Tuesday, December 01, 2015


I have had a few passionate discussions with people over the last few days on migration. People have always been migrants. Border passport requirements are a post World War I innovation. The idea of National Borders preventing migration is indistinguishable from Apartheid. By definition. Apartheid means separateness, and is the idea that people are essentially different and we should primarily look after our own. Apartheid is the idea that it is okay to have laws that separate people based on factors such as race, place of birth, gender or whatever you choose to identify people by. 

One of the primary objections to migration is that immigrants 'steal jobs'. That there are a set number of jobs, and if someone enters the economy, they take a job. That is wrong if the person is a positive contributor to society. Every person entering eats, sleeps, gets haircuts, meets up with friends etc. Each person entering grows the economy. Job stealing sounds like common sense. It feels logical and resonates with our in built desire to look out for our own first. It's just wrong if you look at the evidence. Even if other people are suffering, we need to look out for those around us first. Others can sort out their own problems. It is fine if you believe that. Just own it. It's called Apartheid.

Ironically, the lower paid jobs are mobile without immigration. Businesses move factories. They move where they do things. I had a friend who was told recently his job was moving from Cape Town to Johannesburg. He chose not to follow it. Lots of manufacturing jobs have moved east and masses of people have been lifted out of poverty. It is one of the most remarkable features of the last 20 decades. Closed borders benefit the rich more than the poor. They stop the IT executive professional in India moving to America, but they don't stop the call centres being outsourced.

World Economic History - Max Roser

The most comprehensive review of the issues surrounding borders I have found is on the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. There are a lot of big global issues that I have no clue how we are going to fix. People are incredibly creative, resourceful problem solvers when they are allowed to be. We don't need to solve big problems if we empower people to tweak small problems. At the very least, don't stop them from trying because they are different.

There is a path to a better way of doing things. One step is to welcome people who accept the constitutional rule of law, and are looking to be contributory citizens.

Global Citizens.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What Do You Do?

One of my best buddies vetoed my answer to his girlfriend's 'What do you do?'. Another just laughed, and said 'Is that what you are going with?'. All I had said was, 'I am a writer'. The truth is more complicated than that, but it is funny how easy most people find that question to answer even though the truth is more complicated.

In 2011, I started renting an Art Studio at the Wimbledon Art Studios. If renting an art studio makes you an artist, did I stop being an artist four years later when I gave up my studio to tighten up on expenses? Do you have to have sold work? How much? So does that exclude Van Gogh? Do you have to have done formal studies? Then what about the self-taught artists? At what point are you allowed to call yourself something? Another way I have cut back is that I have resigned as an Actuary. No membership fees in exchange for no FIA after my name. Just call me Trev.

Last day in my Art Studio a year ago

In India, most Gurus are self proclaimed. If one person follows you, you are a Guru. In truth, you don't need one person to follow you. If you are the only one who realises you are a Guru, you are. Some like the idea of more formal certification, titles, professional bodies and various other signals. I like the 'Stephen Hawking' idea. I have heard he uses no titles or letters after his name. Admittedly, the guy is so famous his name is a title. Labels give short cuts in an anonymous world.

'What do I do?'. Each day I wake up, preferably without an alarm, and do some reading before I write my blog post for the day. The rest of the day is free. I try to be 'micro-ambitious'. I like the framework I have learnt through Yoga. The five points focus on proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet and thinking. Progress is tiny and incremental. Each day, I try work another ache out of my body and learn something new. I try create space to read and think about the things that matter to people that matter to me. I try make myself available to spend time with people.

I stopped working for a salary about a year and a half ago. I am attempting to let my savings be my breadwinner while I focus on life building. If I spend less than my money makes, then I can keep that up. That is a general rule. If you use less than you put in, what you are doing is sustainable. If you use more, you are a consumer. 'How much is enough' depends on you. It is embarrassing to see how little material stuff the majority of the world's population get by on. The median household income of the rich OECD countries in 2011 was $19,000. Roughly 1.2 Billion people 'live' on less than $1.25/day. That is not enough, but enough is less than you think.

We mostly define ourselves by our work. Answering the question with 'I am retired' got awkward. I don't believe in retirement. I say writer because it is something I do every day. Perhaps I could answer the question, 'I make time'. The friend who laughed at my answer also hasn't figured out his answer. John's project is Unogwaja. He is trying to figure out how to be a partner to people who are trying to do good work. Trying to inspire fun and togetherness as we figure out what it is we need to do. And get on with it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pinch Yourself

I always have to pinch myself when I am in Camps Bay on a beautiful day. It feels like you are trapped in a post card. There are lots of big challenges in the world, and sometimes it is overwhelming. But there are also moments, places, and friends which give you a burst of energy to push on. I met one of my favourite people yesterday. We 'knew' each other through social media, but meeting Brundle live and in the flesh was a tonic. He is one of those positive people who will take any given situation, add some humour, and move forward. One step at a time.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Don't Fall!

Luckily, I don't have any allergies and I don't suffer from debilitating fears. The first lets me go into restaurants, check for the absence of Foie Gras and bank-breaking items, and ask the waiter to order for me with only one rule, 'Don't ask me any questions'. The lack of debilitating fears means I am usually willing to try things. All this hides the fact that I am actually quite risk averse. The one rule I am quite conscious of is 'Don't die through stupidity'.

I do have a sprinkle of fear when it comes to heights. I recently climbed up India Venster with couple of friends. The individual bits wouldn't really be that frightening if they were on the ground. I have just heard stories. I could also see the 'short cut' down. As I was climbing up, I was conscious of the fact that this could be a 'Don't die stupidly moment'. The weather was perfect and my two buddies are machines. I got to the top and the beautiful views. There were definitely moments where I was having to summon my inner donkey. Some stubborn resolve.

My hidden risk aversion is that even though I still climbed, I was thinking about what could go wrong a lot of the time. This is on the edge of what I would do. I am happy to do things that appear risky, but aren't. Many people are very happy investing in property, but not in equity. On the surface the first is always safe, the second is always risky. Most of my marshmallows are working in equity. For me, there are many places where property investment is like climbing India Venster on a rainy day, drunk, and with a friend fond of playing practical jokes that go wrong.

I don't have a job that pays me a salary. I try spend as little as possible. If I can keep my outs less than my ins from marshmallows, then I can sustain a frugal lifestyle of reading, writing, walking and meeting with friends. This may appear really risky! What if you run out of money? What if your marshmallows get eaten by someone else? The truth is, it is not risky at all. I am learning to write as I go. I am meeting people. I can do things. I am learning to do more things. If I need to be useful in a way that pays money in the future, I am sure I can make a plan. For now, I think I have enough. I want more of the stuff you can't pay for. For now, I am happy letting my mini-mes do the bread-winning while I do the life building

You can't avoid risk. You can manage it.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Big On Humanising (with David)

Some things are done better at scale. Often + Same Way + Fixed Costs => Bigger is Better. The Industrial Revolution has been smashing poverty. Internal relative poverty in America gets a lot of coverage, but in Global terms, and with respect to absolute poverty, we are making huge strides. A consequence of bigger is that empathy gets stretched. The big boss can no longer have lunch with, and get to know, each new employee. Individual circumstance and fuzziness get replaced with precedent policy. We spend so much time at work, humanising the time we spend in big organisations is an ongoing challenge.

For all the strides we can make in combating inequality, for the foreseeable future the biggest determinant of quality of life for most people will still be where they are born and who their parents are. It is more complicated and no more complicated than that. Putting people into organisations that are machines will continue to produce the same results. As the machines we have used over the past years follow the easiest path to money, not the potential of the individual. We need organisations that make people count, not count people as units. We are still some way off.

The Labour movement has traditionally been a way of coming together to balance the negotiating power of owners with the solidarity of workers. I suspect the whole way we look at the organisations that decide how people 'count' is about to be turned on its head. Like the music industry. Like media. We need support for individuals outside of companies. Companies are legal 'persons', but they are groups of individuals. Through industrialisation, people may have disappeared inside companies. Perhaps companies are going to be the ones that disappear inside society as the web extends beyond data and into relationships?

There is an argument that can be made that the rise of the self employed is a rise in independence. There is also an argument that it is representative of greater influence of organisations as they shift to more flexible resource bases, less willing to provide individuals with long term job security. It is clear that there is a shift towards greater social consciousness, but how this translates into economic reality is the great unknown of the next few years. It is a sharing economy that currently seems to be still pooling money rather than distributing it. For better or worse.

It is an interesting transition where we get to redefine the rules. We need to learn from other 'free agents' - musicians, sports stars, actors etc. where they work from project to project. It becomes a case of you hiring your boss and your coach. Instead of recruitment agents being a once off deal, a whole new industry of service providers for flexible employees will need to spring up. I think it is empowering. I think it levels the playing field between the employer and the employee. But the number one rule for a strong negotiating position is not to be desperate, and that is were those with a buffer of capital will always have an advantage. Unless we help provide those buffers for each other.

Maybe we won't have a big boss getting around every new starter for lunch, but creating organisations that care about people is still possible. It's no naïve ambition to hope that the contribution organisation make can be richer than just profit or wealth creation - what about community building and social improvement? Start with an assumption of solving for potential mutual benefit for the employees and the organisation, then there are opportunities to reframe profit vs people as a false choice. Indeed profit vs people can be seen as a shallow and unhelpful choice. Profit through and for people is possible.

I think we are on the cusp of a redefinition of what a company is. Traditionally we have worked in a company as a means to an end. If you are really lucky, you get the right mix of doing what you love, what you are good at, and what is well remunerated. I think most people end up doing whatever they can. It would be interesting if some companies started springing up where the primary goal is the top bit of Maslow's hierarchy. There are definitely companies that are great at both profit and people. But what happens when people start life hacking as groups? When they get together to work towards non-financial goals as the main thing they do. The world beyond work. Perhaps it isn't that the boss won't have time for lunch. Perhaps it is just that there won't be a boss?

Ah, the end of the boss. It's a lovely notion that speaks to our need for autonomy, but there's a reason the Lord of the Flies still has resonance after all this time. We want structure, support and direction as well as space, empowerment and freedom of choice. We want the security of Megacorp with the excitement of Entrepreneur.com. Most organisations exist to work towards financial goals or are heavily focused on them - they serve consumer need, an end intertwined with the worker's intent. Money talks or sleeps - it still dictates purchasing power and our choices. That ain't changing soon.

All advice is autobiographical I guess. And I don't like the idea of a boss or of anything being dictated! The rules until you have enough are also different from when enough is a safety net from which you explore. Enough is less than we think. Money talks in a world of material scarcity. Money is worthless in a world of abundance. Until you have the ability to walk away, you have to put up with certain things. I like the idea of a world in which structure, support, direction, space, empowerment, and choice all come from us working together rather than below or above each other. Scale is awesome at solving huge vanilla problems. The flavour comes in the tiny morsels that connect people.

There's an important distinction - whether organisations need to lose 'bosses' or need a new generation of bosses who aren't there to dictate, but to support. There is little doubt that at least some of the frustration from people around the '1%' is that they simply aren't in it. Just enough is less than we think, but that still doesn't stop people seeking more. Society may improve if we sought more health, enrichment and happiness - but as long as we see money as a measure of success, the structures that circulate and attract it are worthwhile places to improve conditions.

--- David's first guest post was 'Buffet, Batman & Scorecards' ---
Follow David on Twitter @DDS180

More Than Everything

Contradictory things are sometimes true. Preferences aren't always consistent. What we want is fuzzy. The Pale Blue Dot picture of earth was taken from more than 4 billion miles away. All we have done in less than a pixel. What we do doesn't matter. And yet, what we do is the only thing that matters. 

'All of human history has happened on that tiny pixel' Carl Sagan

The ability to take what you do very seriously, while at the same time having perspective seems contradictory. I am at my very worst when I am desperate. From a logical perspective, you never want to be desperate. If you can't walk away from something, there is nothing you won't give to have it. Not because it is worth more than everything else. Nothing is ever worth more than everything else. But logic stops when you are desperate. You don't sit back and in a calm fashion figure out what everything is worth to you, what you prefer, and make a choice.

The heart of addiction. Momentary desperation which halts the ability to walk away. An intoxication that destroys your ability to value anything else. Nothing, however true, however important, is worth sucking all your energy away. Holding back allows you to give more. Allowing time, allows you to give more. Laughing. Listening. Relaxing. Space, allows you to give more.

Nothing matters more than everything. Which is why everything matters.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Want To Carrot

Some colleagues and I used to play 5-a-side Football once a week and then grab a beer afterwards. A few years back, I can remember a discussion with Tom and Matt about what we would do if we won the lottery. Ironically, having a lot of money can be very complicated. Lottery winners get this complication thrust on them. 'Old Money' build the skill over generations, unless a generation blow it and the next bunch start from scratch. In 'David & Goliath', Malcolm Gladwell talks about how there seems to be a Purple Patch of wealth. Not so little that you don't have enough, and so money is a stress, and not so much that money becomes a stress. 

People who are loaded face a whole bunch of velvet problems. It may be that they start to have a number of people who are financially dependent on them. We moan about concepts like universal salaries and how they could potentially make people lazy. Vox recently covered research on 7 welfare programs to see if they made people lazy. They didn't. The uber wealthy have been dealing with this for a while. When you don't have to work for money, what do you do? 'Work for work's sake' is argued as a way of keeping people busy to keep them out of mischief. But if you know the work is effectively just killing time, and you are just a place holder... that isn't particularly fulfilling work. It is dehumanising. 

The Uber wealthy also have to deal with problems of excess. Although I was by no means poor growing up, there were plenty of occasions when my parents said No. I knew they weren't saying No just because they were trying to teach me a lesson. They were saying No because they didn't have the option of saying Yes. Wealthy parents need to put artificial boundaries in place if they want to teach kids lessons. Kids can sniff out artificiality. Hardship is often a great teacher. Comfort is often a trap.

So many people say that if they won the Lottery, they would keep it secret. Tom, Matt and I all agreed we would keep ours jobs. We would slowly tweak our lifestyle with some small changes, but nothing too drastic. We would add space. The only real change would be a mental reframing of our choices. There would be a feeling like we were doing what were doing 'because we want to' not because we have to. 

'Have to' is a stick. 'Want to' is a carrot. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Half-hearted Fanatic

John likes to give me grief for not speaking more often about controversial topics on my blog. Stuart doesn't think my, or anyone's, opinions are important. Phil suggests you need to really get in touch with your own identity first, and deal with your specific flavour of rubbish before you can help anyone. Sindile and Brett are happy to get stuck full throttle into taboo topics. Gemma has given me various books to rethink my framework of how I think. So, to answer John... my Pregnant Silence on really difficult issues is because there are heaps of really smart people who think I am flat out wrong on the tiny slice of issues I think I know a little about. One of the things I think is that we aren't actually biologically capable of wrapping our head round some issues.

I see the point of striking out with strong opinions. Then detaching and joining the attack on your own ideas. The problem is, it does tend to alienate people. A lot of writing is purposefully aggressive rather than constructive because writers are trying to spark fires and be punchy. If you read a strongly worded opinion, the chances are you either almost agree with it already, or it pushes you further away. The advantage of actual, in-person, conversation is that you have context. You opinion gets flavoured by a discussion. You say one point. You listen. You ask. You build on each others thoughts. You earn the right to be critical by proving first that you are on the same side. You play Ping Pong. Quite often in more public platforms, we just launch into gazillion point diatribes laced with vitriol and a small dollop of 'why is everyone else so stupid?'.

Twitter, for example, is structured to be conversational. Yet lots of people still use it as a broadcast mechanism for their opinions. There isn't a lot of teasing out of ideas.

But... for you John, I'll go there. Yes, I do think the 'Pregnant Silence' you talk of is a huge issue. I keep an eye on the World Population Clock, but it would be useful if the 21 Billion Chickens, 1 Billion Pigs, and 1.5 Billion Cattle were added to that. I have been slowly trying to tweak my diet and learn more vegetarian dishes. But I have been doing Yoga for 6 years, have lots of Vegan or Vegetarian friends, and guys like you making me watch movies which show things I can't unsee. Still, I have found cutting meat out of my diet near impossible. I am convinced by the intellectual and emotional issues... primarily around Factory Farming and Environmental Sustainability. Most people haven't even started that journey and aren't surrounded by those types of friends. We have to be those friends.

I am more a Pragmatist than a Crusader. As our buddy Galeo described it... a 'halfhearted fanatic'. I don't think it is that relevant if I change my behaviour, but alienate a bunch of people in the process. I think we need to act in a Theatre Sport fashion. Build on what people already think. Don't try convince people with logic. Don't wait for an argument you know will be weak. Don't be depressed by Pregnant Silences when people feel overwhelmed by daunting challenges they have no desire to think about, or knowledge of how to respond to. We all only have a certain amount of energy, and tend to focus on our own pet projects.

I reckon the way you are doing it is spot on. Cutting out the Full Chicken meal at Nandos that you used to love, because the thing you really loved was the inappropriate conversations you had while eating like a caveman. Cavemen also ates roots. Learning to cook incredibly tasty food that just happens to include no meat. Sharing recipes with friends. There is a tipping point. The more restaurants offer awesome alternatives, and the more we can cook mouthwatering (and sustainable) plant based meals, the easier it becomes to cut meat out. I think it is going to feel like we are making no progress, and then the dams will burst. Boom baby.

A Medieval Attachment to Meat

People were panicking about the human population explosion in the 1970s. But the Green Revolution saved millions of lives. We are smart, innovative bags of meat and bones. We will figure out how to solve this problem. One less Chicken at a time.