How many ideas are you exposed to each year – dozens certainly. Hundreds? Maybe even thousands. But how many do you really remember once you’ve left the room or closed the phone? let alone a week or month later.
But some ideas do stick. They burrow into your brain somehow and manage to take up residence “rent free”. It’s either because they are brilliant, different or maybe just something you needed to hear at that moment.
Here’s 11 ideas that stuck for me in 2022 and I’ll be taking into 2023.
1. Why Americans like clothes dryers but maybe Europeans get drying services for free, and what that means for US vs Europe GDP comparisons.
Couldn’t get this piece from the Economist out of my head (yeah, I’m that much fun) but it seems to nail what I’ve always been unable to put into words. While the US economy monetises a lot of things effectively (but doesn’t always deliver better outcomes eg: healthcare) there’s a lot going on in Europe that stats can’t capture (go bite into a croissant at any no-name Boulangerie in rural France and tell me the €1 price fully captures it’s value, and don’t get me started on Italian Cappucinos).
Chaser: Allison Schrager’s radically controversial column on why Americans should live more like Europeans
2. Being a long-term thinker in a short term world
We are long-term is the obligatory cliche you’ll hear from every investor and asset manager as if it’s obvious what that means (usually just after they show you last quarter’s performance and talk about what the Fed did last month, but I digress).
Being a true long-term thinker in today’s vanishingly short-term world is so much more difficult than we think. You’ve got to be pretty intentional about it, and Dorie Clark has done more thinking than most on it. It seems worth working on at least a little bit.
Listen to Dorie’s seminar at the long now foundation here. One key point: the need for white space amongst all the busyness.
3. Grow the Pie – a realistic blueprint for stakeholder capitalism (Alex Edmans)
The time seems right and necessary for new ideas – economics, growth, capitalism, society. There are certainly many critiques of capitalism and important explanations of what it leaves out that are gaining more and more traction. What you see less of though (and what Prof Edmans provides) is a thought-through framework for how this works from a business-school perspective and with real rigour attached.
Where corporations create value through at projects aimed at benefiting a wider group of stakeholders. That’s a better world to live in and yes, a more economically productive and potentially profitable one. That’s no empty win-win-ism but a realistic goal. Professor Alex Edmans lays out a blueprint for such a future in his excellent book: Grow the Pie. His fantastic Ted talk is below.
It’s not a world where we rely solely on governments to regulate externalities while pursuing laissez faire markets and offsetting pollution or child labour in one part of our investments with donations in another (sounds ridiculous, but happens all the time).
It’s not a mythical world where investors can save the world all by themselves with minor tweaks to their portfolio while earning fantastic extra returns. But neither is it a world where investors are faceless powerless technocrats pushing around numbers on a spreadsheet waiting for government to tell them what to do.
4. Say things that matter. This one just came up in casual conversation but just … stuck. How many presentations have you sat through that are just … “blah”? Say things that matter seems like as good a motto to live by as any in 2023. (Thanks Shalin Bhagwan)
5. Fund investing hits different. fund investing is different in important ways to generalised ideas about investing – and that is a major insight. Joe Wiggins book the Intelligent Fund Investor (no, I’m not paid to plug it!) takes this core idea which still goes underappreciated i think. One of the biggest trends I’ve seen in my 20-year investment career is the move from portfolios of stocks to portfolios of funds. But far too little is written or thought about it and what that trend means for better or worse.
6. Multiple is not valuation. It’s a shortcut to the full valuation process, to be used with caution, it hides a lot of assumptions. Time spent listening to Michael Mauboussin talk about investing is always worth it and you are basically guaranteed to come away with something useful. Listen to to our podcast with Michael for more (here).
7. 4,000 weeks.
The expression “FOMO” brilliantly captures a vital nugget of truth about human psychology. The most uncomfortable truth as Oliver Burkeman lays out in his book is that in the short timespan of the average human life by definition we WILL miss out on pretty much everything . But that’s not the bad part: the worst is that by trying to avoid this fact, and by subscribing to troublesome ideas about how to use time, we risk wasting what time we do have.
So what should one do?
Accept you will never be on top of it all. Emails, messages, calendars, pings, dings, notifications. You gotta give up thinking you are ever going to get on top of it all. You don’t need a better productivity system you need a new mindset – embrace your limits, and only say yes to things you really really do want/need to commit to, everything you say “yes” to is an implicit “no” to other things.
Make space for things that are not solely judged always and only on their end results or a means to an end. It might even have no functional use – Burkeman calls them atelic. Things that are not necessarily any more (or less) than the activity itself. They make time “chewier”, give us purchase on time.
Stop trying to control time by rushing and planning everything. Be present.
Chaser: my most-read blog of the year was there to tell you can only ever choose two out of inbox, calendar, to-do list (if you’re in a senior role maybe just one). Make the choice intentionally.
8. Stories matter. Story arcs are one of the most basic human communication devices. In business and in life understanding your own story and telling it authentically can make all the difference. Stacy Havener explains this brilliantly. Link to our podcast with Stacy
9. Human nature – maybe it’s more hopeful than you think?
Rutger Bregman – human kind , a hopeful history. I made my way slowly through this excellent book since Gavin Lewis recommended it on our podcast ages ago. Rutger does a deep dive on the contrasting philosophies of Thomas Hobbes (humans act fundamentally in self interest , and need ruling over through civil institutions) and Rousseau (humans are social creatures , default to co-operation and trust: survival of the friendliest ) .
This matters because, a lot of modern corporate structure comes from a Hobbesian view of the world (think: hierarchy , reporting lines , management , timesheets and billable hours ). Hobbes is often thought of as the more realist view of human natured but the book challenges that perception, re-framing a lot of what we think we know and asking whether maybe Rousseau’s ideas are closer to reality. Why does it matter? Because we often become the stories we tell. Our expectations of others become a self fulfilling prophecy.
10. learn to love quitting.
Quitting has a bad rep, captured by many common sayings (“winners never quit”, “quit while you’re ahead”). But we should actually embrace the power of quitting, of changing course bcos the ability to do this is what free us to make decisions quicker on less info says Annie Duke.
Annie asks: should investors actually be great quitters? Generally we can speed up decision making bcos we can quit, but we then don’t quit , why?
Quitting has a finality to it . Crystallises a loss on paper.
And, an illusion of progress stops us quitting
So, what can we do?
We can think more about opportunity costs – the expected benefit of the route not taken (which you can get back to through quitting current route)
11. Time – how we spend our days is how we spend our life. I like Sahil Bloom’s take on this stop-you-in-your-tracks dataset from Our World in Data.
From Sahil Bloom, takeaways:
- Family time is limited—cherish it.
- Friend time is limited—prioritize real ones.
- Partner time is significant—never settle.
- Children time is precious—be present.
- Coworker time is significant—find energy.
- Alone time is highest—love yourself.
There we are! Hope you enjoyed that list and got something useful from it. If you liked this please consider subscribing to my newsletter where I ideas like these every fortnight and engage in some real talk about markets and investing.