Saturday, 11 February 2017

Dear diary, it's been a long time...

I made a New Year's resolution to start posting on the blog again, which until 28 January didn't happen. Fortunately Chinese New Year's came around and thought that I got a new shot at this (I'm grateful for a multi-cultural family). Posting has been very intermittent (it's a nice way of saying basically 0) in the past year mostly due to increased time allocated to private investments, angel investments/advisory and a book project (more on this below) among other things. I thought that it would be a fun way to kick off the year by having a recap on some of the lessons I learnt in 2016 (some by choice, while some by big slap on the face). Here it goes in no specific order:

Curiosity conversations
A couple of years ago I've adopted a practice from Brian Grazer, the legendary Hollywood producer, which he called "curiosity conversations". When he started out in life he made a practice of reaching out to people, not necessarily in his field, he didn't know (this was way before the internet) and engaging in a conversation about what they do. I thought that this sounded like a lot of fun so why not try it. Over the years I have been very fortunate to meet successful entrepreneurs, health coaches, nutritionist, doctors, spiritual teachers, real estate developers, investors, chefs, graphologists, authors, farmers, teachers, VCs, bankers, philanthropists, artists, photographers and on and on and on. The first few approaches and conversations were weird (I mean you talk to total strangers and tell them that you want to ask a bunch of questions and no you are not a reporter). But I learnt that people are really interested in people who are really interested in them. With that the weirdness disappeared.

Writing a book is hard
Really, really hard. Especially when it is about your own life. A few months ago I posted an article about the story of Peter Barton and my experience with cancer. The book is nearly completed and expected to be published in the next few months. More details to follow soon.

The right people and what you do, over money
ANY DAY! From experience more money without more meaning means more misery. There is a time and place for putting up with an awful situation for a while or as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it "eating a shit sandwhich" to get to where you want to go but for argument's sake if you find yourself saying to yourself "just one more bonus" then it's time to look at something else.

Attending your own wedding is a lot of fun
This is for sure. My wife and I got married late last year in Asia and having our friends and families join us was simply amazing. Someone said that the quality of a person's life can be judged by how many people show up at their funeral (at their own will). While this might sound morbid, looking around the room that evening and seeing people who traveled thousands of miles to be there left both of us feeling extremely grateful. OK, we did go to karaoke afterwards until 6am so maybe that's the real reason they joined. Mic drop!

The way to have a great partner is to deserve one
This is from Charlie Munger and once again he is right. I also read from a famous waterpolo player (yes, it's a very popular sport in Eastern Europe where I come from) that to be a great team player you should always give the pass you expect to receive.

Do less "low-quality more" and more "high-quality less"
After you are done testing and experimenting, find a few ideas and go deep. We have the option to do anything we want to but cannot do everything. The only way to achieve mastery in one subject is sticking with it (i.e. Buffett's idea of painting that one picture).

Give more
Yes! Whether it's time, money, love, smile or attention just do it. The more I did it last year the more came back to me in totally unexpected ways. Given the limited human interactions we now have on a daily basis people crave attention. If you can give a little more you'll be surprised what you'll get back. If you are at an airport, your flight gets cancelled and you are the 156th person who walks up to the poor flight attendant who has been taking the abuse of her lifetime for the past 30 mins yelling at her will not get you anywhere. But being emphatetic might get you a nicer hotel room for the night and an upgrade on the next flight (it happened to me on a trip to the US). This is not tactical or aimed at "getting anything out of it" but this is simply good for the soul. Imagine if you were the one taking the abuse, how would you like to be treated.

Books, books and more books
Over 60 books read last year. I find it amazing that if I spend $10 on a few hundred pages of paper I can learn to become a better investor, businessman, philantropist and so on. Living vicariously and not making the mistakes others did in front of me (or at least making better mistakes) is priceless.

2016 book summary post to come soon.

Billionaires and self made people in general think differently
I've been very fortunate to have a network that includes some seriously wealthy people. The large majority of them are first generation/self-made entrepreneurs. Despite what is thrown around in the media and self-help courses they don't go "all-in" from day 1 rather run what I call a series "controlled experiments". Their number 1 priority is protecting the downside and in case something sticks you can always add more to it (time, energy, money etc). The example that comes to mind is Sir Richard Branson's entry in the airline business. He didn't go and buy planes rather called up Boeing asked for lease terms then one by one he started taking people on flights worthy of an Austin Powers movie. Ultimately Virgin Airlines was a success, however even if he failed the downside would have been controlled.

Sometimes you have to let go temporarily of what you know to find yourself
For a long time I thought that public equity value investing was "my thing". At the beginning of 2016, I felt the urge to step away and explore other avenues of business and investing. I got involved in more PE, VC and angel type investing as well as managements/boards of companies. It was fun. What I think I missed all along was the human interaction in business. I got a whole new appreciation for how Buffett runs Berkshire and how much public investors underestimate the question of managements/boards (note to self: when there are emotions involved rationality goes out the window). Buffett was right when he said in the recently released "Becoming Warren Buffett" HBO documentary (btw, it is amazing) that you can understand investing from a book but you cannot understand people by reading books. So I learnt that value, patience and compounding work for me, however there is more than one way of expressing these ideas. What these qualities give me is a guiding principle. These give me a "why" but "how" I plan to apply them is really where the fun starts. This doesn't just apply to investing btw.

Trade expectations for appreciation
I heard this from Tony Robbins recently. Note to self: there is nothing wrong with expectations but before you go one step further make sure that you are grounded and appreciate what you do have. Expecting constantly without appreciating will drive you crazy.

Btw, Tony's I'm Not Your Guru documentary is a must watch. Looking forward to attending his UPW seminar in London this April.