Notes From My Journal

The Lessons of History

Delray Beach, FL– On the recommendation of Tim Ferriss, I’m reading Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. Published in 1962, it contains the occasional paragraph that seems chronologically quaint. But the sentences are lovely. The tone is pitch perfect. And it is dense with wise thoughts and observations.

A few tidbits:

* We are all born unfree and unequal: subject to our physical and psychological heredity, and to the customs and traditions of our group; diversely endowed in health and strength, in mental capacity and qualities of character.

* Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.

* Society is founded not on the ideals but on the nature of man.

* Puritanism and paganism – the repression and the expression of the senses and desire – alternate in mutual reaction in history.

* The concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution.

* Economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.

* Monarchy seems to be the most natural kind of government, since it applies to the group the authority of the father in a family or of the chieftain in a warrior band. If we were to judge forms of government from their prevalence and duration in history we should have to give the palm to monarchy; democracies, by contrast, have been hectic interludes.

* If progress is truly real despite our whining, it is not because we are born healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of that pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Every Problem Should Have a Simple Solution

On August 15, I published an essay titled “Growers and Tenders” in which I suggested that there are two kinds of employees. I wrote:

This is an exaggeration, but I like to say that, in business, personalities can be divided into two camps: those that value growth and those that value order.

Those that value growth (the growers) want to make everything bigger. Those that value order (the tenders) want to make everything better. And you need both to enjoy unstoppable success. But the ratio depends on where in the business lifecycle your company is.

This idea is, of course, a simplification. But there’s nothing wrong with that. In business (as in almost any context), simple ideas are almost always better than complicated ones because:

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Notes From My Journal

Does the SEC Really Give a Crap About Small Investors?

Delray Beach, FL– “The private markets are awash in capital these days,” Jay Clayton, Chairman of the SEC, told entrepreneurs and business-school students in Nashville recently. “The question is, who is participating?”

For decades, regulators have walled off most private deals from smaller investors. Because of the added risk of private investing, they must meet stringent income and net-worth requirements to participate. As a result, small investors never had access to companies like Uber Technologies and Airbnb.

Mr. Clayton wants to change that.

“This is good news,” TM said in a memo to my partners. “And it would be no small potatoes as it would open a big line of biz. Early Seeds.”

TM was talking about the opportunity for businesses like ours, publishers of investment advice, to sell more newsletters and other advisory services focusing on this newly opened and quite exciting topic.

Here’s what I think: Yes, it will be good for financial publishers like us. And it will be great for financial advisors and brokers and all the guys with suits that live off Wall Street. But it will not be good for ordinary investors, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. This change will make the sum of them poorer. And I’m pretty sure Mr. Clayton knows that.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

A Serious Answer to a Dumb Question

 “What habit made the biggest difference in your life with the least effort?”

This is the sort of question you see on Quora – ultimately dumb but superficially interesting. I rarely open the links because I know the answers will likely be as silly as the questions.

That’s what happened when I saw this one.

But then I thought: If I am taking questions from an audience and someone asks this one, how would I answer it? I couldn’t dismiss it as a stupid. What would I say?

Hmmm… the audience is waiting. Clock is ticking…

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Notes from my Journal

Everything Is Going Up

New York City– Walking uptown on 8th, from 17th to 41st, we passed through what used to be called Hell’s Kitchen. And we were surprised to see a half-dozen glittering glass skyscrapers amidst what appeared to be a massive development.

It was Hudson Yards, a 60-block megaproject financed by the state, the city, and the MTA, in conjunction with The Related Companies, Oxford, and some additional private builders. It goes from 29th to 42nd street, and from 8th Avenue to West Side Highway.

Much of it is built on a huge concrete platform that covers an underground storage facility for rail cars. The first phase, which is what we were looking at, has two large office towers with a retail podium between them, and an 80-story tower on 10th that is the city’s third-tallest building.

The complex will include millions of square feet of residential and commercial space, including seven residential towers, a mall with 100 shops and 20 restaurants, and six acres of gardens and roads. The total cost of the project was estimated several years ago at $20 billion but it is likely to come in higher.

Dozens of businesses whose headquarters had been moved out of the city in years past have committed to leasing space. And some firms residing in the financial district have plans to move in. Needless to say, this has spurred all sorts of secondary development activities in surrounding areas.

I wondered about the economic impact of the project. New York City has problems.

Last year, for example, the city was ranked last among 20 US cities on “taxpayer burden.” The city had accumulated over $150 billion in bills above and beyond assets on its balance sheet, which translated to $61,000 per taxpaying denizen.

What those numbers didn’t take into account, however, was the city’s ability to raise revenues through taxes. As these buildings go up, so do tax revenues. Not just property taxes but sales taxes and personal income taxes as more mid- and high-income people are lured back into the city.

I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the eventual success of the project. But it’s hard to imagine that during the next 5 to 10 years it will be anything less than hugely positive.


From my work in progress basket

Get Up, Take a Walk, Extend Your Life

You don’t have to be a physiologist to understand how unhealthy it is to spend 8 or 10 hours a day sitting on your butt.

The stiffness you feel when you get up should be an obvious warning. Or the simple logic of recognizing how the body is designed (to move on two feet) and the consequences of ignoring that.

You’re probably aware that countless studies have linked extended sedentary behavior – prolonged sitting, in particular – to not only spinal, muscular, and joint problems but a plethora of other conditions. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Note: We are talking about any form of sitting – in front of a screen, in front of a steering wheel, or in front of a keyboard.

And although I think of myself as fairly active because I walk for 40 minutes and exercise for an hour each day, if you add up the time I spend reading, writing, or driving… I’m probably in a sitting position for 8 to 12 hours.


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Notes from my Journal

A New Word, an Old Peeve

New York City– Sitting on the stoop in front of this brownstone, reading a magazine, I come across a word that’s new to me: glanceable.

This doesn’t happen often. And when it does, it’s usually a neologism built from something foreign or political. (Have you noticed? Recently, most political neologisms seem to be invented to cope with the ever-expanding micro-culture of identity politics.)

Glanceable felt different. Modest. Unpretentious. Easy to interpret. But was it unnecessary? Could it have been just a synonym for scannable?

I looked it up and was happy to discover that, no, it is not a synonym for scannable. There is a subtle but important difference.

Scannable is an adjective that qualifies the readability of text. It means “that which can be scanned,” either with a fast read or electronically with a scanner. (Example: a scannable ID)

Glanceable also refers to the readability of text. But its focus and its requirements are very strict. Glanceable denotes information – usually on a screen – that can be read and understood at a glance.

In other words, it refers to very short lengths of text (headlines, subheads, captions, etc.) or graphic elements (charts, graphs, Illustrations) that can be comprehended in a matter of seconds.

That’s different than readable or scannable. And I like it for that reason. It has a use, a particular use that is much needed in the publishing world.

A pet peeve of mine is the publication of graphics meant to demonstrate concepts that are difficult to grasp. They may convey the information intended. But if it takes the reader minutes to figure them out, what’s the point? It would be better to use words.

If you can elucidate (see “Today’s Word”) complex ideas through graphics, you should do so. Just make sure that they are glanceable – i.e., so crystal clear that the reader can grok them at a glance.

The logic of this rule is so simple that it’s hard for me to understand why so many writers and editors choose to ignore it and continue to put out charts and graphs and illustrations that confound.


From my work in progress basket

A Simple and Realistic Way to Attract Success in Your Life (for People Smart Enough to Smirk at the Law of Attraction)

There’s a way to bring good fortune into your life. It might look, from one angle, like luck (or perhaps some precious “law” of the universe). But it is, in fact, something much more mundane. Something like a recipe for baking bread.

I’m talking about a “recipe” for attracting (yes, attracting) success. For solving problems and opening doors and bringing amazing people into your life.

I discovered the recipe 30 years ago by observing TP, a man that had built one of the largest direct-marketing companies in our industry.

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