What Am I Doing Here? What Can I Say?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Bermuda –I’m in Bermuda this weekend, speaking at an investment conference. I’m here to talk about money — making it, growing it, protecting it.

I came in Thursday night at about 10:00 and taxied to the hotel in the dark. I hadn’t been here for 30 years and had only a few very fragmented memories — pretty, pastel-colored buildings and a beautiful sea. In the morning, those images were confirmed by a look out my balcony.

Indeed, Bermuda is an attractive place to spend a few days. As you can see, the scenery is beautiful in the usual tropical island ways. But Bermuda has its unique architecture and it has rolling hills and little cliffs and thousands of tiny islands along its shore, which gives one the feeling that there is more to be discovered here as opposed to, say, Grand Cayman or the Bahamas.

I wasn’t looking forward to the two presentations I was scheduled to make on Friday. I was exhausted after a week of meetings in Berlin, the Liverpool film festival, and three days of crushing attention at AWAI’s “Bootcamp.” (This year, there were more than 500 attendees.) I hadn’t prepared my comments and I didn’t want to. I felt like I didn’t care about investing anymore. The only thing I wanted to tell these investors was to stop worrying so much about money and spend more time with their grandkids.

So I spent the first part of the morning writing an essay on a new idea I’m working on: that the greatest danger we face in the USA today is not an economic one but a cultural epidemic. I am tentatively calling it the “culture of blame.” I haven’t yet looked that up yet to see if it’s an idea that’s already out there. It probably is. But I wrote the essay anyway. (You will see it here soon.)

My first obligation was at 10:00, a panel presentation on “investing outside the stock market.” It was me and two financial specialists and an economist. The emcee started the discussion by asking me for my “general thoughts” on diversifying.

I don’t remember what I said, but the audience was engaged. They sat upright, asked questions, and even laughed at a few of my jokes. It went by, as every presentation I’ve ever done has, in a flash. It was over and I wanted to keep going.

I went upstairs to my room to actually prepare for the 2:30 breakout session. This time, I would be presenting all by myself, and I couldn’t just wing it. I needed to do some thinking. I needed to create note cards or, at the very least, a crib sheet of topics. But I decided to close my eyes for a quick rest before I got to work… and I nodded off.

The phone rang. I was “on” in 10 minutes.

I got to the room exactly one minute early. No one was there. “Cripes,” I complained to someone who looked like he was in charge. “I said I wasn’t going to come unless there were people that wanted to see me. “The general session is running late,” he said. “They’ll be letting out in a few minutes.”

I heard the doors open and a steady stream of people began walking towards us. There were three workshops scheduled for 2:30, mine and two others. I knew and liked the young analysts heading up the other two, but not enough to feel okay about it if they had full rooms and I had only a few people. So I stood in front of the door to my room, urging people to come in like a Greek waiter in front of a cheap Parisian restaurant.

Five minutes later, my room was full.

I began by telling them a story about how my advice cost a colleague of mine $15 million. “I thought you should know that before you take anything I say seriously,” I said. They laughed. I relaxed.

We talked about “investing” in gold. I explained that I don’t see gold as an investment but as an insurance policy – insurance against financial Armageddon. I told them that bought a lot of it from 2001 to 2005, when it was trading between $250 and $500. “Since the price is now $1,200 and has been at this level for some time,” I said, “I feel like I have too much of it. I’d like to get rid of about half of it, but I don’t know where I’d put the money. “I know what you can do with it,” a lady in the back said. Everyone laughed. I did too.

I talked about real estate, and I gave them my magic formula. “If you invest the way I do,” I said, “you don’t need to pay attention to the general economy or the state of politics or price fluctuations. All you need to do is buy in the recommended range, have someone competent manage the property for you, and then keep on buying.”

Then I talked about art and I explained my scheme for cornering a certain market. They seemed to enjoy hearing about it, though I doubt that any of them will ever do it.

They asked a lot of questions and I answered most of them by telling them stories. They liked the stories. Most of them understood the implicit messages.

Then it was over – faster than I wanted it to be. I signed some books, took some photos, and went back to my room.

I had come unprepared – except for 35 years of experience – and I had told them the truth as I know it. Once again, it was “ready-fire-aim.” And once again, it worked out pretty well.

I’m looking forward to the cocktail party tonight so I can keep on talking.

Principles of Wealth: #21*

When the odds of a particular speculation are extremely long, we refer to it as gambling. And gambling, most sensible people would acknowledge, is a foolish financial activity. Unless, of course, the odds are in your favor.

It must have been 40 years ago. I was a young man, returning from my first trip to Las Vegas. The man next to me was an architect. His specialty was high-end hotel-casinos. His favorite part of the job, he told me, was designing the VIP suites. They were immense pleasure domes, featuring every imaginable luxury, including gilded furnishings and indoor pools.

“How much would one of those go for?” I naively asked.

“Oh, they never charge for those rooms. They give them away to high rollers for free.”

Read MorePrinciples of Wealth: #21*

Today’s Word: vinous (adjective) – Vinous (VYE-nus) refers to something that resembles or is associated with wine. As used by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The GreatGatsby: “She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song, she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad… A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into a deep vinous sleep.”

Did You Know?: How to Hang a Painting – For the most part, paintings should be hung at head level. A portrait, for example, should be at a height at which the subject’s eyes are about level with yours (or up to 6 inches higher). There are some exceptions to this rule: If you are arranging paintings vertically, one above the other on the wall; if the room has a very high chair rail; or if you are purposely going for an avant-garde look. But for the most part, hanging your paintings too high indicates that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Worth Quoting: “Abilities wither under criticism and blossom under encouragement.” – Dale Carnegie

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Students Making Waves at FunLimon

Nicaragua is a mess. The Ortega government is arresting protestors and tourism has dried up almost completely. But its people are as warm and ambitious and hardworking as they have always been. In our little corner of the country, Rancho Santana is open (keeping its employees on the payroll). And across the street at FunLimon, the educational and skill-development programs are moving ahead full steam.

Here’s a recent newsletter that will give you a glimpse of what that means.


More On Caring Less: Losing the “Love” of Golf

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Delray Beach, FL– Golf is a miserable way to pass time. Of all the sports and games and hobbies I’ve tried in my life, none provided the level of frustration and self-loathing that golf gave me.

But it’s also addictive. So much so that you will hear golf addicts insisting that they “love” the game. They will tell you stories about how great it is to be out in the fresh air. But the truth is, no amount of sunshine will brighten the mood of a golfer as he rounds the turn realizing his yet-again hope of achieving his score has been dashed and he has another two hours of misery ahead of him.

My relationship with golf was relatively good. I avoided it for 50 years and was addicted to it for less than 10. I got up the strength to quit about four years ago. Rather than make the declaration (That’s it! I quit!) that the average golfer makes every dozen rounds, I vowed to play only “happy golf” from then on.

The rules of happy golf are three: You play no more than two hours, which means you cannot ever finish a full round. You cannot keep score, even in your head.  And if you take a shot you don’t like, you must take it over.

I have played several games of happy golf and I can avow that it makes me happy. But none of my golf-addicted friends or colleagues will play it with me. Why is that? Because the very essence of golf is self-flagellation. And when you play happy golf, you can’t do that.

Here’s the thing: I assumed that I would experience some sense of loss after I stopped playing. I was prepared for listless afternoons, wishing I were on the golf course. But it never happened. There hasn’t been a single moment since I quit when I’ve thought, “Gee, it would be nice to be golfing.”

What does that say about the years I spent golfing 8 to 10 hours a week?

They say that buying and selling the boat are the two happiest days of a boater’s life. With golf, you don’t even get the two days.

Success in Life? It’s All About Micro-Culture

There’s a longstanding nature-versus-nurture debate among social psychologists. Wrestling with it doesn’t get you very far, because it’s not a real question. Nature matters. Nurture matters. But what matters most is micro-culture.

(Micro-culture is a term that doesn’t yet exist. I’m making it up to denote the close circle of people that surround and influence you during your formative years.)

What you accomplish in life – in terms of every aspect of success, from mental health to longevity to self-satisfaction to your career – is due much more to micro-culture than to any other single factor. So why haven’t researchers figured that out?

To wit: A recent University of Minnesota study has academics scratching their heads.

Led by epidemiologist Theresa Osypuk, the study followed the lives of youngsters born into poverty in the 1990s. Some of them were given vouchers that allowed them to move out of public housing and into better neighborhoods. And what happened to the kids who made the move? The researchers found that the girls were far less likely to drink heavily than the girls left in the housing projects. But the boys binged more.

As the WSJ put it, “The findings challenged the assumption that behavioral risks increase with economic hardships and that poverty affects women and men the same way.”

How could that be?

Read MoreSuccess in Life? It’s All About Micro-Culture

Today’s Word: obviate (verb) – To obviate (AHB-vee-ate) is to anticipate and prevent something or to make something unnecessary. As used by the entrepreneur Sam Altman: “Technology magnifies differences, and it’s been replacing or obviating jobs for a long time. But what happens as that case accelerates? I’m not one of those doomsayers who says, ‘There will be no jobs.’”

Did You Know?: When a female horse and a male donkey mate, the offspring is a mule. When a male horse and a female donkey mate, the offspring is a hinny.

Worth Quoting: “The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel. Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly.” – George Bernard Shaw

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Lost faith in humanity? Need a break from all the dismal news? I could watch this video for hours…



Living Through the Premiere of Off the Rails

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Delray Beach, FL –On Sunday, I gave you a sneak peek at Off the Rails, an autobiographical “coming of age” movie I made a few years ago that only got finished this year. I was in Liverpool for the European premiere, and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it.

The last I saw, it was at the editing stage – and I saw it then in bits and pieces. This was going to be the final version, the full experience. Movies usually improve as they move through post-production, and I was hoping for a lot because I was not thrilled with what I had seen.

We got to the theater about 12:45. The film was shown in the Odeon Cinema Complex in a large mall in the center of the city. We (Steve, Belle, and I) arrived five minutes before it was scheduled to begin. Thanks to Damian, our director, who grew up in Liverpool and whose relatives were there, the theater was nearly full when we took a seat.

The movie began, and it didn’t take long for me to decide it was bad.

The story was good. The music and cinematography were very good. (Number Two Son did the music.) And Colin, the DP, is an Emmy-award winning cinematographer. So we had those things going for us. But movies are fragile things. They must be good in all of the major areas. One of those is acting. I found it to be over the top – sometimes even cringe-worthy. And the dialogue – some of the lines were too obvious and the physical dialogue (gestures) were also often too much.

The audience watched quietly for the most part. I could take nothing from that except that they didn’t laugh at a half-dozen scenes that were supposed to be funny.

Afterwards, there was a Q&A. It was well attended and lasted for nearly half an hour. All of the comments and questions were positive. Several people said they liked the story. One person liked the “chemistry” of the principal actors. At least three people praised the music. And several more talked about how “big-picture professional” it looked (i.e., the cinematography).

But this was a biased audience.

Walking back to the hotel with Steve and Belle, I grumbled about the film’s shortcomings. If everything about it had been bad, I could have written the whole affair off as an expensive exercise in vanity or a costly riddance of a bucket-list goal. But because some of it was good, I could not stop myself from focusing on the flaws.

Steve and Belle told me I was being too critical. ”The average person doesn’t notice the things you are talking about,” he said. “The average intelligent person certainly would,” I said.

When we got to the hotel, the concierge asked us where we were coming from. I told him that we’d just finished watching a movie at the Liverpool film festival that we wrote and produced. “How was it?” he wanted to know. “The trailer wasn’t bad,” I told him. “But the movie wasn’t as good as the trailer. So logically speaking, I’d have to say that the movie was bad. Some version of bad.” He thought that was funny.

Before saying goodnight, Steve told me again that I was being too critical. “I liked it,” Belle said. I shrugged my shoulders.

So Steve and Belle went to bed and I stayed up drinking a cognac and smoking a cigar on the terrace. When I settled into bed an hour or so later, I noticed that there was a text on my phone from Damian. “We won best actress,” it said. “And best movie.”

In case you didn’t see it Sunday, here’s another look at the trailer.

Today’s Word: aleatory (adjective) – Aleatory (AY-lee-uh-tor-ee) means random, dependent on chance or luck. As used by Sean Macintyre: “My scope is wide and my organizational practices… aleatory.”

Did You Know?: The average woman spends the equivalent of a year of her life deciding what to wear.

Worth Quoting: “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Ernest Hemingway


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The Return of the Checklist

The first big direct-response promo I wrote had an order form that included a checklist to “qualify” candidates. I tested it against a conventional order device (one that had no barriers to enroll) and it actually outpolled it by a bit. And the lifetime value of the customer was much greater.

After I did it, others imitated it. And then, gradually, the checklist disappeared from the market. Whether that was a rational response to testing or an instinct that said “easier is better” I don’t know. But I thought it was interesting to see someone doing it again.