Category: Uncategorized

assume a can opener

The phrase assume a can opener comes from an old joke almost all economists can relate to.  Here is one of the most common versions:

” A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Let’s assume that we have a can-opener…”

I have been thinking about some of my own core assumptions recently and how they have been painfully wrong.  I am not talking about “Black Swan” type of events but I have been alarmed at my own bias and the possible ramifications.

Allow me to explain….

When gasoline hovered around $4 per gallon right before the economic crash of 2008, I believed the cost would never go down again.  I mean gasoline is a finite resource, growing world economies were putting a drain on production, and suburban sprawl continued to expand.  Although a true black swan event did occur in 2008 and the price of fuel plummeted due to decreased global demand, it eventually recovered in 2011 when the price of a gallon of gasoline returned to approximately $4 per gallon.  I was right!

Wrong.

Since the recent highs in 2011, gasoline has dropped to prices not seen since the Great Recession of 2008.  I have recently seen prices near $2.10.

I did not assume such volatility in a commodity of gasoline when considering a new car purchase.  I expected high gas prices to remain high.  Even when I consider the increased fuel economy of modern cars I didn’t expect gas to remain affordable to drive a giant SUV compared to my fuel sipping Volkswagen.  The assumptions that I made in 2011 were stunningly wrong.  I don’t normally regret buying the smaller car, but parts of me yearn for a big truck like everyone else around me.

The chart reflects @RBOB regular unleaded gas future prices prior to taxes and deliveries to the consumer..

historical

In another instance of incorrect prognostication I considered purchasing solar panels for my house.  I ended up not making the deal, but part of my data in consideration was the assumption that electric prices would always rise.  Well, I just got a notice from my local provider that they are dropping rates for the summer during the time of peak usage! How could I be so wrong again?

I think it is high time I start to re-evaluate some of my core beliefs.  On one hand, the cost of energy come may down due to increased efficiency, but it may also be offset by increased delivery costs as aging infrastructure.  Gasoline cost may continue to drop as US natural gas production rises and we import less oil.  Governments may take advantage of low cost gasoline to raise fuel taxes to support roads and bridges projects.

We all know the joke about when we ass-u-me things.  It is up to us to be more thoughtful about evaluating them to make sure our core beliefs still align with reality.

One assumption we may all agree on is that taxes will always rise…or will they?

Do you have any assumptions that were incorrect?  Tell us about them here!

 

so I am not Knute Rockne

The pregame talk to my U12 soccer team started with “ok guys, we are playing short handed and we are not supposed to win this game”….

Not a very awe inspiring introduction but as I kept talking I looked at each of the players right in the eye and gave each of them a specific goal for this game.  I told them that in the face of great adversity there are great rewards.  If we lose, we are supposed to.  But if we work hard, support each other through our mistakes, and execute what we have been learning in practice we will have our best chance for success.  I was hoping they believed me, because I was not sure I believed myself.

I was hoping to merely survive the game and keep the score respectable.  We had lost to the same team 4 weeks earlier when we also played short handed.  My squad had 8 players due to baseball conflicts and the other team played with 9 and had a few on the bench.  Mathematically the team with more players should win most of the time.  They have more space to execute as well as substitutes to relieve tired players.  I had none.

As our game progressed, I sensed something pretty magical happening.  The selfish players were passing.  The timid players were going in hard on tackles.  The negative kids were encouraging their teammates.

My team played a perfect game and won 3-0 in a game they were almost guaranteed to lose.

As a leader and a coach I thought about my pregame talk long after the game had passed. Was I able to relieve some apprehension about being shorthanded by encouraging the players to focus more on the things we were in control of over the fact we were shorthanded?  Did I do the wrong thing in showing less than 100% confidence in them? Did the talk even matter at all?

At the end of the game I realized that coaching sports, managing teams, or parenting children are all pretty similar.  You try to teach to the best of your ability, do everything in your power to make sure the learning takes place, and then encourage proper execution.   When the kids took my message to heart and played the way I intended, they overcame great adversity and were rewarded with a great win.

Take Your Child to Work Day… ruined

Just about one year ago, I was terminated from my position as a Technology Director.  I never saw it coming.  All of my performance reviews exceeded expectations for 16 years, and every annual bonus was above my target range.  There were no performance improvement plans or constructive feedback session.  I heard what HR told me in the exit meeting, but I’ll never know the real reason.

The truth of the matter is that I was unhappy in the job for a few years.  My commute was terrible, and there was not much opportunity left to grow my career in the small company.

I had built such amazing teams, that they made my job very easy to do, perhaps a little too easy.  I was lacking challenges at times but was always able to keep my interest going by creating new projects and evolving the responsibilities of the teams as a way to innovate and stay fresh.

It didn’t occur to me until late in that day that this change of employment status happened a day before Take Your Child to Work Day.  This was the absolute worst part of my day.  My youngest son had been expressing a lot of interest in finance and we had made plans to visit the Stock Exchange where I still had credentials, friends, and co-workers to visit.  I planned a big day out in the city when we would take the train in, go to work, and have lunch.  My ex-coworkers were going to show him all about pit trading, technology, and let him wear the brokers jackets for pictures.

Truth be told, I could have still made the visit, but I didn’t want to put my reputation and more importantly my severance at risk.

Through the whole embarrassing and frustrating ordeal of losing my job, the sabotage of taking my son to work was the part that hurt the worst.  Explaining that the trip was cancelled was the only time I ever got choked up through the whole ordeal of job loss.

Although the day trip was cancelled, I still held him out of school.  We watched CNBC and Bloomberg.  We reviewed the basics of stocks and public companies and even ventured into the world of options as I drew upon my previous work experiences.

Even after a year since the job loss, I think about it almost every day.  Being “ghosted” after a 16 year career was confusing and deeply painful.  When that loss impacted my child, I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  But in the end it led to great conversations about why owning a business can be better than working for someone else and stoked a fire in him at a young age to not become beholden to a boss, but to be his own boss in the future.

 

Jams, 35 years in the making

Having been raised in a WASPy home that was typically on the reserved side, I have developed a silent laughter.  When I find something really amusing you’ll see my mouth agape, eyes squinting and perhaps tearing up, but never emitting a single sound.  It is an odd characteristic and one my wife teases me about from time to time.

Imaging her surprise when I told a story of my childhood that left me in uncontrollable laughter.  I mean real belly laughter that resembled and asthma attack.  I couldn’t even catch my breath as I wove my childhood story of the Jams.

For those of you who are not children of the 80s, Jams were a floral print pair of shorts. The brand had captured national attention and was strong enough to even make a foot hold in New Jersey.  The colorful shorts were the “gotta have it” item for young boys who would proudly wear them on the beaches and boardwalks of the Jersey Shore.  As my sister pined away for Cabbage Patch Kids, Jams were my equivalent.

I grew up in a comfortable middle class household and was fairly spoiled, but for some reason my Mom drew a line in the sand on Jams.  They were expensive by standards and she felt that the cost was for the label and handed out a firm “no”.

I was disappointed.  Like any good Mom she felt bad about depriving her son of something he really wanted, but she couldn’t pay those prices for a pair of shorts.  But she had a plan!

I came home from school one day and she was beaming.  When I asked her what was up she said “I know you really wanted some Jams but I just can’t spend that kind of money to buy them.  SO here is a pair that I made for you!”

When she showed me the shorts I was horrified.  They floral pattern looked like something from my grandmother’s curtains and the elastic waistband was nothing like the tied up look of the real board shorts.  For those of you who have ever heard of Eddie Murphy’s routine about MacDonald’s Big Mac versus the Houseburger on white bread his mom made, I felt the same way.  Of course I was disappointed but wore the shorts that summer, and was probably made fun of a lot.  I say “probably” , because I think I blocked out that summer from my memory.

Fast forward 35 years.

I was telling my story of the Jams to my wife and could not control my laughter.  I could barely get the story out.  I then called my Mom to repeat the story to her and again could barely get the words out through the hysterical laughter.  Oddly she also had no recollection of the home made Jams, but she also laughed as hard as I was because the absurdity of the story was contagious.  We all had a good laugh and a fun time reminiscing.

On my 44th birthday, my Mom invited us over for a family dinner.  She handed me a box, and she was beaming with anticipation.  I knew something was up when my sister took out her camera to capture the moment forever.  When I opened the box, the glowing colors of REAL JAMS reflected off my smiling face!!!  It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.  After 35 years of waiting, I am complete!jams

 

 

Car pooling lessons learned

Tuesday night I offered to bring a few of my son’s friends home from soccer practice.  I always enjoy driving the kids because they totally let their guard down when they are socializing with their friends in the car.  It’s like they don’t even remember I am in the same car with them.  They clown around, tease each other, and give me a glimpse into their world that I would not see otherwise.

I highly recommend being the driver for your children to see if you have the same experience.

Sometimes the conversations might revolve around an upcoming party or some conflict at school but in my most recent drive I was really shocked by the maturity and insight of a particular talk.

The boys were nose down in their Instagrams and talking about how they could make money online.  Each of them recognized the value of Youtube and its pay per click model as well as advertising concepts.  They all discussed that there was no money to be made in some of their other social media apps like Instagram and that they basically used that just for fun.  

They admired @PewDiePie for his ability to create profitable online content.  Impressively, they valued the perpetuity of good videos and remarked that he is still making money from videos he made years ago.  It was like they grasped the concept of passive income and understood its value.

I was proud of the boys for a number of reasons. They recognized the value of Youtube and the shortcomings of Instagram related to revenue generation.  They understood the value of finding the right tool for the job.  If done well, Youtube could help them make money but Instagram could not (in their opinion).  They understood the concept of passive income and why it is valuable.

My accidental market research made me think about social media in general.  Companies like Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook can make advertising dollars while using their customers, but the users are less able to make money FROM the platform.  If kids don’t see a media platform as useful for making money as a two way street ,will the platform fall out of favor?  

I don’t claim to have the answers for social media and money making but my recent drive with the soccer team really got me thinking.

It was great to get insight into their inner thoughts as well as learn a few new things about how they view some common social media platforms.  Volunteer to drive the next car pool and you never know what you might learn!

What can the Oscars tell us about leadership

oscarsI personally don’t watch the Oscars.

I am not really in to pop culture, I don’t see too many current movies, and I don’t find award shows entertaining except for the opening, which I can see on Youtube the following day.

Well the 2017 Oscars punished me for my antisocial behavior!

In what will be known as the largest blunder in Oscar history, the award for Best Picture was mistakenly awarded to La-La-Land instead of the actual winner Moonlight.  Through a series of unfortunate events, the wrong envelope declaring the winner ended up in the hands of Warren Beatty who seemed to know something was amiss.  It appeared to be obvious that the card in his hand was a copy for the Best Actress category awarded earlier in the night.  As the uneasiness washed over Beatty’s face he didn’t seem sure what to do. He froze like a deer in the headlights, but managed to hand the erroneous card over to his co-presenter Faye Dunaway who did not seem to recognize anything wrong.  She saw the words La-La-Land on a card, and drew upon her years of training to read what was in front of her. History was made.

Beatty was responsible for two failures in my opinion. One- he seemed to have recognized a problem and did not do anything to rectify it.  Two- once he saw that a problem existed he pawned it off to his co-presenter in an attempt to distance himself from it. This is called “throwing someone under the bus” where I am from.  Both actions are failures in leadership.

The wrong “winners” arrived on stage and were deep into an acceptance speech when a flurry of activity concluded with the announcement that indeed the wrong winner had been announced.  The correct card was shown as evidence and the Moonlight folks had the highlight of their careers ruined because no one had the intelligence or fortitude to simply say, “hey I think this may be the wrong card”.

The Oscars fiasco did not end in injury or death.  At its worst it was an embarrassing black eye to the institution and PricewaterhouseCoopers who is responsible for the envelopes.

The ability to identify and communicate known problems takes courage.  Placing your own career at risk in order to right a potential wrong is not an easy thing to do.  The ability to tackle a problem head on instead of hoping that someone else will solve it are part of the foundation of leadership.  Beatty’s avoidance of the situation will cause distrust in him for some time.  He wrongly assumed pushing the problem away from him would lessen the impact to him when in truth, it magnified his role in the whole ordeal.

When something doesn’t look right have the courage to take a breath and verify.  The slight embarrassment in the moment will outweigh the landslide that follows if you ignore it.

 

 

saving lunch money on the slopes

I just got back from a ski weekend in Colorado.    The whole family enjoys skiing and it is a great activity that we hope to share together for quite some time.  Colorado is such a beautiful place and I envision myself living there some day.

But man is skiing expensive.

One area that can really sink a ski budget is lunchtime dining.  There are two schools of thought on lunch.  Some folks will pack in a lunch but it appears that the majority take advantage of the on mountain dining for its quality and convenience.  There is no right or wrong answer and I realized everyone has different views on eating out.  For instance, I eat to survive but my wife sees dining as entertainment.  This means that if I were alone, I would pack in a sandwich and eat on the chairlift but she prefers a nice sit down lunch looking out a panoramic window and enjoying the view.

If you choose to use the on mountain facilities at lunchtime, you can easily spend $100 per day for a family of four.  Here is how I try to control costs.  This photo is not my family 🙂family-eating-lunch-on-the-mountain

  • Drink water.  Not only is drinking water healthier for you in general but it is critical when skiing at altitude.  The drier air causes dehydration which can lead to altitude sickness, headache, and fatigue.  Almost every high alpine restaurant I have been to provided free glasses and water for guests.  When bottled drinks cost at least $5 each, this is an easy $20 savings.
  • If you do buy a bottled drink like Gatorade, grab some of the free glasses at the water station and split the bottle.  I believe the last bottle that I needed to buy cost $6.50, which was made a little more palatable by splitting it in glasses for my kids.  Using glasses is more sanitary that drinking from the same bottle and reduces arguments too!
  • Plan your lunch.  Seriously…If one kid wants chicken tenders and one kid wants pizza, they are going to have to compromise.  Each lunch entree on the mountain costs about $20 each.  But in fairness, they are typically gigantic and more than enough to split 2 ways.  The last chicken basket I bought had 6 large tenders and a large order of fries.  This was plenty of food to tide my two boys over until dinner. The same goes for pizza.  A plain pizza approaches $20 each but can easily feed 2 children.
  • Snacks.  Grab a couple of candy bars at the supermarket to take on the mountain.  A Snicker bar was $5 in the restaurant but $1 at the grocery store.  Give the kids a treat without breaking the bank by stuffing a couple in your jacket pocket in the morning.
  • Be a garbage disposal.  Even with all of the food sharing we do as a family, there is left over food.  My kids share a meal and my wife has a small appetite so I will typically eat whatever they don’t.   I think they all used to be embarrassed by it when we started, but now it is part of our routine.  I’ll supplement with a granola bar from my pocket if necessary.
  • Stick it out until apres.  If you can make it until 3PM without lunch, almost all bars have happy hour specials on food and drinks.  You can use apres as a very late lunch or early dinner for about 50% off normal prices.  You may be eating beef nachos for $8, instead of beef tacos on the mountain for $20.  If you find 3PM too much of a stretch just take some granola bars or hard snacks to eat mid day for an energy boost.

Our ski mountain lunch time routines have the potential to save us about 50% compared to a family of 4 who don’t plan their lunch purchase at mountain restaurants.

Like any cost saving exercise it will be more successful if not authoritarian.  In my perfect world I would pack PBnJ sandwiches for everyone and drink free water.  This would not go over well with may family so I figure out ways to meet their goals as well as mine through the system discussed above.