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The Business Exercise That Changed My Life — How to Trade a Paperclip for a House

Is it possible to trade a paperclip for a house? Turns out it is.


A long time ago I participated in something called Billionaire Bootcamp. I was doing the complete courses Chris Howard, a life coach, offered. In short, I was training to become a life coach myself. Not because I wanted to be a life coach per se, but because I was fascinated by psychology and wanted to learn out of curiosity. As the courses were also targeted to people who wanted to improve their own lives through personal development, one course revolved around finances and was called Billionaire Bootcamp.

During Billionaire Bootcamp, we did one exercise that will stay with me for life. It was called The Paperclip Exercise. For this exercise we were divided into groups. Each group got a paperclip. We had to trade that paperclip for something else, that we’d trade for something else, that we’d trade for something else and so forth. The idea was that we’d trade for something better every time we made a trade.

The fascinating thing? People who had done this before us had ended up with something like a house. I can’t remember the details, but it was a big deal.

The thing is, you don’t go from a paperclip to a house in one trade. You tell someone in the local restaurant that you’re participating in a game and ask if they can’t donate one free meal in return for the paperclip. They do that, you take the gift certificate from them and trade it for something else, explaining you’re part of a game and can’t they please help out? With each trade, the value increases.

Now, you have to get smart, of course. You need to call your contacts and ask them what they can throw in for free, such as a free coaching session. Or twenty discount tickets to the cinema they own. Then you need to find the people who truly need those things and therefore are willing to give you something that to you is of higher value.

As you’re a group of people you work together and call in favors right, left and center. As it’s a game, people are prone to help you. They’re buying into something more than a trade — they’re helping their friend win a competition.

As it’s a competition and you’re under time pressure — whether it is an hour, or 24 hours — you have an adrenaline rush where you’re competing to win. It gives you the oomph you need.

Another thing that has stuck with me is the preamble for the game: imagine someone would die if you didn’t reach your goal. When the stakes are different, you think differently. You get a lot more creative.

Imagine you’re trading a paperclip to raise funds for someone who needs surgery for cancer. Now the stakes are higher. And now people are more willing to give you a helping hand, because they know what you’re fundraising for.

I can’t even remember what we ended up with during this exercise — I was much more stunned by what the other group had previously accomplished and the idea that if the stakes were different, you’d act differently. However, I do remember we ended up with a lot more than a paperclip.

It’s surprising what people will do to help you when you’re working on achieving a goal. And it’s surprising how invested strangers can become in your goal, if you only show them your own enthusiasm. Before you know it, you have an entire team backing your efforts to trade a paperclip, raise money for a cause, or set up your business.

These days many people do crowdfunding online, but how about combining that with an offline campaign where you walk around to every store in your neighborhood, explaining what you’re doing and why you’d like their support. What if you film them and put the videos up on your campaign page, showing the support you got? Wouldn’t that entice more people to donate to your cause?

What’s also memorable about this is how much can happen if you set aside 24 or 48 hours to work on one goal only.

So if you’re sitting there thinking that something you want to do is impossible, consider it from the point of view of The Paperclip Exercise — can you get a team together and go out there and start trading till you reach your goal? Can you enlist people to your cause and start a movement? Can you set aside 24 hours for a mad rush of activity where you and your team conquer your city to reach your goal?

If you can trade a paperclip for a house, anything’s possible. 

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