Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.
1. The birth of the ubiquitous QR code
Denso engineer Hara Masahiro invented the QR code 25 years ago. Hara says that the company previously used barcodes to keep track of parts, but that the system was inefficient. “There were upward of ten barcodes on any one box,” Hara recounts. “Employees got tired of having to scan boxes multiple times, and this led us to come up with a code that would enable a large volume of information to be conveyed in a single scan.” From the need to keep better track of car parts sprang the QR code.
A QR code is characterized by a two-dimensional pattern of square black and white dots. With this pattern, it is possible to imbed 200 time more information than a standard barcode.
Hara explains that the inspiration for the technology came from his penchant for playing strategy games: “I used to play go on my lunch break. One day, while arranging the black and white pieces on the grid, it hit me that it represented a straightforward way of conveying information. It was a eureka moment.”
2. Steve Martin's method for greatness
Steve Martin is arguably one of the most important figures in 20th century comedy. In Martin’s recent memoir, Born Standing Up, we gain unprecedented insight into this process.
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Forget all the frustration, the tricks, and the worry. Just focus on becoming good. Really damn good. Outstanding. Unlike anyone who has come before you. If you can figure out how to do this one thing, recognition will follow. It will, like it did for Martin, probably come so fast that it will overwhelm you.
The restless urge to understand then innovate led him to be outstanding. Without it, he would have just become another good comedian. Like hundreds of others.
Martin credits “diligence” for his success. Staying diligent in his interest in the one field he was trying to master; being able to ignore the urge to start working on other projects at the same time. If you don’t saturate your life in a single quest, you’ll dilute your focus to a point where becoming outstanding becomes out of reach.
3. Getting comfortable with uncertainty
We feel ambivalence when we simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs or opinions. In fact, we can lean both toward and against a decision, perhaps for the same reason or different reasons. Humans are funny this way. We often hold incongruous views that stir conflicting emotions, and this experience is uncomfortable. But our need for certainty means we jump to one side of the issue or another.
Surprisingly, we do this even when we don’t know the cause of our ambivalence. When experiencing discomfort, our focus is generally on stopping it rather than exploring its causes.
Getting unstuck and being more open to hearing points of view that don’t make sense to us requires us to build capacity to withstand cognitive discomfort.
By seeking out different challenges, greater nuance and care in how we characterize points of view that are different from our own, we expand our capacity to withstand the cognitive discomfort that comes from ambivalence. We become stronger and more flexible as both individuals and organizations.
And then we repeat the process the next day, and the next.
4. Perspective on life
If you had twenty five years left to live, how much time would you spend worrying about the daily ups and downs of the stock market?
If you had fifteen years left to live, how much time would you spend trying to buy or sell a specific stock at the perfect price?
If you had five years left to live, how much of it would you spend obsessing over financial news and its unforeseeable impact on your portfolio?
If you had one month left to live, with whom would you spend those final days? What activities would you pursue?
If you had 24 hours to live, what would you want the people who knew you to remember most?
How much time do you think you have left?
Take a guess….
Okay, let’s assume you’ve guessed right. Now what?
What do you want to do today?
5. Cement's effect on climate change
Not many want to fret over cement, the world’s second-most consumed material behind water, and how its use in this economic transition might prevent our society from achieving its climate goals. The Carbon Disclosure Project recently released a report, “Building Pressure: Which cement companies will be left behind in the low-carbon transition,” warning the cement industry — cement being the main binder in concrete — that “in its current form, it will not be compatible with” any nation’s commitment in the Paris agreement; and if radical changes do not occur the world will “risk missing [its] climate goals.”
According to the CDP report, the cement industry is the second-largest industrial emitter of carbon after the steel industry. And when accounting for its use in human-made structures, it is responsible for more than a third of the world’s carbon emissions.
For cement companies, lowering emissions would mean either developing a whole new material or investing in carbon-capture systems, a technology that can capture and store the carbon dioxide emitted by an industrial process. Yet the CDP found the industry to be unwilling or unable to finance the research required to develop a low-cost, low-carbon alternative to cement.
As long as the world clamors to build, the cement industry has little incentive to disrupt the status quo.