A Few Things...

May 30 2019

From Richmond….the last week has been a blur, so I am a little light on new ideas. Went straight from Montreux to Devon for half term.

Here are a few things I picked up along the way.

1. What Mountain are you on ? Heard David Brooks, the author & NYT columnist speak and have been reading his book: The Second Mountain. It discusses something I see everyone grappling with, whether they know it or not.....

People on the 1st Mountain spend a lot of time on image management. They ask: What do people think of me? Where do I rank? People believe: I can make myself happy. If I achieve excellence, lose more weight, follow this self-improvement technique, fulfillment will follow.

For those on the 2nd Mountain, something happened that interrupted the linear existence they had imagined.

Something happened that exposed the problem with living according to individualistic, meritocratic values. Some of them achieved success and found it unsatisfying. They figured there must be more to life, some higher purpose. Others failed. They lost their job or endured some scandal. Suddenly they were falling, not climbing, and their whole identity was in peril. Yet another group of people got hit sideways by something that wasn’t part of the original plan. They had a cancer scare or suffered the loss of a child.

These tragedies made the first-mountain victories seem, well, not so important. How do you move from a life based on bad values to a life based on better ones?

First, there has to be a period of solitude, in the wilderness, where self-reflection can occur. Then there is contact with the heart and soul — through prayer, meditation, writing, whatever it is that puts you in contact with your deepest desires.

When people are broken open in this way, they are more sensitive to the pains and joys of the world. They realize: Oh, that first mountain wasn’t my mountain. I am ready for a larger journey.

Perhaps most of the people who have emerged from a setback stay in their same jobs, with their same lives, but they are different. It’s not about self anymore; it’s about relation, it’s about the giving yourself away. Their joy is in seeing others shine.

On the first mountain, personal freedom is celebrated — keeping your options open, absence of restraint. But the perfectly free life is the unattached and unremembered life. Freedom is not an ocean you want to swim in; it is a river you want to cross so that you can plant yourself on the other side.

So the person on the second mountain is making commitments. People who have made a commitment to a town, a person, an institution or a cause have cast their lot and burned the bridges behind them. They have made a promise without expecting a return. They are all in.

2. Here are a few ideas I picked up last week at II’s Montreux Family Office conference:

* Concerns about late cycle investing, but still allocating to public and private markets. US middle market the main focus. Large appetite for direct deals and co-investments given lower fees and shallower J-curve, but cognizant that sophisticated deal teams required for analysis.

* Growing interest in technology and venture given opportunities & risks from disruptive tech. Cambridge Associates advocating exposure to China but largely through private growth markets and venture (manager selection key). I’ve been doing a lot here, so email if you want to chat.

* Interest in sustainability and impact of businesses and investment opportunities, great discussion on the rise of the intangible economy and what that could mean for the length of the business cycle and when interest rates turn.

Personally, given where we are in the cycle, I am spending most of my time looking for asymmetric opportunities - still a bunch of things with 3-5x upside over the next few years.

3. Two things worth watching or listening to: 

A. Are you better off specializing or being a generalist in the world we find ourselves. David Epstein has written this amazing book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. This podcast does a good job of discussing everything from the 10,000 hour rule to Roger Federer vs Tiger Woods to Angela Duckworth’s concept of GRIT. One I’ll be listening to twice.

B. HBR Podcast on Understanding the Space Economy.

I’d love your help: Please share this with people you think it will resonate with and should be receiving it.

Quote I am thinking about:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for."

—Epicurus