The ‘5-35-60’ change framework

“EVERYTHING IS CHANGING. NEW NEW THING WILL NOW REPLACE THE OLD NEW THING!”

We who swim digitally in that vast and polluted information ocean that is zero cost self publishing platforms (twitters, blogs, IG) and old media gone digital (print, tv) see it all the time. It perenially feels like the above line is the undertone in and of all headlines in these last 2 decades.

Every media entity and business firm that is vested in change is interested in convincing us that everything is changing and fast and if we don’t change too we and our firm will be left behind. This is exhausting. Most of us have ‘status quo bias’ and this relentless change message barrage grates against this bias. It chafes like a pointy splinter against our understandble need for the blanket of the familiar.

Recently it has began to dawn on me that this message is bogus. Everything ‘Hot!’ and ‘New!’ at the moment is not destined for world domination, inspite of breathless non-stop press. William Gibson coined the term “Cyberspace” and later popularized the concept in his novel Neuromancer. He has a awesome quote attributed to him way back in 1993: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”.

Remembering that quote was the breakthrough. For it helped me understand that while Change is a constant, it is never evenly distributed. Which I then internalized into my own “5-35-60” framework to better understand change and reclaim my sense of calm.

The framework : At any given moment something that has gained traction is going to peter off at 5% if it is a worthy but incremental improvement over the status quo , 35% if it is a vast improvement and 60% if it vast improvement, cheaper and easily scalable. The initial 5% will feel rapid and feed the headlines. The next 30% will be slow but feel fast. The last 25% to reach 60% will feel glacial. And after that an evenly distributed 70%+ share will likely be generational change. 

Things that roughly fit this framework out in the real world:

  • Online eSales (Amazon currently has about 44% of U.S. e-commerce market share. Not even 50%. Amazon ha sbeen at it for 23 years now. Bet you thought it was 80%+)
  • The rise of smartphones (over 2 decades the number of people that own a smartphone is 4.78 Billion, making up 61.67% of the world’s population)
  • MOOCs vs traditonal college education (under 5%)
  • Netflix vs Cable TV as a % of TV Consumption (3 people in a room of 100 people have Netflix, globally. Also that’s how privileged you are!)
  • Tesla is likely not going to own the majority of car market globally (but is priced like it is. Toyota sold 10.46 million vehicles, Tesla sold 367,200 vehicles last year)

Nothing is going to go on a smooth upward path from 0 to 100%, no matter how much fawning press it gets and however much the consultants and industry hacks try and convince you otherwise.

  • Amazon is never going to get to owning 100% of eRetail sales.
  • AirBnB is never going to get to owning 100% of Room sales in a city.
  • Chrome is never going to get to 100% of Browser Share. (it’s 63%)
  • Bitcoin is NOT going to repalce Fiat Currency

Bezos has a mature take on change. In an interview he said “I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

In this breathless no-standards no-skeptic news saturated world we always feel like any new phemomenon/tech is going to own 100% of the market by the end of next year. But Evenly Distributed takes effort, flawless execution and hell of a time. Things peter out much earlier (at 5%, at 35%). Even the obvious improvements. Red Queen Effect is a thing too.

This 5-35-60 framework is a calming pill. Use liberally.

 

Unimaginable to Imaginable Scenarios – nominations needed

Every important development sounded bananas before it became reality. The entire world’s information available to a human with a small device? America spending $7 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001?  A cryptocurrency, a form of electronic cash without a central bank or single administrator that can be sent from user to user on the peer-to-peer bitcoin blockchain network without the need for intermediaries powered through blockchain technology and worth $20000 at one point, $10000 today ? Tesla being worth more that Toyota last week !?

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Breakthroughs defy conventional wisdom. “And yet we keep making the same mistake” when predicting the future, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt writes in his book ‘How Google Works’. Schimdt warns us it’s hard to let go of conventional wisdom when anticipating breakthroughs, because conventional wisdom seems like a set of unbreakable laws.

Schmidt writes how companies can overcome this trap: “The question to ask isn’t what will be true, but what could be true. Asking what will be true entails making a prediction, which is folly in a fast-moving world. Asking what could be true entails imagination: What thing that is unimaginable when abiding by conventional wisdom is in fact imaginable?”

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So, ask what thing that is unimaginable when abiding by 2010 conventional wisdom is in fact imaginable in 2020? Interested in answers.

My limited nominations :

  • Expensive college credentials become much less important in this coming decade, going the way of NYC/London taxi medallions. Unimaginable in 2010 when it Colleges were raking £$£$ in hand over fist.
  • From 1970 you needed a degree for a proper white-collar job. Soon it will be proven coding credentials. Imagine if a canidate says I don’t know how to work Outlook, Excel and Word today. no chance of a desk job. now thing Coding being like that in 2030. Unimaginable in 2010 when it was a ‘geek skill’
  • A hiatus of the Neoliberalism Model as it pertains to free trade. Unimaginable in 2010 when free trade deals were all the rage.
  • ‘the world will change irrevocably postcovid’ – I suspect we will be surprised in hindsight by how little time it takes to get back to how it was before covid in most spheres (esp with reference to travel, work, entertainment). We will go back to normal as we knew it before 2020, until 2019. We will not go into a “new normal” in 2021.
  • FI/RE and Prepper thinking goes mainstream. Unimaginable in 2010 when it was the domain of the paranoid and the weirdos.

 

In 2007 if sometold told you by 2020 Nokia will be a non-entity you would have laughed the teller out of the building.

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That Most Critical of All Skills

Most folks who read this blog are in white collar jobs and since the begining of this last decade have been relentlessly bombarded by the trifecta bingo of AI, Automation and Analytics. I dare you to visit the latest feed on LinkedIn and not hit the words in 30 seconds of scrolling.

Everyone of consequence in the corporate hierarchy is focussed on learning about, deploying and getting on top of the buzzwords surrounding these three above. The dominant feeling for a lot of us is akin to a horse trainer at the turn of the last century who is only now slowly realizing the newthingamajing this guy Ford is making out there in Michigan is not just a fad.

For those who feel there MUST be an alternative specialization to the dry world that the 3 A’s are hinting at, there is. DECISION MAKING. If there is ever a vote for ‘the most neglected subject I wish I had been really drilled on and into while in college’ I would handsdown vote : BASICS OF GOOD DECISION MAKING (& BIASES THAT TRIP IT).

To say this is a rich subject is an understatement!

When you strip all the superflous layers away (College Credentials, Skin Color, Gender, Looks, Wardrobe, Accent) what really gets rewarded in a truly meritocratic workplace (and organization and society) is a person’s ability to make repeated good decisions. An HBS/IIT grad who has a poor track record of DECISION MAKING will,  in the long run, do worse than a MOOC/Distance Learning Grad who hones his ability and track record of good decisions made. Munger gave the best tip on it too : Make life easier by making intial good decisions.

 

So now I believe this is That Most Critical of All Skills in the coming decades. We live in a world that, if it rewards anything, rewards better decisions. The rest is increasingly automated.

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That Mid-Life Career Crisis Charted Out

I speak from the vantage of an Asian upbringing but I am sure it is universal to most desk jockeys everywhere : That mid-life career crisis many of us undergo(ing) may just be the dawning realization that the Happyness-Job Title & Salary paradigm we have lived with is false. A chimera. A scam. Fake News.

Drilled into us by anxious parents awaiting our exam results more nervous than the student who gave them (us), the paradigm is built on the assumption the BLACK LINE below in the picture I drew is a guranteed future reality. Like death and taxes. Sadly in the real world there are no gurantees, other than death and taxes. In the real world the black line eventually splits into 2 lines : GREEN AND RED.

After a certain income level (differs country to country) more money and shorter designation (Senior Assistant Vice President to just V.P to just ‘P’) definitely leads to that stress hormore Cortisol surging up in the body but not more Happyness per se. This is not opinion but research driven. But it gels beautifully with that famous other study about motivation..

Alas if only this was known earlier to our parents, career advisors and teachers. So many Mid-Life Career Crisis could have been anticipated and averted.

Not too late for a lot of us still to steer away from this iceberg. Rethink the path Neo!

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A Metaphor To Help Better Understand The Ongoing Changes

There are two central things that make up most of our lives in 2020 :
A. Physical things (baryonic matter)
B. Digital things (information, represented in 0s,1s in this young century)

Till about 1950, before the Anthropocene truly began, most of world trade, world GDP and our grandparents lives was all about A.

Once Computers, Internet, Cheap bandwidth, Smartphones and Wifi truly took hold in the last 3 odd decades, most of world trade, world GDP and our lives became about B. Our world will keep getting smaller and ideas and connection will be the currencies that matter, not atoms or molecules.

You read a paper book then (a thing). You read a kindle eBook now now (0s,1s). Today, humanity fabricates 1,000 times more transistors annually than the entire world grows grains of wheat and rice combined.

In 1920 : Oil was Oil.
In 2020 : Data is the ‘New Oil’

I sometimes think of this in the way :
My (and your) great great great grandad may have been a sheperd.
His great great great grandson (me, you) is a DIGITAL sheperd.
He moved sheep/cows. (Physical things, baryonic matter)
You and I move information on a screen. (Digital things (information, represented in 0s,1s). All we mostly do is sheperd information into the right excel cell, ppt slide, email. from another excel cell, ppt slide, email send to us, after some ‘analysis’ (that a bot will master by 2030)

A famous quote captures the current zeitgiest “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

PAST :

A hunderd years ago it was all physical. The world’s largest taxi company would have owned physical vehicles. The world’s most popular media owners would have not only owned the content but created the IP. The most valuable retailer (likely Sears) would have owned inventory and stores. And the world’s largest accommodation provider would surely have owned their real estate.

PRESENT :
Till Covid19 we had to move ourselves to an office building to move information around. Post Covid19 we are realizing we just may not have have to move ourselves to a building to move information around. At least a lot of us may not have to anymore. Analysis is becoming location agnostic on a wide scale.

So now the question we are all grappling with : Can this be a permanent thing for my industry ? Can the majority staff wfh moving their daily quota of 1s,0s. What trends that were slow will now see mass adoption thanks to the very unexpected covid ’19x’ Boost ?

FUTURE :
Today we order physical things that arrives automagically to our front door via the Digital apex & Gorilla of this young century = Amazon.com (by the way the real secret sauce in and of Amazon is AWS, not the store). But later, say by 2040s, we may have perfected Version 11 of the 3D printers of today and like how a 1990 pager is a toy compared to a 2020 iPhone 11, this 11th verison of the Digital Printer will make the ones we have today look like a cheap calculator. In 2050 the printer will use Digital Modelling Information to make a Physical thing. Finally fusing A & B seamlessly. I also suspect eventually money will finally be recognized as just another form of ‘information’ as a store of value and central banks will disapper. The ultimate digitization of a physical embodiment of value since the dawn of the humans as a settled species. This is a future that does not seem impossible to me.

By the way this above reason is why after Reading, wRitng and aRithmetic (3 Rs), Coding is the new necessary 4th skill. This transiton form A to B will need a lot of coders in the next few decades. Good luck Liberal Arts Majors!

I really hope this metaphor helps you a little bit in better understanding the ongoing changes. It is no doubt incredibly simplified and simplistic but it really helps me make sense of this new order we are rapidly moving into.

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Skillsets in a Black Swan World

As a white collar professional since 2001 I, like a lot of my colleagues and friends, dutifully skilled up for a linear predictable world. “Learn X skill, do Y job. X skill will be relevant for decades” went the thinking. Most of us ensure our kids skill up similarly. For a stable predictable world. 

But now I am pivoting to thinking these skills are only useful in the spaces between two black swan events (BSEs). And that gap between two BSEs seems to be getting tighter, smaller, more narrow. It’s a VUCA world now.

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This last few decades the globalized world rewarded people who were best at communicating ideas than it did people with the best ideas. Steve Jobs did not invent the smartphone, IBM did. But Jobs was a goddamn genius at selling the proposition and then placing Apple as the defacto choice. The Apple smartphone was a black swan event for a lot of industries, not just Blackberry. Blackberry was still optimizing for a expensive low bandwidth world that soon disappeared.

Had ‘cheap bandwidth’ not become a thing at the turn of the century, many of us would be in a different country doing a different thing. Most of us in 1990 never imagined that among the TOP 3 things that would change our life “Cheap bandwidth” would occupy a slot. 

Office work benefits extroverts who are great at talking. Pre Covid we were all in offices. Now post Covid, we are in the world of Remote work. Remote work benefits introverts who are great at Writing. A skill some of us lost between the day we submitted our last essay assignment in college and when our employer issued us our first Blackberry. The guy who worked to get better at talking is now likely at a disadvantage vs a guy who can communicate well in writing. 

Covid was a BSE for us (except maybe for Bill Gates who saw it coming). Most of our dads and teachers prepped us, berated us and cajoled is to prep for a world that never came about. “You will never have a calculator with you all the time, learn trignometry and facts by heart you fool! You should know when the Third Battle of Panipat was fought or else you will likely fail in life!”

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Things we did not anticpate when we were skilling up in schools and colleges, learning trignometry and that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell :

  • Cheap Bandwidth
  • The Internet
  • Amazon.com going mainstream
  • The concept of offshoring work (delinking end result of work from work location)
  • Google
  • 9/11 and how it changed the world order
  • iphone 2007 and the revolution it birthed
  • GFC 2008
  • Covid19

Skilling up for a specific domain with likely relevant skillsets now seems a riskier proposition by the day to me. BSEs will derail most plans on that front. Maybe Scott Adams in bang on the money when he promotes STACKING TALENT vs chasing specific domain skills.

I am certain in 2030 many of us are going to look back and lament “Can’t believe I was prepping and skilling for THAT useless at work scenario and that work scenario!”

Thanks Dan!

Few in the professional circles truly realize how much of their life situation,career and bank balance they owe to Dan Bricklin.

Dan Who ?

Exactly.

Dan invented something that may well last into the next century.

The true precursor to MS Excel.

Steve Jobs used to in that eloquent way he was known for said ‘Computers Are Like a Bicycle for the Mind

 The Excel Program may just be one of the two wheels in that bike! The browser likely is the other wheel.

Thanks Dan!

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Why you should start a Blog

Tweetable : Blogging will force you to write. Which will force you to think through an issue clearly. Clean writing is clear thinking. Unclear writing is usually the product of unclear thinking. Additionally ‘future you’ will have a ready record of how ‘current you’ reasoned.

The noble naïve genesis of this blog

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When I first set up this blog in 2010, my then aspirational goal was to share what I hoped were some intriguing enough ideas I had with other smart people out there (like you dear reader). I optimistically hoped people found it deserved the ‘hmmmm….Interesting’ reaction every other post.

And how does one know if one is getting through on platforms like this? Through that king of all vanity metrics: Page Views. The number of hits you get daily & monthly on your blog. So just like how Facetagram Divas you and I know (both male and female) hitch their digital egos to likes and shares garnered of what feels like torrential snaps and comments, blogging wannabes like me link it to page views. Smart folks label it “Vanity Metrics” for a reason. The vanity is indeed linked to this metric (Pageview) and if you are not on guard, so is your daily mood if you are into blogging intensely enough. I was for a period. The thinking is along the lines that the more people visit the blog, the more the author is likely making agreeable, popular, profound, good points. S/he must be..just look at the page views count ratcheting up!

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The Genesis  meets the Freight Train of Reality

Much to my own shock, while I did snag an interview a few years ago from someone leading India’s then hottest start-up who was impressed enough to call me in after reading this blog, alas, the majority of my posts here are about as effective as shouting into and in a hurricane. This is 2018. Most bloggers are pissing into the Pacific and hoping all the fish notice. By the by, the same goes for most of the Facetagram Divas out there.  A minuscule few have the BP Deepwater Horizon “Spray Power” to make even a few important aquatic dwellers notice.  Of course if the ignoble aim is make a Dunbar number of frenemies look at their life highlight reels on Facetagram and get envious, wider impact may not figure as a priority for those narcissists. But  with blogging the aim usually is broaden audience and impact.

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At the start of this noble idea of blogging & then 7 years later after learning the lessons

Now, 7 years and 127 odd posts later I have belatedly realised that most of us are too busy, too distracted, too frazzled to care and notice most things that screams for attention. A lot of the amazing, fantastic quality stuff slips by unloved so why should mediocrity get the oxygen of attention? To see examples of the latter, just read the last 5 LinkedIn posts in your feed or the 5 articles in the evening newspaper today.

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This world in 2018 has a tiny small handheld magical thing that can deliver potent infotainment heroine in friendlier mediums anytime, anywhere, whether the addict is in the atm line or loo. Both those times and countless more made that much more bearable thanks to this gift from the benevolent digital Gods. Against this Goliath of a Trifecta (busy, distracted, frazzled) most of us aspirational attention beggars are not Davids but gnats who are not even close to being anywhere as good and insightful as the many talented people out there who actually deserve the attention oxygen.

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Exhibit #1 of the deserving : Adrian Gill

So in summary:

  1. I wanted to make an impact in 2010
  2. I realized this was very tough after 7 years
  3. …..Now what?

It is time to abandon this misguided McNamara fallacy and revisit and reframe the entire engagement.  Starting with Exhibit #1 – this post. Instead of writing to get attention from an increasingly distracted world drowning in great content that is near impossible to better, I am going to write with 2 simple aims and to a very niche but guaranteed audience.  An audience that is likely very interested come what may.

That audience? Future Me. Preferably ‘Far into the Future Me’. Me a decade or two from now.

The new epiphany

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On some lazy weekends I love browsing through snaps from back in the day and trying to remember the context of some of those faded pictures. What was I thinking? Who was I really? And from the vantage point of the present, I think often “damn, that idiot in the picture had some wrong, weird and stupid ideas about the world and the people around him!”  Someone rightly said if you are not looking back at your old self and thinking ‘that guy was an idiot’, you are likely not growing as a person. I absolutely buy that.

But the thing is unless blessed with an elephant memory instead of the elephant body that reflects back in the bathroom mirror for most of us, you realize a dated picture usually tells you of the physical world and people around you then.  Could a blog give a better picture of how and what one was thinking about back in the day? Not how the mostly mundane days unfurled but what was one grappling with intellectually. The blog entries (if made often enough) may give ‘future me’ a better clue of the person I really was. So that’s Aim #1 from 2018 onwards. Click regular Thinking Snapshots.

Aim #2 is simpler. Get better at writing. One way is being forced to make a case on a topic from the ground up via blogging to an external audience. Like you. One may inherently ‘get‘ or grasp an idea in their own heads but writing it forces the person to account for all the variables and pillars supporting that internal narrative or point of view. The quality of your writing betrays how often you engage in the act. Blogging often is a great habit to force better thinking.  I am hoping writing this blog regularly will force me to clarify and strip down and re-build all the components on an argument and subject I am passionate about. Example of this from recently : “Insight and Narrative are different thing. How and Why?”  

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So now I plan to de-couple vanity metrics from this blogging hobby and just go to town writing and polishing for ‘Future Me’. And here is something I didn’t realize that maybe is an even better case to embrace blogging/writing which I would not have know if I had not started blogging : As I try to make a case on a topic from the ground up via blogging I also realize something I needed to for a while. A lot of my ideas are shit and have no legs. It took me being forced to sketch out, flesh out and write out an idea buzzing inside my cranium to slowly realize the idea in question was, to use a british euphemism, weak tea. And there was a lot of weak tea floating in my mental Boston harbour.

So revealingly, the contents of the dustbin near the writing desk may prove just as useful as the contents outside it. The ideas that get discarded proving as valuable a lesson as the ideas fleshed out and published. Luckily the privacy of discarded ideas is assured. Ok Ok, I lie. Your spouse may still have to suffer your many suspect thesis acoustically but they do say Love Hurts.

In Summary

The aim of this above essay was to plant the germ of an idea, like Dominick Cobb in the film Inception, that maybe just maybe you too should start blogging. I hope it takes root.

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Narrative vs Insight

Narrative is the act of looking at an event, phenomenon, development and subsequently crafting a coherent compelling story around it, picking any variable deemed as supporting narrators point of view. But if sloppy not accounting for all important variables. Which is most of them. Like teaching English using only 13 of the alphabets. Most op-ed columns today are Narratives masquerading as Insight. Most LinkedIn posts are horrendously worded Narratives. As is the daily “news” on TV. CNN, Fox News. So Charlie Munger and Peter Drucker gush Insight, Tom Peters and Jim Collins sell slick narratives. Germ Theory Is Insight, Homeopathy is narrative fraud peddling as cure. Evolution Theory is Insight, Creationism is narrative bs aimed at low IQ victims. As Calvin below surmises rightly, most history books are faulty narratives. Anything overtly aspiring to be in the left circle below (Insight).

Took me embarrassingly long to arrive at this fundamental understanding : Most of what we read in books, blogs, newspapers and watch on TV is ‘Narrative‘ and not ‘Insight‘. Sneakily most Narratives are sold as the Insights while not being real insights. 

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Narratives are vapid hot takes and faulty syllogisms that observe basic storytelling tenets and we humans are biologically wired to seek them out since we went upright. Some are so good even the author is thinking he is dispensing Insight. Insight is more profound, hard earned and life changing. Something that comes from Second Order Thinking. And that takes deep time. Most informational buskers peddling narratives (think most columnists) are absolutely balls to bone convinced they are selling profound never-before-imagined Insight. It takes some experience to see the difference (it took me 3 decades to even know there was a difference). Low-Signal High-Noise environment is our current reality. Fake News but not in the way the tangerine idiot means it. More subtle. Narratives tend to be a damp tumid bedsheet clumsy writers want to lazily drape over a series of unrelated events (think most history books you suffered through in school) into what writers and talkers hope sounds and reads like a coherent narrative. Procrustean beds disguised as editorials and bestsellers. (“The Market today fell by X because of Y and Z”). Narrative is comforting to us homo sapiens. but it is insight that makes us so. 

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Made a resolution to read lots of longform articles a few years ago. Currently the 2018 goal is to reach 500. They need to be across all publications, on multiple topics and posses multiple points of view. No echo chamber bias if it can be helped.  It slowly dawned on me that a lot of what I was and had been consuming was Crappy Narrative disguised as Insight.  

Example – Event X was precipitated by P, helped by Q and made worse by J and now K is likely and there is a 40% chance S is now going to happen. The underlying reality could be totally divergent, unconnected and not even within spitting distance of the stated variables and odds. As long as there is coherency and style and readability. So think ‘In Search Of Excellence‘,’Good to Great‘, a typical magazine article or a  NYT column. Phil Rosenzwieg and John Stewart made enviable reputations on puncturing a lot of these apophenias.

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A minority of the narratives are superb and really help us understand the world we live in. Exceptional narratives since Illiad does exist, carrying 24 carat insights. The Godfather movies are narratives with great insights on business, family, decision making and relationships.  Sadly, the volume of faux insights and weak narratives Niagara today dwarfs the trickling insight spring. Odds are this above essay is likely a weak Narrative on ‘Information Consumption‘ I am vainly hoping is strong Insight.

The maxim “Good Judgement comes from Experience; Experience comes from Bad Judgement” applies here.  The ability to smell the distinction can be honed only by marinating long and hard in both forms early, to make sure later you are inoculated against crappy narratives and can sense them instinctively. When reading suspect material make it a reflex to ask these 5 questions of the info-peddler :

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Time spend reading and thinking to get a insight is vastly more useful in life than time spent reading some simplistic narratives just because it is comforting and demands little of you.

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Book Review : Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders

Mount Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga are the 3 indisputable tallest mountain ranges out there. It is likely on the bucket list of many new and aspiring climbers, working as a backdrop siren call as they hone their skills on lesser mounds.

Book lovers have their own list but this list can never be definitive since there can be no universal consensus on what should go into “the toughest reads out there!” book list. Each person’s list, like the idea of utopia or hell, is personal and unique.

But odds are a 100 book list made by a lot of bibliophiles would likely contain gems like:
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville
    Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

These books are reputed to be very tough slogs and there is no definitive guarantee you will turn the last page and feel glad you dived in. In fact, chances are most of these books will be flung across the room well before the last chapter. A lot of them are wilting in bookshelves around the world waiting for a day when the owner inevitably bundles it into the charity box for donation.

When I purchased ‘Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders‘ on 15 November 2013 (for the pricy sum of £2.07) I was not sure what I was in for. All I knew was that I liked Warren’s way of thinking, his approach to business and investing and I wanted to read more from the man directly, not via a biographer or hired hand. I surely would have done a double take if my future self had told me I would take 865 days to finish this thick fat almost 1000 page book.

 

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‘Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders’ is not a book really but a collection of annual letters written by Warren Buffet, the legendary investor and 2nd richest man on Earth. Each year he writes a letter to his shareholders telling them how well (or poorly) Berkshire Hathaway, the company he runs, did. So technically this books, containing 50 letters, from 1965 to 2015, took 50 years to ‘write’. (Amazon automatically updated the kindle version with the letters of the last 2 years, after I purchased the book in 2013. Go Amazon!).

But then saying this book is a collection of annual letters written by Warren Buffett is akin to saying “History is about some important dates”. ‘Letters to Shareholders’ is soooo much much more than just a collection of letters. Through these 50 letters, Buffet talks about the wider investing and business world and touches on a lot of very interesting subjects, giving the reader a solid grounding on many helpful topics that can stand in as 24 Carat practical life lessons.

The book is especially splendid at educating the reader on 3 topics:

1. Investing: Over 50 letters (sermons?) Buffet elaborates on what being a value investor is all about and how to think like a smart value investor. There are books explicitly dedicated to teaching you investing and they fail at it while this £2 book does in effortlessly. Warren talks at length on how to think about investing and then how to act on that thinking. This alone makes this book worth the time needed to read it. I envy the young reader who finishes it before his 25th birthday. He is guaranteed to have a literally richer life than he would otherwise have had, whatever his starting position was weath-wise. Warren’s 2005 letter has a write up on ‘How to minimize investment returns’. What a tour de force that particular one was. As was the 2013 section ‘Some thoughts on investing’.

2. Business: Berkshire Hathaway buys and oversees a boatload of companies and Buffet wades deep into what specific metrics matter when running and evaluating a firm and which are the dubious ones (it’s EBIDTA). There are many colleges around the world, esp. in third world countries , offering dubious 2 year+ MBA and Business Diplomas that fail to do what this one little book does by itself: Give the reader an unbeatable and thorough education in the basics of thinking like a CEO/Businessman.

3. Understanding the Insurance Industry : Berkshire Hathaway at its core is an Insurance firm and as a Consultant currently embedded at one such firm, I could not have hoped for a more comprehensive overview on how to look into and understand the industry and the myriad operators in it. Insurance plays a crucial part in economies globally and the book gives the reader lessons on how to evaluate the health of the industry and a firm in it. Nothing comes close.

So yes, while it took me the better part of 30 months to finish this book end to end, it was only because one should ingest this book slowly and gradually to let the lessons and Buffet’s wisdom sink in, like sand settling at the bottom of a lake. A beach read this book is most definitely not but you know what this book most definitely is : The best £2 I ever spent.

So go on, jump in and climb this Everest of a book . The view from the top is breathtaking.