Your Next 10-K

 

 

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I recently graduated from business school.  Like any good education, it teaches you more about what you DON’T know than what you do. Ultimately it’s merely enabled me to ask more interesting questions.

Now, more “interesting” is in the eye of the beholder, but just like learning a new language, education, especially one specializing in a certain field like business, gives you access to a new vocabulary.  This new vocabulary in turn enables new ways to describe and interpolate the environment.

So in this vein I wanted to talk about my life’s “10K”.

A 10K in the business world is actually the filing that every public company must provide to the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission).  It is, in a nutshell, everything an investor would supposedly need to know before buying or selling stock in the company.

If you’ve never read a 10-K, you should do it at least once. Aside from the detailed financials, they can be pretty fascinating reads.  They will cover the company’s core businesses.  How it performed this past year.  What challenges/successes they had and what the leadership is planning to do about those challenges.

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Pick a public company that you patronize (with money and/or sarcasm) and check it out.   For instance, did you know that iPad and iPhone sales DWARF all Mac sales for Apple?  About 5 times worth – at least in 2012.  It will probably even be more drastic in 2013.  Or that Coca-Cola shipped 27.7 Billion units of what amounts to mostly sugar-water around the world?  Or that they have a coffee brand in Japan named Georgia, which I actually drank religiously, without knowing it was a Coke product, while I lived there.  Also Kyle McLachlan gives it the David Lynch thumbs up, so it must be awesome.

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A lot of the news articles you see posted about different companies’ health and outlook come directly from reading these annual (10-K) and quarterly (10-Q) reports.  Often, so called “analysts” do nothing more than repeat what is said in the report with little to no insight.   By no means am I suggesting that everyone divert time from their Game of Thrones episodes to read a dry, if interesting, 10-K.  But, especially if you have any interest in investing, reading these reports will put you on par with many of the “experts” who try to sway you about a company’s relative health or seemingly imminent demise.   It will also increase your BS-O-Meter when someone tries to impress you with their business or investment acumen.  Don’t let them get away with it!

But I digress.  I bring up the 10-K for 2 reasons.

The first is that after looking at these for awhile, I started to see how useful this process could be for my own life.  Evaluating every year anew, acting like I’m going to have to JUSTIFY the time I spent to my shareholders (i.e. my co-workers, family, and friends) puts a lot more importance to the decisions I make throughout the year.  A 10-K holds COMPANIES accountable for what they do throughout the year.  A personal 10-K holds ME accountable for how I’ve lived my life.  How am I going to feel if that report mostly involves Angry Birds, eating fast food,  and watching worthless TV shows and movies?  I’m not saying that doing any of those things is wrong or bad, but when I look at the things that I’ve actually accomplished that have had a real impact on the people in my life, those things may not be the best ways to spend my time.

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This brings me to my second reason for bringing up the 10-K.  It just so happens that I recently listened to the much lauded/criticized Malcom Gladwell book, Outliers.  He brings up a somewhat controversial topic that after a certain “threshold”, the only difference between the “good” and “great” people in any field is practice.  Specifically, at about 10,000 hours (or 10K) of practice is when he and a few other researchers start to see fantastic accomplishments emerge.  He uses Bill Joy, one of the founders of the internet, Bill Gates, whom you probably know already, and even the Beatles to illustrate this point.   Now, some of his evidence in the book is anecdotal and susceptible to interpretation and legitimate criticism, but I think Gladwell does a great job at taking common “truths” about the world and people and giving us a different perspective on how genius and greatness might actually work.  He acknowledges that all these people are special, but he also wants us to ponder that timing, culture, and practice played an equally important role in their successes.  Because they had developed a certain expertise before others, when opportunities presented themselves they were able to take advantage of them.

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What I took from his book is not that 10,000 hours of focused practice is the Holy Grail number to become wildly successful, but that reaching for that expertise is a clear indication of you separating yourself from your peers.  If his number is to believed, this breaks down to about 20 hours a week for about 10 years.   Looking at life in this way is an interesting exercise and one I encourage you to try on, if just for the novelty of it. 

For me it looked like this.  10K hours is a lot of time.  There are only so many hours in a day and so many years in a lifetime.  There is literally no TIME to learn them all.  So I really have to CHOOSE.  What do I want to be an expert at?  What kind of opportunities do I want to be prepared for when they present themselves?  My answers to these questions are not iron clad and still a little rough, but here they are anyway.

  1. I would like to be considered a “pro” by the USTA (US Tennis Association) – not because I want to compete in the US Open (but wouldn’t that be awesome?!) but because it’s a sport I love and I have some talent that I’ve never fully realized.
  2. I want to eventually become a writer (which outlets like this blog help give me the practice and feedback necessary to realize that goal)
  3. I want to position myself to capitalize on the next great paradigm shifts that will come to society through the dramatic changes wrought by technologies like AI, bio-engineering etc..

These are goals outside of being the best son, brother, husband, father and friend that I can be – all seemingly full-time jobs.  However, it does start to focus the mind on what ultimately I find important and how little time there is to accomplish these things – especially without a plan.  A life spent in pursuit of excellence is one well spent in my opinion.  Now that I have another novel way to look at how to get there, I can schedule and figure out a way to make that happen.  I may even schedule an annual report, of sorts, with all my stakeholders, so that they are as involved in my success as I am in theirs.  I don’t see me succeeding any other way.

Here are some interesting reactions to Malcom Gladwell’s theory, including a bit from Tim Ferris,  another fascinating person who has broken down how to learn just about anything – and may have something to say about that ridiculously high 10K number.  Check him out too.

What are some great insights YOU have in navigating what you want out of life?  What are your secrets?  How are you going to spend your next 10,000 hours?

 

Paleo is for Chumps

Seriously. Paleo is stupid, quit talking about it. Quit “being Paleo,” whatever the hell that means anyway; quite making “Paleo brownies” and quit getting sucked into the ever-stranger world of Paleo. Am I supposed to be capitalizing that word, “Paleo?” What’s the standard convention? You know what, I don’t even care. Paleo is not worth the extra effort to utilize the Shift key (except at the beginning of a sentence…not much I can do there).

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown of what it means to be paleo. “Being paleo” can refer to people or food, the former of which is one who eats the latter. It is a recent craze in diet wherein a person limits their diet to the items that would have been most likely (read: perceived to have been most likely; more on that later) consumed by our Paleolithic forbearers. The reasoning behind this limit is that, in the past, humans thrived and did not suffer from many of our modern illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. There are some critics that like to cite abysmal life expectancy rates from earlier time periods as evidence that being “paleo” might not have been all it was cracked up to be. However, the paleo faithful are quick to point out how infant mortality rates and the lack of intensive care for acute injuries skew those life expectancy rates from long ago – a rebuttal with which I agree. There is plenty of solid paleontology research that shows that if a person made it through their teenage years and didn’t get mauled by a tiger or otherwise suffer a nasty case of nature attack, they were likely going to lead a long and healthy life. And have sick abs.

The idea of shedding industrial food from our diets in order to achieve better health is a great idea. An amazing idea in fact. Quite frankly, I do not understand why or even how there is a debate in regards to the negative impact of modern industrial food on our health. Jamming tons of unrecognizable chemicals and poor quality nourishment down our maws is a two-fold, guarantee for poor health through “tons” and “unrecognizable chemicals and poor quality nourishment.” So, trying to reverse the damage that we’ve done to our food since the industrial revolution is good and is what paleo dieting hopes to achieve.

A great goal. However, past that is where paleo starts to suck. And by suck, I mean to suck people into its universe of fads, expensive labels and detrimental elitism. In fact, the paleo diet was labeled as ” founded more on privilege than on logic” by Ferris Jabrd in Scientific American. Jabrd, like me and several other “rogue” analysts, see some pretty serious fundamental flaws that prevent paleo from achieving in reality the lofty promises that it makes. Likely the most critically bad aspect of paleo is the idea of Grok. Jabrd does an excellent job of dismantling Grok, so I’ll just summarize briefly as the paleo crowd has an overly particular and unrealistic of who Grok is and what he ate. Basically, the idea of coming up with a “paleo diet” is absurd because there is no such singular diet:

Paleolithic diets around the world as much as their environments as can be plainly seen in the infographic above. However, paleo dieters seem to have a never ending list of ideas as to what rules apply to paleo. Obviously there are certain universalities, for example, despite all my research I still have yet to find an even pre-industrial, let alone Paleolithic society that had Froot Loops on the menu. But oh how the arguments over which nuts or beans or yoghurt or whateverthehell they’re debating that day get intense. In fact, let me share my favorite paleo story:

In February 2013, I was lucky enough to train with Vic Verdier on a MovNat retreat in Thailand for a week. It was awesome and I’ll be sure to put my review up soon, but for now, let’s focus on the food. Vic promised us three copious paleo meals a day and he wasn’t kidding, the food was great. I was intrigued since I had never given any serious effort to paleo yet I had heard good things. On morning two I believe, after I had finished a huge salad, about a dozen over-easy eggs and probably half my body weight in bacon, I figured I’d top it off with a bowl of fruit with yoghurt. And then it got real. When I returned to the table with my bowl, a pretty intense inquisition began over whether or not I was breaking a paleo rule of some sort. I mostly kept quiet and simply admitted to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.

After a few days, I had learned quite a bit about paleo and I came to a conclusion: Who gives a shit.

All that effort and stress just to eat healthy? I feel like that is kind of defeating the purpose. It’s really difficult to counter the argument that there is no such thing as a specific “paleo diet” and selecting or even combining multiple paleo diets from generations gone by is a fool’s errand. First, we have to way to conclusively know everything about any ancient diet, we can only know bits and pieces. Second, to simply write off any dietary habits or measures between today and the Paleolithic era is also to simply write off the amazing capability of the human body to adapt. We are undoubtedly the most adaptable creature on the planet. Seriously, I think only the cockroaches could compare…though I have to wonder what that parallel draws…

Again, here is another argument that is nothing new to the paleo faithful: genetic changes in some Northern European people have allowed them to process dairy well into adulthood as opposed to losing it in young childhood like most of the rest of the world. I’m sure the pro-paleo community has plenty of evidence and arguments to deal with this silver bullet, but the take away is ultimately that things are more complicated than most would like to believe – is lactose intolerance not possibly the most well-studied subject in the science of human digestion and we only just know figured out the whole Northern European thing? We have a long way to go.

It would be too easy (and too typical) to assume the paleo argument to be complete at this point as the paleo community has one last and very important contribution. Usually at this point, paleo’s finishing move is to implore that people simply remove as much industrial food and other non-paleo items from the diet as possible and then slowly reintroduce the natural items and see how it impacts the individual body. Basically, ditch the HFCS and legumes, but bring the legumes back if you want – under the auspices of close examination of its effects, if any. This, again, is a good thing. Paleo does have good things, but it is still for chumps.

This last positive aspect, the analysis part, is great but “being paleo” in order to accomplish that analysis becomes a contradiction and sets up the modern paleo dieter for some serious heartache and chump status. One thing that can be agreed upon in regards to paleo is that it is a label. No matter how you define it or how nebulous it ultimately is, it is still a label. By “being paleo,” an individual has in turn labeled themselves and acquiesced to these labels. By having a label, an individual has an instruction manual which gives them the excuse to excise critical thinking – kind of an important detail if you are going to do any sort of serious analysis.

Furthermore, how is Grok supposed to analyze what he eats according to the final paleo guideline above if there are so many rules in contemporary paleo-dom? With cookbooks, websites, coaches and whatever else is out there, there will always be a sense of guilt and/or lack of satisfaction for the hardcore paleo folks as there will never be anything they can do to actually fully pull off paleo. Better yet, all of those cookbooks, websites, coaches and whatever else all cost money. It’s ironic that the very same people that would immediately agree that big box gyms are only interested in money and not health are individuals who simply do not think of paleo possibly following the same model. The combination of guilt and/or lack of satisfaction pairs really well with the business model as it creates a rabid customer base. Rabid. Seriously, I dare you to run into a CrossFit gym and shout “paleo sucks!” as loud as possible. You’d be better off throwing a chair.

At this point, I think my analysis of paleo has been pretty much 50/50. It has some pretty good points despite its built in mental baggage and I would even say that if I had to, gun to my head, pick a single diet that I had to follow the rest of my life, it would probably be paleo. However, it is poorly defined and ends up playing the role of ultimate excuse for people that aren’t ready to fully think about their diet because it goes way beyond guidelines and establishes hard rules – something it should not be allowed to do. This leads to the constant and intense (and annoying) debates frequently had by its adherents. My final verdict is that those who want to be this technically undefined thing, to be paleo, are way better off than the average American but it comes at a cost.

Why label yourself with the sheep? Especially when that label is going to bring you pedantic debates, mental stress, and an assured spot at the table of an industry business model focused on money. It would be unfair to offer all criticism and no solution, so stay tuned for how I think about food.