The S&P 500 – shifting horizons

The S&P 500 index 5 day view shows 3% decline and a bunch of volatility.

The 6 month view shows a ~17% decline along with more volatility.

The 5 year view shows a 61% gain and a clear march to recent highs with a few visible blips along the way.

The 20 year view puts all the above blips in perspective.

A couple of life lessons.

What feels like a big problem to us today is likely not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

It is hard to judge progress over short intervals.

Zooming out often puts things in perspective.

Ups and downs are an integral part of this life – in our days, weeks, and even in the stock market. Keep calm and carry on.

15 minutes for a quick chat?

I’ve realized over the years that a message along the lines of – “got 15 minutes for a quick chat?” – that feels even a touch out-of-the-blue from a colleague means –

(a) They’re leaving the company (or in a rare case have a very good offer) (60%)

(b) They’re becoming a parent and going on mat/pat leave (30%)

(c) Other – e.g., they were annoyed by something did or need quick help with something personal (10%)

Number translations

I shared a note yesterday from “Making Numbers Count” by Chip Heath and Karla Starr that helped demonstrate that we don’t have an intuitive understanding of big numbers. The example – a million seconds is 12 days from now, a billion seconds however is 32 years from now – definitely helps make that point.

The key takeaway they keep driving home in the book is that the path to making numbers count is to “translate” them to ideas that are easier to understand. Here are a few that resonated with me.

The fastest human, Usain Bolt, would be beaten in a 100m dash by a Rhino by 2s and would be close to a Chimpanzee. he wouldn’t be close to a Cheetah or an Ostrich.

If cows were a country, they’d be #4 in Carbon emissions. They emit more than Saudi Arabia or Australia.

Apple market cap wealth is greater than 150 out of 171 countries. (or at least was – until recently :-))

If California were a country, it’s GDP would be more than all but 5 countries in the world.

Six sigma is 3.4 defects per millions. That means baking 2 decent chocolate chip cookies every day and going 37 years before baking one without a defect.

If everyone ate as much meat as a person in America, we would need to use every bit of land on the planet and add an extra Africa and Australia to meet the demand 

Imagine your (US) tax payment is visualized as employment over the course of a year. It would mean working 2 weeks for social security, 2 weeks for Medicare and Medicaid, 5 days on national debt, 1.5 weeks for Defence, then most of the rest of the year would be government payroll, 6 hours for “SNAP” (Nutrition assistance), 12 minutes to National Parks, and 2 mins to NASA.

Translations make abstract numbers accessible.

Million seconds, billion seconds

A million seconds is 12 days from now.

A billion seconds?

32 years.

That difference surprised me as it wasn’t what I expected. A billion is significantly bigger than I had imagined.

Chip Heath and Karla Starr use this example in “Making Numbers Count” to drive home the point that we don’t have an intuitive understanding of big numbers. The implication is that we need to make the effort to always put numbers in context for the people we’re presenting to.

It is a point well made.

Investing truisms

Amidst the ongoing market meltdown, there were some emotional stories shared in the Reddit among investors in the ill-fated terraUSD Stablecoin. Many talked about losing significant amounts – including house down payments and life savings. Some threads speak of folks contemplating suicide.

Reading the thread reminded me of two investing truisms. The first is that everybody looks like a genius in a bull market. When the tide is in, we don’t have to paddle.

And the second is that we can afford to not be great at investing. But it is very costly to be bad at it.

A good reminder to all of us to stay safe out there.

Integrity and momentum

Our integrity is our ability to make and keep commitments.

The fascinating thing about integrity is the way it accelerates the good and the bad. If we keep one commitment, we feel the momentum to keep the next. And the next. Until it becomes unthinkable to break a commitment.

And vice versa.

The implication is that the simplest way to build our integrity is to keep a small commitment – e.g., I will sleep 7 hours today. The momentum from that will build onto bigger commitments – e.g., I will do a strength workout every weekday – before we know it.

The related opposite implication is that we ought to be very careful about making exceptions on our values/principles. As the late Clay Christensen put it beautifully, we’ll all discover before long that life is an unending stream of extenuating circumstances.

The Power of Regret

I enjoyed reading Dan Pink’s “The Power of Regret.” He recently shared a summary of the book in a few paragraphs in a short “graduation speech.” Below are my cliff notes:

Foundation regrets: “The first of the big four regrets is what I call Foundation regrets. Foundation regrets emerge from small choices we make earlier in life that accumulate to negative consequences later in life.

We spend too much and save too little. We don’t eat right, sleep enough, or exercise
regularly. We apply only grudging effort on the job – or, yes, in the classroom”

“Foundation regrets sound like this: If only I’d done the work.”

Boldness regrets: “All regrets begin when we’re at a juncture. And with this category, the juncture presents a choice: Play it safe – or take the chance? And when we don’t take the chance – not all the time, but most of the time – we regret it.”

Boldness regrets sound like this: If only I’d taken the chance.

Moral regrets: “Once again, we’re at a juncture. We can take the high road
or we can take the low road. And when we choose what our conscience says is the wrong path, most of us – most of the time – regret it.

We hurt others. We break our word. We degrade what ought to be revered. And while at first the decision can feel fine – even exhilarating – before long it eats at us.”

“Moral regrets sound like this: If only I’d done the right thing.”

Connection regrets: “These are regrets about all the relationships in our lives. Partners. Parents. Children. Siblings. Cousins. Friends. Colleagues. Classmates.
A 45-year-old woman, from the District of Columbia, offered this: “My brother died
suddenly at forty-one. I regret not saying, ‘I love you,’ more.””

Connection regrets sound like this: If only I’d reached out.

That brings us to the reverse image of a life well lived.

A decent foundation – enough stability so that life is not precarious. Boldness – a chance to learn and grow and do something meaningful during the vanishingly short time we’re alive. Morality – being good and decent and just. Connection – having people we love and who love us.

Or put differently.

Do the work.

Take the chance.

Do the right thing.

Reach out.

And ignore the rest.

Thanks for the excellent summary, Dan.

14 years

This blog turned 14 years old on Wednesday. On one hand, 5115 days and 5960 posts does feel like a lot.

On the other, it still feels early – I’m excited about all the learning ahead in the next 14.

What is undeniable however is that the act of writing every day has completely transformed me – by infusing a focus on learning in how I think, act, and live.

I’m grateful to this practice and to all of you for the support and encouragement over the years.

Muchas gracias. :-)

This or that?

We often find ourselves thinking through important decisions with a “this or that” frame.

Rent or buy?

Manager track or individual contributor track?

Sell or hold?

Start-up or big company?

And so on.

“This or that” feels simple. But it’s rarely as useful as recognizing that such questions don’t have simple answers. We make more progress when we take into account the nuance by shifting the frame and adding – “for me at this time in my life.”

So instead of asking “Is a start-up or a big company better?”, we ask “Is a start-up or a big company better for me at this time in my life?”

When the context changes, the answer changes.