The Paradox of Our Age

“The paradox of our time in history is that
we have taller buildings but shorter tempers;
wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less;
we buy more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families,
more conveniences, but less time;
we have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgement;
more experts, yet more problems,
more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much,
spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry,
stay up too late, get up too tired,
read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life,
we’ve added years to life not life to years.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have
trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.
We conquered outer space but not inner space.
We’ve done larger things, but not better things.
We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.
We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less.
We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information to
produce more copies than ever, but we communicate
less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion;
big men and small character;
steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce,
fancier houses but broken homes.

These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers,
throw-away morality, one-night stands,
overweight bodies, and pills that do everything
from cheer to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the show window and
nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology
can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose
either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember, spend some time with your loved ones,
because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up
to you in awe, because that little person soon
will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you,
because that is the only treasure you can give with
your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say “I Love you” to your partner and
your loved ones, but most of all mean it.
A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes
from deep inside of you.

Give time to Love, give time to speak, give time to
share the precious thoughts in your mind.”

~ Anon.

Vinnies CEO Sleepout

THERE are currently more than 105,000 homeless people in Australia.

Census figures from 2006 indicate that each night 54% of homeless people seeking supported accommodation are turned away, which means around 56,000 people are sleeping on the street each night in Australia.

The problem is that in the wake of the financial crisis the number of homeless people has risen much faster than the supply of homeless and housing services required to support the needs of people experiencing disadvantage.

The St Vincent de Paul Society indicates that the new face of homelessness is families: young families; two-parent families; families with no history of domestic violence.  The sub-prime crisis didn’t only hurt corporate Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss statements, it also hurt families in local communities.  Homelessness is no longer a problem isolated merely to the victims of substance abuse, gambling addiction or mental illness.   The market downturn has forced people on the edges of the labour force into positions of serious disadvantage.

On Thursday 17 June 2010, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout will be taking place in capital cities across Australia.  The event aims to raise funds and increase community awareness about homelessness by challenging business and community leaders to experience homelessness first-hand for one night.

There are already 350 CEOs who have risen to the challenge, some of the people taking part include:

Please check out the website, and consider supporting the participants by making a donation or rising to the challenge by taking part yourself!

Ten years gone by

TEN years ago, what were you doing?

For me, I was just entering my final year of high school and gearing up to sit the final exams called the Higher School Certificate. Expectations were high! Our teachers told us that these were the most important set of exams that we would ever take because “a good performance will get you into a good university and ensure a bright future!” (what they failed to tell us was that a bright future requires, more than anything, a clear direction and the determination to overcome setbacks along the way).  So, with no clear direction in mind, I took their advice to heart and have spent the better part of the last decade at university.

I end the decade with only slightly more money than with which I started it. A decade of study is a heavy investment, and I am pleased to report that I think it has been worthwhile after all. I have learnt a lot, as one would hope, and I can always dust off and sift through the piles of text books and notes if I ever forget something.  The lectures and exams were instructive (and at times character building), but more than anything the years of formal study have given me the opportunity to meet, learn from, and become friends with a large number of exceptional people – some like-minded, some brilliant, some inspiring, all wonderful in their own way.

And so, I find myself ten years older, a little wiser, with a long and growing list of qualifications and many valued friends. Expectations are high and a clear direction is needed. Where to next?

Ten years from now, where will you be if you keep going in the direction that you are headed?

Creative destruction: fighting the Gumblar virus leads to new look

I was forced to delete and re-install WordPress today in a bid to get rid of a virus known as the Gumblar virus. Thank you to the Blue Tortoise for talking me through this painfully slow process!

I really hope that my effort was successful because, in the process of deleting WordPress, all of my photos and images have been lost. I have backup copies and I will be replacing these over the next couple of weeks, so please bear with me.

I like to think that life is a constant process of creative destruction, and I am hoping that the destruction of my blog will lead to some improvements. I am trialling a new WordPress theme called “Arthemia” which I have been thinking about trying for a little while. Arthemia is a very clean and crisp theme and allows me to feature my newest and most interesting content at the top of the page, which should help direct readers to the articles which are most interesting and useful.

I am a bit worried about the new look though. My previous blog was a nice shade of blue and this new theme is very white, perhaps too white!?

I am also concerned about the two prominent spots for ads in the new theme. This may offend people or turn readers away because it may appear that I am emphasising advertising over ideas and content. My main priority has always been to share ideas about consulting, business strategy and investing, and I can’t help but think that the prominence of advertising might detract from this. Either because it distracts readers from the content on my blog, makes them think that the blog looks cheap and mercenary or, even worse, because it distracts me from the reason why I started the blog in the first place.

So – what do you think? Am I worried about nothing? What would you change about the appearance of this blog?

TEDx Emerald City

LAST night I attended my first independently organised TED event, TEDx EmeraldCity.

The event was organised by the ever dynamic and always delightful Melissa O’Young. The name of the event sounds pretty random, and it is, but it is also quite clever. Since this was an Australian TED event the thinking was as follows: Australia – Oz – Wizard of Oz – Emeral City … but of course!

There were twelve of us at the event, all from a diverse range of backgrounds: artist, journalists, lawyers, bloggers, photographer, fashion design, financier, film producers, travellers, and entrepreneurs.   It certainly was an interesting and unlikely group of people to be assembled in the one place, not your ordinary pizza and beer night.

The evening was driven by the high minded desire to share interesting and important ideas, watch a number of TEDTalks videos, network with people from outside our normal group or friends, and to get inspired by new ideas, projects and opportunities. It was an engaging and thought provoking evening, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.

Over the course of the evening we watched four TEDTalks videos, all very different, all of them fascinating. If you’re interested, I have linked to each them:

  1. Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success
  2. Dave Eggers’ wish: Once Upon a School
  3. Rick Smolan tells the story of a girl
  4. Eric Lewis plays chaos and harmony

My personal favourite is the one by Alain de Botton on his kinder, gentler philosophy of success.  This talk is particularly relevant and eye opening to all of us who strive for “success”, what ever that may mean. Check it out!

CFA Level 1 Exam 2009 – post audit

An exam day overview

I did the CFA Level 1 Exam yesterday. If you haven’t heard of the CFA Exam before, see the article “CFA Exam – What is it? Why do it? How to prepare.”

It is definitely one of the most exhausting tests I have undertaken, a gruelling six hour 240 question multiple choice exam. The CFA Institute recommends 250 hours of study for the test, and I only managed to notch up about 120 hours at best. Needless to say, I found it to be quite a tough exam.

If the pass mark for the exam were a simple 50%, I would be confident about passing. Each multiple choice question had three possible answers, so the expected result from blind guessing is a healthy 33%. A bit of common sense, some clever educated guessing, and my background in economics and econometrics would probably be enough to push me above the 50% mark.

Unfortunately, the pass mark for the exam is somewhere around 70%. So, success is by no means assured.

The examination supervisors are called “proctors” and, as I sat down in the exam hall, the head proctor’s voice boomed over the audio system, “All electronic devices, including mobile phones, must be switched off and surrendered. We have systems in place to detect the use of any electronic device within the examination hall. If a mobile phone is discovered in your possession during the timed portion of the examination, it will be confiscated and a written report will be submitted to the CFA Institute”.  Wow, the power had really gone to his head. We were under the control of a 60-something year old power hungry proctor.

As it turned out, the Salvation Army were holding their National Congress right next to the examination hall . Trumpets, trumbones, drumming, and a chorus of voices filled the exam hall for the entire first half of the exam. Did God not know I was trying to concentrate? I can only hope that this highly inopportune spiritual distraction was a positive omen.

Thirty minutes into the test, the choir continued to sing, and I read my first economics question: “If the supply of money decreases which of the following is least likely to result in an increase to  …” Decrease, least likely, increase … sorry?

Some kind of miracle may be required.

Weakness in the economy? An insight from two taxi driver economists

THIS article is intended to be pretty light-hearted. It provides an insight into the strengths of the current Australian economy after talking with two aspiring amateur economist taxi drivers.

Taxi driver 1

I was chatting with the taxi driver on the way home from work last week, and he was complaining to me that, despite talk of a “resources boom” and a resilient Australian economy, he felt that the economy is weak because he has been experiencing a significant reduction in business over the last little while.

My taxi driver turned out to be quite an economist and inspired this article and my last one, Economic recession 2008: measuring the strength of the economy.

Australia has been negatively affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in a similar way to most other countries. At the same time, however, Australia is benefiting from a resources boom. High commodity prices and strong demand for raw materials from countries like China has seen large amounts of money flow into Australia.

As my taxi driver made me realise, however, it’s all very well to be told about a “resources boom” and a record Federal Government surpluses, if the tell tale signs are painting a different picture. A company might appreciate that the economy is weakening when its inventory levels start to rise above expected levels. The government might appreciate that the economy is weakening when tax revenues start to decline or grow more slowly. But how does the common man, how do you and I, appreciate that the economy is weakening?

Obviously, if your wage isn’t rising and the price of things like food and oil rise, then you will have less money to spend on other things. However, this tells you nothing about the strength of the economy over all.

Here is a list of four tell tale signs, from day to day life, that might indicate the economy is weakening (some of these ideas are borrowed from a discussion on James Valentine’s program on 702 ABC radio last week):

  1. The length of the cab rank: The theory goes like this. When the economy weakens and people are put under financial strain, they cut spending. Expenditure on necessary things like food and accommodation are the last things that people cut out of their budget. The first thing that people do away with is entertainment. If people are not attending concerts and not staying out late, then they are not using taxis, and consequently there will be an oversupply of taxis. So, when the cab ranks become inexplicably longer than normal, or taxis become easier to catch on a Friday night, it might be a sign that the economy is weakening.
  2. The length of the queues in Aldi: For those of you who are unaware, Aldi is a discount supermarket chain that is slowly but surely taking the world by storm. In Sydney at least, Aldi stores are not always so conveniently located. Increased queues in Aldi might indicate that people are tightening their budgets due to weaker economic conditions.
  3. The length of Tuesday petrol queue: In Sydney, the cheapest day for petrol is, for some unexplained reason, Tuesday.
  4. The number of new Aston Martins on the road: Flashy sports cars are a luxury good, when the economy weakens there is less disposable income available and you would expect to see less new luxury cars on the streets.

Taxi driver 2

I had another encounter last night with an aspiring amateur economist taxi driver on my way home from work (my taxi drivers are such a source of inspiration). Having discussed the economy with the other taxi driver last week, I was intrigued to find out whether this driver also thought that business was slow at the moment, and why he thought that might be.

He informed me that business had been a little slower than normal, but nothing out of the ordinary. Unlike my first taxi driver, he didn’t attribute this to a slowing economy. “The weather has been cloudy and wet lately, and people don’t like to go out in this weather. Winter is coming. This means that it gets dark earlier, it’s colder at night and less people are out in the city. There are also less tourists in the winter. I make more money when it is sunny.”

The conclusion

So, all things considered, perhaps these aspiring economist taxi drivers haven’t really been able to give me any insights on the current strength of the Australian economy. But at least they got me thinking.