October 10, 2020

Lifecamp Newsletter #7

Time-management, timing, decision-making, and the importance of soft skills


I hope you are well. With summer on the way out and the nights drawing in, the calmer days I was hoping for last month have arrived. I have been settling into a routine of quiet nights spent watching nature documentaries, reading, and reacquainting myself with my whisky stash. I have also been reading (and really enjoying) some fiction — a rare thing for me. Highlights include allegorical kid’s tale The Little Prince and cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. I have plenty of unread novels, plus a few things I would like to re-read, on my bookshelves, so I’m looking forward to digging into them during autumn.

Quick and Dirty Time Management

I found the time to write and publish a few pieces this month. The main one I want to share is A Quick and Dirty Guide to Time-Management. It is deliberately short, focusing on just a couple of key principles you should master, a brief outline of how to apply them, and a couple of bonus tips to help you squeeze max value out of your time. I hope you like it.

From Time-Management to Timing

Timing is an underrated component of good results that often goes ignored. Success is not just about what you do; it’s also about when you do it. You may think that speed or being first is what gives you an edge, and it can, but good timing gives you an even bigger advantage.

Being too early with something can be just as catastrophic as being too late. You can be too far ahead of your time. Even the best ideas will flop if the world is not ready for them. 

Apple may have kick-started the tablet revolution with the iPad, but Microsoft released a touchscreen tablet a decade before the iPad was around. The problem for them was that their timing was wrong. People weren’t in the habit of using touchscreen devices in the (then) pre-smartphone world. So, the MS tablet flopped.

In martial arts, being faster than your opponent may give you an advantage. But if they have your timing down and can anticipate what you are going to do, it doesn’t matter how fast you are. They will be one step ahead. Which means they can evade your attack and counter it. Timing beats speed, as Conor McGregor once said.

Any successful investor will tell you that timing is a factor in profitable investing. Suppose you buy a stock that is performing well, only for it to experience a price correction and lose a chunk of its value. Then your solid-looking bet ends up not being so solid. All because of timing. 

On the flip side, if you buy into a market after it has crashed and re-stabilised you have a good chance of making a tidy profit, even if you pick stocks at random. Because timing is on your side.

Like Yogi Berra said, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.”

If you want to get your timing right with anything, you need to be ready to act quickly when the stars align. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points out the importance opportunity plays in achieving success. And opportunity is mostly about being in the right place at the right time. 

Opportunities don’t stick around forever. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. To know when the time is right for you to act, you need to pay attention to environmental conditions and anticipate trends. And you need to be poised, ready to strike, which requires preparation and practice. So, prepare, wait, and be ready to go when the going is good. Macro patience, micro speed.
Because the right move at the wrong time is the wrong move. 

Five Ways Smart People Sabotage Their Success

Lifecamp is all about smart thinking and developing personal effectiveness. But it’s easy to over-focus on the cerebral or strategic aspects of self-improvement (something I am definitely guilty of). This short article — 5 Ways Smart People Sabotage Their Success — in the Harvard Business Review is a neat reminder of why developing your soft skills, keeping your ego at bay, and having fun are crucial aspects of success and living a good life.

Book of the Month: Anti-fragile

If someone were to ask what the opposite of fragile was, most of us would say something like ruggedness or robustness. But that’s not quite accurate, according to Nassim Taleb. The central premise of this book is that robust is a neutral state, and the opposite of fragile is, in fact, anti-fragile. 
Taleb defines anti-fragility as a quality that allows something to benefit from volatility. He uses this concept as a jumping-off point to explore various ideas around risk management, many of which fly in the face of the thinking commonly touted by risk management “experts”. For a start, he explicitly states that risk cannot be quantified; all you can do is manage your exposure to it.

The book’s discourse ties together many disparate ideas under the banner of anti-fragility. It offers many lessons on how people and societies can position themselves to benefit from volatility and unpredictability rather than be harmed by it. Taleb revels in taking pot-shots at academia, professional experts, and most modern institutions as he makes his arguments. He scorns the interventionist approach of governments and financial institutions that are intolerant of natural fluctuations in economies and create larger problems for society as a result. And he should know a thing or two, having worked in the world of financial risk for two decades.

Though technical in parts, Taleb does a phenomenal job of explaining complex, technical concepts in a fun and engaging way, using colourful examples like the Turkey Problem and characters like Fat Tony to make abstract ideas relatable and memorable. He delights in pulling back the curtain on common sense thinking, showing how off the mark it is, then offering counter-narratives in its place. 

In the anti-fragile world, Taleb advocates street knowledge over book theoretical knowledge, simplicity over complexity, embracing natural volatility rather than trying to tame it, learning through practice rather than academic study, improving things by subtraction rather than addition, not relying on the past to predict the future (turkey problem), and putting more stock in ancient wisdom than in the latest thinking (Lindy effect).
Anti-fragile contains a wealth of smart ideas that will sharpen your thinking and improve your decision-making. It has become influential in how I think about many areas of life and make decisions. Possibly the biggest compliment I can pay is that I took far more notes on it than on any other book I have read (thousands of words rather than hundreds). Essential reading for anyone who wants to make smarter decisions and avoid being the turkey at Christmas.

Final Thought

As alluded to above, I have recently been reflecting on smarter decision-making. The way I see it, the decisions we make are like stones thrown into a lake. They can have ripple effects that reverberate through our life for years to come. And they interact with one another to create outcomes we can’t predict. So, any time and effort we spend improving our decision-making seems like a good investment. At some point, I will build and share a bunch of resources for better decision-making. For now, here is another water-based metaphor about decision-making (more poetic than mine) from Ray Dalio’s excellent book, Principles:

“Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid those encounters. We can only approach them in the best way possible.”

Ray Dalio

Until next time,

Make the best decisions you can.