Category: Advised reading/watching

The Business of Investing in Great Companies

Don Valentine, a venture capital investing legend (Sequoia), gave this interesting lecture at Stanford. I especially like his blunt criticism of the boards of large companies.

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Positive attitude please! Or else: you are fired!

Another great video from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) on how, especially in contemporary American (corporate) culture, there is this extreme demand for positivism. Now, that is not to say we should all start complaining or become extremely depressed, but at the same time we do not have to all continuously bury are heads in the sand and pretend everything is hunky dory all the time. Without a critical (and vigilant) attitude we can never challenge ourselves and our society to improve on things.

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Internet trends - interesting presentation slides from Mary Meeker, Morgan Stanley

Latest Internet trends from Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley, dated 7 June 2010. Notice how Apple users are leading the way in Internet Consumption. Is this because the more "connected" people (heave information consumers) prefer Apple devices or is it because Apple device owners turn into more "connected"  people because of the devices they own? Interesting material....

Darn...they deleted the presentation (Copyright infringement). Oh well - too bad.

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What really motivates us! - how to motivate yourself and other people

This is an amazing animated adaption of Dan Pink's talk at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The talk in itself is amazing. The accompanying animation beats any PowerPoint slides by a million.

I highly recommend anyone to watch this video completely. For everyone working in a high-skilled profession it is particularly relevant. In my field of work - IT, Internet, creative technology business - there are plenty of examples of companies who manage to motivate their employees in different ways besides monetary rewards.

My short conclusion: to get outstanding results from an individual or group of individuals, you need to:

  1. Take money out of the equation ("pay people enough to take the issue of money of the table). If you don't pay people enough, they will not be motivated. So you pay people enough so that they will not be thinking about money but they will be thinking of work.
  2. Focus on the three factors that lead to better performance: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
  • Autonomy - provide enough space (time, room, budget) and responsibility for someone to find the best solution/provide the best result.
  • Mastery - provide enough opportunity for someone to master what he or she is pursuing. I for one am always looking for better ways to use the tools that help me in my work (mainly software) - it is often frustrating that there is little time for this.
  • Purpose - we all need purpose in life. The "why am I doing, why am I here"-question might run through the head of an intelligent person more often than a less-intelligent person but in the end, we all need purpose. Remember the huge success of the self-help book "The Purpose Driven Life".

 

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Economy update - Recession Porn

These are some things that caught my attention in the past few days. I am really in a doom and gloom mood about the (economic) situation of the world. People have been referring to all the negative news and comments on the economy as "Recession Porn". Here is some to satisfy your needs:

  • Change Of Mindset - Andy Xie - Excellent read on the misconceptions about "stimulus"
  • John Mauldin - The Velocity of Money - Mr Mauldin is one of my favorite reads (every week)
  • Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble -- TIME - Seems like very expensive real estate in Shanghai to me
  • John Lanchester · The Great British Economy Disaster - This sentence struck me the most: "It has been both the deepest and the longest downturn since records began. And yet, to be honest, it hasn’t quite felt like it." I feel a lot of people in the Netherlands share similar sentiments. This is probably the biggest crisis of our lifetime and yet we are still waiting for it to really hit us. Right now, everyone is starting to have this (false) sense of security again. I am in the camp that believes that we are only in the eye of the storm.

To close of, watch this short video on "off balance sheet" accounting. This sort of thing can really get me upset/angry. Especially in light of the recent stream of news events on Lehman Brother's accounting practices.

Frank Partnoy on Off-Balance Sheet Transactions (MMBM) from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

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Advised viewing: Jonah Lehrer: How We Decide

I really enjoyed watching this lecture by Jonah Lehrer - he is a gifted speaker with a very interesting subject. It will give you some insights into how our human brain works and help you in to getting to know yourself a little better.

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What happened to all that toxic talk about the Banks

Lately, I have been wondering why the US banks suddenly seemed "healed" from all there problems. You hear a lot of noise in the market that the banks have simply "written off" all their bad debt and are now able to look at a future with record profits on the horizon (for eternity). As I believe the economy in the US (and the rest of the world) is still deteriorating. Housing, commercial real-estate, business and private loans, and most other forms of lending have not stabilized yet (though in some areas things might be "bottoming" out slowly). So how is that these banks are suddenly turning record profits, paying out million dollar bonuses again, and are acting like the "sky is the limit" - continuing the same game that actually lead us (the whole world) into this mess. All that with a little bit of TARP money. Not to say that 700 billion is not a lot of money but it seems hardly enough to deal with all the toxic stuff that banks have on their balance sheets. Especially since those assets are still decreasing in value.

I know that the US government put some other things in place to support the financial system (mostly the Big banks). I also know that they conveniently decided to change the accounting rules last spring - something that somewhat coincided with the start of the stock market rally. Banks do have have to "mark-to-market" their assets anymore. They can now "mark-to-preference" their assets. Personally, I would call that lying and cheating. If someone asked you how much your house or car is worth, are you also prone to add about 40-60 percent to the actual value?

This week I finally found an article that explains more about the "total bail out" the banks received from the US taxpayers. A large chunk of it is in the form of "guarantees" and it will take years to figure out what the actual cost of these guarantees will be and for how much "risk" the taxpayers have been put on the line - without any compensation I must add. But still, the sum of this bail out is staggering. Yet it is all for the "greater good" is it not? Does it not benefit everyone if you make a bunch of rich people a lot richer on the accounts of the underprivileged, underpaid and under-insured? If I did not know better, I would think I am starting to sound like a socialist.

I advise everyone to read Meet the Hazzards.

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Early stages of Depression - the real economy

I highly advise reading this interesting report from Eric Sprott: What if Mr Sprott is right? How many economists and stock analysts are going to actually admit how wrong they were about everything? My guess: very few... And somehow people tend to immediately forget about that. Sprott Comment July 2009
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Saturday morning reading

I spent a good deal of my Saturday morning reading an elaborate rant by James Quinn titled "The Burning Platform".

Here are some of my thoughts (while reading the article):

  • The disparity of wealth in the US always seemed enormous to me. Somehow the system seemed to sustain itself well in the past decades. Recently I have seriously started to question if the 'poor' in the US will put up with it much longer.
  • Illegal immigrants are really convenient when you want someone to landscape your garden, tile your roof or make you brunch in one of your favorite restaurants. Seeing tens of -- probably illegal immigrant -- day laborers waiting in vain along the streets of Berkeley last december, was a little disturbing. Fully aware -- as they were -- that they were not going to be picked up that day anymore. Now that things are seriously slowing down and even the California 'rich' (a lot of them with jobs that anywhere else in the world would only grant them a 'middle class' life have little interest in hiring day laborers (tax free) for a day, it makes you wonder what all these 'laborers' are now going to for a living.
  • Social unrest (and a upsurge in crime) cannot not be ruled out in the US. The same definitely applies to developing countries. China as the new world power will only happen if they can actually keep things together politically and socially.
  • Good to read that our health care system is not even that inefficient. Yet I still believe it is extremely inefficient.
  • I have always held the opinion that the US has become so wealthy (and pleasant country) partly because they were more inviting to immigrants. Immigrant were also happier to go there because they had a dream (the American Dream). Hard-working immigrants has always been a large part of the backbone of the US economy. These immigrants were the cheap laborers of the US economy. It is now interesting to see that one of the solutions for America's problems might be to let in highly educated immigrants. I have always supported similar ideas in Holland -> do not have strict immigration laws against highly skilled/educated petitioners. On a socialist level that might however touch some sensitive nerves because it stresses the fact that not every man is equal. How about this proposition: give anyone a US green card who has a Master's degree or higher and invests $500,000 or more in the US (buys a house for example).
  • The part about the military industrial complex it a little scary. I do not see the US downsizing it army personnel in the near future however. That would only add to the fast growing jobless mob.
  • This is an interesting quote: "The founding fathers envisioned representatives who did their civic duty for a short time and then went back to their real profession." A country that has a law that prevents anyone from become a full time politician might fare better. I agree that it would be wise to set a 6 to 8 year term limit for US Congressmen.
  • What is it with developed countries making their tax systems so extremely complicated. Why do I pay taxes for one thing and get refunds or deductibles for others things.
  • What a mess we find ourselves in. And yes, this crisis will effect every person on this planet -- if not directly, then indirectly.
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