Thursday, September 03, 2015

Ins and Outs

Learning Curve

I have always looked for jobs where I was on a learning curve, and started to get itchy feet when I felt like I was at the 'just doing' stage. You could call this the 'Call Centre Problem'. You want bright, engaging, friendly, high IQ, high EQ people on the other end of the line when you need help. You just don't want to be that person. It really can be an awful job once you know everything really well. Initially it can be an awful job when people expect you to know everything really well. I am definitely the worst version of myself when I am on the phone to a call centre for more than an hour.

The problem lies in the fact that keeping awesome people in the job is really hard once they are really good. Most of the queries are probably the same. So much the same that you would think you could automate call centres. AAAAAAAAAAAgh. I hate automated call centres. Going through a number of imperfect options until we get the ones I want. Please can I speak to a real person who will listen, understand, and point me in the right direction. No, please don't redirect me. One person. One all knowing, all seeing person who can fix everything. Oh, the CEO is too busy to answer the phones. Shucks.

The irony is that the CEO is probably too busy not to answer phones. What they don't tell you when you are eyeing out job paths is that being a CEO is not dissimilar to being a call centre operator. You mostly spend your time meeting or on the phone with disappointed stakeholders who all disagree. While worrying insanely about all the things that could go wrong. I'll pass thanks.

Dream Job

I looked for how to get a job where I could be learning every day, I loved what I was doing, and I was focussing on people I cared about and who cared about me. Just over a year ago, I found that job. Ever since 9 August 2014, I have been thinking and writing about happiness and learning, and trying to figure out ways to spend more time and energy on people that matter to me. Despite the 'work' part of what I do taking less than 3 hours a day, I think I have had one of the most productive years of my life. Busy doesn't always mean productive. 

But... there is a problem easily noted. I only made £4.11 in the first year. It only gets paid out when I reach £10. Having recently told people this, the question becomes 'How long can you make this last?' or 'How do you monetize this?'. The answer to monetize this is easier. I stop daily blogging and get a real job. It is the same reason I haven't invested a lot of time into monetizing my art. I know what I would need to do. I would have to hustle. I would need to visit lots of dealers and build a network. I would have to enter lots of competitions. I would have to build an audience with a group of people (with money) who like my work. That is work. That is actually business. I have studied business, and it is not a business I would invest in.

One of money's key strengths is its ambivalence. It strips things of all their defining characteristics and subtle flavours and gives you a number. A number you can use to compare completely different things. This much of this is worth that much of that. Like saying being this tall is equivalent to being that clever. Tallness and Cleverness have nothing to do with each other. Much of the 'work' part of business is the same, no matter what you are doing. Once someone is sitting at a desk, in a cubicle, with a cup of coffee, they may be an accountant, engineer, writer, architect, mathematician, academic or whatever. They will have admin. They will have colleagues they like. They will have colleagues who annoy them. Good bosses who are interested in them. Bad bosses who have no time or energy to be interested. Politics. The work of an artist and the work of a banker can be mostly the same.

The truth is, in an ideal world, I don't want to monetise my blog. I would like to be able to dive into the qualitative world. The world that can't be reduced to a number. As a scientist (or in business) you look to understand things that can generalise. You want to be able to predict things, so you need to understand cause and effect. An experiment is only useful if it can be replicated. The magic in business comes when you can solve a problem that almost everyone has. In art, relationships, life and everything else you don't want to reduce to a number, you aren't looking to replicate, you are looking to appreciate. The goals are very different. The answer is never the same.

Ins and Outs

So the answer to how long this last depends on something else. Two things matter. 'Ins' and 'Outs'. If the Ins are winning in the long run, then something is infinitely sustainable. The Ins also need a buffer to survive any unexpected Outs. The lower the Outs, the less Ins required. The Ins and Outs matter much more than the number. Three examples will help explain that:
  • The world runs on fossil fuels at the moment. The Ins come from things like the Sun and the Wind. Our store of fossil fuels that have been dug up or can be dug up are 'the number'. The Outs are how much we are using and the damage that is causing. If we don't figure out how to get the Ins more than the Outs, we are stuffed. The clock is ticking. 
  • I once heard the story of a wildly successful, wealthy guy earning something like R20 million a year when that was still a hell of a lot of money. Aged around 65, he was thinking of winding down and asked a financial adviser what he needed to do to be able to stop working and sustain his lifestyle. He hadn't started saving yet. The adviser offered to buy him a beer. That was the only help he could offer.
  • The third story would be someone pitching up with nothing at a Yoga Ashram. Their number is zero. They roll up their sleeves and chip in around the place as they would at home. A bit of cleaning, some cooking, some gardening. They spend the rest of the day in thought, exercising or just being still. No Outs, lots of Ins. This person with nothing has nothing to worry about.
Ins and Outs

Making it Work

The answer to the question 'how long will it last', is 'it depends'. I have saved aggressively but have no control over various things that are important factors. I can minimise the Outs by trying to think about what is important to me and those I care about, and spending on things that are valuable rather than rare

In terms of the Ins, most of my money is invested in a global equity fund run by the company I spent most of my time working at (Orbis). Some is invested with another company I later moved to (Stonehage). Some in businesses I have invested in myself. Then I have a buffer for little challenges life throws at me along the way. If these Marshmallows continue to multiply faster than I spend them, I get to carry on doing the things I love without worrying about monetising them.

What if things fall apart? I have some insurance in the form of relationships and education, but at the end of the day I can just get a job. Sometimes you just do what you have to do.

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