Reseña: La Espía de Paulo Coelho

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Sinopsis

Paulo Coelho narra una historia sobre Mata Hari quién terminó siendo ejecutada como espía en la Primera Guerra Mundial. Mata Hari, cuyo nombre real es Margaretha Zelle, fue una bailarina muy famosa que alcanzó la fama debido a su belleza y su deseo de cumplir sus sueños.

Todos sabemos que no moriré a causa de este alegato estúpido de espionaje, sino porque decidí ser quien siempre soñé y el precio de un sueño siempre es alto.

Por causa de las limitaciones impuestas a las mujeres, Mata aprendió muy temprano cómo seducir y manipular a los hombres para obtener lo que quiere. Fue una luchadora capaz de superar todos los obstáculos que se presentan en la cumplimiento de sus sueños. A medida que envejecía, su fama desvanecía con su belleza. Atrapada en tiempos de guerra, accedió a ser una espía para Alemania para escapar de la pobreza y regresar a Francia. Como Mata no tenía la intención de ser una espía, nunca proporcionó información útil sobre Francia a Alemania. Sin embargo, cuando Francia vio indicios de que Mata era una espía para Alemania, fue ejecutada a pesar de no tener ninguna evidencia concreta en su contra.

Opiníon Personal

Esta ficción histórica está narrada desde dos perspectivas, una carta de Mata Hari a su abogado y otra carta de su abogado a Mata Hari. La carta de Mata Hari ofrece una gran perspectiva sobre cómo se convirtió en la persona que era y las luchas internas que tenía. Señala la desigualdad que enfrentaron las mujeres y el precio que las mujeres necesitaban pagar para cumplir sus sueños. Para la carta de su abogado, ofrece una perspectiva diferente y muestra cómo el mundo estaba tratando a las mujeres como Mata Hari.

Disfruté mucho el desarrollo del personaje de Mata Hari. Te hace pensar en la desigualdad y los desafíos de perseguir tus sueños. Te recomiendo este libro si te gusta el desarrollo de personajes en un contexto histórico.

Estoy leyendo Aleph de Paulo Coelho.

Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is an international bestseller on the history of humankind. Sapiens is categorized into four parts: The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, and The Scientific Revolution. Yuval studies how humans have evolved into the most powerful animal on earth and the impact of it.

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The Power of Shared Myths

One of the most important things that set us apart from other animals is our effectiveness in cooperating in large numbers, which Yuval argues is due to our unique ability to believe in shared myths. Ants and bees can cooperate in large numbers but can only do so with close relatives and in a very rigid manner. Chimpanzees can cooperate more flexible than ants and bees but mostly with those who they know intimately. Humans, on the other hand, can cooperate on a much larger scale and even have the ability to cooperate with complete strangers. Thousands of people have worked together to achieve the vision of their corporation. Millions of people have cooperated to fight for their country or to defend their religious beliefs. And billions of people are able to exchange goods and services without knowing each other. This is all possible due to our ability to believe in shared myths.

What are corporations? Unlike things like bananas and refrigerators that have intrinsic value, corporations aren’t tangible things you can see or touch. It is simply a shared fiction defined by legal documents that exist in the mind of people. Even though nations and corporations are shared fictions, it is the reason why my co-workers and I can cooperate to achieve a common mission and why millions of people support and cheer for the same national team.

The most powerful shared myths above all are perhaps money. People work in exchange for money which in today’s age mainly refers to cash or electronic payments. Why would anyone work for the majority of their lives to get “colored papers” or electronic payments which don’t have any intrinsic value? This is all due to our shared belief in money and the value that it has. If tomorrow, nobody believes in the value of the dollar bills that you have or in the banking system, your savings will essentially be almost worthless.

There are other factors such as intelligence and communication that contributed to humans rise to power. But without the ability to believe in shared beliefs, our ability to cooperate will be greatly reduced and we’ll not be where we are today.

Human Happiness

Since 500 years ago, we have had numerous technological advances. Transportation is much more convenient with cars and planes. Communications is much quicker with the invention of phones and the internet. And with a global economy, a product that is only produced in certain parts of the world can easily be attainable via online shopping.

But are we any happier than we were 500 years ago? As there is no way to measure happiness, nobody can say for sure. With so much scientific and technological advances, one would think that humans are happier now. After all, what is the value of these technological advances if it makes our lives more miserable? I’m sure most people have either complained about the transportation system or heard about these complaints. When your commute to work gets delayed by 1 hour due to public transportation, you most likely won’t feel any less frustrated if someone were to remind you that 500 years ago your commute would’ve taken 10 times the time it takes now. That is because happiness is not really dependent on objective conditions such as wealth, but more so on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations. So even though the scientifical and technological advances have brought us greater objective conditions, it also raised our subjective expectations too. With social media, people can be more expressive than ever, but it also exposes ourselves to others’ opinions of us. With phones and emails, we can communicate with our friends and loved ones instantly. However, because of these communication tools, people nowadays expect you to reply instantly as well.

More and more scholars have begun to study the history of happiness, so maybe one day we will be able to measure and understand the factors that impact happiness and how the factors have evolved over time.

Natural Selection

Natural selection : the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring

We have gained so much power that you can arguably say that we have affected natural selection. The evolution of other animals is increasingly impacted not by their natural environment, but by the needs of humans. It would be rational to think that chickens on average will become faster as the slower ones will have a harder time to survive and therefore not make it through natural selection. However, due to our chicken consumption, selective breeding is done where the fattest hen are mated with the slowest cock. And throughout history, it’s shown that once humans set foot in an area it drives most large animals of that area to extinction. On the other hand of the spectrum, domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, and pigs grow in numbers.

With the advances in the field of biological engineering, we have even gained the ability to genetically modify animals. This raises questions that pertain to our responsibility towards the planets and especially the other animals that are negatively impacted by our behavior.

Summary

Yuval discussed the history of humankind and offered his unique perspective on it. It puts into perspective how long humans have been around and makes you think about the impact we are making and the history we are leaving behind us. It’s a very thought-provoking book and I’ll recommend it to people who are interested to learn about the history of humankind and its impact.

I’m currently reading La Espía by Paulo Coelho.

Book Review: Rework by Jason Fried

If given a choice between investing in someone who has read ‘Rework’ or has an MBA, I’m investing in ‘Rework’ every time. – Mark Cuban

Rework by Jason Fried is one of the books which Mark Cuban credits his success to. Due to that (along with the great looking book cover) I was very excited to start reading it. I’ll say this is by far the most enjoyable read I’ve ever had, especially considering it’s business related. Every chapter is an insight which is usually covered within 1 – 2 pages. There was really no dull moment throughout the entirety of the book. Nothing is dragged on and just enough context is given to illustrate each insight.

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Build half a product, not a half-assed product

When building a product, don’t focus on trying to give your customers everything all at once. You simply won’t be able to focus on everything and do them well with the limited time, resources, ability, and focus that you have. Prioritize the most important features first and build it well.

Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.

Most things get better when they are shorter or simpler. Great producers cut good scenes to make great movies and great speakers cut out good content to give great speeches. Jason Fried and his team cut this book from 57,000 words to about 27,000 words. Give this book a read and you will understand how less is more.

Do it yourself first

Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first.

For any tests, if you see “never” or “always” as part of an answer on a multiple choice question, you can usually rule out that answer right away. The same thing applies in this case as there are usually exceptions to the rule. However, what is important is the message behind this quote. If possible, spend the time to understand a given role before you delegate or hire someone to do it. It’s even better if you can spend a day working in that role. This way you will have a good understanding of the role and the challenges that come with it. This can make you a better manager as you will know what to evaluate people on as well as give yourself a more holistic view of your organization.

Own your bad news

When something bad happens, own it and apologize. Don’t try to hide bad news from your customers if they haven’t discovered it yet. In today’s day and age, bad news can only be hidden for so long. There will always be a narrative whether it comes from the press, your competitors, or from you. So own your bad news and apologize, you’ll be better off if you’re the one telling the story.

And just like giving a speech, what draws people’s attention is usually not the mistake, but the reaction to the mistake. People can always tell when an apology is sincere or not, so be honestly concerned about the impact of your bad news and apologize like you will to a real person.

We have probably all heard or seen a variation of “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” as an apology. I’ll admit that I’ve used a variation of it myself to clients over emails. Besides sounding generic and templated, this specific example is bad for a number of reasons. First, when you apologize take ownership of it, so rather than use “we” use “I” instead. Second, if the client depends on your services then your impact is more than just an inconvenience. And lastly, “this may have caused” implies that there might not be anything wrong at all. Either there is something wrong or there isn’t. And if you find the need to write an apology, that is a good indication that there is something wrong. So own the responsibility and apologize in the right way.

Inspiration is perishable

Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

Inspiration doesn’t last forever. So if you are inspired and feel like doing something, do it now. Even if you are inspired to take on a time-consuming project, do the things you can do right now to put that project in action.

This is something that I can really relate to this past year. I was inspired by my ex-girlfriend to start reading more regularly. On the very same day, I researched a list of books that I wanted to read and by the following day, I have put in my order for 8 books. This has since led me to read almost every day for 6 months straight and counting.

One of the very first books I read is Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk which inspired me to start my own blog. I immediately looked into the different options for setting up a personal blog and within a week I’ve set up my own blog on WordPress. I’ve been blogging once every two weeks ever since. If I hadn’t acted on my plans when I was inspired immediately, chances are I’ll not be motivated enough to carry out my plans and will not have learned so much by reading so many great books.

Summary

Rework by Jason Fried is a great read that is applicable to everyone. The insights I share are by no means the most important, just the ones that are more applicable to me. Definitely give it a read if you get the chance, it will be a quick read where you can get ideas or be inspired.

 

I’m currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

Reseña: El Alquimista de Paulo Coelho

Hola a todos! Antes de leer este libro, he escuchado cosas buenas sobre eso. El Alquimista – Una Fábula Para Seguir Tus Suenos ha sido aclamado como una de las novelas más importantes de la década. Es asombroso cómo Paulo puede demostrar sus ideas como una fábula tan emocionante e encantador.

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Sinopsis

La historia es sobre un muchacho se llama Santiago, un joven pastor en Andalucia, quien tiene un sueño repetido en el que encontrará un tesero escondido en las Pirámides de Egipto. Para entender su sueño, viene a una adivina que le dice que va a encontrar un tesero en las Pirámides de Egipto. Después de hablar con la advina, se encuentra un anciano, el rey de Salem, quien le dijo sobre la Leyenda Personal y la importancia de seguir sus sueños. Santiago decidió ir a Egipto y vendió sus ovejas para obtener el dinero necesario. ¡El viaje comienza!

Opinión Personal

Leyenda Personal es lo que una persona siempre quiere cumplir. Esta fábula demuestra la importancia de seguir sus sueños. Se necesita ser paciente y continuar trabajando para sus sueños. El viaje para alcanzar sus sueños no es facil, pero si trabaja duro y cree en su sueño, puede alcanzarlo. El historia tambien muestra por qué tanta gente no puede alcanzar sus sueños. Necesitas creer en tus sueños y en ti mismo pero tambien necesitas tomar la decisión de seguir tus sueños. Durante el viaje de seguir tus sueños, hay muchas cosas que pueden detenerte. Por ejemplo, muchas personas están contentas con sus vidas y no quieren arriesgarse mucho por sus sueños. En otros casos, las personas dejan de seguir sus sueños cuando se encuentran una problema. El libro nos enseña a no darnos por vencidos en nuestros sueños incluso cuando nos encontramos con problemas. Cuando sigues tus sueños, es tan importante para centrarte en tus sueños como en disfrutar el viaje.

 

Esta es mi segunda reseña en español! Es un libro que recomendaré. Perdoname otra vez por los errores en mi español, es una idioma muy difícil para mí. Gracias por su tiempo para leer mi reseña y quisiera saber tus pensamientos de este libro tambien. 🙂

 

Estoy leyendo Rework de Jason Fried.

Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban

Para mejora mi español, he leido algunos libros en espanol. Y esta vez terminé leer Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban. Leí todos los libros en la serie de Harry Potter cuando era un estudiante para la escuela secundaria. Pero en aquel entonces leí los libros en inglés para mejora mi inglés. Después de todos estos años, regresé a leer Harry Potter y aún me da mucho gusto.

Es mi primera vez que escribí un post en espanol, entonces perdóname si encuentras muchos errores con mi español. Lo agradeceré si dejame saber mi errores. Entonces, compartiré contigo un sinopsis y mis pensamientos de este libro.
!Atención: contiene spoiler!

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Sinopsis

Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban es el tercero libro de la serie Harry Potter. Harry Potter tiene 13 años y esta estudiando en un escuela para magos que se llama Hogwarts. Durante el verano, vives con tus tios que son muggles, no se pueden hacer magia, porque los padres de Harry fue asesinado por el malvado Voldemort. Mientras tanto, un asesino serie con magicos poderes, Sirius Black, ha escapado Azkaban. Sirius Black ha ayudado Voldemort y ha tracionado los padres de Harry. ¿Con Sirius Black centrado a Harry, como puede Harry queda en salvo de Sirius Black en su tercer año en Hogwarts?

Opinión Personal

Todos, incluido Harry, creen que Sirius Black he tracionado los padres de Harry y quiere matarlo. Cuando Harry descubrió que Sirius es su padrino y el mejor amigo de su padre, Harry odiaba Sirius aún más. Solo hasta cerca del final del libro, fue relevado que Sirius no tracionó los padres de Harry y es el otro amigo de su padre, Peter Pettigrew, que los tracionó. Para la sorpresa de todo (incluyéndome debido a mi malo recuerdo jaja), Peter ha vivido con las familia de Ron, el amigo de Harry, por doce años como una rata. Me gusta mucho estos giros inesperados y los desarollos de personajes de Harry y los amigos de su padres.

 

No puedo escribir bien en espanol ahora, entonces mi reseña en espanol es muy corto. Espero que puedo mejorar rapido y no escribo como un niño jaja. Gracias por su timepo para leer mi reseña y quisiera saber tus pensamientos de este libro tambien.

Estoy leyendo El Alquimista de Paulo Coelho.

 

Book Review: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Around 5 years ago while I was working as a marketing intern at a startup called The Social Art Movement (TSAM), I was exposed to the Lean Startup’s methodologies. TSAM consisted of a core team of 4 employees supplemented with 8 undergrads, including me, as marketing interns. The startup was trying to create an online artwork shopping platform that charges a low commision. The startup was at the very early stages as the online art platform was still being developed, so we have no customers, let alone revenues (you can probably guess by now the internship was unpaid). The founder, Justin Day, was a practitioner of the Lean Startup’s methodologies. He will tell us to go out on the street and start surveying art lovers and artists to learn about their hobbies, demographics, and interests in different art-related events. Even down to social media, different posts were A/B tested to see what has more reach and engagement. I was glad that I was exposed to how an early startup operates but I didn’t realize that I was practicing some of the Lean Startup’s methodologies until I read this book.

Fast forward to 2 years later while I was working as a user research coordinator, I saw the book again being passed around among my coworkers. I started thinking… maybe I should eventually find time to read this book. And fast forward to now… I have finally finished read it and I’ll say it’s the top 5 books I’ve read.

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Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere

At this point, you might be thinking, “What is the Lean Startup?”. But before I get to that, let me first get to how Eric Ries defines a startup.

A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

The most important part of this definition is what it excludes. It doesn’t specify anything about the size of the company or the time that has elapsed since the company was founded. Even if you are working at an established company like Google, as long as you are operating with extreme uncertainty about who your customers are and how to build a sustainable business, then you are an entrepreneur.

The Lean Startup, which took its name from the lean manufacturing revolution at Toyota, is a set of practices for helping entrepreneurs increase their odds of building a sustainable business. It is the application of lean thinking to the process of innovation and it includes practices like validated learning, feedback loop, and innovation accounting.

Validated Learning

Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.

Everything a startup does should be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning. Going back to my time at The Social Art Movement, one of our first goals is to figure out what’s the target segment for our online art platform. Surveys were designed with just enough questions to understand the potential target segment’s demographic and it’s potential interests.  All of us marketing interns then surveyed art lovers and artists in different areas of the city. It was a good exercise as we were able to speak to potential customers early on and narrow down the target demographic that will sell or pay for artworks. However, looking back now, we didn’t have an MVP (minimum viable product) when we were conducting the surveys and that cost us opportunities for more validated learning which would have increased the odds of the startup succeeding.

Eric stresses the need of having an MVP early to help entrepreneurs start the process of learning as soon as possible. And anything that is outside of the learning goals of the experiment is a waste and shouldn’t be included in the MVP.

During my internship at The Social Art Movement, the product was never built. If we wanted to learn whether there is a market for an online art platform that charges a low commission, we can build an online platform that has some placeholder artwork that can be found on google images along with a checkout button that does not work. This MVP will be enough for us to get the learning we seek as we can perform usability tests to see whether our target segment will use it and proceed to checkout. However, even this first version of the online platform will require weeks of dev work and will prove to be wasteful. If the learning we seek is simply to learn whether there is a market for an e-commerce platform selling artwork for a low commission, then why do we need to build out the e-commerce platform to learn that? Why can’t we simply use a video that shows how the e-commerce platform will work or perhaps have an interactive mockup that doesn’t require a single line of code?

Startups are scarce in resources, so keep in mind that any learning you seek will need to be able to be obtained as effectively as possible to increase your chances of becoming a sustainable business. So when you are designing an MVP, be clear on what learning you are seeking, define a hypothesis, build the absolute minimum product for you to obtain that learning, and go out and talk to your customers directly by seeing how they use your MVP.

Build – Measure – Learn Feedback Loop

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The Build – Measure – Learn feedback loop is at the core of the Lean Startup model. “Build” is going from ideas to a product (can be a feature or service) that the customers can interact with. “Measure” is using that product to get usability feedback and data from your target customers. And “Learn” is using that feedback and data to get actionable insights that can either shape the idea or go in a different direction altogether. To improve the chances of becoming a sustainable business, we need to minimize the total time through the feedback loop.

Even though the feedback loop is stated as Build – Measure – Learn, the process starts in the reverse order. We first figure out what we need to learn, decide what we need to measure to know if we are gaining validated learning, and then figure out what product we need to build to run that experiment and get that measurement. Once you go through a loop, the hardest decision that an entrepreneur needs to make is whether to persevere or to pivot. Persevere is to stick with the original strategy, whereas pivoting is to switch to a different strategy and go in a different direction (ex. changing the segment you’re targetting or the type of product you are providing). Persevere for too long then you will burn up resources and lead your team to failure. Pivot too early then you might be giving up on a winning strategy before it has an opportunity to develop. This is why it’s crucial at the beginning to establish what are the metrics that will be measured and what are the hypothesis for those metrics. The decision to persevere or pivot is always subjective but with concrete and actionable metrics, you will then be able to make a more informed decision.

Innovation Accounting

Innovation accounting is the process of defining, measuring, and communicating the progress of innovation to hold entrepreneurs accountable.

Innovation accounting has 3 learning milestones:

  1. Establish the baseline
    Use an MVP to determine what’s the startup’s current baseline. Don’t use gross numbers and instead focus on actionable metrics such as customer sign up and retention rate which measures per customer behavior. So for example, if you expect 10% of your website’s visitors will become registered users, use an MVP as soon as possible to find out what are the actual numbers right now. Without real numbers, you won’t be able to know how far you are from your goal and cannot begin to track your progress.
  2. Tune the Engine
    Make product development changes that are not designed to drive huge gross numbers but to make those conversion numbers closer to the ideal numbers. This can take numerous iterations until the company reaches a decision point, to pivot or to persevere.
  3. Pivot or Persevere
    Schedule a meeting in advance to discuss whether to persevere or to pivot. With the different iterations of MVP and the associated metrics, you will have the data to help you decide whether to continue to tune the engine or to pivot. If the company is making good progress towards the ideal scenario, then it makes sense to continue. If not, the management team must eventually conclude that its current strategy is flawed and needs to pivot. When a company pivots, it starts the process all over again, reestablishing a new baseline and tuning the engine from there. The sign of a successful pivot is that these engine-tuning activities are more productive after the pivot than before.

Summary

The Lean Startup laid down the core foundation to build a sustainable business. The materials are easy to grasp and the examples are relevant and engaging. And as Eric mentioned, entrepreneurs are everywhere. This book can be applicable and beneficial to you as long as you are working to deliver a product under extreme uncertainty.

Here’s The Lean Startup talk that Eric gave at Google. I’ll still recommend getting the book but the Google talk summarizes the key insights at a high level.

I’m currently reading Harry Potter y el prisionero de Azkaban.

Book Review: The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

I have been working full time for over a year and a half since I graduated and my income so far has mainly been stashed away in my savings account. It’s not that investing has never come to my mind, it’s more so that I lack the financial knowledge to know where and how to begin. If you are like me, understanding all the financial lingo and the thought of analyzing a financial report is a thought in itself daunting enough to prevent you from exploring any investment options.

I then came across the Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. This book was published in 1973 and later revised with additional commentary by Jason Zweig in 2003. Although it was written decades ago, the core investing principles still stand true to this day. With my limited financial and investing knowledge, my review won’t do the book justice. However, I’ll share with you the core investing insights that you can apply right away.

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Graham’s Core Investing Principles

1. A stock is an ownership interest in an actual business, with an underlying value that does not depend on its share price

In the latest edition of The Intelligent Investor, Graham shortened the “The Investor as Business Owner” section. It was suggested by Jason Zweig in his commentary that Graham perhaps had given up on getting investors to use their rights as shareholders to keep corporate managers accountable. It’s still a right that shareholders need to be aware of but above all understand that the underlying value of a business can’t be inferred by its share price.

 
2. The market is a pendulum that forever swings between unsustainable optimism (which makes stocks too expensive) and unjustified pessimism (which makes them too cheap). The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists.

Graham used a great analogy and described the stock market as Mr. Market. Mr. Market tells you every day what he thinks your share is worth. Sometimes he seems very reasonable but other times he is irrational. If you are an intelligent investor, you won’t let Mr. Market’s opinion impact your investing decisions. You will instead sell to him when his opinion of your stock is too high and buy additional shares from him when his opinion of your stock is too low. And just like how you will treat Mr. Market, that’s how you should approach the stock market. Don’t follow the market but instead take advantage of the market price when it’s not priced correctly.

 
3. The future value of every investment is a function of its present price. The higher the price you pay, the lower your return will be.

Always take the present price into account no matter how promising a business is. Even if you have insights into which companies are promising, if the general public shares your outlook your insights will have no value as the share price would have already factored in the optimism. So do your homework and analyze the business to see if it’s over or undervalued.

 
4. Only by insisting on “the margin of safety” – never overpaying, no matter how exciting an investment seems to be – can you minimize your odds of error.

You can never know with certainty whether a stock is over or underpriced. The point, however, is to look for bargain opportunities and be patient. By analyzing the business thoroughly, which includes studying financial statements and earning multipliers, you can get better at spotting any discrepancies between a companies’ market price and its underlying value. Businesses that are having bad press often times produce bargain opportunities if the issues can be addressed promptly.

 
5. If you become a critical thinker who takes no Wall Street “fact” on faith, and you invest with patient confidence, you can take steady advantage of even the worst bear markets. By developing your discipline and courage, you can refuse to let other people’s mood swings govern your financial destiny. How your investments behave is much less important than how you behave.

Following the market is never a good long-term investment strategy. Be disciplined enough to believe in your own analysis, to ignore the public noise, and to stick with your investing principles.

Investing vs Speculating

An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis promises safety of principal and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.

Many investment mistakes come from not understanding the difference between investing and speculating. If you see lots of people buying Starbucks coffee and decide to buy Starbucks solely based on its popularity, you are speculating and not investing. If you buy a weed stock solely because it belongs to a fast-growing industry, you are speculating and not investing. If you buy a stock solely because your social circle is high on the stock, you are speculating and not investing. Just like you won’t gamble with the majority of your savings, you shouldn’t speculate with the majority of your savings as well. Have a clear budget for your investment funds and don’t mix it up with your speculative funds.

Every security has a speculative component which affects its market price. A business can see it’s market price fluctuate greatly due to public opinion while its underlying value remains the same. So be mentally prepared and patient when the share price is behaving unexpectedly.

Investing Guidelines

Dollar-cost averaging: an investor devotes the same dollar amount each month to buying one or more common stocks

For most investors, Graham said the ideal way to invest is via dollar-cost averaging. This can limit the impact of any bad investment decisions (ex. investing too much when the market price is too high) as you will be investing the same amount each month. Along with dollar-cost averaging, Graham stated that one of the best ways to own common stocks is through an index fund that charges minimal fees. By owning index funds, you are therefore removing yourself from the process and will have returns that match the market your index fund is tracing.

Based on Graham’s studies, most professional investors did not outperform the returns by dollar-cost averaging into an index fund. However, the downside to investing in an index fund is that it’s boring. You are not choosing specific stocks, therefore the human nature aspect of wanting to choose your own stocks and outperform your peers won’t be satisfied. If you still have the desire to choose your own stocks, you can supplement your index funds investment with a small portion allocated for the stocks you handpicked. You can then further adjust the portion you put in index funds based on the results of your investment portfolio.

Summary

The Intelligent Investor is widely regarded as one of the best investment books. It is very thorough and Graham not only broke down the technical aspect of investing but the human nature aspect as well. There are lots of materials that I didn’t cover which includes bond investment, so I’ll highly recommend you to give the book a read if you want to learn more about investing.

 

I’m currently reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

 

Book Review: The Outsiders by William N. Thorndike, Jr.

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike, Jr. details the commonalities among the 8 CEOs (also referred to in this book as the outsiders) who significantly outperformed their peers. William stated the commonalities right off the bat and used the remaining chapters to go over each outsider’s experience much more in-depth.

You can tell that a lot of work went into this book. Many interviews were conducted and a lot of financial data were analyzed and presented.

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Capital Allocation

Capital allocation: the process of deciding how to deploy the firm’s resources to earn the best possible return for shareholders

CEOs have 2 key responsibilities: running their operations effectively and deploying the cash generated by those operations

CEOs generally have 5 choices for deploying capital:

  1. Investing in existing operations
  2. Acquiring other businesses
  3. Issuing dividends
  4. Paying down debt
  5. Repurchasing stock

And 3 options for raising it:

  1. Tapping internal cash flow
  2. Issuing debt
  3. Raising equity

The outsiders are focused primarily on making capital allocation decisions and usually delegate running the company operations to a trusted partner. When making capital allocation decisions, these CEOs are very aware of the various tax implications. And contrary to their peers, they did not avoid repurchasing stocks and also did not pay any meaningful dividends.

There is no right option for deploying capital. The key message here is to evaluate all the available options and its implications for your organization.

Develop and Trust Your Analytical Skills

One of the key differences between the outsiders and their peers is that the outsiders trust and act on their own analytical skills. They do not fall prey to the Wall Street’s conventional wisdom and their decisions aren’t impacted by the public opinion. The outsiders have their own method of determining whether a business including their own is under or overvalued. Once they determine a business is underpriced, they are able to act swiftly and acquire the business or its shares if it’s the best capital allocation option.

William examined the stock repurchases events made by the outsiders and these events all happened when the share price was undervalued. On the other hand, when the shares were expensive, they often used it to buy other companies or to raise inexpensive capital to fund future growth.

Decentralized Organization

There is a fundamental humility to decentralization, an admission that headquarters does not have all the answers and that much of the real value is created by local managers in the field.

Besides allocating financial resources, CEOs also need to allocate human resources. The outsiders all emphasized decentralization except when it comes to capital allocation decisions. They hire the best people and give them the responsibilities and authority to do their job. The goals set for the local managers are clear and if they meet their goals they often won’t hear from the headquarters.

Turnovers are costly. So when you hire great people, let them do what they do best. Giving them the responsibility and opportunity to learn and grow will be one of the best ways to retain your talent.

Investor Temperament

In both insurance and investing, Warren Buffett believes the key to longterm success is “temperament”, a willingness to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when they are fearful”.

What set the outsiders apart from their peers is their temperament. There are numerous CEOs who have the analytical skills who make poor capital allocation decisions. Like in life, it’s one thing to know what the right thing to do is, it’s another thing to do it. Going against the public opinion isn’t easy and this is what the outsiders have done throughout their careers.

Often times, the popular decision is the wrong decision. Be able to evaluate the options yourself and understand that your job is not to please the public but to bring value to your company and its shareholders.

Summary

The book is very organized and does not stray away from the key messages. However, I also find that too many examples are used to convey the same key messages. It’s not a book I’ll recommend but if you are interested in the insights I discussed and the numbers behind it then this is a book you might enjoy reading.

 
I’m currently reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.

Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Zero to One is based on a startup course Peter Thiel gave at the Stanford University in 2012. Peter is a co-founder of PayPal and Palantir and an investor in startups, which includes Facebook and SpaceX.

With a commerce undergraduate degree, I have taken a few courses in economics and entrepreneurship. I’ll say a lot of the info relayed isn’t different from what can be learned in these type of courses. Rather than sharing some of the overlapping concepts, I’ll share the key insights that I took away from this book.

Zero

Image source: http://yourstory.com/2014/12/peter-thiel-startups-tips/

Competition is not good, differentiate yourself

Zero to One. It’s the idea of creating something new of value rather than improving on an existing product or service.

A market can be categorized by the characteristics of its competition. On the one extreme, there is perfect competition. This is when there are numerous buyers and sellers and all firms sell an identical product or service in a market where there is a low barrier to entry. In this case, no firm can influence the market price of a product or service. And in the long run, all companies only earn enough profit to stay in the business. If companies are enjoying a profit, other companies will enter the market and drive down the profit.

On the other extreme, there is monopoly. Monopoly happens when only one firm sells a product or service to numerous buyers. This is often due to competitive advantages, such as proprietary technologies, network effects, economies of scale, and/or branding, that the company has that prevents other companies from entering the market.

All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.

We grow up in an environment that focuses on competition.  Whether that’s in school through the forms of report cards or sports activities or in the workforce competing for more responsibilities or promotions, we are constantly competing with each other.

When it comes to businesses, Peter Thiel stresses the importance of escaping competition through differentiation. Be mindful that any differentiation that your business has must be relevant and significantly better in both perceived and actual value than the next best option in your market to lead a real monopolistic advantage.

Every startup is small at the start. Every monopoly dominates a large share of the market. Therefore, every startup should start with a very small market.

Aim to dominate a niche market first and once you do, gradually move into other related or broader markets. Starting in a niche market allow you to test out your value proposition as well as not overleveraging your resources.

Invest your time wisely

When you choose a career, focus on something you’re good at doing. But before that make sure that the skills you are developing will be valuable in the future.

Even though startups is the theme of this book, Peter Thiel also cautioned about starting businesses. There are numerous ways to have a successful career and joining a great company while it’s growing is often times a better alternative.

If you can’t count durable relationships among the fruits of your time at work, you haven’t invested your time well, even in purely financial terms.

This is my favorite takeaway from this book. Time is our most valuable asset, so make sure you are spending it with people who you can develop a long-term relationship with. It won’t just make you happier and more productive at work, but also enrich your lives off of work. The more bonds you create the stronger your network is.

Importance of setting a good foundation when starting a business

The founding moment of your business only happens once, so use it to build up a great foundation. First of all, make sure that that you have a history with your partners. Having great synergy is very important. Bad partnerships alone can often kill a business no matter how valuable the product or service is.

Hire people who enjoy working together and share the same vision the company has. If people aren’t aligned, there will eventually be discontent and productivity will suffer as a result.

Summary

The core theme of this book is on creating businesses that go from Zero to One. This book is very well received, however, it’s not a book I’ll recommend to my friends from commerce. It’s more valuable if you have less exposure to economics and startups concepts. If you have a different take on this book, please share it with me as well. 🙂

I’m currently reading The Outsiders by William N. Thorndike, Jr.

Book Review: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

It’s been three weeks since I last published a post. I’ve been reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris since then. It’s a 600+ pages book which took me longer to finish than the previous books I’ve read. From now on, I want to put more focus on applying what I’ve learned.

If you let your learning lead to knowledge, you become a fool. If you let your learning lead to action, you become wealthy – Jim Rohn

Knowledge itself is valuable but if you don’t apply it, you can’t improve your life for the better. I’ll go over how I applied my learnings from this book and how it has had a positive impact on me.

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Setting Goals

Is that a dream or a goal? A dream is something you fantasize about that will probably never happen. A goal is something you set a plan for, work toward, and achieve – Paul Levesque (Triple H)

Most of us have heard the importance of setting goals. This is the first year which I have set resolutions for the year. It has driven me to put more focus on personal development than I had ever before. However, resolutions are things I want to accomplish for the year and don’t necessarily indicate my goals in life. I had the mindset that if I keep improving myself every day, be patient, and do the right things for me and the people around me, I’ll eventually end up where I want to be. I think this is a good mindset to have and has contributed to why I’m a positive and happy person. This previous mindset of mine will see me make improvements in life, but the improvements I made won’t necessarily lead me to become the person I want to be.

Inspired by the above quote from Paul Levesque, I have a different mindset now. If I don’t put in the work on a consistent basis for a goal of mine, then I won’t be achieving that goal. So first, I detailed the type of person I want to become:

  1. A person who is in a position to help many people
  2. A person who is an expert in his field of interest
  3. A great communicator
  4. A great leader
  5. Spanish speaker
  6. A person who is fit and has an active and healthy lifestyle
  7. The founder of a successful business
  8. A great son
  9. A great brother
  10. A good friend
Once I have this mindset and these goals in mind, I asked myself this question: “what am I currently doing to achieve these goals?”. This is in itself very motivating for me since for example, I wasn’t dedicating any time to become a great communicator and the thought of myself not becoming one led me to action. I did some research immediately and came across an Udemy course by TJ Walker. Since then, I have dedicated at least one hour every other day to improve my communication. I have recorded myself presenting for practice and have gotten feedback from TJ Walker which I have applied to my subsequent practices. I’m still a long way away from being a great communicator but I see the work I’m putting in and the progress I’m making.
Once you have clear goals in mind, putting in the work becomes easier as you will know the reasons behind your sacrifices.
Here are the 3 tips I use to develop habits to achieve my goals:
  1. Put in the work you can sustain on a consistent basis.
    Start out small, if you think you can dedicate two hours per day, start with one hour or even 30 minutes. It’s more important to build up the habit first before you increase your commitment.
  2. Dedicate a block of time just to focus on what you are trying to accomplish.
    One block of time without any distractions. No TV. No phones. No youtube. Put on a timer if you have to which I do. I currently dedicate 1 hour or 2-hour blocks for things I want to accomplish for the day.
  3. Be patient.
    Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate results. Setbacks are expected and the frustration of not improving is the reason why so many people gave up on their goals. See the big picture, put in the work consistently and you will see the results eventually.

Meditate

I dedicate time every day to improve myself, but procrastination, either going on youtube or catching up on NBA rumors, is taking up too much of my time. I often find myself led by my thoughts or desires. One youtube video usually turns into three or five videos. And by the end of the day, I can’t recall spending much time on what I planned to accomplish for the day.
At least 80% of the people interviewed by Tim Ferris at his podcast have some mindfulness practice.
My reward for meditating is getting 30% to 50% more done in a day with 50% less stress. Why? Because I have done a warmup in recovering from distraction: my morning sit. – Tim Ferriss
Recovering from distraction. This is exactly what I needed. I value the occasional breaks, but I want to be able to recover from distraction so it’s controlled procrastination instead.
You are starting your day by practicing focus when it doesn’t matter so that you can focus better later when it does matter – Tim Ferriss
I started to use the Headspace app every morning for meditation. You don’t need an app to meditate, it just makes the process easier for me as I was never exposed to it. I have since meditated for 23 days in a row and counting and I can already see the following benefits:
  1. I’m more mindful and aware of my thought process.
    By being mindful of my thought process and the distractions resulting from it, I am able to recover from distractions more quickly. Being distracted is often fun and relaxing and there are still times I let random thoughts lead me to procrastinate. However, distractions are taking up less and less time of my day and I’m able to recover from it much more frequently.
  2. I have a better idea how my body is feeling.
    Part of the exercise is to scan your body. The idea is to separate your mind from your body and not let one dictate the other. By clearing my mind and paying attention to my body, I’m more attuned to how my body is feeling. Often times I don’t realize my body is aching in certain areas until my meditation session. I’m more aware of how bad posture is negatively impacting me throughout the day. You might not notice it throughout the day, but if you pay close attention and examine your body, you will realize the damage bad posture is inflicting on you.
  3. I learned how to be more effective when I work.
    It is important to prime your state. Putting yourself in a positive mindset can affect the quality of the work you put out. A coworker and friend of mine asked me last week to meditate for 10 minutes near the end of the day. We have done it for the last two working days and it has helped me recharge and regain my focus for the remainder of each day.

Journaling

If you win the morning you win the day. The idea is similar to priming your state where how you start off the day can impact your actions and mindset for the rest of your day.
This is the 5 morning rituals that Tim Ferris uses:
  1. Make your bed
  2. Meditate or mindfulness practice  (10 – 20 mins)
  3. Do 5 to 10 reps of something
  4. Prepare tea
  5. Morning pages or 5-Minute Journal (5MJ)
I have added #2, #3, #5 to my morning ritual. For each morning, I’ll do the 5-Minute Journal, meditate for 10 minutes, do 25 pushups (increase week by week), and make my bed.
The 5MJ asks you to fill in the following in the morning:
  1. I’m grateful for… 1. ____ 2. ____ 3. ____
  2. What would make today great? 1. ____ 2. ____ 3. ____
  3. Daily affirmations. I am… 1. ____ 2. ____
and these questions at night:
  1. Amazing this that happened today… 1. ____ 2. ____ 3. ____
  2. How could I have made today better? 1. ____ 2. ____
It literally only takes me 5 minutes to do the journal. It is an easy habit to build up and can improve your outlook of the day. I have the habit of praying and saying thanks to what I’m grateful for when I’m in bed every night. I enjoy doing it and it helps me be more appreciative. And doing the 5MJ further expands on it as I’m giving thanks at the end as well as the start of the day now.
Whereas “I’m grateful for…” and “Amazing things that happened today…” impacts my mindset, “What would make today great?” and “How could I have made today better?” impacts my actions throughout the day. It’s amazing how simply stating out “what would make today great” will make you conscious throughout the day on what you want to achieve and prioritize. This has helped me become more productive and often times one of the things I’ll write down is “Dedicate X hours to do _____”.
“How could I have made today better?” on the other hand helps me reflect on the day. I’ll see which of the to-do that I set out for the day is not accomplished and what is the reason behind it. Sometimes I’ll write down things such as “Spend more time with a friend or family” if I feel like I’m too focused on improving myself and not spending enough time for the people I care about.

Workout

When in doubt, train your grip and your core. Strengthening your midsection and your grip will automatically increase your strength in any lift. With the abs, the effect is partly due to greater abdominal pressure and partly to improved stability. With the grip, you are taking advantage of the neurological phenomenon of irradiation – tension ‘radiates’ from the gripping muscles into other muscles – Pavel Tsatsouline
I consider myself as having a healthy lifestyle but I’m not a fitness person. I workout twice a week on the weekend and play basketball once a week but that’s the extent of it. I skimmed over most of the health/fitness section of the book, but the one thing that I took away is to train your grip.
Pavel is a former physical training instructor for Spetsnaz, the Soviet special forces, and is currently a subject matter expert to the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Secret Service, and the U.S. Navy SEALs. I took the advice mainly based on his track record and minimal research online. I don’t understand the full benefit of it but that’s enough information for me to give it a try. I have since gotten myself a set of IronMind’s Captains of Crush Grippers and have built up to doing 3 x 10 reps every day. I find it easier for me to do pull-ups and lifting weights now. I’m aware of how it coincides with me doing pushups every morning. However, I do believe it is helpful and will recommend you to give it a try if training your grip strength isn’t part of your workout routine.

Summary

I’ll say this is by far the most impactful book I’ve read so far. I’ll strongly recommend it to anyone. The book is about the summary of the learnings Tim Ferris has by interviewing the “Titans” of the world. It is broken down into 3 sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. It is unique in a way where people will likely get very different takeaways. Tim Ferris started out by outlining a guide on how to use this book, which basically says to skip the parts which aren’t applicable to you. I’ll most likely revisit this book sometime in the future. If you have a different takeaway, I’ll love to hear about it as well!
The book I’m currently reading is Zero to One by Peter Thiel.