Thursday, July 02, 2020

Sport, Players and Teams

As part of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), I used to go to the Actuarial Conferences in South Africa each year. It was a quick way to get all the required annual CPD points. More than that, it felt like I was connected to something bigger than my company. My second role in the Corporate world was as a Marketing Actuary. That involved Competitor Comparison. It could get quite nasty listing the pros and cons of the competitors (who were all trying to provide for clients). It becomes a little like sport. Gradually you see players transfer. Senior members moving to other companies. Companies treating employees badly. A little like patriotism. I leaned deep into Rainbow Nation South African patriotism till the 2008 Xenophobic attacks. You don’t owe your company any loyalty. “They” won’t show it to you. Your team will change. You will develop loyalty with certain individuals and beef with others. Take the countries and companies we are a part of with a pinch of salt. There is something bigger we are all a part of. Institutions serve us, not the other way around.

Players Move

The Deep Work

The first read of anything worth understanding is incredibly confusing. Like listening to an audio book in a language that you haven’t learnt. Nothing sinks in. But not nothing. Surrounding yourself in something you don’t understand is exactly what you did for the first few years of your life. We all did. We soaked in different worlds which is why we see alternative realities. But we were all wide eyed and confused. Gradually picking up cues as to what is funny. Reflecting emotions. Recognising patterns. Words that get repeated. Words connected to things we like. Things we don’t like. The power of words. The real power of sentences. The super-power of whole conversations that can be summarised in a knowing look. Whole conversations that can be connected. Anything worth understanding is worth relaxing into the confusion for. We over value people being “naturals”. We over value finding things easy. The good stuff needs you to do the deep work. Doing the deep work needs you to relax.

Words connected to things we like

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Five Forces

Significant wealth is created across generations and among communities. Where there is time. Significant wealth exists beyond the world of hand-to-mouth where you consume all the excess you create. Where there is space to breathe. Significant wealth is leaky. Where there are people growing around you. When analysing a business, you don’t look at it in isolation. The “Porter Five Forces Framework” is one way of looking at where a business stands. It always comes back to supply and demand. How much is there? How much is wanted? The five forces are the bargaining power of (1) suppliers and (2) buyers, the threat of (3) new entrants and (4) new substitutes (a better solution), and (5) the industry rivalry (the competition). For anyone to do well, everyone needs to do well. That is why the idea of “self-made” is rubbish. Win-win problem solving is relationship building. Wealth creation rather than wealth extraction. It comes from listening to signals of what needs doing. Gaining the skills and knowledge to do it.  And getting it done. It comes from connection.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Anybody's Pitch

One of the things I wasn’t very good at in my decade of Corporate life was detachment. I gradually realised the power of seeing work as a game and myself as an avatar. Seeing each meeting, project, and year as a form of theatre sport. I have always been more of an all-in method actor. Sinking my heart and soul into the projects I was involved in. That is dangerous. In one of my biggest disappointments at work, I had the analogy Warren Buffett uses for stocks played back at me as a person. “You don’t have to swing at every pitch”. I wasn’t given an opportunity, not because of any evidence against me, but because the decision maker wasn’t feeling it. Didn’t have to feel it. Didn’t have to swing. It mattered significantly more to me, than it did to him. I felt it. Hard. Be very wary of sinking your heart and soul into businesses. Clearly it is in a company’s favour to build team spirit and a corporate message, but be careful. Hold a little back. When push comes to shove, remember it’s a game and just a game. Use the game to build the ability to be your decision maker. Don’t be anybody’s pitch.

Build to Build

I don’t agree that there is a trade-off between risk and return. You don’t make money by taking risks (unless you are an Insurance Company). Risk management is simply an acknowledgement that the world is complicated, ambiguous, and random. The future is surprising. Investment Returns come, not from being able to predict the future, but from creating value over long periods of time. You create value through the application of skills and knowledge. Uncertainty means it isn’t 100% clear what skills and knowledge you need to develop, and what problems will need to be solved. I like knowing my effort won’t go to waste. I don’t mind working hard. I do mind working pointlessly. I prefer evidence to faith, unless the process itself is something I am okay with. If the value is the process. Otherwise, I want to see the value first. Understand what needs doing. Why it works. What I need to learn to do it. The world changes, but there is a lot of evidence of skills and knowledge that add value. Build those for yourself, so you can build for others.

"The Sower" Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, June 29, 2020

On Loop

I enjoy the series Westworld. It fits with my sense of how we live in “controlled hallucinations” at different levels of awareness. How much of our experience seems impacted by our founding stories, driving ambitions, and ingrained habits. Our loops. When my wife asks what I am doing today, I often respond that I am “On loop”. As a creature of habit, I really like the idea of micro-ambition. Building a daily practice I have confidence in. Where I feel like each day is a nibble forward. Not towards a specific goal. The world is too complex, ambiguous, and random for that. I don’t like the idea of the destination being more important than the journey. I prefer a process of story enrichment. Adding feedback to my loop. As quickly as possible. So today, builds on yesterday. Building endurance to create space for time. Building resilience to manage and thrive off the risks. Building creativity to gradually compound learning. Building my loop.

Your Own Fate

I find the initial stages of learning confusing. In a physical way that affects my breathing, my tingling skin, and my wide eyes. Education often does more filtering than teaching. Levels sort the good from bad, and move on. Searching for naturals. Searching for the chosen ones. Chosen by fate. Except different skills are needed in the early stages of gaining skills and knowledge. My secret power is I am as stubborn as a donkey. I take the next step. In my Actuarial exams, I was very structured. Early exams took 100 hours each. Later ones 300 hours. I put the hours in. How often do we put 100 hours into something, before deciding we can’t do it? How often do we ask whether the way we learnt is the best way to learn, before deciding we can’t do it? Two mentors stand out for me as teaching me practical methods on “How to learn”. Mr Saayman (my History teacher), taught me as a 12-year-old how to summarise. Pin down the main thing. When I was 20 years old, David O’Brien,(an Actuary who had finished what I was starting) reinforced the idea of spending 8 minutes on a 5 mark question, and no more. Move on. Exams are a process. No individual question is the main thing. Part of learning is accepting confusion as part of the process. Make your own fate.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Arriving in France

“If you want to learn a language, you have to give it life”, explains Gabriel Wyner of Fluent Forever. When I was playing poker, my friends and I would have endless analogies of life situations and starting hands. We called Ace-King, Anna Kournikova (looks good, never wins). I am more convinced that both Wealth Creation and Prejudice are like languages. You can’t just dive into a conversation about Money or Race in the same way as you can’t just land in France and speak French. You have to build up a vocabulary. To do that, you have to train your mouth to say the words. To do that, you have to train your ear to hear the words. Everything we hear, see, say, and think is deeply connected. So deeply, we aren’t even conscious of why we think what we think. Even though we are good at adding defences or explanations to justify. Giving life is a slow process of paying attention, absorbing, and gradually reconstructing your reality in a richer way. That starts by relaxing your automatic responses. Noting them, but letting them pass. Creating space to explore rather than debate. Space to give life.

First trip to France (1999)