Tag Archives: future

Personal Flow and Plan Carving as Water – pt 3

As we flow down our metaphorical river of life to reach the metaphorical ocean that is our goal/plan, it is our combination of luck and sheer will that determines what the result is. It’s important that we adjust our plans frequently and with new information, re-directing our efforts from one part of our personal operations to another that deserves or requires the attention. Thinking big picture is a must, and re-iterating what works is a must.

But when the tough gets-going and the going gets-tough, know when to put your foot down and change direction. You could think of it as adding onto the plan by having fall-back options or adding a way to mitigate risk. You could think of it as Plan B. No, you’re not exactly changing the ocean (goal/plan); this is important since you knew from the start that there was no ocean: there was only your idea of what the ocean would be. It’s a moving target where everything is constantly moving.

But remember this: you steer the boat. If it’s not going well, change direction. It’s the only way out. The hard part is knowing when to change, and knowing how to change.

Knowing when to change:
The most obvious opportunity comes when facing resistance. After identifying resistance (usually symptoms include problems continuing without an obvious source of the problem) it’s important to shift gears and change the resistance to an opportunity. For example, you feel like your work (project, job, etc.) is constantly facing new problems–not evoloving problems, problems that occur through a continuance of the work/project)–such as an error here, or questions about something there, or a break in something. These problems continue to pile up and eventually you’re a firefighter, doing what you can to put out the fires that are enflaming. Rather than doing that, I suggest a shift in gear–act like water and evolve the work/job/project. Use that resistance as a force to push you away, and push you forward. It is that resistance that is your motivation to improve or shift. You can’t solve every problem and you certainly don’t want to continue doing that.

Knowing how to change:
This is perhaps the more difficult step. Knowing how to change, you’d need to re-evaluate your current status. On the path that is your river to the ocean, you need to take a high level view of your position and re-evaluate where the future goes. This new future (or the same future you had in mind) should look slightly different because you now have something extra: the experience of knowing. You’ve experienced what you’ve experienced (you’ve already traveled along the river), and you can’t take that away. But guide yourself to the new future, and be like water: move through the cracks and get to the objective. It’ll make you stronger and harder, you’ll move quicker. Re-evaluate.

Personal Flow and Plan Carving as Water – pt 2

We’ve established the reasoning and basic premise of ‘plan carving as water’, but how does it work? I think one of the best resources on this thinking is cartoonist Scott Adams (Dilbert – http://blog.dilbert.com/) who raves about the benefits of thinking in systems rather than goals(http://blog.dilbert.com/post/102964992706/goals-vs-systems), but I still have a tendency to think of goals. I like them, but appreciate their complete meaningless-ness.

For example, I have a near OCD-level habit of checking and updating my personal budget. I don’t strictly stick to it, but I’m constantly updating it and leveraging it to find ways to move finances, shift goals, better plan for myself, and think of things in different ways. Having this really benefits me since I’ve started as I’ve become more aware of my ridiculous spending habits and understand where my savings are actually used the most effectively; I’ve managed to crawl out of a debt that metaphorically crippled me into a literal depression, afforded a new (relatively) expensive apartment at a good price, started a savings plan, started a second master’s program and am paying it all with cash, bought a car and figured out the most effective way to pay for it and what I needed from it in return, and many, many, many more examples. A budget wasn’t necessary for me to do any of things, but I was comforted with its insights.

Yet I agree with Scott and recommend his book. Despite it’s simplicity it’s a fun read and you may learn something from it–if you don’t then you at least have an extra book to fill your shelf, one you’ve read and not let gather dust. The system works, the goals rarely ever do. The problem with goals is that they are simply targets, or ideal pictures of a landscape you hope to find; when the supports move and the targets change, the landscape is unreachable and your goal is unwinnable.

In terms of water: you’re in a stream flowing to the ocean with the goal being the image you have of ocean itself. When there’s a shift in the landscape, say a riverbed or an unexpected dam, that image of the ocean must change to remain realistic. The reason it must change is that the landscape itself has changed. A dam would give the entry way a much lower point of entry or a riverbed would case the entryway to be much faster in speed. It’s a slight shift in the picture but it’s still a shift. Planning is difficult and time only makes it more so. The longer the time between plan and fruition the harder it is to predict the result.

Plans must move like water and adjust and tweak itself to perfection. Broadly speaking: time is the flow of water and you only get to where you’re going by following where it moves. Unless it pushes you further away, in which case you need to put your foot down and go against the tide. Part 3 coming soon.

Personal Flow and Plan Carving as Water – pt 1

Sometimes I feel stupid for writing on a blog. Sometimes I feel like what I write is interesting and (not very often) important–if not important to other people. It could be for one of the same reasons that I don’t post many pictures of myself (except the one on the landing page): embarrassment.

I’m not embarrassed about myself: I’m awesome, I know I’m awesome, people think I’m awesome, and that makes me even more awesome. No, I’m embarrassed by the fear of embarrassment. If I don’t put myself out there no one else will. At the same time, luck is created and earned; it’s not just for the lucky–you have to put yourself out there and take a risk in order to see the risk pay off. Risks don’t pay off if there is no risk.

The result after luck is a mystery. Because as we plan, it’s easy to set goals and say "I was this to happen by this time, but then luck (or unluck) comes in and says: "Well it turned out that something else happened before". Luck (or unluck) comes in and changes things for better or for worse! And while the results can sometimes be either: a) you achieved your goal/plan, or b) you didn’t achieve your goal/plan, more often it’s: a) things changed and your goal/plan needs to be adjusted to correct for this change, or b) things didn’t really change much but there is new information so you should re-evaluate your goal/plan.

And that’s just the thing, isn’t it? You have an objective (your goal/plan) and you know how you want to get there (with the information you have now), but then luck (or unluck) steps in and things change so you receive new information and need to change your goal/plan. Planning and forecasting is all about finding and adjusting for the risks ahead of time, and that’s why it’s important to take everything like water: adjusting to the new flow and stepping in when you’re against the tide. Part 2 will take this a next step, and I’ll try to include some images which support my thinking. Sounds like yet another "can’t-miss" blog post!

Email to My Brother and Sister on the Future

Sent this email to my brother and sister a few weeks ago about the future. We were discussing income inequality, what the future will bring, and other random thoughts. The conversation came up after I forwarded her this article from Time previewing a book I want to read called The Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil( http://time.com/4471451/cathy-oneil-math-destruction/):

"The way our system works is capitalism, where there are winners and losers. If we want to continue to evolve and continue to be ‘fair’, the system we live in will need to change in line with our technology. Guaranteed income is one idea of doing this (everyone earns $XX.XX a year, regardless of their ‘job’) but as our technology evolves, we need to think of our place (as a human society) in this world. We either develop the technology (software, hardware, space exploration and development), assist in the planning of the future (urban development, electronic banking, urban farming, driverless cars, power generation), or assist in the cleanup (waste disposal, water cleaning, resource management, elderly care, death disposal, species preservation and reduction, earth management). There are jobs to be had, just different ones from the ones we currently have. The poor will need to step up, or be left behind, and that’s the only option."

I still stand by this. I also wrote this having just finished reading the second book of the Red Rising trilogy (Golden Son, https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Son-Book-Rising-Trilogy/dp/0345539834)–about a space based future chock-full of class society prose–and was finishing up the second book of the Rememberance of Earth’s Past trilogy (Death’s End, https://www.amazon.com/Deaths-End-Remembrance-Earths-Past/dp/0765377101)–I won’t tell you what it’s about but it’s absolutely my favorite book, ever, period. So a lot of my thinking involved space (which is undoubtedly the long-term future) and technological advancements. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, beware. I see what you’re doing, and I’m coming for you. (As a friend, or a foe?)

Data In, Who Know What Out

There’s no shortage of news pieces from prominent media outlets reporting on false information. Either the articles/pieces themselves are completely made up, the data they use is skewed and unreported, or the data is just totally made up completely. Well, how do we really know what is true and what is made up? There’s probably a model in psychology and/or economics based on this pointing out how circularly destructive false information is on the reported and the reporter (and outlet that reported); not to mention how social media exacerbates false information!

I’ve read an interesting use case scenario written by data.world promoting their data set hosting platform (http://www.kdnuggets.com/2016/09/behind-dream-data-work.html). The case itself was decent, BUT it reminded me of the saying: "Garbage In, Garbage Out", wherein the quality of findings is only as good as the quality of the underlying data. Makes sense. But it really made me think about how the data we use is actually collected.

I appreciate websites like data.world; I hope they continue really because practicing data analysis with data is important especially for beginners. One specific feature on data.world is interesting: verified sources, where the source of a data set (the person that posted your brand new .csv file full of information) shows up as verified if they are a verified member (i.e. Professor at the University of Washington, or Researcher at the Center of Disease Control). I guess we can think about it like Twitter’s verified user tag, but useful. These users also document the data collection methodology, engage in helpful conversation, and answer questions other users may have on its collection. I just hope that other practitioners don’t rely on this information to make decisions.

Prediction alert: I predict that other users will rely on the information to make decisions. And furthermore, these users will increasingly be making the wrong decisions based on poor data.

This isn’t surprising. Unless you capture the data yourself, how can you really know if it’s any good? The Catch-22 is that there’s no possible way to capture all of the data yourself and so you rely on third-party information to make decisions. See where this cycle gets out of hand, creating an exponential number of problems?

Perhaps going forward we should all just use the disclaimer: "This report/decision was based on the findings that was created for this specific set of data, and may not apply with new sets of data" with requisite links and sources.

Personally, I prefer to think in broad strokes. If the data (generally) matches the consensus (generally), then the result/report/decision should be made in a general sense. Disclaimers would help here, and they are very important.

The Power of Control

http://continuations.com/post/122336558130/apple-on-privacy-what-about-limits-on-general

As the High Net Wealth Individuals’ (HNWI) wealth grows substantially quicker than the rest of the population (http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2015/06/hnwi-populations-statistics/), the question of control springs to mind. How much control (economically as well as politically) do these individuals hold? On a related topic: as unanimously agreed by everyone, big corporations continue to get larger. I’m sure there is a direct correlation between HNWI and Big Corporations (shouldn’t have to even mention it really) but on the topic of control ‘they’ have a not-so-hidden power to allow us to use only what ‘they’ want us to use. In the case of Apple, the selling point is quality control:

 “Imagine buying a car but having the car maker retain control over which roads you can drive on. Looking to go down that small road to the beach? Your car just won’t move. I think very few people would find that an acceptable limitation on how they can use a car, which after all, they have paid for. In the case of software, the limitation is less obvious. After all, you can download apps from the App Store for seemingly everything (“there’s an app for that”). But the second you dig a little bit you realize that Apple had and is exercising all sorts of control, including for example what ecommerce experience you can have, how potentially offensive content is treated and what you can do with crypto currencies.”

There is a similar argument over why Google should not be allowed to “hide” or move search results, as the results drastically affect who sees what links. Imagine looking up doggy-day-care services in your home town and only seeing the results of PetCo (or whomever, I don’t have a dog) and missing out on that great local business right in front of your apartment because it was link #8 or on page 2 (even page 4!). I rarely go beyond the first page of my Google results, expecting to find what I’m looking for at the top, or making due with the results. This type of control is the same argument that some proponents of the Open Internet use against the big telecoms and the Comcast/Time Warner merger! And if I recall correctly, the FCC determined that telecoms cannot exert their power of control to favor different types of services (such as Netflix—even though they still do, just not in Netflix’s favor for the sake of their own cable subscription services), and the merger failed! What makes control different between consumer goods and the services we use?

 

I know that consumers have the power to vote. And they use that power every single day. With every single dollar that consumers spend, they vote on who or what they believe deserves their money (and thus, power). It’s probably just more effort for some than they want (read: people are lazy and don’t care enough).

Future of Personal Consumer Finance

I’ve talked about it before, several times actually, but I believe that despite what the experts and futurists think, our big banks will continue to be pillars of our economy. There’s been a lot of talk within the last few years about banking moving from in-person branches to online-only services. With the meteoric rise of companies like Lending Club (consumer and currently small-business loans) and the huge press that goes to Robinhood (“free”, “no-fee” stock brokerage), GoBank and Simple (“free” online banking) it’s easy to make these conclusions. But, from the perspective of business strategy, the big banks will continue and perhaps grow even stronger from the added (and primarily digital) competition.

For now, I’m going to separate Lending Club from the pack and focus on the personal checking type banking side. I think Lending Club has a great business and massive amounts of potential, but they compete in a different landscape where revenue comes in the form of interest payments, one-time fees, and consulting services; for large banks I’d imagine a healthy profit comes from this segment of the business, offsetting some of the losses from the personal checking accounts. The other side of the business generates revenue through a few pieces: interest on the cash in the accounts (the bank invests the cash you leave in your checking account, pays you a small interest rates, and keeps the spread), various fees from activity/inactivity (such as monthly/annual fees, check-writing fees, wire transfer fees, withdrawal fees, etc.), and transaction fees (when you use your debit card at the store, when you withdrawal from a non-network ATM, etc.)

By their nature, the online banks don’t have the overhead current banks such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo have since they don’t have physical branches and only need to hire support staff (which can be done cheaply and remotely) and technology staff (the ones that test and develop the software). As far as revenues, I’d expect online banks to have roughly the same structure with some “marketing” alterations. GoBank, for example, promotes the “pay-what-you-want” fee structure where you can elect to pay a monthly/annual fee if you deem the service worthy.

With all “free” services though, it’s safe to assume that if you don’t pay for the product you are the product. GoBank (and I’m sure many others do/will) sells your transaction data to marketers and makes (or will make) a significantly shiny penny off of advertising revenue. This is something I’ve discussed before, banks hold a wealth of information about you, perhaps the most information of any service you use and perhaps the most value information of any service you use. They not only know your personal information (due to the Patriot Act they now require physical address and possibly a copy of your driver’s license), they know where you spend your money, how you spend your money, how often you spend it, where your income comes from, and who you share money with. The primary advantage of this type of data is that, while other services such as Facebook know what you like, in this case they know what you actually spend money on. You may like Rugrats on Facebook, but you’d never spend money on them. Banks know this, Facebook does not. This type of information requires the highest levels of privacy and it’s something I worry that the future of banking will pursue. If they didn’t have the profits of other departments (such as credit cards and loans), I’d bet the large banks would already have begun to sell this data, if they haven’t already.

With privacy concerns in the forefront, large existing banks have other advantages that new incumbents will surely find difficult to replicate: other revenue streams. Banks can offset their losses in multiple areas with profits in other areas, and do this on a daily basis. If their investment banking arm has a bad quarter, it is typically offset by something like auto loans. Smaller “digital” rivals don’t have this and one bad quarter in personal checking accounts can lead to ruin. Large banks can take advantage of this and let the little folk test, try, and fail with their new product offerings, eventually replicating successful services at no start-up cost with a massive existing customer base.

I’d say this argument should work 90% of the time, but let’s consider services such as PayPal and Venmo (both arguably successful) who have established themselves out of nowhere. This MUST be seen by the large banks as total failures on their part. I believe they got lazy and should have squashed the competition before they got big. They’re all now (a bit late in the game) reacting by offering digital wallet/payment services, mobile transfers (still slow to develop), and email transfers (very slow to develop). Their size, while a valid argument, may play a part in why the large banks fell behind, but I don’t buy it. An essential part to any company is their ability to innovate and R&D should always be a part of their business. I believe they realize this, better late than never, and will come out stronger by year end.

Current Schedule

On my schedule:

1. Practice Case Studies – Mainly doing this to prepare for interviews, but also see the more practical and immediate use of fostering my creativity. Also, it’s kind of fun. Book: Case in Point

2. Programming in Python – Python seems to be a very useful language, and was recommended to me during a recent interview I had to support my SQL skills. Also, I plan to create some mobile games and obviously (see the books I’m reading for this stage) it’s practical. Books: A Programmer’s Guide to Data Mining; Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python; Making Games with Python & Pygame; Python Reference Book

3. Making the aformentioned Mobile Game – The idea I have now is quite simple and should be easy to make using the skills I gain from the previous point

4. CAIA – Deciding if this is something worthwhile to me. Seems like it is so far, but really depends where my next job is. If it’s in Product Management (or similar) I might look more into Six Sigma, if it’s in FP&A perhaps CAIA or CMA (possibly even CPA but more likely one of the other two), and if it’s in Consulting I’d need to see where that leads. But I do enjoy the challenge and fun learning something new so these certifications are great.

To sum it up, in the short term I’m going to continue as I am, which should put me around my August deadline at work (contract end) in which case I’ll probably have the idea for #4 and launch into a new phase of my career. At least, that’s what I hope.

Timeline: #1: 2 weeks; #2: 4 weeks (realistically); #3: 4-6 weeks; #4: long-term

Future Needs

The future has many needs. Resources are a top priority: water, food, habitable land, and housing are the main ones. Environmental needs are strongly linked with that: we are pulling out WAY too much ground water and will see more sinkholes than ever before, deeper problems related to a drought, and too much pollution sinking in to what little remains of our earth’s top layer. Food (obviously related to water) is a major concern especially with GMO seeds destroying our farmland and destroying not only our lives (namely increased cancers) by the lives of our insect life (bees!), fauna, etc.

The key culprit is obvious, but rarely discussed: our earth is over populated.

1) Why is it rarely discussed? I’m not sure, to be honest. I think there are a lot of hands trying to keep ‘mum’ on the issue (read: corporations and politics). It’s obvious that for large corporations, the larger the market (the more people there are) the more profits can be made. In the long run, a rising population means more opportunities to sell and make profit. For countries, population size can also be a competitive metric. The larger the population, the higher potential GDP, larger the size of a standing army, the more competitive the country can be. Politically, it makes sense for the US to avoid discussing it since power, in the long run, would shift from a medium sized country to a large sized country like China, India, or Russia. It’s a bad reason, and is probably not the reason it’s not discussed in US politics. It’s probably just not a topic anyone wants to debate over. You’ll have neo-cons and liberals both saying that the government is putting limitations on our freedoms and also bring up Japan’s declining population as an example.

But, like many difficult decisions, it’s the hard choice that is the best one. If we look at the demographics of our population, I’d wager on average it’s the lower and middle classes that have more children than the upper class. Not always true (Mitt Romney), but that’s what an average is for. I don’t believe or agree with a class system, and I hate to use it, but it’s a demographic that is very real and present.  Just like there is a demographic for gender, with some people not fitting into either. We can use these demographics as one way to check that any policy is made to be fair to all. It’s unfair that the rich should be able to pay to have extra babies (see China). It’s unfair that we would limit the number of babies the lower classes can have, and unfair that we would impose restrictions or give incentives to the lower or middle class (see our current welfare system incentivizing large families).

My first step would be to allow a maximum of two children per couple. This is population maintenance, not reduction. There would have to be some kind of policy in place for new couples, couples that separate and form new couples (e.g. divorce and then remarry), the death of a child or children, birth of twins or more, and single or separated parents. For example, a couple has their second child: congratulations and here is your required (free and reversible) vasectomy. For those receiving welfare, the added benefits for more than two children are stopped (if you have new children starting “now”) and replaced with subsidized birth control methods. Vasectomies would be free, as would birth control pills, and abortions would be subsidized (with limits, you can’t and shouldn’t do multiple abortions in a year just because you don’t like condoms).

The biggest problem: these mandates need to be made world-wide. As we’re seeing with climate change, it’s great that some countries are tackling their pollution well, but China and India really seem to make up for that. Let’s work together to stop this problem before the problem stops us.