professionally for about 10 or 12 years. I started out writing, actually. Writing travel stories, kind of like a lot of people who go traveling. I guess kids now when they travel, they just post things to Facebook, but I was pre-social media days, I was writing little short stories while I was traveling and emailing it to friends and family. I really enjoyed doing that. I started writing short stories and books and things like that just about the short stories, about the travel and often hitchhiking kind of stories. I had a background as a kid growing up, doing all kinds of odd jobs. Mostly manual labor, like lifting boxes and working in warehouses and doing landscaping and stuff. Planting trees, delivering pizzas. Sort of mundane jobs. At one point when I was working on an oil rig, I just said, "I'm going to do something completely different than this." I figuratively and literally put down all the heavy tools around the dangerous equipment and said, "I'm just going to start using my brain and ideas to see what would happen." I sat down for four months, an entire four months, and wrote out all the ideas I wanted to do, and then started doing some of them. That's led to a career. I've lived off those ideas and those projects for almost 15 years now. It's been pretty good.

Ginge es auch ohne Deinem Werdegang?

Absolutely possible to do what I do without the specific background I have. I believe pulling from a diverse range of areas will be more beneficial to someone who wants to do your projects, but ultimately it is a soft skills heavy environment. There is literally nothing technical other than the ability to write and communicate in English with people around the world. If you can communicate strongly in that, I think it's a huge advantage from writing nice…. Good to read stories and things like this. For the most part, it's all about the interaction and it's all about imagining things rather than having a specific method. It really comes down to doing any sort of internet project, like One Red Paper Clip or we did this one called Store Buyout. It's really just having absolute confidence that there will be a way to make it work and really an obsessive nature of not really.. There's no reason why it can't. If you say, "Well, I'll try it. If it doesn't work, I'll stop." It doesn't work like that. You have to say, "Well I'm going to have to take two weeks and fix this problem or find a solution." It's really all about problem solving and creating opportunity.

Was ist das coolste an Deinem Job?

I can't be fired from it. The job is myself, where I do speaking and writing and things like that. Interactive. If I don't do much work, I'll get less results, but no one can tell me, "Hey, you can't do that anymore," because there's nowhere to be fired from. What I'm doing can easily be replaced by someone else who's competitively better at doing something that's more interesting. Let's say I'm doing a project that people are reading about or sharing a video online. They're not going to be able to replace me as that person, but if someone else is doing a more interesting project or more remarkable, their attention span will drift over there. The competition is other people hustling and doing interesting things. Specifically, I'm the CEO of my own corporation that I'm the only employee of legally and from a tax perspective. It's mind blowing that can even exist, but it's totally true.

Welche Einschränkungen bringt Dein Job mit sich?

The challenges are when you have a blank slate, clean blackboard and chalk and paints and a canvas and there's no framework, the challenges are getting things done and staying on task. I'm very good actually at drifting off task and getting distracted by things. It's like professional A.D.D. I'll be working on this one project, and something else, this new shiny thing over here will come along. I just stare at it and focus on that. Then that idea or that task or that project never gets completed.I think that's having systems, having other people keep you on task, having an assistant who keeps directing things is important, helpful, but ultimately it comes down to yourself and having the self-control. As soon as I drift away from distractedness into an obsessive psychological phase, that's when pretty much all the progress happens. It's a bizarre problem to have. But staying on task is the most important thing.

Drei Ratschläge an Dein 14jähriges Ich!

Go farther. Do more. Don't hold back. Do more challenging things than you think.