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Friday 25th May 2018

News & Olds – Leading, Post-employment & Innovation.

Links, quotes, snippets, fragments of memories. Not always in chronological order


A class divide separates people who choose their job from people who don’t. Today’s young people mostly don’t. If they have work, it’s often servile. That means they have to define themselves without the benefit of professional identity. Many do it through consumption: you are your Mac or your favourite kind of coffee.  The great Middle Class identity Crisis; FT Magazine


“You can see how debt is an effective method of control in this scenario, partially explaining why student loan debt has become so pervasive. How do you keep an educated workforce in jobs that no longer stimulate them, don’t produce anything, and are fundamentally just 40-hour time-sucks that enable excessive consumption? You enter them into legal contracts that bind them into a certain amount of economic consumption each month, in the form of a loan repayment, thus ensuring they are forced to participate in this system. Even if they see its bullshit, and even if they want to produce something, regardless of its economic valuation, they can’t. They’re trapped in a cycle of consumption, paying for the time they spent gaining the skills they no longer need.”  Reddit comment on Surviving the post-employment economy


“How was your day? If your answer is “fine,” then I don’t think you were leading”  Seth Godin; Tribes


“One day you will sit in the pub with your friends and instead of making observations on life, listening to others, talking about that movie you loved or recommending a book or just listening to someone’s problems, instead of helping someone by just fucking sitting there and listening to them, you’ll be talking about your companies second quarter performance. If you think that’s hyperbole, visit Palo Alto.”  The Dublin Web Summit or How We Destroy Everything; Medium


“The difference between a mature adolescent and an immature adolescent is not their expectation of massive success– they both think they’re going to rule the world– but how they see it happening.  Mature kids see a steady climb to awesomeness; immature kids see it happening one day, all at once, at some arbitrary point in the future.  I know this because I see them in Starbucks, laptops open, staring out the window.” Those Five Days Matter More Than Anything, Except The Other Days


“Who you are is a product of your experience, and also a product of the experiences you did not have.  You didn’t talk to that girl, now that’s part of you– you are the guy who was too scared/angry/self-absorbed/whatever to talk to her, and that is an entirely different guy then the guy who does talk to her and it works; and an entirely different guy from the one who gets maced.  That was one of the most important days of your life, and you didn’t even know it.  Which brings me to the real point: every day is the most important day of your life, and you don’t even know it.” Those Five Days Matter More Than Anything, Except The Other Days


“That rush of good feeling that comes after a daily run, the inspiring conversation with a good friend, or the momentary flash of anger that arises when someone cuts in front of us in line—what could they have to do with big life matters? Everything, actually” — Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?


“We got rid of the day as well as we could.”  — Nathaniel Hawthorne



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News & Olds – Patience, Happiness & Nerds.

Links, quotes, snippets, fragments of memories. Not always in chronological order


“Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.”  Seth Godin; Poke the Box

“For China to be meaningfully an engine for global growth, it is not enough merely to be the highest arithmetical component of global growth. The world needs more demand, and countries with large trade surpluses are net absorbers of global demand, not engines of growth. It is not high Chinese growth rates that will help the world, in other words. It is Chinese rebalancing of the gap between domestic savings and domestic investment that will create growth for the world, with or without high Chinese growth rates. Only when China is importing capital and exporting demand will it be a net contributor to growth abroad.”  Michael Pettis; The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead

“But whatever happens, your future happiness is entirely related to your ability to impose your own limits on your freedom. The time has come to not be everything you want to be, but to be one thing you’ve wanted to be. I may as well tell you that once you’ve chosen a specific goal, and begin to legitimately work towards it, you may then find a  different path suits you better; but that kind of insight is only possible after activity, after doing. Less thinking, more doing.”  The Last Psychiatrist; “My fiancee is pushing me away and I’ve lost hope”

“Be patient. Impatience is the official language of youth.”  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; 20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 30.

“Nerds make the world go around. Or actually, nerds oil the wheels and jocks run inside it.”  Todd Terje interview: “nerds make the world go around”



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News & Olds – Attention, Self-control & Boredom.

Links, quotes, snippets, fragments of memories. Not always in chronological order.


“MIT was a constant assault on my self-esteem, from day one all the way through, continuous….But I look back on it and it really taught me how to think and how to go deep on a problem and to stay on a problem even when I was lost and didn’t know where to go with it and just keep on digging into it.” — Brad Feld; Great Entrepreneurs Go Out and Do

“Choice of attention – to pay attention to this and ignore that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.”  W. H. Auden

“We all have times when the world overwhelms us. The truth is, unlike Superman, we don’t even know a fraction of our own problems. That’s a blessing. Stop trying to hear and see everything. Pick something near the top of your pile. Do it. The pragmatist knows that nothing is the worst action you can take.” — Becoming a better Superman

“Debt, as we will learn over the next few years in China, has always been the Achilles’ heel of the investment-driven growth model.” — Michael Pettis; The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy

“In the future we are wonderful people”  — Dan Ariely on Self-Control and procrastination

“‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly. Do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.” — Louis C.K

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Quotings – Nate Silver on honesty, biases (and consultants)

It’s hard for a campaign to operate under the assumption that it’s probably going to lose. And so there’s all kinds of these different biases that can creep in, from confirmation bias in the way that you construct your samples, to what news actually gets reported to the candidate. I think any organisation, whether it’s a political campaigner or anything else, if you’re an organisation that can do a reasonably good, a reasonably honest self-assessment, then that’s a big edge.

That’s why, by the way, consultants make millions of dollars per year, right? McKinsey or whatever else, they’re not really adding a lot of value, necessarily – I’m sure they’re very smart people – with the actual work product, so much as they provide mediation services to resolve internal conflicts in companies– we can do politically incorrect things if you hire McKenzie to go in and say something obvious, basically.

An excerpt from Nate’s ‘Author’s at Google’ talk. Quote starts here, however the entire talk is worth watching. Embedded below.




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“Doing God’s Work”

Lloyd Blankfield, CEO of  Wall street firm, Goldman Sachs infamously said in a 2010 interview that he is “doing God’s work.”

In that same year, development economist Hernando De Sato, speaking at the Oslo freedom forum said those working for human rights “are doing God’s work”.

They may both be right.

De Soto spoke in the context of eradicating poverty for the billions of the world’s poor. Blankfield spoke about returns for shareholders and clients. While their disciples may be different, their principles are the same – the creation and distribution of wealth is a blessing. The matter then is one of utility. That is, who benefits more from the increase of wealth?

Wealth is one of the most potent and effective ways to improve the welfare of humanity.  The most cited example of this today is China where 300 million people have been lifted from poverty in the last 30 years. Here exists an implicit agreement between the people and the state which holds that the oppression of poverty is less comfortable, more crushing, than the oppression of autocracy.

But what of other countries, how do we increase the well being of their citizens?

I don’t believe the answer is redistribution of wealth from the west to the rest, after all, weren’t all countries poor at one stage? Responsibility lies firstly with the Governments of developing countries, the officials elected by their people as a symbol of their aspirations. However if we look at many developing countries today we see a failure of authorities to aspire to much anything.

Africa, South East Asia and Latin America are pockmarked with countries where public institutions serve private interests, where deficits of trust impede progress and where social security nets, if they exist at all, are hoisted one inch from the ground. Ostensibly present, practically useless. The onus is on the governments of these countries to reform and develop an environment that empowers citizens and nurtures wealth creation.

At the same time we cannot overlook the skewed state of capitalism as it exists today. People should be free to accumulate and earn as much as they can however is there such thing as enough? If we see capital as a means of well being then I think so.

We have those with absolutely enough and those with absolutely not enough.

I define absolutely enough as owning assets exceeding 100 times the per capita GDP of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, let’s choose America. By this definition an individual would own assets of around $4.85 million, positioning them comfortably in the top percentile of the world’s highest net worth individuals.

I define absolutely not enough as having income of less than $800 a year. A state of existence where the decisions to feed, educate and shelter your family become zero sum. It’s being a member of the almost 2.5 billion humans who live on less than around $2 a day, those who cannot afford the universal values laid down in the declaration of Human rights.

So to answer my earlier question, who benefits more from an increase of wealth? It is those individuals, hugging the low end of the pareto distribution, with absolutely not enough.

More qualitatively though, and perhaps more importantly, wealth can be best described as the ability to spend one’s days unfettered by the issue of money. To spend the present not consumed with thoughts about cash flow in the future.

This is the goal we must aim for.

How do we get more people to this stage of wealth?

Providing money is not the whole answer,  Providing opportunity is. Namely the opportunities available to those in the west.  Opportunities concealed among strong educational, public, financial and legal institutions. And importantly, opportunities at financial education. As highlighted in Portfolios of the poor , If you’re poor, managing your money well is absolutely central to your life—perhaps more so than for any other group.”

An interest in macro economic issues, and a realisation of the power of finance accumulated in me taking the CFA exam in 2011. Written on a whiteboard in my room, above my study desk was a quote from The ascent of money. It read: “The rewards for ‘getting it’ have never been so immense. And the penalties for financial ignorance have never been so stiff.” I’m determined to get ‘it’, get the rewards and help give others the opportunity to ‘get it’. Unlike race, or height, or background, wealth is fluid, changeable, fleeting. Attainable. It’s the most equalizing force on the planet.


To paraphrase William Gibson, the wealth is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

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China and Soft Power

This article is so true it hurts. Excerpt:

“After my lecture at Beijing University, a student asked how China could increase its soft power. I suggested that he ask himself why India’s Bollywood films command far greater international audiences than do Chinese films. Does India have better directors and actors? When Zhang Yimou, the acclaimed Chinese director, was asked a similar question, he replied that films about contemporary China are neutered by the censors. I told the student that much of a country’s soft power is generated by its civil society and that China had to lighten up on its censorship and controls if it wished to succeed.”

‘Soft power’ is something China has the capability to generate in spades, but it needs to cultivate an image that is led from society up, not party down. China is too concerned with it’s image that it always want to ship the assembled product – ‘look this is China’ – rather than shipping the pieces and letting the world put it together.

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In second place

“How ironic would it be if the proletariat revolted against the bourgeoisie in a Communist state?” – From the comments below the Economists’ article on China becoming the 2nd largest economy by GDP size.

A not impossible scenario unless China works to bridge the wealth gap between the new rich and those yet to enjoy the spoils of capitalism socialism with Chinese characteristics.

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Let China be the people

Whenever we think of China our opinion is coloured by the communist government. It’s true, as illustrated through this simple thought experiment.

Think of Sweden…. You thought: Abba, Lapland, blondes, a fictional bikini team.

Think of Japan…. You thought: Anime, Robots, Kurosawa movies, Mount Fuji.

Think of China…. You thought: Great wall, great food, ITS GOT AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT!

It’s true of course, but still it’s the odd one out among those other descriptions. Constitutional monarchy and Parliamentary democracy never felt quite as much worth mentioning.
Why does this happen? I believe it’s for a lot of reasons, but here’s two.

1. Because the Chinese government likes to dictate the nation’s narrative. 

They have done ever since they got into power. “People will believe what I tell them to believe” seems to be the official dictum where matters of historical fact are concerned.

That’s the reason why we have a Chinese population with the juxtaposed habit of denouncing Japan for its past atrocities (rightly so) but ignoring and slowly forgetting the disaster and violence lauded out by the incumbent governments’ rule under Mao. I don’t need to tell you that that’s dangerous.

A national narrative that paints over its black spots of history while externalising failures results in a population who will easily follow the call of patriotism as it leads them off the cliff of reason. This monopoly on storytelling has led to a situation where China is a nation of one story not many. Where the official mythology hangs like a grey overcoat over the millions of colourful and fascinating tales from contemporary china.

2.  The media in the West loves to hate China. 

The last year has seen the media denounce governments in the Middle east, broadcasting the story of the peoples’ struggles under their brutish dictators. Yet for years before this very few cast a light on this injustice, as if the oppression only began when the cameras arrived in Tunisia. Yet China, a country far more free and more dynamic undergoes much harsher and frequent scrutiny. This double standard is unfair and unhelpful.

While some quarters of the Chinese Press might look at this as the West’s attempt to undermine China, I would, foolishly perhaps, call it the west holding China up to a higher standard – “You want to be a world power? Then roll with the punches”. Either way, this habit of pointing fingers at China’s misdeeds while not celebrating it’s many successes results in a skewed perception of the country.

Such proclivity to amplify the bad while skirting around the good may not be good journalism but it’s not entirely the media’s fault either. When the Chinese government stands up and states “You have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”  it’s explicitly declaring to the world that it’s the go to guy for all 1.5 billion Chinese people. This is the PEOPLE’S party remember?  In which case we can only conclude that the people are a petulant bunch. Through this hogging of the microphone by the Party we’re led to believe that the opinion of the Chinese government is the view of the Chinese people. Hundreds of thousands of people marching in Washington DC over the past decade should be evidence enough of the error in such logic.

This phenomenon of seeing a country through a singular filter is simplistic and unhelpful and serves only to perpetuate stereotypes. Next time you see a headline that reads China says X, ask yourself ‘are they talking about the Chinese people or the Chinese government?’


A China by the People

The Chinese government demands respect like a fat kid demands more pie, not understanding that most nations earned respect through building a better world, and that such building must begin firstly within a countries’ own borders.
China gets no points for blocking foreign companies from it’s market, or rounding up it’s disaffected citizens.  It would get points for building a better management process, a better quality car, a vibrant youth culture or a more fairer society . In other words, contributing to this global community that we call humanity. The thing is, all of these things – cars, cultures, processes – are best built by the people and not by the state. The sooner the people in power in China realise this, the sooner they can change perceptions and change the world.

Sometimes the best thing a government can do is get out of it’s peoples way.

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