Posts filed under “Philosophy”
This morning, I want to address the issue of externalities, and managing risk in an era of ever-increasing complexities.
Equity investors deal with a variety of risks: Earnings, Business Cycles, Execution, and Valuation. These are the traditional risks that are, for want of a better word, ordinary. Whether you want to call them typical or usual or normal, they are the standard factors that make stock selection a fun challenge, and separate good companies (and their equities) from lesser investments.
Beyond those challenges, markets must also confront “Externalities.” These are the risks that come from outside of the normal business cycle: War, Credit Crisis, Oil Shocks, Terrorism, Weather, Earthquakes.
Note that investors have always had to deal with these — they have pre-dated markets, currently co-exist with them, and will eventually outlive them. Externalities are a part of life, and you can neither plan for them nor ignore them.
Consider the Cold War: During the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the threat of nuclear conflagration between the USSR and the USA was the geopolitical backdrop. Yet 3 of 4 of those decades saw very good market returns. Threats of extraordinary, extra business cycle events did not derail equity returns, though a good argument can be made that post detente, global markets screamed higher (contra: that was a 30 year period of falling rates).
It is important for investors to understand these externalities. Every day, headlines such as this — ‘Funding Crisis’ averted for Italy, Spain cross the tape. They are a part of the global backdrop. They cannot be ignored, but they should not be obsessed over.
There is one element of these externalities that should be analyzed, focused upon, even obsessed over: The current challenging complexities are entirely man-made. No, the European banking crisis is not a Tsunami, not an earthquake, not a drought. Along the same lines of analysis, the US credit crisis, housing collapse, and Great Recession were not a meteor falling from the sky, but instead were entirely foreseeable and preventable. They were brought on by a radical recklessness that was ignored for years, until pretending it didn’t exist simply became impossible.
In the US, the Smash & Grab was the world’s greatest reallocation of wealth — first from shareholders to corporate insiders, than then from taxpayers to insolvent Banks. Note that this wealth transfer was not from the poor to the rich, but rather, from the middle and upper middle classes to the Über-rich. The political implications are very, very different.
Risk complexity abounds . . . Investors better get used to it.
The “Sprinter” Method of Increasing Productivity
Tony Schwartz notes:
Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and renew energy.
When I began to crash in the early afternoon following my red-eye flight, I took a 30-minute nap in the room we have set aside for that purpose in our office. The nap didn’t give me nearly enough rest to fully catch up, but it powerfully revived me for the next several hours.
At the other end of the spectrum, exercise … positively influences our cognitive functioning, and our mood.
The truth is that we ought to be exercising nearly every day, ideally for at least 45 minutes, including strength training at least twice a week.
The secret to optimal well-being and effectiveness is to make more rhythmic waves in your life.To build the highest level of fitness, for example, it’s critical to challenge the heart at high intensity for short periods of time, and then to recover deeply.
The bigger the amplitude of your wave — the higher your maximum heart rate, and the more deeply you recover — the more flexibly you can respond to varying demands and the healthier you likely are.
The same rhythmic movement serves us well all day long, but instead we live mostly linear, sedentary lives. We go from email to email, and meeting to meeting, almost never getting much movement, and rarely taking time to recover mentally and emotionally.
Even a little intentional recovery can go a long way. It’s possible, for example, to clear the bloodstream of cortisol just by breathing deeply — in to a count of three, out to a count of six — for as little as a minute. Try it right now. See if it changes the way you feel.
Paradoxically, the most effective way to operate at work is like a sprinter, working with single-minded focus for periods of no longer than 90 minutes, and then taking a break. That way when you’re working, you’re really working, and when you’re recovering, you’re truly refueling the tank.
Making rhythmic waves is the secret to getting more done, in less time, at a higher level of engagement, with a better and more sustainable quality of life.
Schwartz explained last year:
In the renowned 1993 study of young violinists, performance researcher Anders Ericsson found that the best ones all practiced the same way: in the morning, in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each one. Ericcson found the same pattern among other musicians, athletes, chess players and writers.
For the first several books I wrote, I typically sat at my desk for 10 or even 12 hours at a time. I never finished a book in less than a year. For my new book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, I wrote without interruptions for three 90 minute periods, and took a break between each one. I had breakfast after the first session, went for a run after the second, and had lunch after the third. I wrote no more than 4 1/2 hours a day, and finished the book in less than six months. By limiting each writing cycle to 90 minutes and building in periods of renewal, I was able to focus far more intensely and get more done in far less time.
The counterintuitive secret to sustainable great performance is to live like a sprinter. In practice, that means working at your highest intensity in the mornings, for no more than 90 minutes at a time before taking a true break. And getting those who work for you to do the same.
Obviously, it’s not possible for every employee to work in multiple uninterrupted 90-minute sprints, given the range of demands they face. It is possible for you as a leader and managers to make a shift in the way you manage your energy, and to better model this new way of working yourself. Make it a high priority to find at least one time a day–preferably in the morning–to focus single-mindedly on your most challenging and important task for 60 to 90 minutes. Encourage those who work for you to do the same.
In addition, encourage your employees to take true renewal breaks intermittently through the day. It’s possible to get a great deal of renewal in a very short time. Try this technique, for example:
Build a more rhythmic pulse into your workdays and you’ll increase your own effectiveness and your satisfaction. Support this way of working among those you manage and you’ll fuel both loyalty and huge competitive advantage.
Exercise, Lose Weight, Quit Smoking or Drinking, Pay down debt, Stop [insert nasty habit here] . . . The typical New Year’s resolutions are well intentioned but hollow gestures, forgotten by February. May I suggest something that might be longer lasting and more fruitful resolution? Knowledge. Pick an area of study that truly interests you,…Read More
Around this time of year, people begin making New Year’s resolutions. They are invariably doomed to failure for the same reason most diets don’t work: One-offs fail to change the underlying habits and beliefs that drive our daily behaviors. That is why I found this list of Zen Habits by Leo Babauta so enchanting. The…Read More
NASA calls the photo below (via Good) “the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date.” It is a spectacular reminder of the small blue marble called planet Earth, and what we humans can accomplish when we cooperate and work together towards a common goal. Regardless of your beliefs system or chosen faith,…Read More
Barbara Walters on 20/20 (via The Wealth Report) interviews four billionaires, and culls out some wisdom for managing success. You may recall that this is an area I have some interest in. Back in June, I wrote up something along similar lines: 7 life lessons from the very wealthy. Back to The Wealth Report: Here…Read More
Jim McTeague of Barron’s asked a question that led to an even more interesting question. It started as the usual Presidential Election and the stock markets related inquiry — Is President Obama a positive or negative for stock and bond markets? — as I thought about the question, it devolved into something entirely else. I…Read More
Fascinating back and forth in last night’s discussion of what Causation actually is. I want to respond broadly to some of the advocates who still seem to be missing the concept of Proximate Cause. We can substitute all sorts of things in the general statement “The housing boom and bust was caused by ____” —…Read More