Opportunity missed

One of my favorite quotes about opportunity is “Opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” To me, this speaks volumes. Too many look for easy answers, when success comes from doing some heavy lifting.

Along these lines, in his book “Outliers,” two of Malcolm Gladwell’s four traits of successful people involve opportunity. I should mention the other two are being smart or talented enough and putting in 10,000 hours or more of practice. But, the two pertinent to this discussion are recognizing opportunity and seizing opportunity.

A quick example illustrates this point. By the time he was age 21, Bill Gates was one of the top programmers in the world. Why? He had the opportunity to work on the mainframe computer after 1 am at the University of Washington. As Gladwell points out, it was recognizing this opportunity and getting up or staying up to program while others slept or had fun. He was learning.

Gladwell points out that even the smartest of people sometimes overlook opportunity. In a genius grant project, money was given to watch these geniuses flourish, but many of them were not successful. The reason is they missed opportunity. The ones who were successful either saw opportunity or had someone who brokered opportunity for them.

Some very smart people fail to see that they are in competition for people’s time, interest and money. By waiting until something is perfected or their schedule frees, that opportunity may be gone.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from this brief discussion. First, don’t be frightened of hard work. A man will never be shot while washing the dishes.

Second, keep your head up, network, ask questions and just be involved in your surroundings. Connect dots by looking for or asking about things you see in someone’s office or something you saw online.

Third, be prepared for these moments. Do your research on companies and people that you are meeting with. This will help in making those connections.

Fourth, seize opportunities. If you are driving and see an interesting shop – stop the car and pull in. This is a metaphor for business, volunteer or investment opportunities. Since the average person has had eleven jobs by the time they’re forty, take a chance on something that interests you. But, honor that interest and invest your time in it. These life experiences will build your wisdom.

Opportunities abound. Look for them. Seize them. Work them.

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An Inconvenient Sequel

I watched the documentary sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” earlier this week. The title is aptly named “An Inconvenient Sequel,” and is truly a must-see movie with Al Gore leading the charge to discuss battling climate change. Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winning Gore is one of the few people who walks the talk on any subject.

He is out there teaching countless others and bringing leaders together to look to our future. His expertise as a non-scientist is unparalleled and the respect he is genuinely afforded by world leaders is in evidence. Many of the folks he has taught, usually in groups of 600 or so people, have gone on to lead efforts in other countries. From the movie, he played a key role in getting India to the table with financial commitments to build solar farms rather than a devastating 400 coal plants.

He demonstrates some of the predictions made in the first movie in 2006 have come to fruition. A particular example was the prediction of the flooding of lower Manhattan if a hurricane met up with warmer oceans and came ashore. He was criticized after the first movie, but Hurricane Sandy did indeed flood the area getting into the 9-11 monument construction, as forecasted.

He also waded through the streets of Miami Beach with the Mayor and others as flooding routinely occurs at high tide, even without storms. The Mayor was very clear that climate change is happening and it is right here. It should be noted this is in a state where the Governor refuses to meet with people to discuss climate change and has forbidden discussion of climate change by his staff. That is the power of the fossil fuel industry where a Governor of a state surrounded on three sides by water cannot bring himself to discuss the flooding of his biggest city.

The movie spends some time on the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Accord and the excitement there. It was very interesting seeing Gore help broker a deal with India and a solar energy company and investor capital. Coming to an agreement was a major victory for the world, even though our current President has back tracked on what was committed. Fortunately, as I mentioned in the post on the book “Climate of Hope,” cities, businesses and citizens are leading the way, leaving Washington behind.

In the movie, Gore highlights the significant efforts in places like Chile as they exponentially increase solar energy development in dramatic fashion. Even in our own country, solar and wind energy are going like gangbusters with double-digit job growth and surpassing earlier forecasts. Progress is being made, but we cannot backtrack. The current President is throwing water on the fire, but the fire is too big for him to stop the changes.

Please spread the word about the movie and go see it yourself. It is that important.

 

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Are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels?

The United Kingdom just announced it will ban sales of combustible engine cars in 2040. Australia announced the same week the planned development of a super highway for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

These announcements come a month after France made a similar decision to the more recent UK one to ban combustible cars and Volvo said they would no longer make combustible cars after 2019. And, not to be outdone, several cities like Paris, Mexico City, Madrid et al, want to ban combustible cars much sooner by 2025.

In fact, as reported in the book “Climate of Hope” by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club ED Carl Pope, cities around the world are leading the way on the climate change fight. They are making huge strides in making buildings more green, improving the time for taxis and cars to move across the city which produces less exhaust, developing more pedestrian and bike areas that improve safety and Eco footprint and migrating to hybrid and electric vehicles among other things. Bloomberg cites large buildings as a huge impact on carbon emissions, so improvements like NYC made with the 1931 built Empire State Building pays dividends.

Lastly, the shareholders of three energy companies – ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and PPL – voted in May to require management to report their climate change impact and plans to reduce such impact to the shareholders. It is not ironic that ExxonMobil is being investigated by three state attorney generals for alleged past misrepresentation to shareholders of the impact of climate change on its business, which would be a securities crime.

So, back to my question in the title which is addressed to the US President, EPA Director and DOE Director, are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels? Or, would you rather acknowledge the significant movement toward renewable energy and conservation in your own country and invest in the true growth industries and our environment?

Undoing how we make decisions

Best-selling author Michael Lewis’ latest book is called “The Undoing Project – A Friendship that Changed our Minds” which focuses on how we make decisions. Two transplanted Israeli psychologists named Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky partnered together for years and were acclaimed for their work in showing we are less rational decision-makers than we think we are, especially where risk is involved.

In short, we include our biases in how we interpret data and probabilities, so we do not all see the issue the same way. But, even more telling is we can be influenced by how the question is posed to us. Their analysis eventually led to a Nobel Prize in Economics, which was awarded to Kahneman after Tversky had passed away. The reason is their work created a new breed of economics called “Behavioral Economics.” But, their work had converts using it in the practice of medicine, setting public policy and even in making NBA draft picks. They ask that people step back and question things. Your bias may lead you to pick the most improbable cause or choice, so if you question yourself and others you may find the best probable path forward.

The other key takeaway is the tremendous partnership these two had over the years. They were very different personalities, yet it was difficult for them to know who had more input into their work. They often flipped a coin to decide whose name should go first in a paper. Their partnership was so constructive, it was difficult on people in the US who tend to believe one of the partners was a greater contributor. Tversky, being more outgoing and confident, was more easily and incorrectly thought of as the lead. Kahneman questioned everything even when he was far more right than wrong, so he came across as less confident. Ironically, it was his questioning things that challenged Tversky to reconsider strong positions. They yin and yanged like an old married couple.

It would be difficult for me to define their work in such a short piece, so let me share some of their examples which may be illustrative. Their most famous piece is called “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk.” If you were given two options where (1) gave you a 50% chance to win $1,000 and (2) provided a gift of $500, most people would pick (2) as a sure thing. Yet, if the question is reframed and the two options were (3) which gave you 50% chance to lose $1,000 and (4) which provided a sure loss of $500, most everyone would pick (3) the gamble.

As they dived further into questions like this, they discovered that people would regret losing the sure thing as they did not have the money, yet were more risky with money they did not have. When they altered the probability of winning or losing, the same result would occur, even when the odds were much more in your favor to win (or not lose). But, they also learned how the questions were framed made a huge difference.

If an Asian disease was expected to kill 600 people and you could take one of the following actions, which one would you choose where Option (1) would save 200 people and (2) had a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving none? Most people chose Option (1) to save 200 people. Yet, if the question is framed as Option (3) where 400 people would die and (4) where there is a 1/3 chance none would die and 2/3 chance all would die, most people chose Option (4). Yet, it is the same question.

Another key concept they introduced through study is “representativeness.” If you added information to a question, people would believe the greater accuracy meant they should choose that option. This would even be true if the information added was irrelevant or unimportant. In other words, if something is described in more detail than other options, it creates an information bias. They illustrated this to be true with experts in a field, as well as with laypersons.

Lewis uses the example of medical doctor who embraced Kahneman and Tversky’s work named Don Redelmeier. Redelmeier would question quick conclusions by doctors made under stress, where they would use information bias. A good example came when a car accident left a woman with an irregular heartbeat after they treated her. The doctors hung their hat on the fact she had a medical history of excess thyroid hormones and just assumed that was causing the irregularity.

Yet, this was a remote probability. They were led down this path because of the extra piece of information. Redelmeier had them question this remote idea and look further. It turned out the more likely cause was indeed the reason for the irregular heartbeat – a collapsed lung from the accident. Because they had more information on a condition, they stopped looking for other causes that did not obviously surface.

I encourage you to read the book for the two reasons Lewis wrote it. It is more than just the work of Kahneman and Tversky on making decisions. It is also about how two different people can collaborate so successfully and be far more together than they were separately. They valued this partnership and made it work well for them and us.

Note: Lewis also wrote “The Blind Side,” “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short,” to name a few.

 

All the President’s Men

Not to overstate the obvious, but it would behoove those who serve the President to remember the famous title of the Watergate movie – “All the President’s Men.” While President Nixon was pardoned for any crimes that led to his resignation, over twenty of his colleagues went to jail.

Our current President has many challenges that continue to be problematic. His biggest character flaws are his large ego, thin skin and disdain for telling the truth. Yet, what makes these attributes even worse is he cannot remain silent when that would be the wiser course of action. As a result, he has unforced errors.

A month ago, the bookies in London had the odds at even money, this President would resign or be impeached before his first term ends. My guess is the odds are now better than 50/50 that he won’t make four years.

While the proof has yet to be found, this President is acting like a guilty man with respect to Russia collusion. But, what may also be his undoing is his vast number of conflicts of interest. I personally believe he is using the Presidency to make more money, as caring for others has never been his modus operandi.

So, I would recommend people to stop lying for this man and start doing their job. They will stay out of trouble that way.

Giving makes me feel like I’m living

The above title is a quote offered by Morrie Schwartz, the subject of Mitch Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” The book continues to sell with over fifteen million copies sold in 45 countries. It describes Albom’s weekly visits with his favorite teacher and mentor named Morrie.

Albom shared today on CBS This Morning, he was not the only person to routinely visit his mentor. Others went with the goal of cheering up Morrie, but they would leave being comforted as Morrie would invariably ask them about their lives and challenges.

When Albom inquired about this of Morrie, he said “Giving makes me feel like I’m living.” What profound words coming from a teacher. To me, this echoes the term I have used called “psychic income.” Giving to others with your time, ear, support, donations, etc. provides you with a psychic income.

Yet, like with lessons in the book, Morrie’s phrasing of why he gives is much more profound. Albom notes this is the reason his book strikes a chord with so many.

Please honor our teachers, mothers and fathers by paying forward their giving to us. We will also benefit.

Tin soldiers – a history lesson worth remembering

A day that lives in infamy can be summoned to memory with the words “Kent State.” If you are not familiar with this term, please Google it as it reveals what could happen today, by showing what did happen in May, 1970.

In short, President Nixon called out the national guard to keep a protest of college students at Kent State University in Ohio from turning into a riot. The dilemma is these “tin soldiers,” as they were termed in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s powerful song “Ohio,” were armed. So, when one of the protesters was alleged to have thrown a rock, a guardsman opened fire and was joined in fire by the other guardsmen. Four college students were killed and nine were injured.

Nixon is remembered mostly for resigning before he was impeached for Watergate (in essence running a burglary operation from the White House), yet his calling out the national guard on college students is a horrendous decision. To understand the magnitude, picture your child being faced down by the national guard.

I mention this today as during an interview with Margaret Atwood, who wrote the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she said totalitarianism first occurs when a leader has troops fire on protesters.

What scares many is the possibility of our current President calling the national guard on a group of protesters is not a stretch. It is also not a stretch for one of the armed militias that feel empowered by this President doing the same.

It is interesting that two dystopian books are going through a concerned revival. One is “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the other is “1984.” We need to be strident in protecting our rights to assemble and protest. We need to be civil in these respects, but it is well within our rights to question our leaders. And, we should not be shot at.