Q&A 054

Published on:
December 15, 2021

Hi All,

Balance has always been one of our favourite themes. This week, we apply the principle to our communication, world view, economic horizons and the use of time in creativity. Enjoy!

🙊 T.H.I.N.K.

In our bathroom, there is a small note on the wall that reads:

"Think before you speak:

Is it ... True?

Is it ... Helpful?

Is it ... Inspiring?

Is it ... Necessary?

Is it ... Kind?"

There won't be a lot of people that will disagree with this. Still, I observe a lot of conversations and discussions could benefit from applying this simple technique more frequently.

However, the trick is how to actually apply it. In the heat of the moment, being confronted with a new situation, a surprise or something exciting, will often make you forget about these guidelines and instill a spontaneous reaction. Moreover, how does this reconcile with trusting and following your gut?

Taking a couple of seconds to actually think before you speak is a great starter. Next practice is to not think too long to leave ample room for your gut, intuition and creativity to keep its influence on your response. Think before you speak and if it takes too long, just keep quiet and capture another moment with your brilliant insight. Spontaneity is admirable as well. Let's not lose it.

🧙‍♂️ Wizards

Inspired by a glowing review Seth Godin wrote last week, I picked up a digital copy of 'The Wizard and the Prophet' by Charles C. Mann. The book is about two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, and their opposing views on our ecological future.

Since both views are compelling, Seth wrote he "switches camps every few minutes". Mann himself also explains how diving deep into their stories made him appreciate both of their diametrically opposed views:

"Thus I oscillate between the two stances. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I think Vogt was correct. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I go for Borlaug. And on Sunday, I don’t know."

The paradoxical nature of the viewpoints made me recall a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Exactly this is what I appreciate so much about the book already, just having read the first few chapters. A truly balanced view on this subject is rare, but it also feels like a path to a solution. When things seem paradoxical, there is generally a shift in perspective needed to solve the puzzle. Like a Zen Koan, an analytical approach doesn't cut it when the right lens is missing.

🔮 Horizon

Companies, especially those listed on a stock exchange, generally complain that the market forces them to be more short-term focused. Quarterly reports, pressure felt to announce something new regularly and public scrutiny all add up to the negative emotions. To encourage more focus on the long-term, the Canadian Public Pension Investment Board, BlackRock Inc. and the consultancy group McKinsey & Co., launched a non-profit group called Focusing Capital on the Long Term (FCLT), five years ago. It "develops actionable research and tools to drive long-term value creation for savers and communities".

An article by John Authers analysed the initial results of their research called 'FCLT Compass'. It attempts to measure how 'long-term' companies and investors really are, how it changes over time and between geographies.

The initial conclusions are that, although the investors have become more short-termist especially during the Covid pandemic, the companies themselves did not listen to the market and turned more long-term. While investors were hoarding cash to the sidelines, companies used more of their cash to invest in R&D and capital projects.

The data yields some other insights. Globally, inequality was decreasing up until the pandemic hit. Monetary policies, large layoffs and other measures led inequality to grow worse. Equity investors became 'jumpy', changing their portfolio more frequently. On top of the list of the most 'short-term' investors are, according to FCLT research, the sovereign wealth funds. A big surprise. This is mostly due to the fact that these funds tend to be heavily invested in private equity funds, which in turn have an average holding period of only two years and four months.

All in all, companies apparently turn to a longer-term horizon when crises are nearby, whereas investors tend to cash in and wait for things to settle. In principle this is not really irrational behaviour, but it also signals that it is not necessarily 'the market' that determines the term of investments. That in itself is probably good news and means that -despite a lot of pressure and scrutiny- a lot of companies do care about their long-term future.

⌛️ Creative

I've been watching the first part of Peter Jackson's 3 x 3 hours Beatles documentary 'Get Back' last week and I think it's wonderful. It's not just the crisp video and audio which almost make you forget this material is 52 years old. It's also Peter's innate storytelling capacity. By selecting 10% of the available footage, mixing in bare audio and showing relevant media from that day and age, he is making you a spectator of the conception of the Beatles' final album in a way I did not know was possible.

Since the phenomenon 'creativity' is one of my big interests, I also watched the documentary with a keen eye on those aspects of the group working together. So far, two creativity lessons stood out.

I feel the first lesson was best worded by Albert Einstein, who once said 'Creativity is the residue of wasted time'. With no apparent daily schedule other than turning up at the agreed upon time of day (an agreement which Lennon seems to take lightly), the band ostensibly just has fun most of the time, playing classics and covers, fooling around with funny adaptations to well-known themes. Playfully exploring the musical universe without an eye on the clock clearly worked here.

That said, the apparent deadline in their schedule also has a pivotal function, as they realise that in just a few weeks time, they should have an album ready. While having a deadline can cause stress in many business situations, it seems that in creative endeavours, it can work miracles.

Being able to balance these two perspectives on 'time', switching from one to the other, makes it a tool to wield in the creative process.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. Or get an impression of everything else we shared in our renewed, searchable archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons