All posts by Tom

Investing your portfolio: Where are the customers’ yachts?

The wife of a successful entrepreneur once remarked to me that she had pointed out to her husband that there will always be someone else with a bigger yacht in the marina.  She was hinting that it’s fine to work, but there’s a point at which you ought to stop and spend a bit of time with your family and friends.  She’s since divorced (for him it’s the second time!).

livingoffthepeopleAnother boating analogy was shared by The Economist recently in a comment about the asset management industry entitled Living off the people.  As an asset manager, investing other people’s money, it was pertinent to my profession.  The article offers a synopsis of the fund management industry and the challenges it faces today, the principal one being “Is there any use for fund manager’s at all?”  The evidence has been around for decades, and now is being more actively referenced, that paying someone to beat the index is a fool’s game.

You can’t consistently beat the index, and if you have to pay someone to try, that’s going to cost you even more, so don’t even try.  Just invest in a low fee index fund, like one offered by Vanguard.  The article points out that a quarter of American billionaires work in finance and investment and concludes with a quote from a pre-war Wall Street mogul “Where are all the customers’ yachts?”  Instead pay a computer pennies to put yo u on the efficient frontier.

Continue reading Investing your portfolio: Where are the customers’ yachts?

You can’t outrun a poor diet: Calories Matter

About 70% of calorie consumption is accounted for by metabolism though the absolute number varies little for people of different metabolic rates. So, if you’re an average male whose calorie burn is 2,000 a day (can be 1,500 – 2,500 depending on height), about 1,400 are consumed just being you (brain, breathing etc). For females whose calorie burn rate is 1,600, that would be 1,200 calories. Another 400 (320 for females) or so are consumed by digestion (can be 100-800). And then there’s movin’ and shakin’ aka exercise.

The shape of things to come (already here).Standing instead of sitting can burn an extra 50 calories an hour (10-80). So if you stand instead of sit at the desk you’ll burn maybe an extra 300 calories a day. Jogging for an hour can burn 700 calories. And running burns about twice te calories per minute of walking. Simply fidgeting will raise your metabolic rate and make a difference. If you have a physically demanding day, like cleaning, digging, building etc, you’ll be burning more calories than a desk-worker, but that doesn’t mean a bit of a workout isn’t going to help the parts of your body the daily routine doesn’t reach, like your tummy! And it’s good to breathe.

Continue reading You can’t outrun a poor diet: Calories Matter

Global perspectives: Technology, Growth, Money, Politics and what to invest in

The Long Termworld-300px

We’re talking 20 years or so here.

In 20  years we’ll be facing Big Stuff.  Climate change, weather volatility, species loss, clean air, clean water, … that whole environment thing will be getting much more serious and everyone will be dealing with it in some way or another.  I’m hoping it’ll make Ireland a bit more like the south of France, and it might, but whatever else, it’s going to make the simple things in life more difficult.  For most of humanity that will include feeding themselves and getting clean water.

So that will make food and land more important.

In 20 years we may well have passed “The Singularity“.  That’s a term coined by futurists, often with a trans-humanist bent, which denotes the inevitable point at which technology development starts happening “by itself”.  This occurs as humanity’s understanding of physics and biology enable the creation of thinking machines (computers) that emulate the brain, and then androids and cyborgs begin to be used in place of people.

Certainly in 20 years technology will have changed our world even more than in the past 20.   Do not imagine The Singularity to be fantasy.  We are close already.  The mobile phone/computer in your pocket is old technology compared with neuro-computers being tested in laboratories.  Robots are already becoming remarkably similar to C-3PO in looks and mobility at least.  Today the consequences are being felt in most professions as AI (artificial intelligence) takes jobs away from humans.  This is what we all wanted – automatic checkout, automatic cashier, automatic accountant, automatic lawyer, automatic vehicle … The challenge now being solved is automatic creativity.

Continue reading Global perspectives: Technology, Growth, Money, Politics and what to invest in

The dangers of committees and what they signal.

The article below by Dr Schori and Mr Garee is quoted wholesale because it’s amusing, anthropomorphic, so easy to relate to, and accurate.

deathbycommitteeCommittees have a tendency to be inefficient and ineffective, consuming resources and delaying results.  Consensus is necessary, but usually that’s at strategic or policy level.  If it’s necessary for daily or tactical decisions committees tend to be unwieldy.  Far better to achieve a balance of responsibility  and competence wherein people rely upon and trust one another.  As with so many aspects of “management” there are exceptions and the challenge in this case is to be one.  Be exceptional, as an enterprise, by maintaining your nimble physique as you grow and mature.

‘Management by committee’ signals final stages of company ‘life cycle.’

By Thomas R. Schori, Ph.D., and Michael L. Garee, Principals,  Millennium Marketing Research, 808 E. Ironwood, Normal, IL 61761-5239. Tel. 309-532-8466 –

http://tomschori.com/35800.HTM

Having spent a large part of our professional lives in corporate environments, not surprisingly, we’ve also spent a fair amount of time in meetings of one committee or another. In fact, many are the days in which we’ve spent the whole blasted day in some such meeting! We’d like to say that it was time well spent, but in most cases that simply was not the case. Our experience, of course, is not at all unique. In many companies, it appears that virtually every decision, large or small, momentous or trivial, is made by a committee.

Without question, it’s good management practice for a chief executive officer (or members of his or her senior management staff) to seek the advice and counsel of internal experts before making certain key decisions. But seeking advice and counsel is far different from managing by committee, a subtle distinction that’s seemingly lost on many companies. In the former, regardless of whom the CEO consults, it is he or she who makes the final decision, not a consensus of those who were consulted, as would be the case in a company managed by committee.

How pervasive is the practice of managing by committee? Very. Almost anyone working in a medium to large business today observes at least some of this practice on a daily basis. This practice, i.e., managing by committee, is characteristic of organizations that have entered the last two stages of the phenomenon which we previously have dubbed the Company Life Cycle [Described by us in our December 22, 1997, column, entitled, “Like products, companies also have a life cycle”].

If your company doesn’t manage by committee, you’re indeed fortunate. It means that your company is either still in the “toddler” (new company, very nimble) stage or the “adolescent” (company experiencing rapid growth) stage. Either way, your organization still has at its helm someone who continues to manage with visionary zeal, and is not afraid of making decisions. On the other hand, if your organization is one of the management by committee variety, of which there are far too many, watch out! If you’re not in a position to change it, you might want to “spruce” up your résumé because your company has already progressed to the “aging athlete” (established company merely “running in place”) or “old geezer” (company characterized by turgidity, headed for imminent decline) stage of its life cycle. Such a company probably is not long for this world.

Continue reading The dangers of committees and what they signal.

How to change the world: Change your mind, body and spirit.

Joe Dispenza has been elucidating the science of mind for decades.  In this talk (embedded below) he gives a clear, easy to follow description of how the mind works and how a person can change themselves by, literally, changing their mind.

To summarise: The brain is constantly changing – the growth, decay, connection and disconnection of neurons is the electro-chemical, physical manifestation of mind.  Recognising one’s own thoughts allows you to manage them in a positive way, rather than allowing them to propagate chaotically.  (This is why cognitive behavioural therapy works, even to the extent of being a go to treatment for clinical depression.) So, when faced with stress or challenge, you pause, take a breath, consider the situation and look for positive aspects, which includes taking a different approach.  Taking a positive approach lowers stress (good), and allows the mind to think more critically to find solutions (good) instead of resorting to primitive, knee-jerk responses.

People who are seeking change in the world or themselves will appreciate the scientific foundation of these ideas, which have been practices for centuries by yogis, monks and ascetics.  The technique is also used, whether consciously or not, by successful people who control their behaviour – this includes academics,  athletes and sportspeople, musicians, thespians, entrepreneurs and organisation leaders.

As well as using your mind as a simple tool for changing yourself, recognising your biological nature allows you to choose a path which yields happiness and health.  This happens when you manage stress to allow your physical body to move to equanimity.

These ideas are very relevant for those of us who are seeking  system change.  Often our efforts are blocked by intransigence in  incumbent institutions, systems and leaders – and that is frustrating and exhausting.  Getting stressed is not a solution.  Stepping back, letting go and moving forward in the right way is the only way to effect positive change.  We are changing the system by changing ourselves.  To change the world, we must change ourselves.  It is not easy because the system is designed for dysfunction, but changing for good works, gets easier as you do it more and yields a fulfilling life.  Think about it!  And be the change you want to see in the world.

Enjoy the show:

The sun stood still, and it all began again …

Solstice moon at Ballin Temple.
Solstice moon at Ballin Temple.

The solstice passed today at 4 in the morning (UTC).

For most people, it is ignored or unknown, while for a few it is recognised as the event that gives rise to all the other seasonal holidays at this time of year – Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Saturnalia, and the calendar new years like Hogmany and New Year …  I used to be in the former group, but now, living closer to nature, find that recognising the solar cycle helps me stay in touch with the reality of our world.

While you celebrate the traditions of your culture it is fun to recognise the foundation for them.  Solstice, Yule, saturnalia and so on might be labelled pagan, but that is not as bad as it sounds.  It merely means “of the countryside”.  Well, isn’t that just nature?

If you’re fond of Christmas, this year is a good one to recognise our connection to nature because Pope Frank’s encyclical, Laudato Si (Praise be to Him), is all about respecting nature and treating the gift of nature with appropriate Christian humility.  Spare a prayer for nature which is so squashed by humanity that even cynics are now admitting the fact of human induced climate change.  (Even state media reported that 2015 temperatures are 3° above normal and the manager of the largest state nursery is startled by rain intensity he hasn’t experienced in 40 years.)

In nature there is no beginning or end.  At least not practically speaking.  The cycle continues around and around.  When we have the shortest day (today), with the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, our antipodean friends have the longest.  As our days begin to lengthen, theirs begin to shorten.  The date is an illusion but the perspective of the sun on our planet is not.  The sun is the timepiece of nature and one of the signals for plant life to regrow.  Other signals, like cold weather, also tell plants when to regrow, and they are changing, but the solar cycle does not.   The sun stands still (sol stice) and then bounces back in the other direction (of course it is Earth that is tilted as it spins around the sun which is stationary relative to Earth, making one circuit every year).

What does the coming year hold?  The trends of weather volatility and climate change will continue, so now we plan for a different growing cycle, a more Mediterranean one.  The impacts of civilisation continue to increase and the future of current economic, industrial and social systems is limited – they will change by force or choice because there are limits to the capacity of nature to absorb pollution and limits to the capacity of people to be cheated.

People are becoming more thoughtful as social media spreads memes and as access to education grows so the brainwashing of traditional mores becomes less persuasive and the natural curiosity of people to ask “does it have to be like that” is enlivened.  That is evidenced by the popularity of conservative politicians around the world, like Trump, who express people’s dissatisfactions.  (Sadly their solutions are ignorant and ineffective but since more moderate leaders are not supporting enlightened system change, the radical populists are drowning out all others.)

For our part we will continue to explore new, whole systems.  Ways of living that engage body, mind and spirit.  Lifestyles that give us the delights of human culture and the bounties of nature, as one.  It is not always easy to retrain the cynic, but even I have started to do yoga regularly (5 minutes a day) so there is hope even for the most egregious suits among us.

Happy new year to all!

System change, social media and your choices.

drowningworldcarCOP21 comes to a close as the wind howls and Jaspar’s rugby game is cancelled because so much water fell on the pitch last night.  Climate change is great, but it’s not good.  I love the warmer weather so here in Ireland it’s almost as warm as Hong Kong in the winter; you can go jogging and enjoy the breeze.  But the volatility of weather is a symptom of broken systems.  Both civilisation and nature.

The consequences for the breakdown of nature and civilisation will be different.  Nature will change – once nature was a burning ball in space, now it’s a paradise become decadent and failing.  Civilisation will simply disappear – and might never come back.

For some the idea that the human systems are dysfunctional and the weight of humanity is crushing nature is familiar.  For many of them, it is a new realisation and the response reflects where they come from: community driven people tend to activism, strategic operators tend to business solutions, organisers tend to regulation, and so on. For a few the notion of integral solutions is a dawning awareness.

Hand holding a Social Media 3d Sphere sign on white background.All of these people are connected by social organisation and media.  We all communicate with each other and ideas circulate quickly as nuggets of information on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, websites, journals, TV shows,  … We tend to communicate with like minded people.  It is not easy to cross over.  But the filtering of from one group to another happens because in each of our circle of family and friends there are always a few “strange ones” who bring unfamiliar concepts to the conversation.  (I might fit that description for many of my family and peers!)

Social media allows this cross-fertilisation of ideas and it reveals the homogeneity of your group of friends.  Who shares ideas about politics, art, religion, business, .. and so on?

COP21marchWhile there has been a great deal of activity related to COP21, it has been predominantly among the same people:  People who want to see system change, or people who have a vested interest in things staying as they are.

The outcome of COP21 is not going to be remarkable.  Sadly, the depth and breadth of understanding among leaders, and followers, is shallow and narrow.  For example, even I was a little stunned, on the way back from picking Richard up from the airport, to calculate that we had released a quarter of  his body weight of 60 odd kilos in CO2.

gas_balloon_scaleA litre of fuel releases between 0.6 and 0.7 kg of carbon, which grabs another two molecules of oxygen to make carbon di-oxide, bringing the weight to around 1.8 kg.  So for a 150 km round trip at 45 mpg (15.8 km/litre) we needed 150/15.8 or 9.5 litres which create 17 kilos of CO2.  Just that one event produced nearly the same weight of CO2 as you find in a bag of cement.  It’s heavy!  And it’s just one event on one day.

So even people like me can be stunned by the challenges we face.

The problem nature faces has much to do with energy and our gratuitous use of fossil fuels.  The reality is that humanity must live within the laws of nature, including not consuming more energy in a year than that captured by photosynthesis in a year.

unethicalCivilisation is breaking down because the systems we have in place are unethical.  Every crisis comes about because of moral failure.  Corruption insinuates business, politics and religion.  There are cries for change and some who show the way, but the establishment finds it hard to give up power.  If evolution is not chosen, revolution erupts.

So while you are part of the establishment, spare a moment for the alternative view that is shared by the fringes of your social circle.  It’s not about equality it’s about equity.  Be open to finding a way for systems to evolve.  The system is a result of everybody’s choices.  We must all choose better.  We must aim to do the right thing the right way.

Numbers That Matter – COP21

Is the scale of marches for change today a significant number?  They are certainly the largest individual marches and the largest globally coordinated march, and the first to include a virtual march which allowed people to participate without travelling long distance.

Marching (without marching) - the Avaaz virtual march. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/paris_virtual_march/
Marching (without marching) – the Avaaz virtual march.
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/paris_virtual_march/

They say about 600,000 marched (excluding virtual marchers) around the world. That’s a lot of people bothering to go out to do a chore.

Maybe the number is higher.  There are more on virtual marches.  And many who were there in thought and spirit if not body.

It might not be enough. Politicians listen to money.  Businesses might see opportunities, but are good at greenwash and we’re good at being blind-sided by advertising and mod cons – phones to cars, fast food to fast clothes, … must haves?

So we must remember tomorrow that we must still say no to more than enough.  Less consumption.  Less flying and driving.  Less packaging and chemicals.  Less deception and greed.  It’s easy.  We all know what to do if we think.

Does it matter?

Yes, in many ways.  Climate is just one.  Everything is connected.  We must change the system to bring dignity to humanity, fix the financial system, clean up the food system, stop the waste of corruption and redress the pain of war.

melting-EarthLooking at climate alone, the temperature rise since 1850 has been 1 o C, while 2 o C is agreed ‘gateway’ to dangerous global warming.  We’re well on the way to tipping point, if not there already.
We can emit up to 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.  At this rate we’ll have done that in 15 years.  That means we’ve got 15 years to stop, not we’ve got to stop in 15 years.  By the way, oil companies have in their current reserves 2,795 gigatonnes worth of carbon dioxide – so they have an incentive to sell that stuff, which will kill the planet as we know it.  (Living on Mars might be better…)  And just so you know how much they want it the CEO of Exxon gets paid $100,000 a day, yes a DAY.  And you’re paying it.
There’s been a 4% decline in Arctic sea ice per decade since 1979
9 out of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000

It’s not a debate.  If you’re smart it’s immoral to question whether humans are the cause or if fossil fuels are the problem.

There are other important facts.  Like that the human population has doubled while half the wildlife has been wiped out in my life.  Like the 30 million millionaires owning more than 3 billion people.  Like the suicide rate among farmers.  Like not being able to afford the food you buy.  It’s not about religion.  We’re all in this together.  It’s crazy.  We need common sense.  We need to take a breath and do the right thing the right way.

We need to say no to the bad things and use alternatives.  Drive less, travel less, turn the thermostat down, eat less junk, throw away less (and don’t buy it in the first place), cheat less, …  Eat more veg, run and bike more, say sorry, say I’m wrong, be with family and friends more.  And if we’re in charge, we’ve really got to do better.  We all are part of the system and we need to change the system.

Avaaz.org

350.org

Terrorism to Happiness – connecting the dots

main_900The news seems to be as bleak as ever, … but the outlook is worse.

There have always been stories of blood, death, corruption and pollution but now the consequences are more global and terminal.  There is even a rationale argument that we are past tipping point, but I choose to believe that there is still time to change.

Humans are clearly amazing.  Just look around you to see the conveniences and contrivances that make life easy and enjoyable.  You’re probably reading this on a computer or phone.  Isn’t that fantastic?!corruption

And we’re lovely, especially when we’ve had enough to eat and we’re in a good mood.  We’re creative – art, music, dance – and innovative.

So how come the systems for peace and justice don’t seem to work?  How come the food we buy is poisoned with chemicals?  How come the clothes we wear are made by slaves?  How come we’re on top and others are below?

Because we’ve stopped being human.  We’ve stopped thinking and regressed to primitive instinct and are prodded by rules and advertising to lie and steal.  That is a black and white caricature, but it is closer to the truth than we admit.la-sci-sn-china-exports-air-pollution-united-s-001

And how did we get this way?

We looked at our neighbour’s stuff and wanted more.  We didn’t care they are the same as us.  Or that we’ve pretty much got the same.  Or that in order to get the stuff you have to give up really living.  We were duped in to thinking that sitting on a throne is more enjoyable than hanging out with friends.

Water Pollution image in Haina, Dominican Republic - water pollution images -5How did that happen? Fear and greed.  That’s OK, because it’s natural.  At the beginning instinct and survival rule.  That model is fine at the beginning, when the beast is starting to develop language and tools.  That time has passed.      Now it’s about civilisation.  We have moved beyond survival, egocentric, controlling, strategic, even tested consensus models.  But all of our systems have been exclusive.  About US and THEM.  And now it’s about more than US or THEM, it’s about more than US and THEM.  It’s about everything.

Everything is connected from politics to environment, from work to play, from business to family.  So we must use all we know and move beyond exclusive thinking to inclusive thinking.

atomtoworld2

This starts with putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

If you don’t want to be … hit, bombed, starved, underpaid, overworked, abused, cheated or lied to, stolen from, … then don’t do those things.  And that means all people, and animals too.  And realise that plants are the foundation of life so treat them well.astraeaspiral2

There are responsibilities too.  About compassion and generosity to others, about working when you’re getting paid to work, about openness and disclosure, about care for other’s stuff.

It all sounds so simple.  Do the right thing the right way.  It’s actually not that hard.  It even feels good sometimes.

But we don’t all behave that way.  We don’t because of ignorance or complacency.  Sometimes it’s peer pressure.  But when we’re at the top, there’s no excuse.  Then we’re just choosing to be corrupt and corrupt the system.

It’s quite clear that we do have the means and understanding to give people the minimum resources and guidance to lead fulfilled lives.  eatingmoneyBut we don’t do that.  Half the world starves, a few million (say 30 million people, or less than half a percent (< 0.5%)) have more than that bottom half.  You can see that we’ve chosen that because the evidence is all around.  We all get to choose the way we live, the stuff we buy, the talk we talk, the jobs we do and when you add it all up, … you get what we’ve got.   That’s common sense right?!

We can change.  We can do things differently.  We could grow up.  We could do the things we’re supposed to.  We could give more, take less.  Be more open, honest.  Stop consuming when you’ve had enough.  Understand the connection between your choice to buy … food, clothes, furniture, toys, transport, holidays, homes, cars, votes … and the consequences for other people and for the life of earth.

People don’t want to blow themselves up.  They might do it out of desperation or ignorance.  But they’d rather have a decent life.  So deliver resource to live, work and play, deliver education and technology and the freedom to choose.  Choose to share.

World-Peace

Are you feeling it, Celtic Tiger?

celticphoenixThey say that Ireland is back from the brink.  The data shows it, the traffic on the M50 around Dublin shows it and the budget displays a touch of the old hubris we knew from the noughties.

GDP might be above 5% but we’re not feeling it so much on the ground.  The growth is driven by trade, which dominates because Ireland attracts foreign companies that want a low tax jurisdiction.  Pharmaceutical companies and IT companies have big operations serving Europe.  And there’s a whole ecosystem around them from lawyers and accountants to property agents feeding of the nexus of activity.

There’s some trickle down.  That’s good.  But mostly it’s people at the top that are benefiting.  Certainly here in Carlow, only 70km from Dublin city centre, businesses which are three generations old are still scraping to get get by, keep their staff and pay down the bank debt.  We still feel the pinch.

That pressure is not just financial.  It’s regulatory too.  The raft of licenses, fees and new certifications required to do what has been done for years puts a crimp in the cash flow as well as the opportunity to innovate.  For a country that prides itself on its “educated” work force that is a shame.

And while we’re on the subject, education budgets have been cut and the whole culture of pedagogy remains stuck in Catholic dogma and mantra.  We are not taught to think but rather to perform.  That does not set Ireland up for a great future.   It is the same approach of the erstwhile feudal systems – train the monkeys to do what they’re told, not to think.  There are moves to change the system, to open it up and modernise curriculum and pedagogy, but resistance is strong – after all everyone’s been trained to accept what we have.

Which raises the question of Irish culture and how that is faring as the economy “resuscitates”.  On the ground, Ireland has always been about people. When it was poor there was still a pride in presentation.  Yes there are prejudices born of incestuous communities and ignorance, but there has always been heart, and big heart at that.  Ireland has a social culture which is about people and fun as much as porter.  In fact it’s more about tea than porter.  It seems that as we kow-tow to the international drug company and software company we are losing some of that joy.  Too many of us have learnt how to be greedy while the rest of us have not yet learned to say “no”.

The future could be bright, but that is uncertain.  We could have money, without happiness and maybe that’s OK.  But if the markets turn and the vibrancy of those international companies pauses, we could be poor and sad.  It’s important that we all take a moment to keep our communities alive, to help a neighbour and to ask for effective management of public services, like school (whose budgets are cut), health (ditto) and infrastructure (ditto again).   We must put politics and predjucies aside and think for ourselves.  Let’s not imagine we’re America without the guns, after all Americans likes Ireland because it’s Irish.