Sunday, May 16, 2021

Life Lately: The Trouble with Open Offices and Two Thoughts on Investing

I know way more than I want to about a guy who sat behind me at the office on Friday. There were three people in that row of desks but this one guy stood out. I heard what he ate for breakfast. I heard that he was born in India, moved to the US, and just bought a flat in London. I have a pretty good idea what projects he’s working on. And so on…

He held many meetings at his desk, speaking as though he was in a noisy stadium rather than an almost-empty office building. His sing-song voice cut through my noise cancellation earphones and the focus music I put on in attempt to keep him out of my head. His voice sparked garish flashbacks to the loud people from the open offices I’ve worked in. When I eventually moved to get away from his voice, I couldn’t help wondering how I got anything done in open offices before the pandemic.

But being in the office on Friday wasn’t all terrible. I held my first face to face meeting in 14 months and man – wasn’t it different? I got up and walked around the room. I pointed to the screen and gesticulated to emphasize my points. My colleague was more than just a talking head and I could read their body language. The meeting was quicker and more effective than if we had used videoconferencing. Friday was at once the best and the worst of working from the office.

I think people who excel at modern-day knowledge work need to work in a hub and spoke model of sorts. A hub for shallow work and sparking creativity by connecting with diverse colleagues working on different topics. And a spoke for deep work, professional activities performed in a highly-focused state that push your cognitive abilities to their limits*. I believe all office buildings should have designated quiet areas where people can work in silence and attain high levels of focus. If your office doesn’t have one, make one for yourself (e.g. by commandeering a meeting room for 2-3 hours a day).

In the absence of quiet rooms, my pre-pandemic ideal was to work from home one day a week on important stuff. The difference in productivity was always incredible! I now suspect my post-pandemic ideal will be two days in the office, packed full of meetings to maximize the human interaction, and three days at home or elsewhere – actually getting things done.

* Cal Newport makes a compelling case in his book, Deep Work. Activities performed in a state of deep work create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. His thesis is that the ability to perform deep work is becoming rarer at the same time it is becoming more valuable. Therefore, knowledge workers who cultivate this skill and make it the core of their working life will thrive.

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Two quick thoughts about investing and money that have been bouncing around my head for a while.

The first is a question that pops up every time I see people reacting to a market correction on social media. If you’re holding stock for long-term wealth creation, why do you look at your portfolio every day?

There’s a fair amount of research showing active investors tend to panic and bail out at the wrong times. In addition to the emotional turmoil from seeing their portfolio in the red, I also hypothesize many people are investing in long-term instruments with short-term capital.

As a general rule (and praying I don’t encounter emergencies that require more than my emergency fund), every £ I put into stock is money I don’t expect to need for at least five years. With an investment horizon that long, a short-term market correction just doesn’t generate the same cause for concern.

The second is about the spike we are seeing in the number of coins being traded. While there are some coins with actual use cases, my hypothesis is most coins are just pyramid schemes. Am I saying don’t buy coins? Of course not – nothing on this blog is financial advice. But be aware that unlike stock, where you’re buying a % of a real company that has assets and employees and makes money by offering things or services for sale, many coins have unclear use cases and their value is entirely driven by market sentiment.

Adjust your strategy accordingly. The stock market is a mix of a real market and an expectations market. The coin market is mostly an expectations one. Don’t play in the expectations market with strategies from the real market.

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What I’m reading: Amazon Unbound (2021), by Brad Stone. Brad’s The Everything Store (2013) piqued my interest in Amazon and helped solidify my desire to work there. I’ve since read the book three times and wondered if Brad would do a follow-up. Wonder no more – because he has! Amazon Unbound picks up from where The Everything Store stopped and brings the story up until the present day. I’m about 25% in and loving it so far! This article by David Hundeyin digging into the circumstances surround Ini Ubong’s untimely death was a really good piece of investigative journalism. May her loved ones be comforted.

What I’m listening to: Planet Money’s Hot Cheetos tells the true story of Richard Montanez, a janitor struggling to put food on the table who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in a secret test kitchen and became the first Latino executive at Frito-Lay. Simply by taking ownership (as he describes it), he launched a product family that is now worth well over a billion dollars in annual sales. I’ve also been listening (and playing along) to Don Moen’s I Am the God That Healeth Thee, a lovely and simple song that reminds believers of their access to healing through Christ.

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Cheers to the coming week.

Koye.

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