Friday, September 30, 2011

Who wants to be a millionaire, anyway?

You know, it generally takes a long time to be a millionaire.

Granted, we all have visions of sugarplums danced before our eyes in the form of rock stars, celebrities, athletes, business tycoons who were in the right place at the right time, even lottery winners.  But in general, it takes a long time to achieve that measure of wealthy we think a millionaire to be.

Is this news to you?  Do you know that you have the opportunity to become, over time, a millionaire? To become wealthy?

If you don't believe its possible, you probably assume that these millionaires are beyond you; that they have something you can't; that they must have somehow oppressed others to achieve this impossible dream.

So here's how to be come a millionaire:
  1. Don't spend all of your money.  
    1. I'm not being flippant here, just pointing out that if you don't eat all your candy on Halloween night, you'll still have some the next morning.
    2. Something to think about:  your current net worth is the sum total of all your adulthood's financial decisions and a fair judgement of their wisdom.  So add up the value of what you have and subtract what you owe and post that number on the fridge as a reminder.  I do hope it's a positive number.
  2. Save what you don't spend.  
    1. You've heard the phrase "pay yourself first." Savings gain a momentum through a combination of regular investing, return (growth) and time.  You can control the regular investments and the time.  Do it early and do it often.
    2. Investment growth is the opposite of debt growth.  Multiply out a mortgage payment by the number of years on the mortgage and you'll see that the price of the house is much more than the mortgage amount. 
  3. Have the discipline to say no.  It's not easy to deny yourself something that you can have just by signing up for a payment on it.  As I've detailed elsewhere, a brand new, inexpensive car at age eighteen will end up costing you about a million dollars. Huh.  A million just sitting there in a fancy Honda Civic.
  4. Stay the course for thirty or forty years.  You know, throughout your working career.
    1. Did you know you're responsible for your own retirement?
    2. Did you know that you should retire when you can afford to, not when you decide to?
Ding! You're a millionaire.  Did you oppress someone along the way, you greedy bastard?

Who are these millionaires?  Most millionaires are at the far end of this 30-40 year cycle.  They followed this plan of not spending all they had, of investing (and investing more as their incomes grew- which also tends to happen as you get older), of staying the course for a long time.

In other words, most of the millionaires are old people.  They saved this money so that they would have something to live on when they stopped earning an income.  They took care of themselves so they wouldn't be a drain on society.  You can do the same.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Two-edged Swords

In business, the investors (be that one person with an idea and some capital, or you and I as stockholders) take the risk towards a reward. 

If the venture fails, it is the investors who lose. This is the risk.  If the venture succeeds, it is the investors who gain. This is the reward.

How to reduce the risk and maximize the reward?  Two-edged swords:
  • Succeed.
    • Success can and should be achieved through honest, hard, even clever work.  Success can and should be honorable, and is even more so when the odds are against you, i.e., on an uneven playing field.
    • Success can and shouldn't be achieved by, well, poor sportsmanship, though the opportunity is there and is often taken.  Let's agree to call this greed, as that's a favorite term for those who succeed.
  • Spread the risk to more investors
    • It is wise to increase the number of baskets in which you place your eggs.  As long as there is a reward for these risk takers, and as long as this risk taking is voluntary.
    • If you've spread the risk to those without a reward, to those without a choice, who loses if the venture fails?  What diluted risk is there to those who have spread the risk.  Has the venture...
  • Gained enough mass (traction and momentum) to perpetuate?
    • Is it profitable, growing, thinking strategically, spending wisely, re-investing, re-inventing?
    • ...or has it become "too big to fail?" Momentum and mass are impressive, but removing the risk removes the incentive to succeed.  It removes the opportunity for that which needs to die to die.  It stifles the market mechanism of...
  • Competition, which
    • creates new jobs, creates advances, innovates, destroys those ventures which fail to respond.
    • or, competition can be met by blocking it through various barriers to entry through regulations, cartels, and monopolist behaviors. It is interesting to note that most cartels and monopolies are formed with the collusion of government.. they are established and defended where a free market cartel and monopoly will not stand.  Ask Kodak, Pan Am, TWA, AT&T, and numerous other monopolies which have tumbled due to fierce competition and sloth.
Each has a virtuous path and each has a temptation to a shortcut. 

The virtuous path is the best of what capitalism has to offer, growth and income, risk (responsibility) in the hands of those who would gain the rewards. 

The tempting path leads to market distortions, such as false investment, a lack of concern for risk in investing, public bailouts of concerns which should fail, resulting in stifled and genuinely unfair competition, a lack of responsibility, slowed emergence of better goods to the market, and a dependency and complacency of the worker rather than an independence of responsibility.

But what about that worker?  What is his risk?  What is her reward?  What are their opportunities?

I hope to think more tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A walk in the woods.

A rather gung-ho CEO of a rather aggressive software concern I used to work for had an interesting turn of phrase for things he considered a waste of time.

"A walk in the woods."  As in, "I'm not out here, doing this, for a walk in the woods."

While he was being witty and even charming, with his nebulous English colonial accent,* I have to disagree.  Most times, a walk in the woods is a good thing.  It's a chance to get some thinking done and set your thinking straight as you wander down a trail, stepping over fallen logs, avoiding mud, and just pausing once in a while to admire trees and rock walls.

I'll often step off the trails, forged long ago by earlier land-owners, farmers, even snow-mobile clubs, and wander until I come across something: a rock wall, a road, another trail, some rusted junk.  Today I scared a deer and watched its white tail bound from me.  I'm no woodsman and I couldn't have tracked a deer if I wanted to, so that was just plain luck.

I'll ride the trails a few times a year on my mountain bike.  I intend to return with a chainsaw and clear fallen trunks from the path.  Come winter, the snow-mobile clubs have cleared and even grated the trails for me, and so I do a few runs on my cross country skis.

I wish I would force myself out more.  I do it for a walk in the woods.

This is some of what I saw today:

*Was he Scottish?  South African? A Kiwi?  I can't recall.  I'm developing a theory that presenters, be they sales people, actors, comedians, or the guy escorting you out of the fancy restaurant for being a drunken jerk... all have instantaneous credibility if they happen to have some English derivative accent.  I'm considering adopting one in my professional role as a technical sales engineer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do I say hello?

I'm the shy outgoing prominent member of the community who hates to deal with people.

Example:  I run the rec soccer program for my town, which includes the whole registration and marketing process of sending out emails, making a few hundred phone calls, coaching at least one team of kids; all of which I'm pretty happy to do, and parts of which (the coaching) I really enjoy.

But you know what?  I can't stand to go to one of my kids practices when I'm not the coach.  Just can't bring myself to hob-nob with the parents.  In fact, I suffer minor anxiety attacks (which I've learned to recognize, categorize, and ignore) as I pull up.  I'm happy to sit in my car, as I am now, and do anything else, such as type a blog post.

Don't get me wrong.  I know most of the people in town and their kids.  I like watching the kids grow and mature.  I can and do have some genuinely great "great to see you" conversations with the parents.  I'll stop and chat when I bump into someone at the grocery store.  I enjoy waving at neighbors and friends as we pass each other on the road, which happens any time I go out.

But given the opportunity, I'd just as soon not bump into someone.  It takes me out of my comfort zone and often puts me into a mostly-true happy face, smiling conversation mode.  It's easier to avoid than engage.  It's easier to wonder than to find common ground.  I need, I guess I've convinced myself, an excuse to engage.  I'm 'from away,' as they say up here in Maine, and that's an easy excuse to not engage.

So maybe you'll see me around; maybe you won't.  I can't commit either way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thrills and dread


I feel the most dread when I'm unprepared.  Like most anxieties, it comes from the overwhelming sense of too many things to do and my very own special brand of productive procrastination.  I've got so many projects and obligations that I can pick one (or two or three) and invest the time and depth to advance my knowledge or completion of them, forsaking the others.

My best solution is to get a pen and make a list.  This gets it more finite and manageable.  I then prioritize and start tackling the items on the list, be it in order of urgency, ease of accomplishment or simply by how much fun each will be.

I find the greatest thrills in making a connection, an insight, closing a mental loop, or opening up new lines of thought. 

Today I saw a new way of using my favorite business tool, StreamWork, and it did all of these things at once.  The roadmap to include enterprise collaboration as a product, a platform, and a strategy throughout enterprise systems crystalized what I've been forming in my head:  collaboration is a strategy and a capability that is fast becoming central to the way organizations work in systems.  StreamWork is a platform for achieving this across systems and among collaborators intra and inter organizationally.  and StreamWork is a product, here today and better tomorrow.

What a thrill!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A new year

Last fall, they asked for volunteers to teach Faith Formation in our parish.  Kindergarten or third grade.

I'm not sure that I wanted to, but I knew that I had to.  And so began a journey with a group of eight year olds who I am sure, twenty years from now, will still be eight year olds to me when I see them and their children. I went from teaching in a classroom style to gathering around a table as a family; from following the study guide to the letter to following it as, well, a guide; from bored kids to a pretty extravagant and vocal group.

Today was the beginning of my second year and we hit the ground running.  I'm sure the kids (including one of my own) were a bit surprised by their new teacher.  One mother came up to me before class asking if she could come in and join her trepidatious boy until he was comfortable.  Absolutely.  He was pretty quickly at ease and she slipped out about five minutes into class.

Here's why I'm proud to serve:  Up here in Maine, our diocese confers first communion and confirmation at the same time to the seven year olds.  Predictably, the second grade class is the largest, and the third grade class, mine, is half the size.  I get the children whose parents care at least enough about their religious training to bring them back.  In getting to know them, I get to find out what they know.

They don't know enough.

And so through the year I'll pull and I'll prod and I'll get them thinking and learning.  And praying. 

Our deacon gave a sermon today, and his message, passed down to him from Bishop Malone at our deacon's ordination and inscribed in his bible, was this:

"Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach."

I wrote it down on the back of an envelope in my pew, and shared it with my class this morning. 

We're going to have a fun year.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I was out running errands last Saturday afternoon while my ten year old was attending a friend's birthday party. I stopped by the local mom and pop guitar shop for a chance to experiment with some American Fenders from the top shelf.

The Teles were good; the Strats were so-so.  Plucked them through a used solid state Princeton 112 plus and got some good tone from it.

Moving down to the used rack, I looked up and saw a Hamer logo.  Looking down, I saw a Strat body.  Closing my eyes, I said a little prayer, and looked up at the logo on the headstock again.  Hamer USA.


It has been loved to death- but I'm going to love it more.  It's precisely what I've been hoping to find: a worn, loved, don't-have-to-worry-about-dinging-it-cause-it-ain't-gonna-get-much-prettier Hamer Daytona to play and play and play. That and it was the nicest Strat in the joint.

Sperzel-locking tuners.  String it through the eye, clamp it down, cut the string, tune to pitch.
Yeah, this is the sign of a hand-made American guitar at its best. 

It looks better in these pictures than in does in real life, but that's the beauty of it.

You can't get a neck like this without putting in hours and hours of love.

Young blue-eyes approves

Learn by doing

My experiment is paying off. 

Levi trapped the ball on defense, waited, carried around an oncoming player, passed it up-field and then dropped off the play, settling into the precise position a defender should be in for the next ball to come his way.

This spring I watched my 7th grade daughter's softball team play a forty-five minute first inning.  Neither team had a put-out on defense, a hit, or a strike out.  Each team walked the entire batting order around.  Some pitches landed three feet in front of the pitcher; most went three feet over the up or short of the plate.

I watched her team at practice.  They started off with the coach hitting grounders to the team, one player at a time.  Grounder, catch (or miss), throw it back in, next player.  All fourteen.  Each player handled the ball for about two seconds every five minutes.  Batting practice was (of necessity?) pitched by the coach.

It dawned on me that these kids never actually spend any time playing sports and consequently they have no skills at sports.  Practices are short and made up of skills drills.  The coach tries to get their attention for five minutes to explain the drill, then runs them through it for another ten.  Each kid maybe gets one minute of experience in a ten minute drill.  The rest of their lives fully scheduled, they never play sand-lot baseball.  I'd doubt they know what "ghost runner on third" means.

There's no play in the sports.

So I decided that this fall, when I coached the boy's soccer team, I wouldn't do any drills.  I'd go full scrimmage from the first player to show up.  And so my experiment.  I have a whistle.  When it blows, everyone freezes where they are and I ask what's going on, make them think and answer, and then blow the play back on with another whistle.  If the play is at the other end of the field, I'm guiding my players, explaining and showing where to be and why.  In this way I am, single-handed, keeping fourteen nine to eleven year old boys fully engaged and playing soccer for an hour, giving them a full season's worth of drill and experience every week. 

And so Levi, one of my favorite human beings, went from a defensive mindset of boot-the-ball to trapping it, carrying it around an oncoming player, passing it up the field to his wing, and falling back into position.  In a span of ten minutes.  And he kept doing it.