Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Competitive Wiring

I don’t want what I am supposed to want. I have a competitive wiring, so people who have known me in previous incarnations will have seen my crazy eye when I choose to go for it. Even when my skills, knowledge or ability aren’t 100% up to the task. We back the underdog over meritocracy, or we would be wired to roll over and play dead. A school buddy teases me about shouting, “we can still win this” at 78(ish)-0 playing Maritzburg College. We lost 111-0. But when I am the me I like, I try find ways to wiggle out of the nonsense. I don’t want to play in a world where we are constantly weighing and measuring each other. In a way that stops us seeing each other. Where the quality of our lives is determined through regular sortings and divisions. Where we cut each other loose like gangrenous limbs when we can’t reach common cause. I want more than that. Part of that comes from acceptance. I know. I am trying to work out what I can and what I can’t accept.

Competitive Wiring

Home Workshop

I stepped away from the Corporate world in August 2014. I liked the idea of living off an Engine of Capital where my decisions of how to spend my time were no longer filtered by the purpose of my full-time employers. A world free of job hunts, bosses, career progression, office politics, and performance reviews. A chance to internalise and control my own self-reflection and appetite for feedback. I particularly like being my own decision maker. Not having to make proposals for how things should be done to boards or decision makers higher up the tree. Not having to justify or get permission. Making decisions myself. My Engine isn’t big, and it wobbles. I live with a cloud of existential anxiety and my elbows covered in grease doing repairs in my home garage. I live on significantly less than I would if I just got a job. A different sort of stress to the 9-5 of accepting the way the world works. I am making it up as I go along. I think we all are. Even stepping away had its own new set of constraints and pressures. You can’t escape the madness. You can just invest in your ability to cope.

My Grandfather in his home workshop in Nov 2014

Choices have Consequences

I studied money partly because I hated it. Not money itself, because money isn’t a thing. Money is a communication tool. Mostly I hated the unchosen constraints and impact on relationships. Money fights. Money anxiety. Money in the driving seat. There are various stories of Alexander the Great coming across a Yogi on a rock. One trying to conquer, one working on acceptance. Life is about choices, and choices have consequences. Not all good ideas are good business ideas. Personally, I would rather focus my energy on the good ideas that are terrible business ideas. But this reality dictates that we at least have to tip our hats to the world of supply and demand. Where price isn’t value, but a sorting mechanism shifting things you can count and control. If you learn to understand risk, planning, and investment, you can gradually still the waves and choose your constraints. Conscious of the consequences, but with a point of focus.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Sharing Interests

People are interested in people who are interested in them. I have a deep reserve of inner confidence, partly because my Mother was always fascinated in, and supportive of, anything (and everything) I found interesting. My curiosity always had an army of motherly reserves. The South African bubble I grew up in has some resistance similar to British reserve to faking and overenthusiasm. I didn’t read the book “How to win friends and influence people” (Dale Carnegie) for years because the title sounded very “American” and fake. It is, I discovered, a brilliant text with some very practical observations on reality. One of those realities is we respond to people who show interest in us. Who are interested *because* we are interested. We recognise that indicates a deeper level of loyalty and willingness to put effort in, in order to share our worlds. If you want people to be genuinely interested in you, be genuinely interested in them. Yes, that takes effort. It shows.

Got my Back

Trusting the Container

The Holy Grail is a direct, sustainable, relationship with decision makers with money, where you have their trust and confidence. Trust that you intend to solve their problem. Confidence that you can. Relationship building is one of the strongest barriers to entry. Trust is built from multiple layers and signals to show that the words and ideas being exchanged mean the same thing to both people. A lot is lost in translation between worlds. This is why nepotism and prejudice are so powerful. In a world of complexity, friendship, community, and emotional connection are a way of cutting through the noise. A lot of business has nothing to do with business. The specific problem being solved is far less relevant, than the sustainability (and containability) of the connection. Building trust in the container of the relationship.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Beyond Good Ideas

I am not a successful entrepreneur. I have a small business, but that is not what pays my bills, and I am the sole employee. At the moment I have no clients, and I have only had a few small projects. Most of my work is unpaid musing and study. I started the business to do Engine repairs, and to use my monetizable skills in a stomachable way. I live off my Engine which I built using money I was paid for professional work. I had a few public shares in the first company I worked at, that were given to us as part of a Broad-Based Share Scheme. I had no shares in the other two, which are privately held. My Engine is invested in two Equity Funds (from the firms I worked at) and a portfolio (that I selected) of large publicly held global businesses. My thoughts on business are therefore academic. Small business is hard. The odds are steep. With plenty of musing, I see few easy paths. It’s not just about good ideas. It is also about building Capital, overcoming barriers to entry, managing risk, and navigating complexity.

Understand your Container

Money is made in containers. Price is not value, and there is no reliable hierarchy of skills and knowledge that are more valuable than others. Supply and demand adapts, adjusts, and accommodates. We wouldn’t want a pure meritocracy in a world with 7.5 billion people because there is always someone better. If you are fond of deciding if other people are good enough, be wary of mirrors. Problems don’t always, or normally, get solved by the best problem solver. The essential tools beyond the obvious problem-identification and problem-solving ability are Capital and a Container. Capital allows you to still the financial noise. It ensures you are available to solve problems, whatever they are. Capital builds endurance and resilience. A Container is the way you get paid. It is the friction that gives shape and form to what you do. The barriers to entry and stakeholders in the wider environment. The problem is just one element. As important to understand are the regulators, competitors, substitutes, suppliers, and customers. Understand the container you are in, to build the one you want to be in.


Barriers to Entry include base expenses. The price of a seat at the table before you even have any money coming in. The cost of getting out of bed in the morning. In my industry, this includes professional indemnity insurance, regulatory oversight (to ensure compliance with financial authorities), and the necessary software to protect client data. That is just to talk to people. If you want to manage money for them, there is a whole host of other protections to put in place (custodian banks, accountants, administrators, lawyers). Like home mortgages, banks lend to people who can prove they have the money coming in. To get started, you need a cornerstone client. Someone with money and the problem you know how to solve that can reliably cover your expenses. Ideally, you could be your own cornerstone. If you had Capital that reliably covered your base expenses. Without a cornerstone, it is difficult to build.