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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Collaboration

"No one lives long enough to learn everything they need to learn starting from scratch.  To be successful, we absolutely, positively have to find people who have already paid the price to learn the things that we need to learn to achieve our goals."

- Brian Tracy
Last year I lost a longtime work collaborator who moved to another job.  Although we were not close personally, I had come to depend on her because she was very good at things I was not and vice versa.  I did not fully realize how much easier she had made my job for the last 10 years until after she was gone.  It took a while to learn new skills and adapt to new people.  Even still, I am not as efficient as I was a year ago.

Upon further reflection, I realized that I had done far too little collaboration in many areas of my life.  I am very happy with how my family cooperates to get things done, but in other areas, I've definitely had more of a go-it-alone attitude at times and this has only increased throughout my career.  While I sit in meetings most of my work day, we mostly just report what we've done and assign a disjoint list of tasks to each other.  Very little collaboration takes place in the sense of "creating something by working jointly with others".  Many side projects in my life (including this blog) were also conceived and executed with no collaboration from others. 

The irony is that because of technology, it has never been easier to work together.  Yet it seems like I did much better in earlier days.  Back in the early 90's, there wasn't much of an Internet.  Like most people, all I had was email.  It was not so easy for people to collaborate, and yet we did.  In a passing email about an esoteric work issue, a gentleman thousands of miles away noticed an overlap of investment interests.  This chance introduction went on to be a multi-year collaboration of investment ideas.  We had no web, but we had email, and so when we had questions or ideas about investments, we sent or replied to a group of recipients that grew over time.  I learned a ton over the next few years, and our group was even featured in a national business magazine.  I also remember driving long distances in those days to play with other amateur musicians.  Music wasn't a passive pursuit back then, a button to click on iTunes and Amazon.

Many people have a bent for doing everything themselves.  I know I do.  It's messy to involve others in your plans.  They may not understand your approach or they may have alternative ideas.  You have to give up a little control, and in many cases, it's simply faster to try to do something yourself than to explain what you want done.  Delegation is hard; collaboration is even harder.

But ultimately this approach can be severely limiting.  One person alone has very little time and a limited skill set.  If you insist on doing everything yourself, eventually your vision will be limited.  You probably won't be able to seriously imagine creating things or doing things that you can't accomplish solo, and this is a very narrow range of possibilities.  I am currently trying to reverse this trend in my life and seek greater collaboration at work and in other pursuits.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I Read Blogs

"Sometimes you hear kids in a garage somewhere who can just barely play their instruments and are hitting it with a kind of ferocious, undeniable spirit that has a power and energy that no one else other than those kids playing on that day in that place will ever achieve in that particular way."

- Pat Metheny

In order to fully appreciate the above quote, it will be helpful to know something about Pat Metheny.  He's a jazz guitarist, and while you may or may not appreciate that kind of music, I think it's fair to say that by almost any measure, he's a professional.  He's given more than 5,000 concerts all around the globe, recorded dozens of albums, and won 18 Grammy Awards.  He's collaborated with hundreds of musicians, experimented with all sorts of music styles, and taught college courses.  In short, he's exactly the sort of person you might expect to dismiss an amateur garage band as a bunch of noise.

This background makes the quote all the more remarkable.  Notice that there is no patronizing nonsense about music skills.  He acknowledges that they can barely play.  And yet, despite this limitation, there are times when something magical happens.  It's not just that occasionally they sound pretty good.  He describes how, for a brief moment, in a particular way, they are able to achieve something that no one else will ever duplicate.  I find this stunning to contemplate.

And that is why I read blogs.

Most of us are neither professional writers nor true subject matter experts.  We can barely play our instruments.  And yet...there are indeed those magical moments when a particular post, or even a particular sentence, achieves something that no one else will ever achieve in that particular way.

Monday, April 2, 2012

BRIC...MIST

"History is written by the victors."

- Winston Churchill
In 2001, economist Jim O'Neill coined the acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) for a group of countries at a similar economic stage with high growth potential.  This turned out to be an excellent forecast.  Back in 2001, China was ranked the 6th largest GDP in the world, Brazil was 11th, India was 13th, and Russia was 16th.  Fast forward to 2011, and China now has the 2nd largest GDP in the world, Brazil is 6th, Russia is 9th, and India is 10th.  That is a huge jump in relative numbers.  Absolute growth and market returns have also been very impressive.

This past year, O'Neill coined MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) as a new acronym to identify another block of emerging economies.  The current relative GDP rankings of the MIST economies come from a similar base as the BRICs did ten years ago.  Currently Mexico is the 14th largest GDP in the world, South Korea is 15th, Indonesia is 17th, and Turkey is 18th.  Given the call on the BRIC economies, this new group bears watching.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Truly Shocking News

"Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves."

- G. K. Chesterton
It was not that many years ago that we learned some McDonald's employees are only in it for the money.  And now only a few weeks ago we've also come to learn that Goldman Sachs employees are also not entirely altruistic.

I am truly shocked by this news.  Today is a very sad day...