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Thursday, 21 October 2021

Weekend Reading


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.

Maldives creates a floating city

The atoll nation of Maldives is creating an innovative floating city that mitigates the effects of climate change and stays on top of rising sea levels.

Such a development is particularly vital for countries such as Maldives – an archipelago of 25 low-lying coral atolls in the Indian Ocean that is also the lowest-lying nation in the world.


More than 80% of the country’s land area lies at less than one metre above sea level – meaning rising sea levels and coastal erosion pose a threat to its very existence.


Maldives thrives on tourism and the same coral reefs that attract holiday makers also provide the inspiration for much of the development. The hexagon-shaped floating segments are, in part, modelled on the distinctive geometry of local coral.



The dream of animal-to-human transplants or xenotransplantation is a few steps closer to reality

Scientists temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to a human body and watched it begin to work, a small step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants.


Pigs have been the most recent research focus to address the organ shortage, but among the hurdles: A sugar in pig cells, foreign to the human body, causes immediate organ rejection. The kidney for this experiment came from a gene-edited animal, engineered to eliminate that sugar and avoid an immune system attack.


Surgeons attached the pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient so they could observe it for two days. The kidney did what it was supposed to do — filter waste and produce urine — and didn’t trigger rejection.



When in doubt, copy

From infancy, we learn by copying others. It’s also how we navigate uncertainty throughout our lives. Copying is what people have always done because it’s not only easy, it’s effective. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t still be doing it because we wouldn’t be here.


Copying is so effective that all sorts of animals, even fishes, copy each other’s behavior in order to adapt. When real people rather than computers play games, they don’t doggedly follow tit-for-tat or some other mechanical algorithm. They copy other people’s winning strategies.


 Copying is pretty safe, too, since at least you will be doing something that has succeeded to the point of becoming visible to you. The easiest thing to do, even by accident, is to copy something popular and successful. In the social world, popularity is success, so you’ll be doing fine.



The challenges of the worker in a gig economy

Platform work is precarious by nature. Even though more than half of all gig workers rely on it for most of their income, 40% of them make less than minimum wage. But it’s not just about the money. It’s about fragility and insecurity. Day to day, gig workers worry about their health, their safety, and whether or not they’ll make enough to cover their costs. More than 60% want to quit within a year.


Digitally-mediated gig work has surged over the past decade. The International Labor Organization counted 489 active ride-hailing and delivery platforms worldwide in 2020, ten times the number that existed in 2010. The fluid nature of the workforce means there are few consistent estimates to how many people are now engaged in this kind of labor, but some researchers believe that as much as 10% of the global workforce now engages in some kind of gig work.


Gig work is worse for women, who earn less on the platforms than men. Meanwhile, even though the biggest gig platforms are disrupting the global workforce, few of these companies have shown they can sustainably make a profit, relying instead on investors to fuel their growth.



The forgotten scam

Abdul Karim Telgi, the kingpin of a multi-crore counterfeit stamp paper scam, began as a furniture sales executive with a salary of Rs 3,800 in Mumbai. It is alleged that between 1993 and 2002, he cultivated officers in the government security press in Nashik and purchased machinery at government auctions to print counterfeit stamp papers. He then sold them at a discount to bulk purchasers such as banks, insurance firms and stock brokerage firms.


Investigators estimated Telgi’s personal worth at his prime exceeded a hundred crores and he owned about 36 properties across the country.


Telgi allegedly bribed his way to run his scam. After the racket was uncovered, investigators searched for authorised vendors who had sent bogus papers to the stamp duty officials. Politicians and police were also accused of being complicit in the scam.


“Across 72 towns and 18 States and over a period of 10 years, the counterfeit stamp paper scam has dealt the Indian economy a shattering Rs 32,000-crore blow. The figure is official. Apprehensions are that it could be much higher,” Frontline magazine reported in November 2003. That’s the damage Telgi and people who helped him in the scam had done.



Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Building Financial Resilience


Every bull market hides within it the seeds of a bear market. The market, as a whole, is mean reverting. So, a bulk of what goes up tends to come down, if not fully but to a large extent, wiping out all the temporary gains made in the process. And in between this going up and coming down investors make their reputation and fortunes.

By virtue of running an advisory, I get an opportunity to speak to a large cross section of investors. On Monday, I was speaking to one such person. He was extremely concerned about investing at “such all time high market levels”. He said that it had taken him many years to get to where he is today financially and he did not want to risk a large part of his networth should there be a large market crash. What was left unsaid was that he was also loath to let go of the opportunity in case the market kept going up. So, here is a classical dilemma.

This conversation got me thinking in multiple directions – the role of asset allocation, the need for a robust investment philosophy suited to oneself and of course where one is in one’s financial journey. All of this led to “financial resilience”.

Covid has taught us that resilience is crucial – whether in one’s physical or mental health or finances. So, how does one build financial resilience? As my guru Charlie Munger says, “Invert, always invert”. So, inverting the question and asking myself, how do we make our finances more fragile?

Here are some ways. None of this is rocket science. It’s mostly common sense but if you get it right it helps tremendously in building your financial resilience and will help you in facing a market downturn whenever it comes. These are as true for individuals as for families and also companies.

No savings

If you are working for some time and haven’t built up an emergency fund or some cash reserves that can cover expenses for a few months, then your financial life is fragile. The first thing to do is to build up some cash reserves for the rainy day.

Inadequate insurance cover

The biggest unplanned expense tends to be a medical emergency. You need to have adequate medical insurance for self and family to cover the costs. Having to pay for expensive medical treatment could derail, and at times completely ruin, your financial plans. The worst is if it happens during a time when you are otherwise financially weak.

Large debts

100% of all bankruptcies happen due to inability to service a debt. Basically, if your income (P&L) does not support your debt (balance sheet), then you are in trouble.

If you are taking a loan to create an asset like a home, it is still understandable. But you should have sufficient cash savings and medical cover before you take a home loan.

Taking a loan for consumption should be a strictly no-no unless you have a reasonable amount of savings to cover for the loans. The problem is people who need loans for consumption are the ones who should not take it and those who can afford to take loans don’t because they already have the cash.

Similarly in a market crash, the stories you hear of people going bankrupt are those who are leveraged. You can at most lose a large part of your capital in stocks but in derivatives, if you don’t know what you are doing, you can get wiped out.

Single source of income

If you are dependent on a single source of income you are fragile. If your job or business is your sole source of income then you are financially fragile. Try to diversify your income stream. One reason I started investing was to be able to have another source of income over time. This is true for nearly all part-time investors who have a steady job or business. If you keep adding to your portfolio, over time it builds up into a nice source of income through dividends and interest payments

Inadequate diversification

A lot of people have all, or large parts, of their networth in one single asset class or asset. Indians primarily have a house which dominates their networth. Others may have gold or fixed deposits or equities. At an extreme case, having investments in only one company like that of a promoter of a business, is also a cause of fragility. Adequate diversification into multiple asset classes, especially ones which are not correlated, and assets may reduce your returns sometimes, but has the definite benefit of enhancing resilience.


The challenge with personal finance is that it is personal. It cannot be generalized. You have to take a hard look at your financial situation and decide what you want. And then work out a plan to solve for it. What you want will also change over time as you age and life situation and priorities change. That is the way it is.

The important thing to remember is that you need to stay in the game for the long term. Resilience is key. Plan on every plan not going according to plan.

This post appeared in CNBC.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Weekend Reading


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. After plant-based meat, we now have seaweed based seafood

First Vuna salad was added to the menu, now Vrimp is on there too as the world’s biggest food company capitalises on the growth of vegan and vegetarian diets with a new faux-seafood product.


Nestlé describes Vrimp, made out of seaweed and peas, as an exciting innovation, with the alt-seafood having the “authentic texture and flavour of succulent shrimps”.


The company has even managed to mimic the distinctive shape using special moulds, meaning they can replace the real thing in a salad or poké bowl. The orange sweep of colour on the body has been replicated using paprika and carrot.


Nestlé is keen not to miss out on sales to the growing number of people who are cutting their intake of animal products or giving them up altogether. It has already launched vegan versions of some of its high-profile brands, including its famous KitKat.


Last year Nestlé started experimenting with plant-based fish – it already sells plant-based burgers and sausages – with the launch of its tuna alternative Vuna



2. Even some of the richest people on the planet have awful relationships with money

Davis was so good at compounding money in the stock market that he turned a few thousand dollars into millions of dollars in his children’s trust funds. And when he found out his daughter was marrying someone he didn’t approve of, he tried to use that money as leverage. Listen, money is great and all but when it begins to impact your family, what’s the point? Is it really worth it?


Money can provide many things — comfort, peace of mind and convenience. But it can also provide stress, jealously and resentment. Creating vast sums of wealth often comes at a cost.


It’s fun to daydream about creating enough wealth to become one of the richest people in the world. Just remember there are always trade-offs with these things.



3. Airless tyres are next

Michelin is one of several tiremakers that have been developing airless tires but they seemed as improbable as GM's early vision of self-driving cars. Now, however, the two companies are putting a pin in the calendar to have airless tires on the market by 2024.


The first thing you notice about the airless Michelin Uptis, or Unique Puncture-proof Tire System tires is that you can see through them. Glass fiber reinforced plastic vanes support the tread rather than air pressure.


From there, the benefits tumble forth: Nails become minor annoyances and sidewall cuts that usually render a tire unrepairable are no longer possible. There would be no need to check tire inflation (you've probably ignored my admonitions to do that anyway) and we'd say goodbye to spare tires, jacks and inflation kits that most drivers view as mysterious objects anyway. Blowouts that cause thousands of crashes a year would be impossible.



4. Lessons from Barca to the world of business

Barcelona’s fall from grace offers lessons for companies that lead or aspire to lead their sectors. The club fell into the trap set for every company that’s number one: it got lazy while its rivals copied its best ideas and built on them. It failed to create a sustainable succession plan for its aging players, and it was profligate with its finances. Barcelona failed to understand that greatness is always a moving target, not just on the pitch.


Meanwhile, every rival club was studying Barcelona. They followed the lead of the long-running advertising slogan of rental car firm Avis, which was number two in the market: “We try harder.”


When you’re number one, you also tend to get careless with your spending. While the money pours in, you stop counting every penny.




5. The world's growing concrete coasts

With three tonnes of concrete per year used for every person in the world, there are few parts of the planet that concrete hasn’t reached. The production of concrete is also a huge emitter of CO2. At least 8% of humanity’s carbon footprint comes from the concrete industry, mostly from the production of cement – one of concrete’s principal components. The cement industry generates around 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year – more than any country other than China or the US.


In the oceans, concrete is the main construction material, accounting for more than 70% of coastal and marine infrastructure such as ports, coastal defence structures and waterfronts. In China, for example, around 60% of its coast is effectively concrete. Similarly, more than 14,000 miles of the US’s coastline is covered in concrete.


There are potential solutions, such as bio-cement, which can be particularly useful for coastal hardening. Bio-cement is formed by taking sand, or other forms of aggregate, and then adding bacteria and urea, a component of urine. The urea triggers the bacteria to secrete calcite – a form of calcium carbonate – binding the mixture together into a solid material similar to limestone.


Not to be confused with bio-cement, is another alternative: bio-concrete. This is where bacteria called Bacillus pasteurii is actually encapsulated and added to the concrete, along with a form of starch that serves as its food. The bacteria stay dormant in the concrete until a crack forms and air gets in. This change wakes the bacteria up, and they begin to eat, grow and reproduce. In doing so, they excrete calcite, which bonds to the concrete, fills the crack and seals it up. So in essence, this type of concrete structure is capable of self-repair.



Sunday, 10 October 2021

Toolkit for investing


Michael Lewis is one of my favourite authors. And Moneyball, also made famous by a film starring Brad Pitt, is a classic in its own right. The story revolves around Billy Beane, an oddball character who is appointed as the coach of Oakland Athletics, a lowly placed baseball team. Beane has a very different notion from other coaches about how to value a player and instead of following the traditional wisdom of betting on those players who have a great technique or look good while playing, he focuses on data about players.

Beane started looking for specific skills and abilities in players to fit the purpose instead of paying top dollar for getting some of the top players in the league. The story goes on to document the triumph of the Oakland Athletics under Billy Beane.

The whole idea of narrating this story today is to highlight the simple fact that like in baseball, or any sport, using data instead of widely held beliefs amongst professionals, are better for decision-making and subsequent success. The story also narrates that, outsiders to the system, Beane and his teammate data statistician with zero knowledge of baseball, can actually bring in a fresh perspective that insiders lack because they are too used to do things a certain way.

Now map it to our investing world and you will realize that very few small investors in India actually use data or know how to use them. They still rely on tips from friends, and increasingly from random people on social media!! The main reason for that is years back data was hard to get and there was no systematic way of getting and using it. Today, things are changing. With the advent of social media, fintwit (in some parts), forums like ValuePickr help bring in scuttlebutt data from across the country to the small investor. Sites like screener, chartink, investing.com and others have democratized access to both fundamental data and technical charts. Trendlyne, Researchbytes and others are doing a great job in bringing concalls to all. So, very quickly, data access is being completely democratized for free or for a small fee. The edge that large institutions used to possess are diminishing. Now, with Covid, even AGMs are being held online, again greatly enhancing access.

So, here are my suggestions on how to go about the investing process:

  • Understand the business and the industry you are planning to invest in. You should be able to explain to a layman in simple words what the business does to make money.
  • Read the last 2-3 years annual report. Start with reading the management discussion and analysis section and the director’s report section.
  • Go to screener and look at the last ten years financial results. Focus on a few things to start with: revenues, margins, profits, ROE, ROCE and debt-equity. See how these have changed over the years.
  • Go to trendline’s channel on YouTube or Researchbytes and listen to the concalls for the last 2 quarters and maybe for 1 quarter a year back. If you like reading transcripts, tikr.com seems to have them. They are also available on the company websites also at times.
  • Go to BSE or NSE site and look through all corporate announcements or investor presentations by the company.
  • Have a written down investment policy as if you are running a large investment institutional setup like a mutual fund. Having clear rules for how many stocks you will buy in the portfolio, what will be the minimum and maximum starting allocation for a stock, what is the risk management policy you will follow, how you will prevent catastrophic loss, when you will sell etc are all things you should write down and follow. Once in a while, you should review your rules and update them based on your real-life experience.

If you follow a systematic, data-oriented, disciplined approach to investing, you can reap far better and longer-lasting rewards than someone who is buying and selling on Twitter tips.

This article first appeared in The Economic Times

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Weekend Reading


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.

Dangerous Feelings

Success has a nasty tendency to increase confidence more than ability. The longer it lasts, and the more it was tied to some degree of serendipity, the truer that becomes. It’s why getting rich and staying rich are different skills.


A dangerous situation is when your goals (achieving enough success to relax) counter your skills (focus, paranoia, persistence). It hits you when you feel like past hard work entitles you to a break without realizing the cost of that break, however much it might be necessary and deserved. It’s part of why people who quit while they’re ahead are so admirable – it’s often not so much that they gave up, but that they’re aware of what made them successful and when that trait begins to wane.



A pacemaker for the brain holds promise of treating depression

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco surgically implanted a battery-operated, matchbook-sized device in Sarah’s brain — a “pacemaker for the brain” some call it — calibrated to detect the neural activity pattern that occurs when she is becoming depressed. It then delivers pulses of electrical stimulation to stave off depression.


Twelve days after Sarah’s device was fully operational in August 2020, her score on a standard depression scale dropped to 14 from 33, and several months later, it fell below 10, essentially signaling remission, the researchers reported.


Sarah’s is the first documented case of personalizing a technique called deep brain stimulation to successfully treat depression.



Gig work is a more imminent and transformative force than mass automation

Uber is one of the biggest companies to use networks of freelancers, rather than contracted employees, for its primary business operations. It isn’t a small company by any means — it has more than 20,000 employees, none of whom are drivers. Yet for every full-time employee, there are nearly 200 drivers working anything from a few hours a week to 10 hours or more a day. Uber has demonstrated that platform-based gig work can function at an enormous scale. These new working arrangements, rather than automation, raise the trickiest questions relating to employment in the exponential age.


If gig work is generally more flexible and less formal in richer countries, the reverse is true in poorer ones. In emerging economies, a gig working platform may offer more security, more employment options, and greater freedoms than casual or day labor. In India, for example, the sheer size of the informal labor market gets in the way of the government’s ability to spend on health and education. Casual laborers, hired daily, paid in cash, rarely pay income taxes. Nor do their employers contribute to payroll taxes. Lower tax participation means less booty in government coffers to fund social programs. For highly casual labor markets, the gig economy could be a route to a large, more formal sector with more protections for workers and a more robust tax base for governments.



The story of the Parsis in India

Always a tiny drop in India’s vast population, the Parsi community adapted quickly to British colonial rule. Its merchant class built connections with India’s diverse communities. After independence, they filled key roles in science, industry and trade. Parsi trusts bankrolled affordable housing projects and scholarships and propped up important institutions like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the National Center for Performing Arts.


Prominent Parsis include the founders of the vast Tata conglomerate, plus early members of the Indian independence movement and the Indian National Congress, once the dominant political party. The most famous Parsi outside India might be Freddie Mercury, the Queen singer, who was born Farrokh Bulsara.


But the community’s population, which totalled 114,000 in 1941, now numbers around 50,000 by some estimates. The drop has been so drastic that — even as India considers measures to discourage more children in some states — the government has incentivized Parsi couples to have more children, to apparently little effect.


Ratan Tata blames the influence of the orthodoxy over institutions such as the Bombay Parsi Punchayat, the body that manages the community’s affairs as well as thousands of apartments and other properties owned by Parsi trusts. They strictly define who counts as Parsi: those who have a Parsi father. Community leaders estimate that up to 40% of Parsi marriages are with outsiders, but women who chose that are often ostracized. In some parts of the community, they lose privileges as basic as attending the final rites of loved ones. They also lose the right to live in affordable Parsi housing, a big advantage in Mumbai, where property prices keep rising. Parsi leaders fear outsiders will work their way into the community to take advantage of those benefits, diluting Parsi culture.




Space debris (space junk) is a real problem and needs real solutions

Now we’re at the point where about 70,000 satellites could enter orbit if proposed plans come to fruition. Even if all the proposed constellations fail to deploy, many more satellites will be in space. Unless actively deorbited, they will remain there for months to hundreds of years, depending on the altitude.


Today, there are about 27,000 pieces of debris,2 most of which are over ten centimetres in diameter. The trajectories of the rest—and what they might hit and when—are uncertain.


Active removal of space debris may finally be possible in some cases. One start-up recently began a test mission to prove that it had the capabilities required for space debris docking and removal.11 Other debris mitigation efforts will likely focus on the removal of inactive satellites and larger intact objects, at least initially. OneWeb, for example, has announced plans to collaborate with Astroscale on debris removal, and SpaceX has also discussed the possibility of using its Starship craft to clean up space debris.


Thursday, 30 September 2021

Weekend Reading


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. How does  YouTube recommendation work?

We start with the knowledge that everyone has unique viewing habits. Our system then compares your viewing habits with those that are similar to you and uses that information to suggest other content you may want to watch. So if you like tennis videos and our system notices that others who like the same tennis videos as you also enjoy jazz videos, you may be recommended jazz videos, even if you’ve never watched a single one before.


 A number of signals build on each other to help inform our system about what you find satisfying: clicks, watchtime, survey responses, sharing, likes, and dislikes.


With all that, why don’t we simply remove borderline content? Misinformation tends to shift and evolve rapidly, and unlike areas like terrorism or child safety, often lacks a clear consensus. Also, misinformation can vary depending on personal perspective and background. We recognize that sometimes, this means leaving up controversial or even offensive content. So we continue to heavily focus on building responsible recommendations and take meaningful steps to prevent our system from widely recommending this content.




2. Can glowing plants help in reducing power consumption on street lighting?

A decent chunk of energy usage goes towards lighting, so scientists at MIT are developing a new kind of passive lighting – glow-in-the-dark plants. In the latest experiment, the team has made them glow much brighter than the first generation plants, without harming their health.


The emerging field of “plant nanobionics” involves embedding nanoparticles into plants to give them new abilities. Now, the researchers have boosted the brightness to more practical levels. The key was to switch the glowing components from luciferase and luciferin – which give fireflies their glow – to phosphor materials. These materials absorb and store visible and ultraviolet light, and slowly release it as phosphorescence.


After being exposed to light from the Sun or LEDs, the plants will glow green. The team tested the technique on a range of plants, including watercress, tobacco, basil, daisies and elephant ear, and found that just 10 seconds of exposure to blue LEDs makes the plants glow for up to an hour. As might be expected, the light is at its brightest in the first few minutes, before dimming over the next hour. The light was 10 times brighter than the previous version, and importantly, the nanoparticle implants didn’t harm the plants’ normal functions, such as photosynthesis and evaporating water through their leaves.



3. Health data at our fingertips

(this article ties in well with my four pillars theory - http://blog.intelsense.in/2021/08/the-four-pillars-of-future-business.html)

I have detailed data on thousands of publicly traded companies at my fingertips. I can essentially access the financial health of virtually all household brands at the press of a button. But when I try to perform the same exercise (accessing data) on humans, including myself, it’s much harder.


What is my cholesterol? Respiratory rate? Resting heart rate? Posture/alignment? Sleep patterns? Blood oxygen level? Blood sugar level? The vast majority of us are totally in the dark on these metrics.


The good news is — this is changing.


Companies are using sensors and biometric data to provide much more detailed information to consumers. The technology is improving quickly and the costs are coming down, allowing for accessibility more broadly.


I bet we will look back in ten years and have a hard time believing we were all managing the stresses of life without the tools and information to help us optimize and make better decisions regarding what we eat, when we eat, when we go to sleep, what temperature is optimal for sleep, when to rest, and when to push.



4. Principles of peak performance from sports psychology

There are five major skills related to sport psychology that transfer from sport to business. Some of these sport psychology principles and techniques can be applied in a large variety of business settings, leadership, and teamwork. These skills she identified in regards to mental training are:

  • Mental imagery
  • Performance routines
  • Positive self-talk
  • Activation control strategies
  • Focus and sustaining attention



5. Is wind & solar energy the answer to our energy problems?

Electric vehicles will likely not deliver the necessary carbon reduction many people are expecting. In Norway, electric vehicle sales have gone from zero to nearly 60% penetration between 2010 and 2019. Despite such a dramatic shift away from oil, Norway’s carbon intensity has declined by 10% compared with 11% in the US where EVs remain less than 2% of all vehicle sales.


Wind and solar are extremely inefficient generators of electricity due to their low energy density and their intermittency. A solar panel likely only dispatches between 12% and 20% of its rated capacity due to the intermittency of sunshine. A wind turbine is somewhat better, but still less than 25%. As a result, excess capacity must be built to generate the necessary electricity. Moreover, the power must be “buffered” by a storage system to smooth out the inherent variability coming from both short-term dislocations (clouds and periods of calm), as well as different patterns between day and night.


Wind and solar would mark the first time we have seen a widespread shift into a much less efficient source of energy conversion. It has never happened in the past, and the only way it can happen in the future is if governments subsidize wind and solar (as is being done right now), or outlaw old hydrocarbon-based technologies—now being threatened. In either case (subsidy or outlaw), government intervention is the only way people would likely adopt new energy conversion technologies with inferior efficiencies.



Thursday, 16 September 2021

Weekend Reading


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.