Jun 142020
 

One of the most overused cliches often cited by motivational speakers and politicians, is that the Chinese character for crisis is also the same character for opportunity. JFK, while campaigning for the presidency of the United States, popularized this phrase in his speeches of 1959 and 1960 by saying:

“In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.”

When you question this quote one level deeper, you find out that our translation is actually not entirely accurate — the Chinese character representation, to be a bit more accurate, actually means “danger at a point of juncture” or “danger meeting a critical point”. But the western mistranslation and idea remains incredibly popular because it rings true in so many scenarios.

Quite sure that Jeff Bezos is going to be alright, alright, alright.

COVID-19 is out latest crisis that is teaching us that every crisis does offer disaster for some while opportunity for others. Gyms shuttered around the world but bike stores sold out of a year’s supply of bicycles in a month. Some retailers like JC Penney and Neiman Marcus declared bankruptcy while others such as Amazon and Walmart saw business surge beyond all expectations. Investors in airlines and cruises were hammered while investors in technologies that help people work productively from home offices skyrocketed. Clorox is having a banner year, as are many pharmaceutical firms, as are Glock and Smith & Wesson.

The weak and debt-laden are in serious trouble.

The lesson that I see, the lesson I’m committed to learning, is that the next time a crisis looms, I’m going to quickly gather my investment idea crew on a Zoom video call and brainstorm our best ideas for who will win and who will lose, if this new crisis grows. Had I moved faster than I did, I would have sold my airline and oil positions weeks sooner than I did, and bought obvious winners such as Zoom and Slack. It would have made a great difference in my results to be nimble and open-minded.

Do you have an investment-idea-crew built and connected, ready for next time? Why not?

The lesson is straightforward even if the Chinese character translation is nuanced and a bit mangled: One man’s crisis is indeed another man’s opportunity. Don’t spend brain-cycles worrying about the crisis — rather, quickly think through the opportunity that waits to be found. The market as a whole does not figure these things out in 24 hours.

I.M. Optimisman

May 032020
 

Our economy was firing on all cylinders in the last ten years and really picked up steam on the last few years. Stock gains were even stronger than the economy for three related reasons —

  1. Capital / the cost of money // has been shockingly cheap by historical standards (which reduced the gains available in bonds),
  2. The USA was the one economy that was doing great, with growing corporate earnings and confidence, while all of Europe and Asia were struggling, and
  3. The basic reality of TINA (There Is No Alternative) had sunk in to anyone looking for yield greater than a few percent. PE’s expanded, making the market more expensive compared to historical averages, but not so much that it was considered as massively overvalued.

And then the black swan, in the form of COVID-19, hit us with an unprecedented torpedo: world-wide, businesses shuttered. Unemployment is skyrocketing (really really skyrocketing). The hangover that follows is a mystery. The end of worry and ramifications of COVID-19 are also a mystery. Markets don’t like above-average uncertainty and this is 500% above average uncertainty.

As a realistic optimist, I’ve always believed that things work out over time, and the most dire predictions are rarely, if ever, right. Dire predictions happen because fear intoxicates even the smartest of minds, usually because they are thinking too deep in the weeds. The proven truth is when the human race is focused, we often accomplish miracles. We are focused on this virus and breakthroughs are coming, even if the idea of weeks is a bit too optimistic. Biology is slower than breaking news on CNN.

Still, the markets try to anticipate and front-run the future. After the rapid plunge in March, markets have been incredibly resilient, climbing back into bull market territory during the month of April. I wonder if the confidence is justified. I question if this was sincere buying, or just the AI machines fueling a bounce.

The common sense best guess is that we will retest the recent lows. Most — not all — but most — rallies bounce and retest, bounce and retest. Very rare the V-shape bottom, but this time is a truly unprecedented economic event. The pre-Easter week roared upwardly in what looks to me a monster head-fake, but is it? Never has all of the world been shut down simultaneously. It seems likely to me that the markets will bounce for a while in a multi-W pattern before there is enough optimism to start the roar back. WwW before the upward / slope makes sense.

It is important to note that the background has changed a lot since the Great Recession. The world has embraced ETF’s in a much broader sense in recent years. This has resulting in greater-than-ever indiscriminate selling when people look to convert to cash. When there is a lot of selling in an ETF, the underlying automatic-trading systems sell the underlying shares, and we don’t see as much rotation from weaker issues to bellwether stalwarts as we might have in the past. We are “really” throwing out the baby with the bathwater because of large scale ETF investing.

Stock-picking individual issues is quickly making a comeback. Most of the companies on my shopping list are down significantly less than the S&P 500 is down, because canny investors have spotted the ETF dump-the-baby trend and are nibbling on the stocks with solid prospects, despite the economic malaise that 2020 is likely to become.

Still, if you know what your personal price levels are for a “good sale price” per stock, there is little reason to try to buy the absolute bottom because less than 1/10th of 1% actually get lucky and buy at the exact right time. I would rather not miss a great buying opportunity / price, versus wait and wait for a price that never comes.

I look at stocks as racehorses — and my money is the jockey in the saddle. I’m also a committed, realistic optimist. Barring a complete destruction of how capitalism and the monetary system, the stock market over a longer timeframe trends upwardly — see the chart of the market below which is the S&P 500 over my lifetime — recessions are a small portion of the overall lifetime to date:

The goal is simple but not easy — pick horses that will consistently outrun the overall pack / peloton of horses in the S&P 500 — and be alert to change horses when an opportunity arises.

In the meantime, cash held as cash, loses value — its purchasing power — at about 2% (recent decade) or more (in the past) per year. Inflation destroys the value of your savings, unless you invest it. Granted, this takes time (at 2%) so staying in cash when worried is not necessarily a bad move.

Over the longer term, investing in appreciating assets or companies is the only rational way to get ahead of inflation.

RE-GARP-UM-IT

I created my own personal formula / model / discipline for investing, called RE-GARP-UM-IT. It was created over 30 years, begging and borrowing from what I’ve learned. The acronym stands for:

R = Revenue (more specifically, growing organic revenue)
E = Earnings (more specifically, growing organic earnings)
GARP = Growth-At-a-Reasonable-Price
UM = Unique Moat (generally I want to invest in unique companies insulated from acute competition – acute competition hurts margins)
IT = Investment Thesis — a written two-three sentences as to why you are investing and what you expect to happen, so you know when to get out if it doesn’t actually come to fruition. If you don’t write it down, your memory changes over time.

I’ve always been a “Growth-At-a-Reasonable-Price” investor, commonly referred to as GARP. Adding to my GARP formula, I like to invest in companies that have a “unique moat” (UM) that makes threat of obsolescence from competition or immediate technology innovation hard to imagine. I’ve recently upgraded to add (RE). I think revenue needs to be growing, not just earnings, to avoid financial engineering like what IBM has done the last decade. Organic growth (revenue) is important (not just acquisitions growth or share repurchase growth). Lastly, I believe you must know your investment thesis (IT)… and always write it down, because pale ink is better than great memory.

RE-GARP-UM-IT.

It is important to stay disciplined to your own discipline (RE-GARP-UM-IT), and re-evaluate all your stocks every X number of months. If I had, I would have sold GE long ago, when organic growth went away — but that was a painful lesson in “pay attention to your own formula.”

In full disclosure, I am looking to add a Free Cash Flow component to my formula soon. But until then…

So what’s on my radar? To be clear, I’m expecting a retest of recent lows, although the market is now up more than 25% from the recent low — and the analysts are suddenly piling in to confirm that we have actually seen the low.

Here’s the short list of my top 10 and why —

#1: Microsoft.

IT: Up and coming competitor to AMZN in cloud computing (seems to be gaining share in a growing market) although AMZN has a truly large share (greater than 60%). Google, with all its might, does not seem to be gaining share like Softie. Companies are all moving to the cloud for enterprise computing in the next 5 – 10 years. Big & Rich. Huge staying power through a tough time.

Safety in uncharted waters: Unlike the other big techs, MSFT has managed to avoid the threat of “anti-monopoly” litigation by the US government. It seems like the US Gov will continue to pursue Big Tech and no one likes that uncertainty. It probably helps that MSFT was the bad-guy in monopolistic litigation a few decades ago.

UM: There is no great threat to Microsoft’s dominance of the Office Suite, even though Google has been trying for years with Docs, Sheets, and Drive. I have not seen percentages but it feels like a > 80% situation. Note to self – need to research on this.

REGARP: *** Note that earnings (which really matter to RP) are a huge question mark with worldwide economies basically shuttered ***

If you look at the chart below, MSFT has been blowing away the S&P 500. Yet its PE is mostly reasonable for the software industry at 26 and its PEG is a bit pricey at 2.06 (this of course changes with the current price, it is now 2.27) — but I think both these numbers will stay up at similar levels because of the safety and quality of the company’s financials. It is growing earnings at around 12% per year.

Here is the one page summary on MSFT.

Good price: Recent lows in the $130’s. Given the rotation from ETF’s to individual stock picking, I’d expect that even if the market re-tests the lows, MSFT will not see the $130’s but I’m buying at the next re-test, even if the price is around $150.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#2: Adobe.

IT: Adobe is the one big show in software for creatives. They have successfully converted the business to annual subscriptions from license / upgrade / upgrade. Numbers have been on a roll.

UM: Adobe has competitors on individual fronts — for example Quark — but overall, they have done a great job of being the main game in town. Once you are great at Adobe, change it always hard. There is a distinct difficulty in changing tools.

REGARP: *** Note that earnings (which really matter to RP) are a huge question mark with worldwide economies basically shuttered ***

Growth at a reasonable price is a little hard as Adobe has been richly priced for a long time. I have wanted in but never puled the trigger. The PEG was down to 1.91 (now back to 2.62) and I don’t think it will see much lower.

Here is the one page summary on ADBE.

Good price: Recent lows are just below $280. I’m buying at the next re-test. I was hoping for a lot less than $300 but right now, I just hope that there is a re-test that gets ADBE below $305.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#3: Facebook.

IT: Facebook is one of the most profitable companies in the world. They are better at unsolicited advertising than any other company on earth, including Google. Even if the government tries to break it up, it would break it up along product lines, which might actually result in three Facebooks and more value for investors.

UM: The network effect. Facebook and Instagram have nearly insurmountable leads because all your friends and family are on them already.

REGARP: *** Note that earnings (which really matter to RP) are a huge question mark with worldwide economies basically shuttered ***

Because the government has been looking to break up or at least reduce Facebook’s power, the stock has struggled for several years while earnings continue to grow quickly. The PEG was down to 1.02 (now back to 1.41) and that is incredible, given that everyone sitting around their home can’t be bad for using FB more.

Same as with Google, there is no doubt that online ads will take a hit — industries like travel and restaurants may take a while to come back. Earnings growth will be impacted, which will change the PEG. But for how long?

Here is the one page summary on FB.

Good price: Below $150. I’m buying at the next re-test.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#4: Alibaba.

IT: There will be a day that trade with China will be fully in bloom again. BABA is the one Chinese blue chip that is in the middle of it all. And we should not forget that China is destined to become the economic center of the world in the next few decades. The one major worry that I have is that China is not exactly above interfering with the success of one of its own, and audited numbers there might not be as real as audited numbers are here.

UM: No other company is directly threatening Alibaba at this time. But it pays to pay attention.

REGARP: *** Note that earnings (which really matter to RP) are a huge question mark with worldwide economies basically shuttered ***

BABA has been growing like a weed. In the trailing year, BABA grew earnings 145.61% while revenue grew 35.66% The PEG is low at 1.09. All these numbers are great… unless a fresh trade war breaks out between the US and China after Trump blames China for biology.

Here is the one page summary on BABA.

Good price: At or below $180. But I have to get over my fear of being far far away and not being as able to watch BABA on the streets of China. It really is hard to invest when you have zero feel for the company on a day to day basis.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#5: Google

IT: Google has no challenger to search. Its core business (advertising based on search) is very safe and has been a steady 20% grower, even though Facebook and others are fighting for their share of ad dollars. Advertising effectiveness online is much easier to measure and therefore justify than advertising without measured effects (like TV and Billboards).

Additionally, the youtube business doesn’t have a direct challenger, although it is not as much of a total dominant space as search. As the world goes more and more online, whether from work or from home, there is no stopping this train. Additionally, it seems that soon, one of the multitude of innovative bets is likely to work and move the needle.

UM: See above. There is no challenger to search worldwide, except for China where Google does not play. Google has a stellar moat.

REGARP: Both revenue and earnings have been growing right around 20%. Yet GOOGL has a PE of 26 and a PEG of 1.68 which seem reasonable given the immense cash hoard, the great profitability, and the awesome growth rate.

Same as with Facebook, there is no doubt that online ads will take a hit — industries like travel and restaurants may take a while to come back. Earnings growth will be impacted, which will change the PEG. But for how long?

Here is the one page summary on GOOGL.

Good Price: At or below $1,100, but we might not see that level given the recent positive (resilient) earnings announcement.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#6: Taiwan Semiconductor.

IT: TSM is the largest contract semi-conductor maker / fab company on earth. Fabs cost so much to build that the majority of semiconductor chips are now built at a contract foundry, and that trend will continue into perpetuity. My thesis is that the 5G conversion will drive a large amount of volume in the next few years.

UM: The sheer cost of building a new fab is a very effective moat for TSM.

REGARP: TSM’s PEG has been near 1.0 at 1.18 (source is Ameritrade) which is very attractive. Hmmm… I just noticed a remarkably different PEG at gurufocus, which now makes me wonder as to why there is such a wide discrepancy. Here are the Zacks numbers, and they are different too. (note to self — investigate why the estimates are so wildly different). FCF is not nearly as smooth as other companies, because TSM is in one of the most capital intensive industries in the world. Additionally, RE growth is lower than most of the companies I target, but I really like the lack of competition and the “swelling tide” of chips all over the world.

Here is the one page summary on TSM.

Good Price: Unlike a lot of my other targets, TSM does not have a strong retail following. Therefore, it is more likely to test recent March lows in the mid 40’s.

For short-term price finding, here is the 3 month chart:

#7: Amazon

IT: COVID will make AMZN stronger than ever. Scaling up to meet the demand is a challenge. But that’s a good problem to have.

UM: No one is close to AMZN in online retail.

REGARP: To be clear, this is NOT A “RP” stock. Amazon has an amazing leader in Jeff Bezos who is the pied piper of Wall Street. He has convinced the Street that profits don’t matter as long as growth is extraordinary. I can’t build a case for AMZN value at a specific price because earnings come and go with the winds of huge capital expenditures, but the Street breaks the rules and plays along with Mr. Bezos.

Here is the one page summary on AMZN.

Here’s the bottom line. AMZN is not a GARP stock. I can’t justify it based on my formula. The question is do I purchase it on an exception basis because I believe COVID will be an incredible windfall for the company.

Good Price: Under $1800, but the train may have permanently left the station and I may not get a second chance.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#8: lululemon athletica.

IT: LULU has a lock on casual athletic wear with upscale females. Although many are trying, LULU still maintains a lock on being the best, the one that everyone wants.

UM: The moat is not as strong as I would normally invest in. Nike, Adidas, even UA all want this business, and they are bigger than LULU. I will have to spot warning signs quickly if trends turn against LULU.

REGARP: LULU is another stock that challenges my thinking on GARP. LULU has recently approach a PEG of 2.0 and currently sits at 2.2. As a retailer, they are hard hit with store closures but have a better online presence than many retailers. They have a lot of cash and negligible debt, so odds are better than average that they can ride out the storm.

Here is the one page summary on LULU.

Good Price: Below $160.

For short-term price finding, here is the 3 month chart:

#9: Qualcomm.

IT: This is a bet on a ‘bad times behind us // time for a turnaround’ kind of play. QCOM has massive patents to basically ensure QCOM content with the rollout of 5G. 5G will rollout, COVID or no COVID. Hard to imagine how this company does worse than the S&P 500… but they have been held back in recent years by litigation with Apple and other company patent infringement in China. Both these issues seem to be mostly in the rear-view mirror, although Trump keeps rattling the sabre with China.

UM: Patents patents patents.

REGARP: QCOM seems a good value with a PEG of 1.2. Of course, all this assumes that the world recovers from COVID in 6 – 9 months, not 6 – 9 years.

Here is the one page summary on QCOM.

Good Price: In the lower $60’s. Note that QCOM pays a decent dividend rate at that price too. Note the recent years of underperforming the S&P. I wonder if the 5G years will help it vault ahead of the S&P.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#10: Starbucks.

IT: Starbucks is the ongoing “pub” of the next decade. Having suffered in a sideways pattern for a year years, it seems spring loaded to catch back up to the S&P. That said, COVID is an overhang for any business that thrives on people in a social setting.

UM: No one close. And it would take decades for someone to catch up.

REGARP: SBUX might be overvalued at a PEG of 1.99, given the overall environment. The 60% gap between revenue and earnings growth is a bit concerning as well.

Here is the one page summary on SBUX

Good Price: Still, if it revisits the mid-50’s, I think the spring loaded reality still exists. Note the outperform to the S&P in the last year plus. SBUX over its life has sported a PE significantly above the market, not at the market.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#11: Visa.

IT: Steadily, society is reducing the use of cash and checks in favor of electronic payments. This lifts all the companies in the cash-less world, from Paypal to Paypal’s Venmo to Zelle to the more traditional Mastercard and Visa. Since the S&P tracks the economy, it makes complete sense that Visa should track the economy plus gain from the trend away from cash, and therefore grow faster (assuming that you bought it at a fair price).

UM: Visa is the 800-lb gorilla in the room. Any market change will be slow and noticeable.

REGARP: I have wanted in on Visa for several years but it always looked richly valued. Now that the economy is in question, Visa is significantly cheaper — if and only if the economy does recover relatively soon. Unfortunately, I may have missed the moment when V was at a discount.

Here is the one page summary on V.

Good Price: Below $150.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

#12: Bidu.

IT: This is a TURNAROUND bet — a company with continuing revenue growth but difficulties turning it into earnings growth. BIDU is the closest thing to Google in China, the country that will not stop growing and becoming a great economic powerhouse this century. They have struggled with turning that position into steady, improving earning however.

UM: Several other monster companies — Tencent, BABA, JD — all want a piece of the action, and how things work in China (people are more mobile, the bigs lock you into their ecosystem, payments via messaging) seems to have made BIDU’s moat not as effective as Google’s is around the rest of the world.

REGARP: BIDU (if you trust Chinese accounting and audit) is fairly cheap and has had several years of underperformance. But, a worry is that its PEG ratio is not lower than this — which I would expect to find for a company that has not gained market respect in recent years.

Here is the one page summary on BIDU.

Good Price: Below $90.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

So what about Apple?

IT: 5G will drive a super-upgrade cycle. But will Apple gain share? I was an AAPL investor for nearly 10 years and have enjoyed great gains, but they shook me when they decided to dramatically reduce transparency of iPhone sales. It seemed like a great admission that the core product was no longer gaining share at all, the numbers perhaps plateauing, and that they would have to focus on everything else to prop up results.

UM: No one competes effectively against Apple at the high-end of smartphones, smart watches, laptops. It has more cash than nearly anyone. Services keeps growing.

REGARP: Apple’s PEG has grow from near 1 to over 2. It is becoming less of a value. This worries me — the trend is a negative — although other stocks above are also above 2. But, when I compare AAPL to MSFT for example, the trend seems to be MSFT’s friend (the move to cloud and MSFT gaining share in cloud enterprise computing) while its harder to see what trend will be AAPL’s friend right now (5G?).

Here is the one page summary on AAPL.

Good Price: Near the lows from March (maybe). Still doesn’t feel cheap enough.

For short-term price finding, here is the 6 month chart:

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that’s my investment opportunity radar, and roughly the prices I hope to see again in 2020. Time will tell how this plays out. I may have missed a great buying opportunity but V bottoms are rare, and if something spooks the market, the ETF reality **should** once again discount the baby with the bathwater.

It helps to think on paper. Writing it down takes hours of work, but I find that I walk away with a better understanding and clearer thinking of my plan. For example, I still own small positions in Schlumberger and Alaska Airlines — and I really wonder why I rode those all the way down. It is hard to see how those horses can possibly even come close to average in the next few years.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 242020
 

We live in a culture currently obsessed with “perseverance” — and I have no doubt that perseverance is a great aspect of people that succeed. Best sellers like Grit by Angela Duckworth are flying off the digital shelves. Watch this short presentation by Angela for a sense of the message.

There is a problem, however. Deciding when to change gears, when to find a new job, when to sell a stock position, when to try a new method, when to get off the hamster wheel is not nearly as heralded but, in my mind, just as important. I have plenty of examples of when I stuck-to-it far too long, wasting valuable time and resources when the writing was on the wall.

If I had a superpower, I would want it to be the ability to make the right decision at the opportune time. What decision have you been putting off that needs to be made? Chasing the wrong thing is very much akin to climbing the ladder of success for years, only to later find out that it is leaning against the wrong wall.

The old Kenny Rogers song extolled that…”You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run” in the context of poker, and life. Optimism is much easier to develop and keep when you are zen-aligned with a pursuit that really fits your passion and purpose.

Don’t wait too long to make those decisions. I think it is high time that I sell Schlumberger stock.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jul 262019
 

Why do most companies generally grow their quarterly earnings, cash flow, intrinsic enterprise value, and market cap over time? Well, frankly, they focus on it. They report to the Street. They answer analyst and media questions. They meet with investors.

What if we committed to running out personal finances as professionally as public companies run their books? What if we focused on the performance of our assets while taking great care with expenses? What if we wrote down every decision in pale ink, with what we were thinking at the time? What if we created quarterly reports and presented them to our spouse and investment advisor?

Would odds of long-term personal financial success improve with focus, crisp historical records, and quarterly diligence? I think so.

Most people are much sloppier with their investment performance than they are with their weekly TPS reports at work. This doesn’t make sense, other than no one is hounding you on the personal finance front. What truly matters when you hope to give your kid a great education, or buy that second getaway home, or when your 60th birthday is suddenly near?

Do things differently. Do them better.

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 102017
 

This year, I have posted several articles observing how the vocal few, amplified by online social networks, have an outsized voice in the political discord that swirls all around us. A few thousand like-minded activists are being heard while 350,000,000 others shake our heads in disbelief and sigh, while sipping our beverage of choice, remote control and smartphone in hand.

Simultaneously, I believe the remainder of this decade will be the true dawn of machine learning algorithms. While the concepts are not new, the practical application of machine learning is really hitting its stride, especially at the companies that are cornering many of the brightest minds in computer science, namely Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and the private unicorns awaiting their IPOs.

Machine learning needs big data sets to “learn” and no companies do a better job at marrying big data with algorithms and computer power than these. Traditional businesses rarely recognize that their most valuable asset to leverage is their data, still mired in thoughts about facilities, machines, and stores. Most of the Fortune 2000 do not run their data as a business, making investments and measuring results of analytical programs.

Here’s the bottom line:

If he decides, Mark Zuckerberg now, in 2017, has the power to decide who will be the next U.S. President.
— Bob Sakalas

I’m not saying that Mark will use his super power, but he has that power. Right now, Facebook’s and Google’s power is clearly driving greater and greater polarization of the public. This power extends to many countries, not just the United States.

Don’t believe me?

Watch this TED presentation by Zeynep Tufekci. It is eye-opening, and common sense tells me she is spot-on. It might just make you rethink your own level of participation on social networks, but that unfortunately will not change destiny for the country.

So what is the bright note for the optimist? Well, I’ve argued that optimists must take prudent risks within the backdrop of capitalism. As an investor, I’m increasing my long exposure to Facebook, Google, and perhaps add a small stake in Tencent. And, on a less serious note, the artificial intelligent Skynet won’t build terminators to exterminate humans, it might only try to control our thinking and ideology in an insidious Matrix-like mirage.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Are you interested in other side-effects of powerful social networks?  Here’s another angle worth understanding.

 

Aug 102017
 

When it comes to sport, we enjoy watching a hyper competitive match. Rules, referees, and video replay are all in place to keep game day as fair as possible. But in daily life, we all realize that a completely level playing field is not a great situation. Imagine that you are up for a promotion, but that there are 11 other candidates with exactly the same resume and experience? Not a comfortable situation, is it?

The same applies to companies. Imagine that six companies are fighting it out to deliver raw lithium ore to Tesla’s new battery plant. It is hard to win when your product lacks differentiation.

Consider this quote:

Secret Sauce - by Bob Sakalas

What is your secret sauce?  Where do you disagree with crowd-thinking?  How creative are you, and do you have evidence of your creativity?  Make a list on paper, in your journal.  Is it strong or does it barely make a difference? What can you do in the next 18 months to have a better list by the start of 2019?

I.M. OptimismMan

Jul 212017
 

Everything is become more complicated and interconnected. When faced with a difficult decision, almost everyone adds more detail, weighs more aspects, analyzes the problem to the n-th degree, and creates complexity. I personally work to sell solutions that create timely, valuable, and actionable insights from data, a topic that is truly large, complex and ever-growing, given the explosion of “big data” as zillions of devices connect to networks and every aspect of business becomes digitized by computers. The result is thousands of topics from hundreds of vendors and millions of powerpoint slides.

Every data analytics vendor dilutes its message with every word added to every powerpoint slide. Every company uses the same buzz words, every slide says much of the same, and the final slides always says the preceding 100 slides prove that this vendor’s specific solution is the best decision.

I believe there is great opportunity for a bold optimist that decides to zig when everyone else is following the zagging herd: simplify the message while everyone else complicates it.

If I was the customer, I would limit each presentation to 30 minutes, with 20 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of question and answer. I would limit each vendor to the top 5 reasons their solution is best for my company. I would limit the number of powerpoint slides to 10, and the number of words per slide to 20.

bruce-lee-simplicity

Would less be better? Of course it would, because each vendor would be forced to distill their message to the essential. The customer could better compare each vendor’s solution at its core essence. TED presentations are phenomenal and each is limited to 20 minutes.

This applies to all aspects of life, and it offers you great opportunity to shine. If you are a lawyer, are you better off with a rambling 40 minute final argument or a 5 minute hard hitting one? If you are a teacher, is it best to spend hours on one topic or boil it down to the essential while students are still paying attention?  If you are a preacher on Sunday, will the congregation pay better attention to 40 minutes of fire and brimstone… well, you get the picture. I have found that if you “train” your target audience that your message will be short, they will pay close attention because they appreciate your approach.

Anyone can become the Master of Succinctness with effort and expertise. People love those that can make their point, with impact and simplicity.  Less is more, when done well. Your career will flourish. I’m still amazed that the Gettysburg Address was less than 300 words, yet most big data analytics slides have 100 words of broken English on each.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. In case we forget, here is the Gettysburg Address, all 272 words of it…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

May 212017
 

Please watch part one first, earlier this month. These two posts work better together.

My optimism for the pace of progress continues to grow. Kevin Kelly has had a front row seat. From TED summary of Kevin, Kelly has been publisher of the Whole Earth Review, executive editor at Wired magazine (which he co-founded, and where he now holds the title of Senior Maverick), founder of visionary nonprofits and writer on biology, business and “cool tools.” He’s renounced all material things save his bicycle (which he then rode 3,000 miles), founded an organization (the All-Species Foundation) to catalog all life on Earth, championed projects that look 10,000 years into the future (at the Long Now Foundation), and more. He’s admired for his acute perspectives on technology and its relevance to history, biology and society. His new book, The Inevitable, explores 12 technological forces that will shape our future.

Kevin, on the future, recorded in 2007:

 

How can you not be optimistic about how digital transformation will add value to every life?

I.M. Optimisman

May 152017
 

Humans often — usually, in fact — have failures of imagination. We often don’t see the next leap, the next stair-step of significant progress. I find that looking back, at the imagination of future-oriented thinkers, at a point in time in the past but with proven success in the present, gives me a brilliant jolt of optimism.

Consider this TED discussion by Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon in 2003, now 15 years ago. It simultaneously reminds us how quickly so much has changed, and how much more opportunity is right on our doorstep:

large_Bezos_Jeff_3

I clearly see that we are only in the second inning of wiring up the world. Do you?

I.M. Optimisman

Dec 132016
 

As I observed last year, very rarely do people try 5 different ideas to succeed, yet an often used phrase is “I tried everything!” — the truth is no, you did not.

I ran across this article a few weeks ago. It illustrates the core idea of pivoting and changing your approach when Plan A, or Plan B, is not working out. Quitting too quickly is the norm.

The original article is available at fastcompany.com but I included the text below, in case fastcompany takes down this excellent lesson someday in the future. I do recommend subscribing to Fast Company — few magazines capture the spirit of entrepreneurship better.

The Pivot

How YouTube, Instagram, Pixar, And Others Found Major Success After A Big Pivot
Sometimes the best way forward is a giant leap sideways. Here are 10 companies that bet big on a new direction.

J.J. MCCORVEY 10.17.16 6:00 AM

1. WRIGLEY
Soap seller William Wrigley Jr. switched to hawking baking powder in the late 19th century. To drum up business, he gave away chewing gum, and eventually he realized that customers were more excited about the freebie. The gum stuck.

The payoff: Now a Mars subsidiary, Wrigley is the world’s largest gum manufacturer.

2. NINTENDO
Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo in 1889 as a purveyor of playing cards. His great-grandson unsuccessfully expanded the company into taxis and “love hotels” before hitting gold in the early 1970s with an electronic shooting game.

The payoff: Gaming domination via Super Mario Bros., Game Boy, Wii, Pokémon Go, etc.

3. LISTERINE
The mouthwash was first marketed as a general-purpose antiseptic, meant to get rid of both household grime and, um, gonorrhea. In 1914, pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert started selling it as a halitosis remedy.

The payoff: Current owner Johnson & Johnson sold $340 million worth of the stuff in 2015.

4. 3M
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (get it? 3M) originally planned to sell excavated minerals to manufacturers. But when that didn’t work out as planned, it shifted to producing finished items, such as sandpaper.

The payoff: Some 60,000 products later, 3M makes everything from Post-its to surgical soap.

5. TEXAS INSTRUMENTS
Geophysical Services Inc. made tech to help gas companies find oil. The start of WWII forced GSI to halt its profitable overseas business, so in 1946 it formed a lab to develop electronics.

The payoff: The lab grew into Texas Instruments, maker of your high school calculator and still a top semiconductor producer.

6. PIXAR
When Steve Jobs bought into the business that would become Pixar, it was a maker of graphics oriented computers. He refocused on software, and Pixar later started making animated films.

The payoff: Pixar’s movies have pulled in more than $10 billion over the past 21 years.

7. PAYPAL
Conceived as a mobile-encryption service, the company switched to cash transactions (initially between PalmPilots). After eBay users latched onto the service, PayPal developed into the leading tool for web-based payments.

The payoff: PayPal helped fuel the e-commerce boom and today is worth more than $47 billion.

8. FLICKR
Caterina Fake and then-husband Stewart Butterfield started Ludicorp to develop online games in 2002. One feature let players save pics, and it proved so popular they moved away from games and built a photo-sharing service.

The payoff: Flickr became the go-to home for digital photos and was acquired by Yahoo in 2005.

9. YOUTUBE
YouTube launched in 2005 as a video-dating site. Users didn’t bite, but the company’s founders soon noticed that people had started sharing other kinds of video content.

The payoff: YouTube is the world’s second-most-visited site (after Google). Viewers consume 3.3 billion hours of video every month.

10. INSTAGRAM
Burbn tried to be many things: a Foursquare-style check-in app, a friend-meetup service, and a photo-sharing tool. Noticing that photos were users’ favorite feature, Kevin System ditched the other functions and rebranded as Instagram.

The payoff: More than 500 million monthly users post 95 million photos and videos a day.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

My point is simple.  Don’t give up.  Trying many ideas to make your idea succeed. And if those don’t work, pivot, more than once if needed, with no loss of enthusiasm. Its the best way to succeed.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 102016
 

I have often argued that change is good, and fear of change is irrational. Our election was actually a referendum on the appetite for level of change that America was ready for, cleverly disguised in less than like-able candidates, frequent surprise revelations, personal attacks, and a homogeneous media establishment that lost all perspective drinking its own Kool-aid, losing touch with the voter.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Michigan, Mississippi and other primary elections during a news conference held at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS9XHP

We will be better off trying new things, renegotiating new trade agreements, removing excess regulation, and focusing on jobs, the economy, healthcare, and security. Everything is on the table. Progress happens when you embrace change, strive to do your best, and fine-tune everything.

Most importantly, America now has a moment of Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Stagnation should be gone, at least for a few years. Its an opportunity to be bold and fix a number of things for the better, to earn the trust of America to keep going when the next election time arrives.

Don’t believe me that change should be embraced? Answer this simple question: Will you pay more or less if you shop and fine-tune your insurance coverage every six months, or simply stay with State Farm for two decades, sending them check after check?  Re-negotiation and re-visiting deals, policies, taxes, and government incentives, once you have the hard data from previous and recent results, makes a lot of sense.

Those who embrace change with optimism, win in life. Sure, you make a few mistakes along the way, as that is the price of trying new things. Perfection and risk avoidance are not the real goals – both lead to stagnation and a result far from perfection. In the end, you end up in a much better place, no matter if we are talking about your personal career or if we are talking about Uncle Sam’s place as the leading country in the world.

I’m an economically focused voter: Less taxes works. Less regulation works. Making our companies more competitive world-wide, works. Bringing overseas cash home to America will result in more investment here. Investment leads to more jobs. Lets actually do stuff and try stuff, not just talk about stuff.

A lot of people who voted blue are despondent, but I believe we must become American first, not politically partisan first. Washington has been constipated for far too long, not fixing anything. Trump was not my first choice, but lets support change, experiment, and see what works. Trump was elected by the same democratic process that elected over 200 years of presidents. We live in the greatest time ever. Pessimism has been the religion in DC for the last 12+ years. I believe a lot of people will be optimistic because they think Trump will change things. Optimism builds on itself. Lets start working together now.

I am truly optimistic today!

I.M. OptimismMan

PS> Happy Birthday U.S. Marine Corps. We love and appreciate all you do to ensure our freedoms.

 

Sep 052016
 

There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the “relative value” of a college education, especially in light of skyrocketing college costs and the corresponding student debt.

From my perspective, that’s the wrong debate. Common sense tells me that, if your goal is “to be all you can be” — to do your very best — finishing college is a given and a must. Sure, we have all heard the stories of the brainiac college drop-out who founded the next billion dollar startup. If your son or daughter has that special mix of entrepreneurial brilliance, unquenchable desire to learn on his or her own, and unstoppable drive, ignore the rest of this article. For most, however, I think the debate should focus on whether an undergraduate degree is enough.

Is a Masters degree worth the money and effort?

value-of-graduate-degree

After doing a little analysis, the answer is an emphatic “yes“; in fact, I would argue that a Masters (or doctorate) is critical to improve one’s cash flow, reduce chances of unemployment, and have a higher ultimate trajectory in one’s career. A Masters offers more doors of opportunity, more chances to succeed. Unfortunately, opportunity does not always equal achievement. Higher cash flow means you have the opportunity to save and invest more each year, but that does not guarantee that a person makes that choice. You must still execute on the job and make great impressions on lots of executives to have a chance of promotions. And of course, you must recognize issues clearly, actively network, and look for new opportunities when the career track you are on proves to be a dead-end. Lots of people with advanced degrees don’t hit the ball out of the financial and career happiness park.

Most studies seem to focus “how much a person earns upon graduation” because those are simple metrics to find, and then asks how many years does it take to pay back the cost of the extra years of school. I looked at it from an investor’s point of view, including factors such as an increased rate of savings, compounded returns on investments, and improved chances of promotions and therefore future earning potential. I also tried to bake in some insidious realities, the worst of which is that people who make more money often spend more money. In the end, my spreadsheet assumes 50% of your additional earnings will be blown in spending instead of invested wisely.

While it varies by area of study, in general, Masters degrees are worth about 30% more income in many fields. That gap tends to become smaller as the value of on the job experience comes into play, but then widens again when promotions into higher levels of management occur. I decided to keep the 30% gap in the model throughout one’s career based on the assumption that these two factors balance each other out.

The assumptions in my “Is a Masters degree worth it” spreadsheet are:

  • Masters degree graduate earns 30% more before tax.
  • My Bachelors graduate saves 10% of salary and invests it at 7.5% compounding (Why pick 7.5%?).
  • My Masters graduate saves 15% of salary (because of better cash flow) and invests it at the same 7.5% compounding return.
  • Bachelors gets 4% raises annually.
  • Masters gets 6% raises annually (assumes greater promotion opportunities / and factors in better supply and demand aspects of having a Masters).
    Note that there are a number of soft benefits of the Masters baked into this 6% number — for example, having a Masters degree from a good brand name college increases your networking and credibility. Also, if your Masters degree is different from your Bachelors degree, it gives you a broader range of jobs to choose from if times turn difficult in one industry (for ex. the cyclical downturns in oil and gas that we are seeing right now are really tough on a person with only a BS in Petroleum Engineering or Geology). Lastly, your “birds of a feather” networking benefit will give you better connections across companies. All in all, this factor might be considerably higher than 6%, especially if you reach the highest levels of a corporation.
  • The cost of the in-state (yes, price paid for the degree matters) Masters degree is paid back over 10 years with no interest (assumes a loan from family).
  • No inflation factors are in the spreadsheet – but if they were, both savings numbers would reflect it the same so I didn’t see the need to over-engineer.
  • My spreadsheet models working until 65, and assume the student attains the Masters in two years time (works two years less in their professional job than the Bachelors-only graduate).

The bottom line is that the person with a Masters, given the same amount of optimism, initiative, and tenacity in his or her career — as well as equal will power to save and invest — is likely to retire / start phase three with approximately twice as much in savings / investments. In today’s dollars, the end result @ retirement was $2,034,720 in investment accounts for Masters vs $1,071,274 for Bachelors.

For the student, it boils down to this one question: Why not spend 2 – 3 extra years in school to enjoy greater cash flow, have more opportunities, and save at least $1 M more by the time you retire?

Click here to dive into the details of my spreadsheet.  I could have added more fine-tuning but the case is quite compelling without a lot more spreadsheet work. Please email me with suggested improvements or observations.

masters-spreadsheet

Here is a really interesting research paper on the topic, including details by area of study. A Masters is not worth nearly as much in certain fields as in others.

earnings-by-major

Get a Masters. Do whatever it takes. It is not even close. I believe that continuing college, straight through to a Masters, is the best way… because once in the workplace, distractions abound. Discipline is crucial to success in every phase of life, no matter if you are working on your college degrees or your nest egg for financial independence and comfort: It is crucial to start saving and investing right away — starting late makes things much more difficult, because compounding requires lots of time to do its inevitable magic (See rule 21 here within my 22 rules for financial success).

Final thoughts: Given the woeful state of social security and the changes in longevity, I believe that “normal” retirement age is likely to change from 65 to 70 before 2050. In such a case, the Masters advantage will actually become much larger because compounding gains really kick in the afterburners in the latter years of the model. If you missed it, I really don’t believe in retirement as most understand it: here are my thoughts on retirement. Lastly, success and wealth is a broader topic than savings and investments. Here is an article from a few years ago that helps a person take a 360 degree view of everything that contributes to true wealth.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. Not every career is impacted by the masters degree equally. I am a professional sales executive in the high-end computer software space, an arena where no colleges (as far as I know) offer any degree. In professional sales, the masters doesn’t help regarding direct earnings which are usually target based, although it clearly does help with promotions and outside opportunities. If you are the parent of a student that seems destined to sell professionally for a living (hmmm, I wonder if there are kids that think “sales” when in school), I would suggest creating your own spreadsheet model and sharing it — I would love to contribute. My gut tells me it is still well worth it, due to the improved odds of moving up into upper management.

Jun 102016
 

What makes one person more creative than another is hard to grasp. We all want to have more original ideas that change the world, make things better, or at least get us noticed. But, in practice, you must have the courage to have a lot of bad ideas to have a few great ones. To be an original, you have to put it out there, in the harsh light of public scrutiny. I think the greatest misconception is that most believe that they will be judged based upon their failed ideas. In truth, your chance for a great breakthrough is built on a foundation of ideas that didn’t work out, and people don’t hold your failed creativity against you.

To be original, you must take initiative and you must be brave. You must go against the status quo and peer pressure.

Consider this excellent TED presentation by Adam Grant of the Wharton School. I hope that you walk away more willing to put your ideas out there and be an original:

Fortune favors the bold.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jun 082016
 

I sometimes hear people say that they are out of fresh ideas to overcome a challenge. When I later ask them about how much they read (books in particular), I invariably find that the answer is that they are heads down busy and haven’t cracked a book in months or years. I have yet to find a person that is both a) out of ideas and b) an active, avid reader.

dots

I also have noticed that whenever I read, a multitude of ideas, often unrelated to the material I’m reading, flood my consciousness. I believe invention is rarely a net new construct on a blank sheet of paper. I believe invention and developing ideas is a matter of connecting the dots of your previous experience and understanding with new input that changes the perspective and creates new connections. The book is a catalyst that changes thinking and structures in your mind.

woman1600

TV and movies don’t have this same positive effect because you don’t use your imagination, your mind’s eye, to visualize what you read in a book. Visual medium makes it too easy, letting your brain rest and just lay there on the couch. Brain research has shown that neural activity is less while watching TV than while sleeping. Bottom line, don’t be surprised if you have few new ideas while placated by the pacifier of television.

Try reading a quality book for 20 minutes each day for a month, while jotting down any fresh ideas that you have during those 30 days. I suspect you will find a remarkable difference. Build a lifelong habit of reading and learning: it will serve you well.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

PS. Keep a log of TV time and reading time. Its a great reality check of time spent vs time invested.

Feb 252016
 

Differentiation is important. People decide who they want on their team, who they hire, who they promote, who they buy from, who they associate with, and who they become friends with, based on what they perceive makes a person special and different than the rest. Personal differentiation is driving force behind who gets elected, who a person marries, who succeeds and who flails about.

What makes you special? What makes you better than the average guy? What makes you stand out? How do people describe you to a stranger? What quality will make you a success over the long-term?

For some, their differentiator for personal success if obvious. Kevin Durant’s height, athletic ability, and basketball IQ made his destiny as one of the best players in the NBA simple to see, even as early as high school. Sure, he made smart choices that helped, he had determination to persevere, he envisioned his future and did what was necessary to make it happen. But his differentiators are God given and quite obvious to all, especially the ones that had to guard him.

Most of us are not freaks of nature endowed with superhuman hops. We are born much closer to average than being an extreme outlier in terms of ability. In statistics, outliers are stats that are so far outside the averages and the normal bell curve that the data points look like bad data. Mozart was an outlier in musical ability. Einstein was an outlier. Wayne Gretzky is an outlier, as are Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.

So what can the rest of us do to differentiate ourselves?

The answer is far simpler than you think, although not necessarily easy. Far too many people search for natural traits that they were born with, rather than decisions that they can make and stick to. The trick is to find an area of life where few people make the right decision, the decision that could help them immeasurably over the long-term.

Uncompromising personal integrity is one such magical ingredient: the differentiator that can serve as the bedrock to build a great life of success. Unquestionable integrity is a choice that anyone can make, but in truth, exceedingly few people do. Yet, when a company is looking for a leader to be in charge of a division, integrity is one of the most important criteria that it looks for in candidates for the position.

We live in a desert of integrity.

One aspect of integrity is telling the truth. University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. Robert asked two strangers to have a conversation for about 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded. Afterwards, each person was asked to review the recording. Before doing so, the research participants told Feldman that they had been 100% honest in their statements. However, during the review, the subjects were surprised to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman’s study, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation and in that span of ten minutes, subjects told an average of 2.92 false things. If 60% lie when it does not matter in just ten minutes time, it seems logical that more than 85% will lie when there are greater incentives and the outcome really matters. A recent study of dating websites found that 81% of people lied about themselves while seeking a new mate and another found that 91% of college grads lied at least once on their résumé. Our world is a desert of integrity indeed.

Another aspect of integrity is whether or not people steal or cheat when they have a good opportunity. The fraud prevention industry has long held to a general rule of thumb called the 10-10-80 rule. Chain retailers with experience of millions of employees believe in it. The rule says 10% of people will never steal no matter what, 10% will steal at any opportunity, and the remaining 80% of employees will steal or not steal, depending on how they evaluate a particular opportunity and their chances of getting caught.

Integrity is greater than simply being perfectly truthful and not stealing, although these two aspects are black and white and therefore simpler to measure. Keeping your promises, doing what you say you will do — no matter what it takes — is the fundamental core basis of integrity.

The choice of integrity is available to you and completely up to you. Your past matters not. You can make the wise choice to live a life of uncompromising personal integrity from this day forth.

I believe that integrity should become your #1 differentiator. Choose to become remarkable: becoming remarkable is not a birthright. Less than 10% of people demonstrate integrity in their daily lives by avoiding all deceit. When you add in doing exactly what you said you will do, keeping all your promises large and small, you will discover a world few people know and understand: you will become a person who is destined for success. Others will inevitably learn that you are the rare person who they can count on in good times and in bad, the person who will do his or her very best, the person who will do the right thing every time when put in positions of greater responsibility.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 132016
 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Four words that have survived since the mid-1300’s. Why? Truth thrives.

I have often written about the extraordinary opportunities available to all of us. We live at an extraordinary time, a time of fantastic and rapid change, in the best country in world. I believe that the opportunities to achieve whatever one wants to achieve in today’s America are limitless.

Yet, I know a lot of people that look at the same things I do and simply don’t see it the same. They see scarcity where I see abundant opportunity. It has taken me a while to figure out why but I believe I now understand. There are three fierce guard dogs at the gates of opportunity, and it turns out that most people see the snarling beasts, they miss seeing the gates, let alone the rainbow and waterfalls in the garden on the other side.

The guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. One or more of these prevent many from jumping on thousands of golden opportunities. Today I’ll spend a few minutes discussing the first one — risk.

Young adults have a great advantage over most of the working population. If they grew up in an optimistic home, they believe they can conquer the world, they have little if anything to lose, they don’t yet listen to (or at least adhere to) the often faulty, limited “wisdom” of their elders, and they have had few disheartening experiences. There is good reason most tech start-ups are fueled by young adults.

As we get older, we tend to take less and less risk. This risk aversion invades most of the facets of a person’s life: financial, emotional, professional, psychological, personal, you name it. Yet the core truth of “nothing ventured” rules nearly every facet of life.

By the time people hit their 40’s, most don’t want to take any chances. This is a terrible mistake that shackles one’s life. Without accepting risk, all you can expect is a lousy return following the path of the risk-free herd. When you embrace good risks, you expand your possibilities and your life.

Overcoming the fear of risk is possible and comes from learning and understanding probability better than the average person. Risk is simply half of the equation: once a person learns to evaluate risk clearly, in relation to probable return, she can start making educated decisions regarding the worthiness of any endeavor. These three guard dogs start to look much more lovable.

It is easiest to understand risk vs. return in simple betting. If someone offered you 3:1 odds on the flip of a quarter, it becomes a good bet – in other words a risk worth taking, because the quarter flip will win 50/50 over time. On a dollar bet, you would get paid $3 the 50% of the time that you win, but lose only $1 the 50% of the time you would lose.

The same is true in life. If you invest $1,000 in a growing, successful company that has a current P/E ratio of 10, a historical low for the stock, because of a short-term sell-off, while all its close competitors have P/E’s of 25 – barring any skeletons in the closet, you generally have taken a good bet – odds are much better that your stock will appreciate to $2,500 (probably more (because I’m ignoring earnings growth over time in this example)) rather than falling to $500 in the future. You can further mitigate the risk by investing $1,000 in 10 companies in similar situations – even if you are wrong on 5 of 10 — and 3 of them get halved while 2 tread water and stay at the price paid — if the other five do move up to their historical P/E, your final tally would be $16,000 on a $10,000 in investments, or a 60% return. If you leave that $10,000 in a money market account at Bank of America, you will earn less than $5 per year in this crazy near “interest-free” financial climate.

Yet many people never overcome the fear of risk. My suggestion is start small and gain momentum gradually. A big misconception is that those who take risks are fearless. Not true. People that take prudent risks, after weighing the probable rewards, are courageous and smart.

I really like John Wayne’s definition of courage….the Duke said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.

It is incredibly important that a person learns to embrace prudent calculated risk during his entire life, learning from experiences as he grows older. There are always risks worth taking, and when you are 40, 50, or 60, you have a much broader base of experience, connections, and resources than when you were but 22. The idea is not to put more than you can afford to lose in any one investment or idea.

My discussion took a financial turn because it is easy to illustrate with numbers, but taking prudent risks is just as vital on your emotional, professional, personal, and psychological facets of life. If you come up with a great idea that is worthy at work, take the risk and land a meeting with your own CEO. Pitch it! You might just make Executive VP after all. Go to that job interview. Ask that girl out. Go ahead and volunteer when they ask. Speak up at the community meeting. Try helping out at the local soup kitchen or Meals-on-Wheels or Big Brothers Big Sisters — seriously! Start that little business on the side and stick to the project to the finish line. Always remember that it helps to fail spectacularly from time to time in order to become extraordinary in the end.

The great Wayne Gretzky is right when he says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Michael Jordan put it this way: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

What have you ventured this month? What have you ventured in 2015? Take more risks to be all you can be!

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 102015
 

Hindsight is 20/20. When I was asked recently for my best advice to a struggling college student (see previous post), the discussion of finding and picking a starting job when graduating came up as well.

picking the first job

Lou Holtz has observed that we should never try to maintain a certain level: as Lou summed it up in this speech, You are either growing or you are dying, there is no middle ground. I believe this is just as true for individuals as it is for companies. I think the graduate should — first and foremost — strive to start her career at a company that is growing rapidly. With growth comes opportunity, happiness in an organization, improved teamwork, reduced politics, and a feeling of success and purpose. A company that is growing quickly — perhaps 20 – 25% a year – hires many more people, creates new teams, and has opportunities for healthy promotion and advancement.

Companies that are running near flat in terms of revenue or profit growth offer few chances for real advancement and expansion of responsibility. This is a hard environment to gain momentum, as promotion usually requires someone in management to leave and vacate a spot in the stagnant org chart.

Working hard in school, participating in extracurricular activities, adding practical experience with internships and on campus leadership positions, and being optimistic will all help expand the number of offers you receive at graduation time. If all goes well, you will have a number of choices to pick from. Pick the job offer from the firm with a healthy, growing environment.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 272015
 

The following video is worth watching: it is not about optimism per se, but I have found that if you have your black belt in optimism, nearly everything contributes to your self-chosen outlook.

Josh Luber’s talk will expand your thinking and appreciation for limitless possibilities. Human “logic” and cooperation is extraordinary, and the rise of interconnectivity and ‘big data analytics’ networks millions of minds together in surprising ways. If you work in marketing, this presentation is 5-star fascinating.

Yes, if you are wondering, I am a bit of a sneakerhead, although my participation is limited to the search for the perfect pair to wear, and not at full retail, if I can help it.

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 042015
 

Basic knowledge doesn’t get you far. If it did, everyone with a smartphone and access to Google would become CEO of Skynet or some other growing multi-national corporation.

Ideas are far different than knowledge. Fresh ideas — your ideas — your ideas blended with other ideas — are one of your most important assets. A great idea person is welcome in any group, whether work associates, sports teammate, or personal friends.

The problem is that ideas are often like fine wine — it takes time for them to grow in character.

wine

I have posted often about keeping journals — writing it down is helpful. But, as I personally have discovered, ideas that are inter-dispersed in chronological journals get lost — the signal disappears in the surrounding noise.

Do you keep an ever-growing, well-indexed vault of your ideas? Do you read over your ideas on a regular basis, so that they serve as a catalyst for new ones? How do you distill ideas so that they don’t get lost in the clutter? How do you improve them over time?

Imagine if you started when you were young — lets say as a middle-school student or a freshman in high-school — and wrote down every idea! you ever had in a permanent vault. What if you then re-read and added to your ideas at least once every three months?

This would constitute managing your ideas as an important asset. Do you manage your ideas as an asset?

If you have no idea how to start, I would suggest Day One if you are an iPhone / iPad / Mac person. Evernote is another possibility although I find it cumbersome to review and improve. IdeaMatrix is a good tool that I helped invent, if you are happy with text only idea management (which offers brilliant speed and ease, but gives away pictures). As I type, I realize that I have not done my homework because I don’t know how to effectively export and backup from Day One or Evernote — and it is pretty clear that most tech companies expire after a few years. Trusting one of these with your idea vault also means that you must backup / offline / in a export-import friendly format. I will update this post after I work through the backup capability investigation. [here is an update on Day One — export to an adobe ‘pdf’ file seems to be the best backup — of course, that means you should do so on a regular basis, but in general, I’m comfortable with the capability.]

A few quotes to consider:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
– Victor Hugo

“Ideas are great, but mostly worthless, without action and optimism.”
— Bob Sakalas

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”
– Alfred North Whitehead

Are you an idea person? Manage and refine your most valuable of assets. If you are not an idea person today, start a vault today — it isn’t magic.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. An article worth reading… how IBM encourages invention.

Aug 262015
 

The headlines this week are all about China woes, and how that domino has started a sell off throughout world markets. While pessimist blood runs in the streets, an optimist is gleeful about being give an entry point opportunity.

I’ve always been a “Growth-At-a-Reasonable-Price” investor, commonly referred to as GARP. Adding to my GARP formula, I like to invest in companies that have a “unique moat” that makes threat of obsolescence from competition or immediate technology innovation hard to imagine (I guess I’m a GARPUM investor). Lastly, I believe you must know your investment thesis… GARPUMIT — For the first time in a while, a few momentum companies that have been on fire (and therefore outside my GARP radar) have been discounted.

yesterday-you-said-tomorrow-nike

People often become paralyzed trying to pick the absolute bottom of a market which is both logical and illogical. It is logical to have this desire, but logic also says that your odds of buying a stock at its low is close to impossible and determined by luck, not skill. Like it or not, irrational price swings exist and will continue to exist, efficient market theory be damned: there is plenty of evidence.

Let’s check where these issues will be on January 2017. If I’m right, they will be up 30 – 50% in only 18 months and should double in four years (by September 2019). I like putting it in writing so that all of us can learn from opportunities. GARP Stocks to consider, IMHO:

Apple @ $105
Starbucks @ $52 — in truth, this is not as much of a sale but still a worth buy
Nike @ $105

Optimists have the innate ability to be brave because they have hope. Optimists buy when investments are cheap. Did you buy?

I.M. Optimisman

So, time to see what actually happened after my picks (updating on March 29, 2020). Note that so split action happened (seen on the charts) so this is must not be compared in dollar per share terms.

Here is Apple, the best performer of the three in the long run although it trailed for the first year plus as Mr. Market argued that the iPhone trend was going to end (compared to the S&P 500) — important to note that AAPL saw dramatic PE expansion above its previous 14 – 16 historical level which drove the price acceleration (picture taken on March 29, 2020):

Here is Starbucks. It popped, but then went sideways for several years even though the chain grew — note that its PE is now far below its previous historical average (and therefore might pop again):

And here is Nike… it struggled but them started to shine after the Street realized that it still in the 800 lb. gorilla of athletic wear:

If you had split your money across all three, you would have handily beat the SPY / S&P 500 over the 5 year period, although my original prediction that you would be doing great in 18 months, was a bit too optimistic. Still, there is a lesson to be learned — GARPUMIT investing works if you give your stocks time to grow.