Friday, 20 April 2018

Skin in the game

He is not easy to read at all, but at the same time he is so engrossing. And true. Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his latest book, 'Skin the Game' - just unbelievable and badly needed in today's time.

It is about how the world needs skin in the game. People that can benefit from something, need to also be able to lose. No upside without potential downside as well. Commentators... who just comment but are not involved and have nothing to lose - what to they add? Nothing. And what is their merit? Questionable. Stay away from them.

I love a story that he tells, about being in a TV talk show where some other journalists were commenting about a specific stock. When asked about this stock, Taleb refused to comment, his reason being that he neither had that stock in his wallet, neither did he have it on a short position (eg would benefit from it dropping) - so he couldn't really comment. Other commentators were shocked, as the common held belief is that you can comment about something if you have no relationship with it, since you have no interests. He defends the opposite. If you have a vested interest, you know a lot more about it. Your opinion has strength, as you have something to gain or to lose, you have skin in the game. You have taken a stand on it already, where you may lose or gain something. You are invested. While others with no participation, then for them their opinion is really easy to give - whatever may happen as a result of their opinion will in reality not impact them at all.

Taleb points out how the financial system has lacked skin the game in the last few years. Banks stand to gain from their loans to successful ventures. But if these ventures fail, very often the banks get saved by public entities like the state. That is not healthy at all. They only stand to gain, no risk of losing. That is unhealthy and leads to poor behaviors from the banks, and they are comfortable, always comfortable. And a system that allows for this, that is a weak system that can collapse - as indeed it is happening to the financial system, that has lost all credibility.

He reminds us how this was not the case. Hammurabi's law - an eye for an eye. Let's take a house builder. The law in Hammurabi's time was that if a house collapsed and killed the son of the owner of the house, then the person who built should also lose his/her son. An eye for an eye. So the builder is invested, he has skin in the game. He makes sure he builds to the best of his knowledge. And he can also demand and expect quality from his suppliers, who are also exposed to the same law. It is a virtuous system. Currently, today, architects are by and large more worried about impressing other architects or winning prizes. Often resulting in houses that are simply not best suited for what they're supposed to do. He gives the example of new trains on a NY line. Most commuters traditionally have to stand in rush hour, holding their coffees, that they usually would place near the windows, which had some flat places that would serve for this purpose. New trains were brought in - absolutely stunning and appealingly designed, lots of organic round shapes. But designed by people who knew nothing about the commute, probably had never done it themselves - so designed something not fit for purpose. Eg no space to put your coffee cup... Done and not well done.

This applies to so much. I have been doing central roles professionally - eg not market roles with clear P&L accountability, but more coordination and direction setting roles. You can definitely have skin in the game, take visible ownership and hold yourself accountable when big things go wrong. But it is also very easy to escape this and keep chugging along with no risk, easily deflecting bad occasions to others - the people in the markets, other functions, external conditions. And actually a lot of people thrive like this, and I have come across a few, like my old boss in the company that I've left. You produce stuff that looks good, but that in reality has no application, no one will ever use. But it looks good, and some senior people, removed from the front line, think it is great and praise it. And thus the game goes on. Nothing good comes out of it, rather than frustration for the people who are actually trying to make a difference and make things happen.

There is so much more to be said about the book. It is a huge inspiration to me and makes me think about everything that I do. I want skin in the game. I am willing to suffer for it. But also recognize how easy it is often to shy away from things, there are always easy excuses, other people or situations to blame. Always. And good excuses that people will buy. But that is not living. And you will not grow. You grow by exposing yourself.

In Taleb's views, entrepreneurs have skin in the game. They invest themselves, often their family's life savings (and credit) into something that may work or fail. 'Corporates' don't. They are part of a huge corporation... usually their actions do not yeld immediate effects, and certainly not dramatic ones that can lead to the demise of the organization, which is huge. In my old job, so so often marketers would be promoted because they created a beautiful campaign... which 1 year after they had left, proved to have zero impact in the market. But it looked great and they were rewarded for it, and moved on quickly. The ones afterward were left to pick up the spoils. There, in these situations, the secret to thrive is timing... do you join an organization that is already on the up and you benefit from it, even though you played no role in it... Not what I personally want to do.

I want to contribute. I think I was brought up like that. My sisters also have this. They are doers, they want to make stuff happen. I am often afraid of taking risks but am at my best creating something. Creating, be it a strategy, a product, something. Creators by nature have skin in the game - they are putting something that they made out into the world, and this exposing themselves to criticism - or praise - from others. To elation or rejection. Skin in the game. If you are just commenting, you have not a lot to lose. But you are also not living... you are standing on the sidelines and speaking, to whomever is listening (usually other bystanders)... while the doers do, suffer and thrive, live and progress.

If this appeals to you - do check out Taleb's book.

Hello again

Invested some time revisiting the posts I have place here over the years. So much richness, so many good insights. Reflection is the richness that makes us human, and I am thankful for having those thoughts captured here.

I have had some tough times in the last couple of years. Still in the mix right now of crazy, unsettled times. But I am thankful for good things in my life. Starting with my sister who has stuck with me through thick and thin and helped me get perspective. Who made me see that actually in some situations, I was ok. I was reacting humanly and well. We need these sounding boards, especially if they come from good people, with the heart in the right place.

Thank you.

I have learned a lot, a hell of a lot. It is completely true what I have written in the past to myself - that it is in times of great difficulty that we grow more. That we take more learnings and evolve more. It can be extremely difficult, but you will survive and come out stronger. Sometimes (often!) you may feel that you are not coming out, but you will. And stronger and better. And you will be thankful for the experience. I am not there yet, but for sure I am now much stronger than I was 1 year ago. Dramatically stronger. I've experienced a lot in the last 12 months, from break ups, changing company of 17 years and starting in a new company, culture and country. Living by myself again. Rebuilding some sort of life by myself. Being able to survive by myself, even doing the basics, from paying bills, grocery shopping and planning events for the weekend. Being human to my friends! Being there for them and recognizing that it is important to invest time in this. God, how often I have forgotten that in the past and how bad that is for me or for any human. We are built to be connected. We are built to live in society. By nature I am extremely independent and self reliant. But even that can be too much for me, and yes, I have definitely overdone it in the last few years.

Such a pleasure to be writing again. Such smoothness that thoughts just stream down and by writing it, it helps me make sense of things and get more clarity. It is emotional.

Life is short. Quite a lot of evidence of that in the recent past. My parents getting visibly older, my father, what can I say... can't put it in words. Losing everything physical, all strength, and of course with impact on the mental side. Last week, the father of a very close friend died - I hadn't spoken with her for years and years, but called her on this occasion and we had a chat. Like we had been speaking every day. It was so honest and transparent. I felt her pain, her thoughts, what she was feeling. I am so sorry for her and I see her pain. I am scared and sad that such a moment will come to me and my family.

Winding down my relationship. Broke up 9 months ago. Still not closed. Was with her yesterday. So difficult. I love her so much, and we together have had so many special things, and on top we have built a fantastic HOME together. Which is where I still live and which I haven't really changed since she left. She also hasn't wanted to move her things out yet. It is too painful. I can't bring myself to tear apart this home that we put together, I think there is some magic in it, I fear that bringing it down will remove the layer of protection that it gives me... I am scared. But I do know deep down that change brings freshness, it brings badly needed things.

The best example is on my professional life. I have worked for 17 years in one of the worlds largest multinationals. I was on the ladder, on the mouse wheel, fighting for a promotion for the last 3 or 4 years. I actually landed that promotion, only for it not too happen due to restructuring. Twice! Had external opportunities until I finally decided to leave and go for one of these. Such a hard decision, such hard times. Incredibly difficult and emotional to leave. Uncomfortable. But God I have gained from it. Incredible amounts of confidence - starting with that I can survive and dramatically thrive in other environments! Realizing actually how good I am and the strength of my background! Having others be surprised by some actions and personal touches, that went largely unnoticed in my previous organization, but are now extremely appreciated. 

the world is like this. Luck does play a huge role. While also, if you are good and practice the good, the universe does balance itself out and reward you accordingly. Same if you are bad, if you are disrespectful or mean to others, the universe pays you in kind. But opportunities extremely often do not come from extreme planning for them to come - NO. They come from us being out there, and engaging with people and the world, being out there exposing ourselves and being unconfortable - then the world throws something at you, often something fantastic, that will challenge you but is exactly what you needed, or even what you deep down wished for. But we DO need to be out there, be in the game, be exposed. Show ourselves, warts and all. Show everything we are, the good but also the weak. And by doing that, we are so much stronger. And by doing that, we can open ourselves to meeting the people we need in our lifes - people who are the same, who are authentic, who are human and who will appreciate you.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The power of 'Morning Pages'

This is one of the most powerful tools for self development and awareness that I have ever used.

About 1 year ago or so, I came across the idea of writing morning pages, an idea originally created by Julia Cameron in her book 'The Artist's Way'. Julia explains it here:
Originally Julia recommends it for helping you being more creative, but to me it has done a lot more than that.

For about 1 year now, I write my 3 pages of morning pages everyday, in the morning, after I wake up. I've got a couple of important rules:
- don't edit anything, just write write write as fast as your thoughts come! You are literally putting your thoughts onto paper as they come - so don't worry about how well you are writing or if you can read what you have just written! that is not the point. Just let your pencil/pen flow at the speed of thought
- in this sense, for me it only works if I'm writing by hand really. If typing on a laptop, I can do it speedily and it will block the flow of thought, my 'internal editor' will come in to play

What does it do to me?
Basically it's been absolutely amazing in a number of ways!
- it gives me awareness of my key thoughts! How many times do we have thoughts going on in our heads that in reality we're not so much aware? or we are aware v lightly? by writing them down, it brings them to a more conscious level. You will be surprised!
- As I write first thing in the morning, usually the things that come up are the most important things happening at the moment in my life. And it is helpful again to be aware of what they are - often you are worried about something at a conscious level (eg a task you have to do at work) and you think that is the key thing that is driving your anxiety. But morning pages might actually bring out first a commentary that a friend has made to you that was hurtful and is causing you pain; probably a commentary that you brushed past consciously when it happened, you tried to put it away, tried to make it irrelevant at the moment, not to be hurt.
- it puts all these emotions out, from the subconscious to a conscious level. And when they are at a conscious level, we can better do something about them, or at least accept them, which is the first step to deal with emotions.
- and finally, last but most definitely not the least... as you put onto paper what is going on in your mind, you may become aware of really unrealistic and critical thoughts! Eg self criticism, why haven't I done this, etc. Often, these thoughts are going on a loop, on and on and on, over and over again. Bringing these to awareness will allow you to see how unrealistic they are and this will help deal with them!

Do give it a go. It's more than worth it.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The power of meditation

Since the beginning of the year, I am back to meditating everyday, so now over 40 consecutive days. In another post I'll talk about how to create an habit (which is hugely helpful) but on this one I want to talk about the benefits of meditation and what it's doing for me.
Basically at the hear of my return to meditation was the book 'Full Catastrophe Living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness' from Jon Kabat-Zinn.(Full Catastrophe Living)
The book basically reminded me of the benefits of meditation and since I had a very stressful year last year and want to cope better this year, I decided to get my practice back into shape.
Basically I started by doing 12 mins of meditation each morning. Started by normal sitting meditation and lately have been doing also lying down body scans.
What has it done for me:
- really helps lift the cloud of obsessive thinking... very often I can get stuck on thoughts and worries about work (eg what if this happens? or oh, I need to do that task). Meditation puts things in perspective
- helps me relax. While I meditate, I become aware of tensions I am carrying in my body, and by just becoming aware of them, I already relax it a little. Also by 'looking' into them with my breathing, I can relax them further
- helps me more in the moment. This is very closely linked to the 1st point, of escaping the incessant thoughts. Without this cloud of thinking, I can actually pay attention to what is happening and respond adequately. And this has immediate impact: for example in sport, I find that my reaction times are better and I am also able to use my instinct much more and therefore perform better
- by being more aware of the moment, I engage more in conversations with others, that are then more pleasurable and rewarding!
- by being much more in tune with my body, I am now much more aware of what my body needs. For example, usually after work I would get home and try to wind down by doing a number of things, sometimes even pushing myself to do them, like watching tv, reading a book or playing a game. Now, sometimes I understand that I just need to lie down and go to bed earlier... or that a walk would be great... or yes, a book would be very nice. I can listen more to the body and give it/me what it needs. And this has impact on my energy.

Of course somedays it is really difficult. My mind is just going everywhere at the same time and it can actually feel stressful to meditate. But even then (maybe even more so then!) meditation helps. It makes me aware of this. And every time I become aware that my thoughts are somewhere else, I just pull them back into the breathing or into the body scan, and that in itself is helpful.

1 more interesting point that I am finding is now the need to do it for longer than 12 minutes in the morning. After 12 minutes I put the alarm for at least another 6. And often I start meditation and only start the alarm after 2 minutes of settling down. In the last week or so, I've also meditated for a bit at night... my body is now craving it. From fighting it, the body now feels the need for it.

It's really healthy and good for me. I'm over the moon that I am doing it again - and I think setting the habit up was the trick that helped me the most. So more to come on that, on habit setting.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

An interesting exercise

I did an interesting exercise yesterday, that I recommend anyone to try.
I've been feeling low lately (for quite a while!) - as work pressure gets to me, working long hours and often not getting the results from it. To be honest, it's been going on for a long time.
Quite often, I just feel bad, like there is something wrong, and it's difficult to put your finger into it. And quite often, I just get my head down and go back to work, push onward and forward!
That can be ok, and sometimes problems just go away. But also sometimes, you just start to allow inside you the space for a bad feeling - which if not addressed, can become bigger and really drain you.
I can be quite bad at reading myself and understanding what's happening and why, why I am feeling such a way, etc.
So yesterday, with a friend, she suggested for me to do an exercise: for 7 minutes, just talk. Keep talking and don't stop. Let it all out, the thoughts that are coming into your mind. Just let them out as they come, don't think about it, just speak them.
What did that do?
- first it did give me a feeling of relief, just throwing all those things out! you feel good about taking them out, even though some of it is probably quite critical of you! but it's good to put it out. I guess maybe a bit like the 'big mind, big heart' (see post here) approach - you have different voices inside you, all they want is to be listened - in that sense, by speaking it out loud, you are reassuring those voices that they have been listened to. Don't get spooked, it's not that crazy, read the post and it'll make more sense!
- second and most importantly... it was really interesting to having someone listening to it! My friend was able to provide me with a detached view and see through what I was saying - eg the key topics and issues coming out. It can be really difficult for ourselves to do it, as we are too involved in the thoughts. but listening from the outside, sometimes it is really visible what are the real issues.

This definitely does not solve the problems! But starting to get them out in the open is hopefully a first step to understand the issues and therefore - giving clues on how to address them!

Thursday, 13 September 2012


I read yesterday an interesting article where an Ex-CEO from Coke says something along these lines: life is like juggling balls. You have the work ball, the family and friends ball, the physical health ball and the spiritual health ball. There is only 1 difference... The work ball is made of rubber, if you let it drop, it will bounce back later. All the other ones are made of glass... if you drop them, it will harm them, scar them, or even break them.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Feeling in control

In the beginning of the year, I approached everything with a great sense of energy: my work, exercise, etc... all the things for which I had spent some time crafting my objectives for the year!
I kept going strong for months! Motivated, energized and it showed.
After 3-4 months of hard work, I started getting swamped... too much to do. And I started to forget to look at my objectives, didn't remind myself of them as often...
Slowly (I only realized that much later) my energy had dropped. Significantly. Noticeably.

I think that for a human being, it is key to feel somewhat in control. You need to feel you are going in the direction you want to go. It's demoralizing to feel that you are drifting with the current, going where things take you... You feel without a sense of control, with no impact on what happens, powerless! And that will drain your energy.

It's key do define your objectives: what you want to do, what you want to have, what you want to experience, have a vision of who you want to become. Of course it's important that this list is real, that it reflects what you really want deep down - but to be honest, if you're not sure, still do it anyway! A step in a defined (by you) direction is better than no step. Revisit these objectives frequently - at least once a week!
Have yearly ones and then break them into monthly ones (this works best for me). Than figure out what you will do that week to achieve your monthly goals.
Just this, just doing this... will give you a great feeling of control. You know where you want to go. You will look at things that happen to you (there will always be things happening to you, that you can't control or choose) and you will see how they can fit or help in your objectives. When you have spare time, you will know what to do with it, rather than just wanting to rest and recharge from the rat race. You will be working towards what you want.
That is motivating. That will prevent loss of motivation and loss of energy. That will keep you going. That will keep you positive.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The importance of thinking about the future

Just reading another book.
It says that we spend most our time trying to fix problems - but often fixing one problem just opens up another one. Eg our company is not doing well financially, we cut costs by 10%. Then a couple of talented managers might get frustrated perceiving cuts in investment and they leave, creating a bigger problem. Or you might want to lose weight, so you start heading off to the gym 3x a week. But then your family starts getting annoyed, as you are not spending as much time with them...

The issue seems to be that whatever you focus on, expands. Focus on problems, you get problems.

What the book says is that we should focus on the desired future. Visualise where we want to get to. Draw this ideal picture of the future. If we do this, our actions will naturally flow towards reaching and achieving this future. Your mindset and mood will be more positive, as you will be working towards a desired and wished for outcome.

It's quite interesting. Food for thought.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Raising self esteem, raising self confidence

I recently had a session with a facilitator at work: my team got together with this said facilitator to understand and agree how we could work better together.

At the beginning of the session, the facilitator talked a bit about self esteem and self confidence. How self esteem is something we build up since young age, whilst self confidence is also built up but varies according to different situations (eg we might be very confident at playing tennis, but not at all speaking in public). An interesting point that she mentioned was that self esteem though is the base, the foundation - from which self confidence builds on.
Imagine a chart: if your self esteem is low, draw an horizontal line at number 20. Self confidence than varies from that number, eg can go +5 up to 25, or -5 down to 15.
While if your self esteem is high, say at 80, self confidence could make it vary between 75 and 85 - at a much higher level.

Obviously it is not that simple and numerical but anyway it did sound very credible and reasonable that self esteem is actually the base, the foundation. If we have low self esteem, we will approach new tasks with a dread for failure... Whilst with high self esteem we may be more positive and believe we can do it, therefore dramatically increasing the likelihood of a good outcome.
In summary, my take out has been to highlight the importance of self esteem. For the last few years I have been thinking how my self confidence has been low... and figuring ways to improve it, reading about it, etc. While actually, it might be more critical for me to work on my self esteem.
In fact... I am quite sure it is mainly on my self esteem that I need to work on. I know I am quite hard on myself, I do tend to be a perfectionist. It makes highly critical. And I know I do have a little critical voice that is quite intensive and persistent sometimes!

As I went back home, I came across a book I had ordered years ago, but never really had read: Maximum Achievement, by Brian Tracy.
There is a lot of richness in the book... as I read it, it hooked me.
I picked up a very useful technique or exercise there, something that I had actually done years ago, with great results: repeating mantras or affirmations to myself.
I used to repeat 'I like myself' or 'I am good, I am very good, I am excellent'. Or write down quite a few times. It does wonders!
The fact is that our subconscious can only hold 1 thought at a time. So, at least for a while, we make it positive! (and probably much more realistic!). And for a while we quieten the negative critic inside.
The amazing thing is how visibly sometimes I noticed my body relaxing! Letting go and feeling better about myself! And a positive outcome taking over me! Absolutely unbelievable.
It does have a much stronger effect if you repeat these sentences to you while relaxed.
Brian also refers to an exercise that I learned years ago, about autogenic relaxation - the exercise where, lying down, you say 'my left arm feels very heavy...' then 'my left lef feels very heavy'... and they do start to feel very heavy and you relax very deeply. You can use this exercise as a starter to then speak more powerfully to your subconscious, as it is more relaxed. Just say 'I like myself'.
I promise: it is really powerful and life changing.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Back :)

I'm back...

So much as changed!
I am back living abroad. New role, new challenge.
Tough challenge in fact, I had a bit of a career change and at a stage where I was already doing a senior management role, that is not easy, I can tell you.
You don't get a lot of time to adapt and the pressure is on.
My start was tough, compiled by a bad boss, who fortunately moved on after a few months. (She is now terrorizing people in other department!).
On the personal side, I am living with my girlfriend, for the 1st time in my life! It's been a nice experience! More on that later.
Life has not been easy for the last few years, I have struggled to find the energy and passion I had in the beginning of my career. But at least I am throwing myself out there and trying new things, taking chances, taking difficult routes instead of remaining in the comfort zone.
It's tough, but could be tougher.
It's tough but also having some rewards.
Better times will come.
I am blessed with my family. My family is amazing. I am blessed.
Sports has always been crucial in my life, and over a year ago I had an injury in one knee that has kept me form playing football like I have always loved. I've been moving between specialists, looking for a solution outside surgery. Let's see where it goes. On the positive side, the place where the injury is, is not too bad, it's somewhat protected, so maybe I can have a good recovery.

I love writing, it is a bit therapeutic to me, so hopefully I will find the time and willingness to come back here and write.