Back in December 2014 I received one of the best gifts I could have ever imagined from my team. They gave me a gift card to KIVA. If you are not familiar with Kiva, it is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Kiva does this by leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of micro-finance institutions, allowing individuals to lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Since Kiva was founded in 2005 here are some statistics that give you a sense of their scale:
- 1,255,618 Kiva lenders
- $666,141,075 in loans
- 98.79% repayment rate
- 100% of every dollar is loaned out
- 289 Field Partners
- 0% is charged in interest to the Field Partners (loan administer)
- 450 volunteers around the world
- 85 different countries
Kiva in essence envision a world where all people – even in the most remote areas of the globe – hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others. They do this by providing safe, affordable access to capital to those in need which helps people create better lives for themselves and their families.
This is a good example of where giving has multiple benefits, and where it helps to create sustainability and growth for individuals, economies and societies.
So this evening, I selected four different loan programs to allocate the resources I received. Each of these individuals and groups are quite courageous in their endeavors. While there are many strategies and approaches, I focused my loans:
1) on growing a business – as that is a way to create long term sustainability
2) on organizations that provide entrepreneurial support to the borrowers – as that is key to business growth
3) on vulnerable groups in vulnerable areas – the definition of underserved by any measure and
4) on Field Partner organizations that help educate the borrowers on finances and savings.
I am looking forward to following the progress, individual efforts and the program overall. This was by far one of the most thoughtful, beautiful and best gifts I could have ever received. Helping others in a way that is empowering and encouraging of so many skills is gratifying. While I loaned a gift this evening to four groups of individuals, I received something far greater in return. The more I gave this evening the more fulfilled and excited I became. My team and I are helping others fulfill their dreams for their families, their communities and themselves. And with a 98.79% repayment rate, the cycle will start all over again. How wonderful is that!
So to my team – Thank you for your generosity and creativeness in finding such a wonderful program. I pray these individuals receive all of life’s blessings…good health, good fortune and the ability to create the world they imagine full of endless possibilities.
I have been asked to participate in a panel discussion on Career Advice I wish I had Known Earlier On. I am looking forward to this panel discussion. I will share the results of the session and post my thoughts on the subject after the meeting (it is being held in early March 2015, so stay tuned!).
In the meantime, here is a short video on the subject of Career Advice and areas to focus on. I am in total agreement with the speaker and it is the focus of my mentor sessions I have conducted over the last five years. Take a listen, I would be interested if you had an ah-ha moment?
With so much change occurring: Heighten Globalization, Technology Disruptions, Economic Deleveraging, Improved Longevity, and Geo Political Shifts, it is important to be highly aware of our environments including the businesses we work in, the communities we live in and the societies we are a part of.
If we just focus on understanding the business environment we live and operate in, you will see having a broad and deep perspective of the business, strategic and competitive landscapes will give you a significant and sustainable advantage. You will see the shifts before they occur, you will help prepare for the changes that are coming and you will help your leadership execute on the strategy.
So be resilient. Be aware, informed, and be flexible to handle any future. This means being aware and informed of your business is the necessary first step to become resilient, contributing and around for the long term.
This page is dedicated to developing a Full Financial Body of Knowledge (BOK) from a business and personal financial planning perspective. This page is geared for Millennials and all others that want to learn and expand their financial knowledge. The approach will be -comprehensive, -critical thinking in nature and contrarian (at times) in comparison to what mainstream media and other blogging sites might offer.
The goal: Let’s get to second level thinking…that higher order of thinking that transcends the current financial product and service offerings and rather helps people build up their financial critical thinking skills so they can apply them to any new economic situation over the next 50 plus years of their life….that is right I am talking about something long-term and sustainable.
Why am I doing this? Well, frankly I have been working in the areas for years and I have been having this personal conversation on how I can give value back to others, to society and how can I make a difference. Today, I mentor others on professional leadership development and I find it extremely rewarding. So, here is a way I can take what I know professionally (business strategic financial planning, leadership development, professional development) along with my personal experience managing my own financials and investments to help others.
I look forward to the opportunities and challenges this will bring and in the end if we can collectively create exponential growth on this subject…this economic-, social- and political-subject, then our success will be our nation’s success….and I definitely believe that is worth doing!
-Rachel C. Ybarra 1/1/2015
Ray Dalio, the largest Hedge Fund Manager of Bridgewater Associates with over $165B under management, has come to the conclusion that it is important to share his framework on macro economics. He has put together a great 30 minute animated video that is simple yet smart. His approach is based on an understanding of how the economy works. If you agree with his approach, you will find out that economics can be simpler than we may have thought and therefore more transparent and less opaque.
This weekend I finished reading Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future which debuted this past week. It was a great read utilizing interesting methods to deliver his message whether philosophical, Shakespearian or contrarian. I would recommend folks reads it and consider the messages being delivered. Interestingly, I found several of Thiel’s messages to be consistent with those espoused by value investors such as Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger which was quite fascinating given that value investors and venture capital guys are not considered to run in similar circles.
What became evident in my observations are the views and thoughts of Thiel are similar to Buffett/Munger while the delivery is far different between the sets of individuals. What that tells me is that Thiel is right, there are not a lot of things most people do not know. Those original discoveries are harder to harvest and require a lot of research and development. However what is most fascinating and original is how Thiel delivered his messages in quite an intellectual and complex way that on the surface makes the views seem more unique and original.
Below are some comparisons I noticed which I think speaks to the universality of the topics by two very different sets of individuals and their invest “styles”.
|Monopolies||Thiel suggests monopolies are good for businesses to gain earnings power. Perhaps good for society if earnings are reinvested to produce “zero to one” and therefore valuable products and services.||Buffett suggests investing in companies with Wide-Moats, large Barriers to Entry, large Economies of Scale and where regulatory or government limits the licensing of businesses and therefore new entrants. These are analogous to what Thiel more blatantly calls monopolies.|
|Competition||Competition is not good for businesses as companies in essence fight their way down to zero earnings. Management’s attention is removed from creating true differentiation and new categories of products and services.||Growth is extremely hard to predict and therefore should not have much value when estimating a value of a business. The higher the growth in a sector the greater the possibility of new entrants which will increase competition and reduce earnings and margins. Therefore when valuing companies, little to no value should be placed on growth. At the end of the day, it is hard to know which companies will survive the competition.|
|Diversification||Unlike other venture funds, Thiel focusing on selecting few venture investments and selecting only those that he believes have the potential to return 100% of the total fund investment (not just the single venture investment). The size of the position has to be significant enough that an outsized return will in fact have an outsized impact on the total fund.||While diversification is known as a measure to reduce risk, Buffett has claimed if you were only given 20 investments to make in your entire life, you would be extremely selective of those investments through significant independent research and due diligence. Thiel suggests the same thing looking for zero to one businesses and not incremental businesses when making his selection.|
|Incrementalism||The real value is creating something from nothing. Creating the Nth of something is really incrementalism. Growth through globalization is incrementalism at its core.||One of Munger’s great lines is “efficiency is lack of imagination”. Efficiency and incrementalism I think go hand in hand and it is true that it is the lack of imagination of something new and not experienced previously.|
|Founder and Team Selection||Selecting people you would enjoy working with and who have similar intellectual curiosity, mathematical skills, etc. will help to create a sustaining work environment filled with long hours. This really speaks to the culture at its core which is critical to the startup strategy.||Buffett selects companies with good management in place and are well run. While he has recently ventured into turnarounds via his partnership with 3G, generally speaking he is about good management and solid companies. By way of example, you can see his recent re-affirmations with Benjamin Mooring’s independent dealers as an example of his commitment to cultivating a strong culture that is collaborative and not antagonistic.|
|Long Term View||According to Thiel, long-term planning is often undervalued by people’s indefinite short-term world. There are 10 references to long-term planning and thinking in his book. The longer term the view, the more focused individuals will be on long-term challenges and opportunities of a business.||Buffet’s investment strategy is a long-term owner of businesses so market gyrations do not impact his decision. As well, Buffett is a big proponent of allocating capital to its best and highest use. Taking a long-term view of where to allocate capital evident via his purchase of Burlington Northern and NV Energy which were bought during down periods when others did not see the longer term prospects in these two sectors.|
I think there are several ways to be success in business and I do not agree 100% with Thiel’s views on topics such as equity compensation, homogenous teams, etc. However as he likes to say in his talks, there are nuances and I find that true when it comes to equity compensation and homogenous teams. It’s those nuances that make the discussion interesting.
Computerworld broke this week that IBM recently distributed a letter to a select group of IBM employees. According to Computerworld, a copy of the Sept. 12 memo was sent to IBM employees in its Global Technology Services strategic outsourcing group. The memo sent to affected employees opens by telling the impacted employees that an assessment has revealed “that some managers and employees have not kept pace with acquiring the skills and expertise needed to address changing client needs, technology and market requirements.”
The counter response by an unnamed employee: “I have spent the whole of 2014 improving my skills and my manager has reviewed and approved my ‘skills Update.’ I have received recognition this year for sharing my expertise and offered to be a mentor when asked. So just where are my skills lacking?”
I think this speaks to employees, managers and leaders having a common understanding of the skills required to stay relevant. More importantly this further supports the importance of Life Long Learning and the importance of being interested in learning and growing. At the end of the day, the more you know and can contribute, the more value you create for others, yourself and society.
Catch the full article at Computerworld.
I recently read a Harvard Business Review article: The Best Leaders are Insatiable Learners. The author, Bill Taylor, discusses one of the more revered and read speeches of John Gardner and the importance of constantly learning, growing and renewing yourself. If you are not familiar with Gardner, you are in for a treat once you do some research. At a high level, John Gardner was a legend, an intellect and civic reformer. He was a well-known Standard University Professor, an architect of the Great Society under President Lydon Johnson, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, founder of the White House Fellowship and The John Gardner Fellowship programs, and he was the founder of Common Cause and Independent Sector. Gardner died in 2002 at the age of 89. In 2012, Standford University held a 100 year anniversary on his birth with a panel of leaders discussing the impact Gardner had on society and their personal lives.
The HBR article was great and I would encourage you to read it. It is a challenge to each of us as leaders to constantly push ourselves to learn and grow. However, if you are limited on time and can only read one article, read the classic speech Gardner gave on November 10, 1990, to a group of McKinsey & Co. leaders. This powerful speech was called “Personal Renewal,” the urgent need for leaders who wish to be impactful and effective to commit themselves to continuous learning and growing. It was based on his 1964 book Self-Renewal. What impresses me is how relevant the concepts are today as they were 24 years ago when that speech was given or even 50 years ago when the original book was written. Cheers to leadership and to the concept of constantly learning and growing!
Speech Delivered to McKinsey & Company, Phoenix, AZ
By: John Gardner
November 10, 1990
I’m going to talk about “Self-Renewal.” One of your most fundamental tasks is the renewal of the organizations you serve, and that usually includes persuading the top officers to accomplish a certain amount of self-renewal. But to help you think about others is not my primary mission this morning. I want to help you think about yourselves.
I take that mission very seriously, and I’ve written out what I have to say because I want every sentence to hit its target. I know a good deal about the kind of work you do and know how demanding it is. But I’m not going to talk about the special problems of your kind of career; I’m going to talk about some basic problems of the life cycle that will surely hit you if you’re not ready for them.
I once wrote a book called “Self-Renewal” that deals with the decay and renewal of societies, organizations and individuals. I explored the question of why civilizations die and how they sometimes renew themselves, and the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives. It’s the latter question that I shall deal with at this time. I know that you as an individual are not going to seed. But the person seated on your right may be in fairly serious danger.
Not long ago, I read a splendid article on barnacles. I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the focus of my reading interests. Sometimes days go by without my reading about barnacles, much less remembering what I read. But this article had an unforgettable opening paragraph. “The barnacle” the author explained “is confronted with an existential decision about where it’s going to live. Once it decides.. . it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock..” End of quote. For a good many of us, it comes to that.
We’ve all seen men and women, even ones in fortunate circumstances with responsible positions who seem to run out of steam in mid-career.
One must be compassionate in assessing the reasons. Perhaps life just presented them with tougher problems than they could solve. It happens. Perhaps something inflicted a major wound on their confidence or their self-esteem. Perhaps they were pulled down by the hidden resentments and grievances that grow in adult life, sometimes so luxuriantly that, like tangled vines, they immobilize the victim. You’ve known such people — feeling secretly defeated, maybe somewhat sour and cynical, or perhaps just vaguely dispirited. Or maybe they just ran so hard for so long that somewhere along the line they forgot what it was they were running for.
I’m not talking about people who fail to get to the top in achievement. We can’t all get to the top, and that isn’t the point of life anyway. I’m talking about people who — no matter how busy they seem to be — have stopped learning or growing. Many of them are just going through the motions. I don’t deride that. Life is hard. Just to keep on keeping on is sometimes an act of courage. But I do worry about men and women functioning far below the level of their potential.
We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day “How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?” And I said “Let me count the ways.” Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that’s true I know some very busy middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.
We can’t write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions. Look around you. How many people whom you know well — people even younger than yourselves –are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits. A famous French writer said “There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.” I could without any trouble name a half of a dozen national figures resident in Washington, D.C., whom you would recognize, and could tell you roughly the year their clock stopped. I won’t do it because I still have to deal with them periodically.
I’ve watched a lot of mid-career people, and Yogi Berra says you can observe a lot just by watching. I’ve concluded that most people enjoy learning and growing. And many are dearly troubled by the self-assessments of mid-career.
Such self-assessments are no great problem at your age. You’re young and moving up. The drama of your own rise is enough. But when you reach middle age, when your energies aren’t what they used to be, then you’ll begin to wonder what it all added up to; you’ll begin to look for the figure in the carpet of your life. I have some simple advice for you when you begin that process. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look ahead. Someone said that “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” And above all don’t imagine that the story is over. Life has a lot of chapters.
If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures. At almost any age. You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically. I know some pretty successful people who feel that that just isn’t possible for them, that life has trapped them. But they don’t really know that. Life takes unexpected turns.
I said in my book, “Self-Renewal,” that we build our own prisons and serve as our own jail-keepers. I no longer completely agree with that. I still think we’re our own jail-keepers, but I’ve concluded that our parents and the society at large have a hand in building our prisons. They create roles for us — and self images — that hold us captive for a long time. The individual intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past — the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause. Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure — but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable. As Jim Whitaker, who climbed Mount Everest, said “You never conquer the mountain, You only conquer yourself.”
The more I see of human lives, the more I believe the business of growing up is much longer drawn out than we pretend. If we achieve it in our 30’s, even our 40s, we’re doing well. To those of you who are parents of teenagers, I can only say “Sorry about that.”
There’s a myth that learning is for young people. But as the proverb says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” The middle years are great, great learning years. Even the years past the middle years. I took on a new job after my 77th birthday — and I’m still learning.
Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask “What is it trying to teach me?” The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.
We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.
The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You leant not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.
You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.
Those are things that are hard to learn early in life, As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As Norman Douglas said “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.’
You come to terms with yourself. You finally grasp what S. N. Behrman meant when he said “At the end of every road you meet yourself.” You may not get rid of all of your hang-ups, but you learn to control them to the point that you can function productively and not hurt others.
You learn the arts of mutual dependence, meeting the needs of loved ones and letting yourself need them. You can even be unaffected — a quality that often takes years to acquire. You can achieve the simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.
You come to understand your impact on others. It’s interesting that even in the first year of life you learn the impact that a variety of others have on you, but as late as middle age many people have a very imperfect understanding of the impact they themselves have on others. The hostile person keeps asking ‘Why are people so hard to get along with?” In some measure we create our own environment. You may not yet grasp the power of that truth to change your life.
Of course failures are a part of the story too. Everyone fails, Joe Louis said “Everyone has to figure to get beat some time.” The question isn’t did you fail but did you pick yourself up and move ahead? And there is one other little question: ‘Did you collaborate in your own defeat?” A lot of people do. Learn not to.
One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of concrete, describable goal toward which all of our efforts drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.
So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. When you get to the top you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty.
You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain.
But life isn’t a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it — as some suppose — a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.
Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.
Perhaps you imagine that by age 35 or 45 or even 33 you have explored those potentialities pretty fully. Don’t kid yourself!
The thing you have to understand is that the capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life’s challenges –and the challenges keep changing. Life pulls things out of you.
There’s something I know about you that you may or may not know about yourself. You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.
You know about some of the gifts that you have left undeveloped. Would you believe that you have gifts and possibilities you don’t even know about? It’s true. We are just beginning to recognize how even those who have had every advantage and opportunity unconsciously put a ceiling on their own growth, underestimate their potentialities or hide from the risk that growth involves.
Now I’ve discussed renewal at some length, but it isn’t possible to talk about renewal without touching on the subject of motivation. Someone defined horse sense as the good judgment horses have that prevents them from betting on people. But we have to bet on people — and I place my bets more often on high motivation than on any other quality except judgment. There is no perfection of techniques that will substitute for the lift of spirit and heightened performance that comes from strong motivation, The world is moved by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.
I’m not talking about anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die. If I may offer you a simple maxim, “Be interesting,” Everyone wants to be interesting — but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.
The nature of one’s personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal, so let me say a word on that subject.
I once lived in a house where I could look out a window as I worked at my desk and observe a small herd of cattle browsing in a neighboring field. And I was struck with a thought that must have occurred to the earliest herdsmen tens of thousands of years ago. You never get the impression that a cow is about to have a nervous breakdown. Or is puzzling about the meaning of life.
Humans have never mastered that kind of complacency. We are worriers and puzzlers, and we want meaning in our lives. I’m not speaking idealistically; I’m stating a plainly observable fact about men and women. It’s a rare person who can go through life-like a homeless alley cat, living from day-to-day, taking its pleasures where it can and dying unnoticed.
That isn’t to say that we haven’t all known a few alley cats. But it isn’t the norm. It just isn’t the way we’re built.
As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Old or young, we’re on our last cruise.” We want it to mean something.
For many this life is a vale of tears; for no one is it free of pain. But we are so designed that we can cope with it if we can live in some context of meaning. Given that powerful help, we can draw on the deep springs of the human spirit, to see our suffering in the framework of all human suffering, to accept the gifts of life with thanks and endure life’s indignities with dignity.
In the stable periods of history, meaning was supplied in the context of a coherent communities and traditionally prescribed patterns of culture. Today you can’t count on any such heritage. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments — whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life’s work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Young people run around searching for identity, but it isn’t handed out free any more — not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.
It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you’re doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are –and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they’re behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.
I must pause to say a word about my statement “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” I first wrote the sentence some years ago and it has been widely quoted. One day I was looking through a mail order gift catalogue and it included some small ornamental bronze plaques with brief sayings on them, and one of the sayings was the one I just read to you, with my name as author. Well I was so overcome by the idea of a sentence of mine being cast in bronze that I ordered it, but then couldn’t figure out what in the world to do with it. I finally sent it to a friend.
We tend to think of youth and the active middle years as the years of commitment. As you get a little older, you’re told you’ve earned the right to think about yourself. But that’s a deadly prescription! People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.
Another significant ingredient in motivation is one’s attitude toward the future. Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said “Pessimists got that way by financing optimists.” But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be. As the fellow said, “I’d be a pessimist but it would never work.”
I can tell you that for renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall,
But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don’t need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy, it’s tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said “I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly — that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.
We cannot dream of a Utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous — an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory.
Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle — endless and of uncertain outcome — isn’t more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.
Remember I mentioned earlier the myth that learning is for young people. I want to give you some examples, In a piece I wrote for Reader’s Digest not long ago, I gave what seemed to me a particularly interesting true example of renewal. The man in question was 53 years old. Most of his adult life had been a losing struggle against debt and misfortune. In military service he received a battlefield injury that denied him the use of his left arm. And he was seized and held in captivity for five years. Later he held two government jobs, succeeding at neither. At 53 he was in prison — and not for the first time. There in prison, he decided to write a book, driven by Heaven knows what motive — boredom, the hope of gain, emotional release, creative impulse, who can say? And the book turned out to be one of the greatest ever written, a book that has enthralled the world for ever 350 years. The prisoner was Cervantes; the book: Don Quixote.
Another example was Pope John XXIII, a serious man who found a lot to laugh about. The son of peasant farmers, he once said “In Italy there are three roads to poverty — drinking, gambling and fanning. My family chose the slowest of the three.” When someone asked him how many people worked in the Vatican he said “Oh, about half.” He was 76 years old when he was elected Pope. Through a lifetime in the bureaucracy, the spark of spirit and imagination had remained undimmed, and when he reached the top he launched the most vigorous renewal that the Church has known in this century.
Still another example is Winston Churchill. At age 25, as a correspondent in the Boer War he became a prisoner of war and his dramatic escape made him a national hero. Elected to Parliament at 26, he performed brilliantly, held high cabinet posts with distinction and at 37 became First Lord of the Admiralty. Then he was discredited, unjustly, I believe, by the Dardanelles expedition — the defeat at Gallipoli– and lost his admiralty post. There followed 24 years of ups and downs. All too often the verdict on him was “Brilliant but erratic…not steady, not dependable.” He had only himself to blame. A friend described him as a man who jaywalked through life. He was 66 before his moment of flowering came. Someone said “It’s all right to be a late bloomer if you don’t miss the flower show.” Churchill didn’t miss it.
Well, I won’t give you any more examples. From those I’ve given I hope it’s clear to you that the door of opportunity doesn’t really close as long as you’re reasonably healthy. And I don’t just mean opportunity for high status, but opportunity to grow and enrich your life in every dimension. You just don’t know what’s ahead for you. And remember the words on the bronze plaque “Some men and women make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” To be that kind of person would be worth all the years of living and learning.
Many years ago I concluded a speech with a paragraph on the meaning in life. The speech was reprinted over the years, and 15 years later that final paragraph came back to me in a rather dramatic way, really a heartbreaking way.
A man wrote to me from Colorado saying that his 20 year-old daughter had been killed in an auto accident some weeks before and that she was carrying in her billfold a paragraph from a speech of mine. He said he was grateful because the paragraph — and the fact that she kept it close to her — told him something he might not otherwise have known about her values and concerns. I can’t imagine where or how she came across the paragraph, but here it is:
“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”
Tomorrow marks the 40th Anniversary of The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) that was enacted on September 2, 1974. The history behind ERISA is quite interesting. At that time pensions were popular yet there was not a lot of rules in place and enough situations occurred that required legislation to be enacted. Back then, it was thought that between pensions, social security and personal savings, this three legs of a stool would be enough to fund a person’s retirement. Today, we know that pensions have diminished with only 20% of employees in the private sector having a pension. Social security obligations are becoming more challenged with the Social Security Administration estimating the program can pay all promised benefits until 2033 after which point the reserves will be depleted and on going social security payroll taxes will only cover 77% of benefits. Couple these two with the fact that individuals do not save enough either because they do not have the means, the know-how or I would dare to say the discipline you can see that individual action is needed. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that our nation’s “retirement income deficit” – the gap between the pension and retirement savings that American households have today versus what they should have today to maintain their standard of living in retirement – is $6.6 Trillion Dollars. Yikes!
So this message is not for the several millions of Americans with income that is barely able to meet the demands of the basic living standards. I am really addressing the folks who do have the means but maybe not the know-how or the discipline. With some small changes in spending and saving habits, results will happen and that will create momentum to continue making even bigger changes. That is how we close the gap….smalls steps at a time.
Check out my first infographic on the subject:
I host a series of mentor sessions, which I truly enjoy. It gives me an opportunity to share great materials and learn from the mentees. For this week’s session, I had the team read “The Seven Traits for Effective Digital Enterprises” by Tunde Olanrewju, Kate Smaje and Paul Willmott of McKinsey.
Some take a ways from the article that all employees, managers, owners and CEO’s can apply:
Be Unreasonably Aspirational – we are expected to think differently. Utilize what makes us unique and really take it all the way to the edge. Make those around you feel nervous with your forward leaning recommendations.
Challenge Everything – Ask WHY again and again. The further you are removed from the process, the easier it is to see the obvious.
Create a Zero-Based Budget, which aligns the resources with the values and strategies to be accomplished. Invest across the value chain. If you are not employing Zero-Based budget methodologies, I would say get with it. The longer your organization has been alive, the bigger the opportunity to yield funds which can be reallocated to higher value solutions.
The Article is a quick read: The Seven Traits of Effective Digital Enterprises