Friday, May 20, 2016

Need to have vs. nice to have vs. neither

Take just as much as we need, and no more. I think that natural selection allows for some to have more than others, but those with more should not take more than they need. And only they know how much that might be.

Ten years ago, I was driving around a very nice four year old Nissan Pathfinder and really wanted a Land Rover. The big one. I was making enough money by then so I decided to go for a  test drive. I loved it. Such a machine. I decided to sleep on it and driving home, it struck me. What struck me was the question "Why do I need it". This question and also a disturbing self-reflection started a delightful falling of dominoes...starting with the job that would have afforded me the new car. I still notice though that there is plenty of opportunity to regulate my consumption. That extra latte or random shiny object in the store window, they all add up.

The markets and investing appear to work within these rules. Just think about all the people and companies that get greedy. We end up hearing about them on the news. And moreover, in this age of social and environmental awareness we are seeing that it is more profitable to not take more then we need. Put so eloquently in economic terms by Raj Sisodia -

"We have been working to understand how conscious businesses are able to operate with superior financial results while creating many forms of wealth and wellbeing for all of their stakeholders, including society. It boils down to something quite simple: these companies knowingly operate with lower gross margins than they could achieve, but are still able to achieve higher net margins than their traditional competitors."

Enantiodromia, a principle introduced by Carl Jung says that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. Again we have seen this over and over with corporations, Enron being the poster child. Hedge funds are also known for going through months and sometimes years of massive profit taking, but are most always offset by equivalent or more in losses. Humans are as subject to the laws of nature in our inter-human capitalist activity as we might be if we are living in the wilderness. Climate change is a recent indication of just this. Our lesson how we handle each transaction. It’s ok to take, but we must not take more then we need so that we don't upset the equilibrium.

Warren Buffet is an extremely wealthy individuals who has worked the capitalist system as well as anyone. Buffet has a reputation for the same old house, the same old car. He certainly does not take more then he needs even though he is in a better place than anyone on the planet to do so. His money is the reward for self actualization. Yes, he's probably a rare exception. He exhibits that self-regulation that is so necessary for the sustainability of our existence.There are many other super rich who might be buying more planes than they need, more houses and just more stuff. But that is also the case for each of us. Every day we have the opportunity to check our consumption.

We need the super rich and mega corporations just as we need the ocean, the elephant and baobab. We need the poor like we need algae and bees. The elephant doesn't knock down trees it doesn't need. 70% of the food that we eat depends on the bees. This natural selection depends on each of us taking just as much as we need and for some it’s more than others. We should not look outward and ask,  “he or she has that, why can’t I?”, we should look inward and ask, “what is it that I need?”

As business people if we want to build companies that are going to last 100 years, and enjoy sustainable profits we need to look no further than our bottom line. Offer products must be promote well-being. Take low margins, so our net is wider.. As CEO's and owners, take less and give more. Increase employees pay. Take a lesson from one of the original capitalists Henry Ford - if not for compassion then certainly for profit. Increase in pay reduces turnover and increases a sense of being part of the company's mission. Research is clear that our productivity is optimized when we feel like we are playing a role in the mission.

We each need to be rational and realistic. Some of us are meant to have private jets, some are meant to find their way to work in a rickety old bicycle. But does the jet really need a hot-tub filled with champagne. And after that bike ride home a hot nutritious meal shared with the rest of the family might a lot better then sitting down to a Gordon Ramsay white table clothed no jeans allowed dinner...alone.

Until we each take responsibility for the regulation of our own consumption. Until we each become conscious of our place in the world. We won't have a chance against some of the greatest fears of our day - climate change, war, poverty.

Patagonia takes just what they need. A sales person at a Patagonia store might go as far as to discourage you from buying one of their products if you might already have a solution in your wardrobe. More and and more of the biggest companies are there as well, if not heading in that direction.  

Our personal ethics/values can be a helpful guide if it’s not clear whether we are taking too much. Ben Franklin tells the story about how he was offered money to publish something that compromised his ethics. Before he made the decision he went home, made himself a dinner of bread and water and then curled up on the floor with a heavy blanket for the night. In the morning he woke up to discover he could live in such a manner, he had no need "to prostitute his press for the purpose of corruption and abuse of this kind for the sake of gaining a more comfortable subsistence."

If we allow our values and ethics to guide us rather than our fears, research shows that we will enjoy a sustainable existence. And so will the everyone around us. Rather than help others out of obligation which I heard someone point out is the most selfish thing we can so, help others because we want to..

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Stoma Chronicles

I write this from somewhere over the Atlantic.  This story is about my airport experience prior to boarding.

A brief background is that I have a colostomy after having my rectum removed to get rid of cancer. A colostomy is essentially a hole(stoma) in the abdomen as an outlet for the large intestine.  There is no longer a sphincter muscle so elimination happens freely.  Rather than wear the more traditional bag, I choose to use a procedure known as irrigation, which means I give myself a colonic each day.  I need an hour in a bathroom, two liters of warm water, and some basic equipment which is a sleeve type contraption for elimination and what looks like a drip you might see attached to someone in a hospital bed, which has a cone at the end of it. In order for this process to work one must do it at roughly the same time each day.  Consistency and routine is critical.  I choose to do it as soon as I wake up.

Today, the flight was early so I decided it was time to up my game and irrigate in an airport bathroom...far away from the safety of a hotel or my home which is all I have know for the year that I've been doing it.

So I arrived with plenty of time, checked a bag and went to a bathroom “this side of security”.  The warm water was already in a flask which I had done at home. I decanted the precious water into the “drip”. And then started to prepare the rest of process in this stall with my wheeled suitcase opened up on the floor.  The hook on the door had been ripped off, not optimal, but not terrible I'll just hold the bag of water over my head while I hold the cone in the hole in my belly.  Then I looked down and saw the bottom of the suitcase full of water!

“Just breathe” I remember saying to myself. 

At this point I wasn't sure where the water is from.  I'm wondering if the flask had leaked. Couldn't have.  And then I saw..  The drip contraption has a valve which I left on.  As I breathed and took stock( all within seconds), the evaluation was: bag with a sump of water, clothes wet, laptop wet, but the big disaster, is the precious water...gone. The tap in the men's room was Lukewarm to cold which I had tested before. (It's not a great idea to flush cold water into the body, I mean it's 98 degrees in there) Ok, pull out all the clothes, pour out the water, pack up and put all the irrigation equipment back in the bag.  Plan B...which was to be determined as I went through security.

Right to Starbucks.  “A small flat white, and a Venti hot water please”. $4.50….must not be charging me for the water I thought.  So socially considerate, I must remember that in my analysis for the social and environmental fund I manage.  Then she grabs a small cup, so I gently reminded her it was a Venti as I pointed to the big fellow.  “Sorry” she said, “We are only allowed to give hot water in small cups, and there are cameras watching for inventory.” I offered to pay for the precious water. “Paying is not an option, there is not a button”, she said pointing to the register.  I finally used my strong negotiating skills to get a Grande, or she saw the desperation in my eyes. Better than a stick in one of those eyes I suppose.

Off to a new bathroom, with stronger resolve, an amended plan, but a lot less time. And just for the record stress slows down the digestion system (in my very humble opinion, it's because the result tensing slows down peristalsis). As I sat there and laughed at the absurdity of life, I texted the story to my sister who seems to be quite interested in the stoma chronicles. I walked out of the bathroom just as the final boarding call sounded and glided seamlessly into my seat.  Now it's time to inhale the abundance of good movies that British Airways has to offer.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Use Yoga to fix Yoga

Im a Power Yogi.  Meaning that I gravitate to all those practices that fall in the category of Power Yoga - Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and all its offshoots and teacher choices.  I took my first class over 10 years ago and it was so hard I was terrified to go back again but deep down I knew I wanted to.  Then one day practicing yoga changed from "looking forward to the end of class" to "looking forward to the beginning of class", which happened not long after I had committed to take a class every day.

Then I took it to the next level, practicing 2 and 3 times a day sometimes.  One time I remember going to 5 classes in a day. Teacher Training. Workshops.  Books. But this writing is not about obsession.  Its about injury.

Even before the obsession kicked in, I started to get injured.  First shoulder, then hamstring, then back.  Increasing the frequency of Power Yoga classes didn't help.

So I started going to a new age chiropractor.  New age because before or instead of cracking and yanking he used massage and needles.  His handy work didn't help my injuries but a story he told me did.  He told me about all the yoga instructors that came to him and in spite of their injuries did not stop doing poses that aggravated them.  This stuck with me enough to peel back my yoga to once a day which was not enough. But the story lingered.

And then I read about how Ganga White hurt himself practicing, and he couldn't practice.  Meaning he couldn't practice in the way he was used to. And then one of his students suggested that he use yoga to fix himself. This was an AHA moment for him.  And for me.

Yoga is meant to be a healing transformative practice.  So I thought, why am I going to physical therapists chiro's and el, so that I can do yoga. Rather I must listen closely to what the practice I love is telling me.

In my mind Power Yoga was yoga and I needed to open my eyes and recognize yoga's core which manifested itself in so many other versions of the practice - Iyengar, Viniyoga, Kundalini, etc.  So many different perspectives on the use of Hatha poses and Kriya's.

So down the rabbit hole I went, and today I am injury free.  And I am still a Power Yogi...just a bit more open minded and less obsessive.  My intellect and ego has learned to treat transitions as a pose and the same duo knows which poses not to do on any given day. They can spot the pose that is not right for me from a mile away.

Is funny how injuries were teaching me yoga's most basic lesson - it does not matter what I look like in a pose, what matters is what my awareness looks like.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What is the lifetime to date performance of our investments?

This is one of many studies that come up with the same conclusion. So the question we must ask ourselves is why do we underperform. We should also consider whether we know what the performance is for the life of our investments, so that we can be clear about what we invest in and why.

Enriching Peoples Lives

"We produce products that give people the ability to do things they couldn't do before.  And in doing so, we helped change things," Apple CEO, Tim Cook

This is what it means to be a successful, sustainable company.  Its all about the intention and the motive.  Once we wake up in the morning with the intention of enriching others lives, we start down the road of long term success, sustainable profit and making world around us a better place for us to be.

We look for companies with this motive. Support them by investing in them and using products.  Benefit by sharing the fruits, and enjoying their services.  And then share this experience.