The ‘wicked’ world

I’ve begun reading Range by David Epstein, I’m two chapters in and already suspect that it may be the best business type book I read this year. Epstein distinguishes between two types of domains: the kind, and the wicked. That sounds weird, but it’s a very helpful distinction.
A kind domain is like a game. There are constant, understandable rules and boundaries. Chess is a helpful example Epstein uses, it’s confined to the chessboard, there are unchanging rules, the game is always between two opponents, it’s a super structured and narrow environment. A person can develop superior aptness within a kind domain like chess by lots and lots of practice. Practice helps because the arena doesn’t change, you can rely on the rules and systems involved and learn to excel within them. Ideas like the 10,000 hour rule (which says a person will become an expert or reach mastery after 10,000 hours of practice) stem from this idea. Epstein argues that line of reasoning only applies within kind domains (golf, chess, music, etc.), but actually isn’t that helpful for most of us because the world isn’t kind, it’s wicked.
Wicked is the opposite of kind. Where kind domains are constant, confined, structured, wicked means that the rules are constantly changing, the boundaries are always moving, the terms are rarely the same. It means that hours of specialized practice is actually unhelpful because it entrenches a specific unattached way of thinking about the world. People who thrive in the wicked (real) world are adaptable, curious, able to bring ideas together, to look at the big picture, to think strategically. They try lots of different things, they have hobbies, they embrace varying inputs. Even most sports, while including some kind aspects, are mostly wicked. Children tend to do better by experimenting among many different sports instead of specializing in one early on because of the additional benefit of learning varying movements and strategies. The early specializers who find success (eg: Tiger Woods who excelled in golf, a more kind sport) are the exception, not the rule, and probably aren’t the people we should be emulating.
Today, the world is more wicked than ever. Specialized tasks are more and more handled by machines and computers. The ability to think widely has become more and more important. We all must specialize to some degree, we’ve got specific responsibilities, and specific things we need to get done. But don’t be afraid to experiment, detour, adapt, create, and read Range!

Is a recession coming?

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Last week Wednesday (the 14th) was a bad day, at least it was a bad day for the markets. I actually had a pretty nice day, maybe you did too. The market took a hit though, the DOW was down 800 points (about 3%), its worst day of this year, and other indexes didn’t fare much better. The chatter is heating up, the next recession is on the horizon! But is it?
Well, the Wall Street Journal certainly seems to think so. In an article title Stocks losses deepen as a key recession warning surfaces published last week, the WSJ espouses the fearful sentiment pervading the industry last week. A few quotes:

Whether the events presage an economic calamity or just an alarming spasm are unclear. But unlike during the Great Recession, global leaders are not working in unison to confront mounting problems and arrest the slowdown. Instead, they are increasingly at one another’s throats.

This sounds especially bad. At least in 2008 people were trying to fix the problem!

“The stars are aligned across the curve that the economy is headed for a big fall,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank. “The yield curves are all crying timber that a recession is almost a reality, and investors are tripping over themselves to get out of the way.”

Yikes, sounds like someone is about to get trampled.

The U.S. economy has shown signs of weakening in recent months, but high levels of consumer spending in the United States have helped enormously. Still, the escalating trade war between Trump and Chinese leaders has stopped many businesses from investing. And there are signs that the large tariffs he has placed on many Chinese imports is costing U.S. businesses and consumers billions of dollars.

If this isn’t a rollercoaster of emotion I don’t what is. Signs of weakening? Oh no! High levels of consumer spending? Okay, so not too bad. Tariffs are costing U.S. business and consumer billions? Run from the market!

I kid, but this is actually serious stuff. The WSJ is only one among many news outlets forecasting the next crash. The problem is, no one knows when the next crash will be, regardless of ‘key recession warning’ claims, because the market moves on new news and information, things that no one knows. Unless of course, you know the future.

Just today, exactly one week later, we’ve got a new narrative in the news: Stocks are on a comeback. Dow rises 250 points. The rollercoaster is exhausting.

Instead of tuning into the cycle, remember that great returns don’t come from any ability to time the next crashThe market recesses sometimes, and it could be contracting now, or next year, or in five years. We don’t know when, we just know that’s how the market works. The disciplined investor who has a plan for whenever the next crash comes and a coach to get them through it will always win.

iPad Pro Work: Setup

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I’ve wrestled with this before, to use an iPad or to not use an iPad as a primary productivity machine. I work in financial services, specifically as an investment advisor. I don’t run any heavy-duty programs, I use Microsft’s office suite, a few communication apps, and a lot of web-based programs, so it’s not untenable. But in previous years the compromise has proved too great and my MacBook Pro too trusty.

iPadOS seems to have solved most of the most egregious of those compromises. The addition of the desktop-class browser (almost, Safari extensions are not yet available, but websites do render as desktop sites) is specifically a game-changer for my work. The improved multi-tasking abilities help too, and mouse support opens up a whole new world of possibilities (think, I could connect the iPad to the conference room display for a client meeting and run it from a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse on the table).
So I’m back, I’m giving it another honest try.

Here’s the setup:

• I bought the 12.9 inch variant over the 11 inch. The larger screen offers so much more utility. On top of simply having way more space to work with, it will also give two full-sized apps when running them in split-view instead of the phone versions of those apps. Subjectively, it’s the difference between working on a computer and an oversized phone.

• I chose silver over space gray. Space gray looks awesome, but as soon as it suffers one little nick or dent you see silver underneath. I’d rather the whole device stay one color. Also, silver looks awesome too.

• I chose the WiFi-only model over the addition of cellular. One great benefit of iPads over MacBooks is their ability to connect to cellular data and be always on and always connected. The thing is, I don’t want to be always on and always connected. I like to close my work machine and stop thinking about it for a while. Plus, I still have an iPhone, so on the rare occasion that I’m working and out of range from WiFi, hotspot is still available. The WiFi-only model is also a way to save some money, the iPad itself is cheaper and it won’t incur the extra monthly data cost. This is the one decision I can see myself waffling on in the future, but for now, I’m content.

• I went with 256gb of storage. For people who do a lot with photos and video, the higher storage tiers make sense. For me, 256gb is probably overkill. The only thing that will take up any noticeable amount of space for me is the occasional Netflix or Amazon Prime movie download for watching on the plane.

• Along with the iPad Pro, I purchased an Apple Smart Keyboard, 2nd Generation Apple Pencil, and an Apple Magic Mouse 2. I’ll comment on each of these accessories in the future.

Here goes!

Open options

It’s 2019. The industrial revolution began over 200 years ago. Political democracy was ratified almost 250 years ago. Capitalism began its ascent somewhere around 500 years ago. In 2019 the world is a much different place and changing at a much more rapid pace than ever before. The rise of technology, the commitment to political freedom, and the resilience of free markets have resulted in remarkable life improvements. We have more free time, we understand the concept of a vacation, we even live longer. But maybe the most impressive change in the last 500 years is the incredible increase in the number of options we have. We’ve got multiples of ketchup options at the grocery store, we’ve got multiples of grocery store options within driving distance, we’ve got endless options for entertainment built right into our TVs, we’ve got so many bars and restaurant options we can’t keep track of where we’ve been and where we’d still like to visit (just me?), we’ve got innumerable product options staring at us from our phone screens, we’ve got travel options, vacation options, gym options, school options, cell phone options, clothes options, housing options, the list goes on. The sheer volume of options seems a little crazy when you think about it, but we love all our options. Options are great, they’re an essential part of freedom, they give us the ability to direct our lives to a degree. For most of history people didn’t have many options. As far as work went, the option was to essentially do what your parents did (which was probably farm). Now we’ve got thousands of career options, and that’s a wonderful thing.
The flipside of all these options is the requirement to make lots of choices. Options are great, choices are work. They’re work because you have to sift through all of the options, but more so because you eventually have to make a decision. The word ‘decision’ comes from the Latin root ‘decidere’ which literally means ‘to cut off from.’ Making a decision involves choosing one option instead of a bunch of other options, it means cutting off the other options, it means giving up the other options. So that’s a problem, what if we really liked having all those options? Options equal freedom!
The real problem with our abundance of options is that it gives us the illusion of freedom but it’s often crippling. We begin to idolize our options to the exclusion of making decisions, to the exclusion of making progress. We become content to maintain the beautiful platter of options without ever making a commitment to any. I suspect that this is especially true in our work. I love to vacillate on different strategies for my business, different side-hustles I could start, different events I could host. I love to ‘keep my options open’ so to speak. But in the end, that’s just wasted time. You could spend your entire life keeping your options open and never accomplish anything. The fear is that once you commit something you’ve got to be all in and you’ve got to no the other options, but the alternative is to live a life of waffling waste filled with eternally open options. That’s definitely worse. So make a decision!

Be a failure

So here’s a question, why do we love motion so much? If motion isn’t what moves us forward, if it’s more like wasted time than productive time, how come we spend so much time on it? James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) has one more helpful suggestion here, he says it’s because motion lets us feel productive without risking anything. Action necessarily involves some risk of failure, which is obviously not ideal. Failure is the worst, or at least it seems like the worst. It’s super uncomfortable, awkward, humiliating, and generally terrifying as a prospect. It makes sense that we want to avoid it.
Malcolm Gladwell has some compelling thoughts on this topic. Based on the multitude of interviews he’s conducted with entrepreneurs and successful people, he discovered that a disproportionate ratio of them are dyslexic. Research backs this up, for some reason around 35% of company founders suffer from dyslexia compared to about 15% of the broader American population. Dyslexia is thought to be a great hindrance, what about a learning disability could push people to succeed? Gladwell suggests that the main reason for this implausible statistic is the fact that those who suffer from dyslexia have become so acquainted with failure. Take school for example, grade school provides an endless arena for dyslexic children to fail from early childhood. Reading, writing, test-taking, all of it is perfectly primed to flunk a dyslexic child. So while the rest of us were earning kudos and awards for our normal learning styles, those with dyslexia were learning a much more valuable lesson, how to fail again and again and again. People with dyslexia often demonstrate proficiency with verbal communication (because writing is very difficult), comfort with delegation (because they’ve had to rely on people for help), and other very helpful characteristics of an entrepreneur in a free market society. These characteristics are grown out of a response to failure and weakness. They’re more than a natural or genetic lean, these are learned out of necessity.
Gladwell is not the only one to theorize on the value of failure, Winston Churchill stated that “success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” C.S. Lewis said “failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps most famously, said “far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Failure seems scary, but maybe it’s time for a new perspective. Failure is actually your friend. Failure means that you’re taking risks, that you’re in the game, that you’re learning. So let’s embrace failure, let’s get comfortable with it. No more playing it safe with endless motion, we’re here to act. Be a failure, and find success.