Thursday, December 4, 2014

the joy of the unexpected

The other day I went to Crissy Field without too much hope of kiting: there was barely any wind and no other kiter was there. Yet a few minutes after I got there my friend Stefaans showed up and the wind pick up to where we thought we could barely make it work. We gave it a go and had a wonderful session. Afterwards, I felt that the pleasure of the session was augmented by the fact that it was unexpected. This reminded me of a conversation I had with the boys about the pleasure one derives from the anticipation of something, e.g., a great concert, a vacation. Does this imply that there is a somewhat fixed amount of pleasure one can derive from something and that anticipation uses up some of the pleasure - while not even knowing it is coming leaves all the pleasure available for later?

I don't think so. I think these two things: the pleasure of anticipation and the pleasure of the unexpected are unrelated. Enjoying the anticipation doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the event itself. Of course, if we know it is coming we won't get the pleasure of the surprise factor, whether we enjoyed the anticipation or not.

Take away? Enjoy the anticipation of pleasurable events and also try to create spontaneous and unplanned events that might give you the joy of the unexpected.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

End of an Era

I thought I had one more year - until Ale went to college. But the end came sooner: Paco decided to go to high school in San Mateo. He takes Caltrain there and we have to drop him off at the train station pretty early, so can't take the three boys together to school anymore :-(.

We should probably transition to A Meal at a Time. After all, the five of us have dinner together most nights. It is difficult to change routines... I will try.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to the Steam Bath

Just came back from a fabulous six day mountain biking holiday with Cindy & the boys... The third day was our longest: 7 hours on some fairly technical trails through remote mountains. 45 minutes into the ride my back "locked-up". This happens to me once or twice per year: I don't fully understand what causes it, or even what is going on with my back, but each incident lasts 3-7 days, and during this time my lower back is super stiff and fragile. Walking and standing is particularly uncomfortable.

I knew this might happen during the trip, so I came prepared with strong prescription pain-killers, which make things bearable during an incident. Problem was, I didn't have the pain-killers on my day pack. They were back in the van. That day being so long we didn't have an extra 1.5+ hours to go back to the van and get them. So when my back locked up I was faced with two choices: abandon de ride and go back on my own to the van - then wait for ~6 hours for them to finish - or, continue with the ride. I could barely stand or walk, but riding was fine. I decided to try to continue with the ride and return if it got too uncomfortable. Turned out riding the bike was mostly fine and only getting on and off the bike was painful. Our guide Chris and Cindy helped me out during the short sections when we had to carry our bikes and I actually really enjoyed what turned out to be one of the best rides of our trip. Having said that, by the 6th hour even riding started to become uncomfortable, and by the time we made it back to the van I could not put any weight on my Left leg. The pain-killers and a dip in an icy-cold stream helped, but I was starting to believe it might have been a bad idea to keep riding...

The next morning (days 2 & 3 of an episode are usually the worst) I could barely walk. Our guide Chris had done some research and found that there was an aquatic center nearby with a steam bath, sauna & hot tub. I was in no condition to ride, so while the rest of the group went for a ride, I stayed at the aquatic center, hoping it would make me feel a bit better. I went straight for the steam bath and within 20 minutes it was like magic: my back was almost normal. When they came to pick me up two hours later they couldn't believe their eyes: I had slowly limped into the center yet came out walking normally. The steam bath had cured me! I skipped that afternoon session, but by the next day was as good as new - and got to fully enjoy the last two days.


- My theory that when my back locks remaining physically active heals it faster seems to be correct. I believe the "locking" of my back is a defense mechanism, not an injury. I need to convince my back that it is OK to relax.

- A steam bath might be a magical cure for some back problems.

- A good guide makes all the difference

Friday, May 30, 2014

At our best during our worst moments

During last week's kite race I accidentally crashed my kite into another competitor's kite, wrecking his kite (mine suffered no damage). It was entirely my fault and I felt terrible. I could have simply "left the scene of the accident". But I felt really bad and wanted to do all I could to help the other racer. For a short while I simply stayed floating close to him waiting for the rescue boat to pick him up. Then I realized that we had identical kites, so I could give him my kite and take his. This would allow him to compete in the following race and avoid the ordeal of a rescue. We did that and I got rescued with his kite. Afterwards I told him that we should swap kites permanently. He would keep my kite, which was in perfect shape, and I would keep his broken kite and fix it.

The other kiter really appreciated my behavior and told me that last time he had a similar incident the racer who was at fault didn't do anything to help him with his situation or broken gear. He simply apologized and moved on. I didn't feel that I was doing anything particularly special. I had caused an incident and felt that it was my responsibility to do everything within my power to correct the situation. Why should the other kiter deal with the cost and hassle of repairing a kite that I had broken? Yet, as we all know, not everyone always does the "right thing". This bad situation that I caused gave me the opportunity to show that I am one of those people who does try to do the right thing. And the people who witnessed that appreciated it.

I am obviously not suggesting that we intentionally put ourselves in bad situations to show we behave well in them :-). Just that we remember that our worst moments sometimes give us the opportunity to be at our best. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Financial Leverage 101

Told the boys about financial leverage. Used the example of buying a house with 100% of your own money versus a 20% downpayment and 80% mortgage. When you sell the house, your return can be a lot better if you have the leverage of the mortgage. Of course, you need to factor the cost of the mortgage, i.e., the interest, and the risk that if the value of your investment goes down you might end up owing more money to the bank than your investment is worth.

Sometimes people use leverage because they have no choice. They simply don't have the money to buy the asset without borrowing. Sometimes they do it for the better expected financial return - if they think they can invest the rest of their money in something else that will give a better return than the cost of the loan.

A bit of leverage can be good, and sometimes represent's "free money". For example, interest expenses on home mortgages are tax deductible. That tax deduction is an incentive from the government towards home ownership and is, in essence, free money. Of course, even with that benefit sometimes you are better off not borrowing, say, if the interests are too high, or not buying, say if renting is a better route. So it is important to always keep the big picture in mind.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beware of First Impressions

A few years ago I met a couple of people around the same time. One was more extroverted and charismatic, call him Bob, the other more serious and quiet, call him Jim. I initially became closer with Bob. He was much easier to talk to. I was a bit intimidated by Jim. Yet over the years I had the opportunity to interact many times with both and realized that I didn't really like Bob very much. Sure, at first he seemed nice & fun, but it turned out underneath he was a bit mean and didn't share any of my values. Jim, on the other hand, turned out to be the nicest guy. Sure, he is a quiet guy, but after talking with him enough times I realized we got along very well and had many shared values and beliefs.

I thought this was a timely anecdote to share with the boys as Paco is about to go to a new school for high school. He will meet dozens of classmates and might decide who to befriend based on first impressions... The good news if that in a situation such as high school, Paco will have plenty of time to get to know most (if not all) of his classmates - and thus move beyond first impressions. Most situations in life are not like that. So what to do? At least one should be aware of the imperfect nature of first impression judgements. Be careful about "superficial" traits that might make someone likeable, e.g., charisma, and those traits that might make other people harder to relate to, e.g., seriousness, shyness. Figure out what is it that you really care about in people and assess that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We see and hear what we expect to see and hear

Ale was giving Paco a hard time about being late when Nico jumped in saying he wasn't late. Ale clarified he was referring to Paco only but Nico insisted Ale had also referred to him. Truth is Ale had been super specific about Paco, even saying that while Paco got up first, he was often last to the car. I believe that Nico had heard what he expected to hear, i.e., his older brother giving him a hard time. And our memories are so unreliable that I am sure Nico remembered Ale saying his name. We construct our memories based on our expectations.

A related situation that I often see is people who believe they can "interpret" others expressions and intonations. "It is not what you said but how you said it". Maybe. But a more accurate saying might sometimes be "It is not what you said but what I expected you to say". So, think hard before jumping to conclusions. Don't try to read too much between the lines, as more often than not, it is you who is writing there, not the person speaking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Junkie Takes Desperate Measures

I am a kite junkie. After a day or two without kiting I start to get pretty desperate. I need my kitesurfing fix to remain sane. I joke that I now understand drug addicts better. I can relate to the feeling of needing something to which you are addicted - and doing whatever it takes to get it.

Last week I injured my wrist. For a couple of days I wasn't sure how serious it was and how long I might need to stay out of the water. Needless to say I was VERY concerned. The idea of not being able to kite for weeks, or even months, (specially now in the middle of the kite racing season) was devastating. In short, I was desperate. And desperate people do desperate things. What did I do? Fortunately, nothing too radical ;-). A few weeks earlier my mother had been in town and brought some Peyote cream. She said it had done wonders for her knee. At the time I was pretty dismissive. Peyote? Isn't that what some native americans smoke (or chew?) to hallucinate? At least that is what I remembered from Carlos Castaneda... Yet when my ability to kite was at stake, I was willing to try anything. Where is that Peyote cream?

The incident got me thinking about the crazy things that people do when they are really desperate - and the many people that try to take advantage of them. Need to recover a loved one? Need to lose weight? Need a job? Any route that offers hope is worth exploring - even if under normal circumstances we know it would be silly.

What is the take-away? Be on the lookout for crazy things we (or our loved ones) might do in desperate situations. Pay attention to the downside. Most times there isn't much downside: the cream doesn't help, the psychic doesn't change things, we waste a bit of money. But other times we might make matters significantly worst...

As to my wrist, I am glad to report that immobilizing it with a brace is making it better. And I can even kite with the brace :-). The Peyote cream, on the other hand, didn't seem to help.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bait and Switch

A few days ago I got an email with the subject "Speaker Invitation". The organizer of a conference about start-ups and entrepreneurship was asking me if I would be interested in participating in the event. I enjoy speaking at these kinds of events - as I usually get great feedback from the participants - so I gave him a tentative yes, but asked for more details about my participation and the agenda. At this point someone else from the organization took over the conversation and suggested that I help judge a start-up competition. Looking into the details I realized though that, given the number of judges and start-ups, my contribution would be pretty minimal. The event was not going to be in San Francisco and I concluded that it would not be worthwhile for me to go to the event unless I could contribute more significantly. I told them as much at which point they apologized and said the speaking slots where all full. The whole things felt like a "bait and switch". Like a car dealership that showcases an amazing deal on the window only to tell prospective buyers that that car had been sold, but they had another one available... My message to the boys: don't engage in this kind of behavior and be on the lookout for those who try to pull a bait and switch on you.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cash Flow & Liquidity

I explained to the boys the concepts of cash flow and liquidity. These concepts are relevant to organizations as well as individuals. You might be "profitable", have more income than expenses, but if the timing of your expenses is sooner than that of your income, you might run out of cash and get into a lot of trouble. This, I believe, is the primary reason start-ups fail.

You might have valuable assets, but if they are illiquid they might do you no good when you need cash. A house might take weeks or months to sell; a company might take months, years or never find a buyer. Often there is a trade-off between speed and value: a car can always be sold quickly at a dealer, but for less than a private buyer, who might take weeks to find, would pay.

Understand these concepts and keep an eye on them for your personal and professional lives.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sleep on it

Someone asked one of my relatives for a favor that he wasn't sure he wanted to do. It wasn't something urgent, but instead of taking his time to think about it, my relative agreed on the spot to do the favor. A few hours later he was regretting his decision. I mentioned to the boys that I try to take my time and "sleep" on important or difficult decisions. But some people feel compeled to answer requests right away. One approach that often works for me is to take a tentative decision and see how I feel about it after a few hours. My gut usually gives me pretty good feedback, but it does need a bit of time to "react" to my decision.

This approach shouldn't be confused with dragging our feet or being indecisive. Additional days will rarely help, and we need to be sensitive to the timeframe of the specific matter and set clear expectations about when we will provide an answer. For example, sometimes someone asks me for something and he can't wait hours for an answer. But 10 minutes are not a problem. So I take the ten minutes to think about it or maybe discuss it briefly with someone else. I find this approach particularly helpful for phone calls: someone calls me with a tough request. I ask him if I can call him back in ten minutes with an answer, hang up and think about it without the pressure of having the phone to my ear.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Plan with your Left Side, Execute with the Right one

I have been trying to learn to tack on my foilboard. Progress has been VERY slow... I must have attempted hundreds of tacks by now! The other day, instead of "thinking" about what I needed to do (pull gradually on rear hand to send the kite to the new side; wait for the kite to be overhead then send board to the new side; shift weight forward as I swing under the kite, etc, etc) I tried just letting my body do whatever came naturally. In other words, let the Right side of my brain take over. If I could do the tacks in slow motion, thinking through them would work just fine. The problem is that I can't think through the steps fast enough. I am still thinking about step number 2 when I need to be doing step 3! The Right side of my brain, on the other hand, operates much more quickly than the Left.

Of course the answer is not that simple because the Right side of my brain doesn't know what to do (at least not yet). I think this is where a technique like visualization comes in: you go through the maneuver in your head in advance and in slow motion. You do this guided by the Left side of your brain - while, hopefully, the Right side is quietly paying attention.  Then when you are in the water and need to do the maneuver quickly, you let the Right side show you what it learned.

OK. Enough mumbo jumbo. I am going to go kiting know and see what happens!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

20 Feet From Stardom

Watched this great documentary over the weekend. Several take-aways that I discussed with the boys this morning:

- The spotlight is not for everyone. It is not just a matter of talent or effort. Some of the back-up singers in the film are as talented and hard-working as any lead singer. But it takes a certain kind of person to succeed in and enjoy the spotlight.

- Of the dozen or so featured singers only one succeeds in becoming a lead singer, and after decades of trying. Several were still trying when the film was made. Others had given up. My favorite one concluded that doing back-up singing was just fine for her. She tours with the Rolling Stones and seems to have a terrific time doing so. Ale observed that touring with the Rolling Stones is by itself a huge success. I agreed. The point is that, for some people, succeeding as a back-up singer is a better fit than succeeding as a lead singer.

- Being in the spotlight has its downside - this is one of the reasons it is not for everyone. It is much more stressful & risky, not to mention other aspects such as the loss of privacy.

- Cindy mentioned there is an analogous situation in many other fields: theater, music, dance, science, business. This got me thinking that I've become a back-up singer. I work with entrepreneurs who are on the spotlight but I remain on the sidelines. I like it this way. A good chorus can make a big difference and I get to perform in many different stages with lots of talented lead singers!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hold back the offer letter

Paco gets his high school application replies today. Some schools also send emails and I was asking the boys what they thought would work better: to be the first school to reply or the last. Their initial reaction was that it wouldn't make a difference. I told them that I thought it would, but I didn't know what would work better. This got us talking about A/B testing. It also got me thinking about offer letters in competitive situations (where the candidate has multiple attractive choices).

I explained to the boys that I don't simply give candidates an offer letter that they can take, maybe shop around, and ponder upon. Instead, once I am ready to hire someone, I ask them if they are ready to join. If they are, I negotiate their compensation package, get them to agree, and only then give them the offer letter to sign on the spot. If, they are not ready to join, I find out what is holding them back, and try to address it before giving them an offer letter. If the candidate wants time to think about the offer, maybe discuss with their spouse, I give them the info they need, but not an actual printed offer letter - nor necessarily a final best offer. The problem with simply giving an offer letter is that you allow another company to give them a better one. To have the "last word". You want to be in that position.

High schools don't negotiate, but colleges do. I've heard of colleges that offer applicants they are trying to recruit better scholarships than the ones other schools are offering them. They can only do this if the have the last word.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Great White Sharks in Lake Michigan

I went to hear a shark expert yesterday talk about sharks in the SF Bay Area. His opening remarks were music to my (kitesurfing) ears: the risk of dying from a shark attack are minuscule. More people die every year from accidents involving toaster ovens, furniture or lightning than from sharks. Yet, as reassuring as this statement sounds, it is a profoundly flawed. I asked the boys about it and they immediately saw the problem: what is the denominator? What matters is not the absolute number of people who experience shark attacks, but the percentage of those who swim in areas with sharks that have incidents. Someone at the event asked this specific question and the expert said he had no statistics. But it is safe to say that more people in the world have furniture and toaster ovens than those who swim in "sharky" waters (we obviously don't want to include in the denominator the swimmers of Lake Michigan).

The expert acknowledged this point later in his presentation when he said he wouldn't go surfing at Wadell Creek in the fall. Oooppss. That is one of my favorite kitesurfing spots! The risk remains VERY low, but probably orders of magnitude higher than that of a soda machine falling on top of me or a lighting strike. A few interesting tidbits:

- There has never been an incident inside SF Bay. While great whites occasionally wander into the bay, they don't stay long. An incident inside the bay is beyond unlikely. Other species of sharks live in the Bay, but none are dangerous.
- Great whites take a single bite of their prey then wait for the prey to die before eating it. This means that if you get out of the water after the initial attack and get medical assistance you are likely to survive (only 10% of shark incidents result in a fatality). To get out of the water you need help, so don't swim/surf/snorkel alone in sharky waters.
- Most attacks involve someone on the surface that looks like a seal. The shark is looking up from the bottom and only sees a silhouette.
- Great whites migrate all the way from California to Hawaii every year. While there have been attacks in every month of the year, the most dangerous months in Northern California are August and September - and the least dangerous are March to May.
- Areas with lots of seals and sea lions are the most dangerous (Wadell Creek is right next to the Año Nuevo seal reserve).

While the population of great white sharks has been steady, the overall population of sharks has been decimated by 90% due to overfishing. Don't eat shark fin soup!!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Good decision for the wrong reasons vs. bad decisions for the right reaons

The boys like to play a game they call "Would you rather". They give you two choices (usually each choice includes something good and something bad) and you have to choose one. I gave them such a choice today: would they rather getting a good outcome for the wrong reasons or getting a bad outcome for the right reasons. Before responding they asked for an example. I gave them one from my work: I sometimes get involved with companies that turn out to be very successful, but I do it for the wrong reasons. Other times I get involved with a company for all the right reasons, but it fails.

Alejandro's first reaction was that what matters are the reasons, since we can't predict the future. All we can do is to make decisions based on our best judgement at the time. I agreed with his sentiment, but clarified that I wasn't asking him how to go about making decisions. I was asking, if they could wave a magic wand and get outcome A or outcome B, which one they would prefer. We agreed that the good outcome is preferable, even if we got it for the wrong reasons.

My point with this exercise was to emphasize that, at the end of the day, it is the outcome that matters the most, regardless of whether we got it by good luck or brilliance. Or, in the case of a negative outcome, by bad luck or stupidity.

Monday, March 3, 2014


An investor friend recently asked me to put him in touch with the CEO of a company that I am involved with. The company is doing very well and my friend wanted to establish a relationship. Problem is, the CEO is very busy and has more important things to do right now than meeting investors. I told as much to my friend who then made a different suggestion: would the CEO be interested in attending a dinner that he is organizing with some prominent industry leaders, CEOs and entrepreneurs? That sounded a lot more compelling so I shared the details with the CEO who agreed it would be worthwhile for him to attend. Win-win. The investor establishes a relationship with the CEO. The CEO attends a worthwhile event.

I told the story to the boys and also mentioned the importance of being genuine. As counter example, sometimes a person who wants my advice offers to "buy me lunch". Their implication being that they get my help and I get a free meal. Problem is: my time is a LOT more valuable to me than a free meal (unless the restaurant is VERY special). 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Are you a happy person?

I read about someone who tries to only work with "happy people". His argument is that most people have an innate level of happiness regardless of their circumstances. So, when interviewing candidates to work with him he tries to determine whether they are naturally happy. He does this by asking them about their past and measuring how happy they were, regardless of what happened.

The boys agreed they would rather spend time with happy people. So I encouraged them, when deciding who to spend time with, to try to determine their attitude and innate level of happiness. I also encouraged them be aware that others might be measuring them in a similar way. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Time Management

Paco spoke to us about time management. He goes from shorter to longer, from more predictable to less. For example, when he has a test he starts with the multiple choice questions, then does the short questions and leaves longer problems or essays for last (to which he devotes as much time as he has left).

I suggested that one should also pre-determine how much time one wants to spend on each thing. For example, on a three hour three part test, you might set aside half an hour for the first section, an hour for the second, and an hour and a half for the third. Otherwise, you risk spending too much time on a specific area.

Ale mentioned that some standardized test, such as the SAT, force you to spend specific amounts of time on each section. The negative though is that if you complete a specific section early you can't take advantage of the extra time to work on another section.

On the "real world", I often work with entrepreneurs who are so busy with their day-to-day challenges they have not time left to work on longer term strategic issues. My advice to them is to block time in their calendars for their "non urgent" strategic stuff, because the day-to-day often takes up all the time you have, no matter how many hours per day you work (so working harder is rarely the answer). Besides, a few extra hours to fight fires is unlikely to make a big difference long term - but a few hours spent on strategic issues are crucial.

Another approach that I like to take in tests is to take a quick pass at each section first, then take another pass to improve things a bit, and keep iterating for as long as I have time. That way you make sure you get all the "low hanging fruit" and spend appropriate time across all areas.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Smoke but don't inhale. Drink but don't swallow.

The legalization of marihuana in Colorado got us talking about pot. Difficult conversation to say the least... I made the case that scientific evidence shows that alcohol is worst than marihuana in a number of ways, and the fact that alcohol is legal and marihuana isn't is an accident of history. Which, btw, might not be the case for too much longer (at least not in the "civilized" world).

So, do I think it is OK to smoke marihuana? It depends. Absolutely not wherever it is ilegal. We should never break the law. But, in a place where it is legal, then I think is is similar to drinking alcohol. You can do it as long as you do it responsibly.

Nico asked why not make alcohol ilegal as well, since both substances can harm us. Ale mentioned that that was already tried during prohibition, with poor results. In general, making something ilegal is rarely the best way to address abuse. Those who abuse it will continue to do so, and those who would have used it responsibly are the ones that stop. Not to mention the creation of ilegal mafias and cartels... Better to keep things legal but regulate them. For example, cars are very dangerous and kill millions of people. Yet we can't make cars ilegal. Instead, we require licenses, have speed limits, traffic police, etc.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Eating a lion doesn't make up for being eaten by a lion

A relative shared some potential good news with me yesterday. She didn't want to get too excited though, because it wasn't yet a "sure thing". I told her she should get excited and enjoy the "good news". Worst case, if things didn't really work out, at least she felt good for a few days.

I mentioned this to the boys this morning and asked them if the agreed with me. They didn't. They all preferred not to get excited because the disappointment if things didn't work out would more than offset the benefits of assuming the good news would pan out. Nico said that bad news stay with him longer than good ones.

Ale mentioned research that shows most people are more negatively impacted by a loss than positively impacted by an equal gain. In terms of money, for example, winning $100 then loosing $100 is worst for most people than not winning or loosing anything (even though they should be indifferent between the two scenarios). Or, in a related situation, people prefer a certain gain of $45 to a 50% chance of winning $100 (even though they should prefer the later).

I am not so sure... Maybe it is the entrepreneur in me, but I like roller coasters. Give me pleasure and pain. Don't give me dullness.

Nico put their point of view best: eating a lion doesn't compensate for being eaten by a lion.

Monday, January 27, 2014

How was your day?

I read an article recently about the importance of asking meaningful questions that show you really care - and are paying attention. Specifically, avoid "generic" questions such as "how was your day". Instead, ask "how did your math quiz go?'. Or, even more specifically, "did the trick you learned to solve factorization problems work out in today's quiz?". Equally important, engage with the answers. Does the following sound familiar: "How was your day?". "OK". End of the conversation. Instead, how about "What did you work on during your tennis practice today?". "My backhand"."So, how is it coming along? You got the top spin down now?"... You get the idea, I hope... Better to have fewer but more meaningful and engaging conversations than frequent but superficial ones.

A few days after I discussed this with the boys Nico gave Cindy a hard time for asking him how his day had been. Oooppss :-).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wipe your B... with your Left Hand

I sprained my Right thumb mountain biking and have to wear a brace for a few weeks (should have stuck to kitesurfing! At least the brace is waterproof :-). To my surprise, the simple act of wiping my b... turned out to be difficult to do with my Left hand. I guess that after doing something for 45+ years one way my brain is struggling to do it differently. Alejandro also had to wear a brace in his Right hand recently but didn't encounter the same difficulty. Maybe it is because he has only been doing it for 15 years. Maybe I am just clumsy. Fortunately, I picked it up pretty quickly. I am amazed at the power of "muscle memory" both as a formula to do things the same way as before (be this right or wrong) and as a mechanism to learn new things.

I challenged the boys to do something different next month from the way they always do it. Ale thought that spreading his cream cheese with his Left hand might be a challenge. I suggested looking for a mental approach or formula they always use. Nico mentioned he always solves word problems the same way and would experiment changing it.

It is good to shake things up every now and then. Don't wait until your Right hand is in a brace to do it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

90% of the way there... not!

Paco spent most of the weekend working on his science fare project. By Friday night he had said that he was almost done, yet he was still scrambling to glue the last charts Monday morning as we got into the car. This reminded me of many software projects that I have been involved with in which the team declares they are 90% done, only to need 50% more time to complete the project. It seems the last 10% is often the hardest...

At least we can now "ship" many products before they are 100% ready - and fix them later with remote updates. Unlike the old days of pressing software on CD-ROMs... Too bad school projects can't be "updated" after the fact! BTW: Alejandro made the observation that it was ironic that, given the focus their school has on technology, e.g., every student has an iPad, they are required to put their entire science project on a big and bulky cardboard...

Anyway, beware of the 90% done syndrome.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nothing to Lose

Huge success stories often involve bold moves. This is the case with individuals as well as organization. How many of the most successful entrepreneurs dropped out of a prestigious university to pursue their vision? Or invested their last penny, and then some, into their company? The same happens with companies, which sometimes put their entire future on the line to pursue a risky strategy.

These bold bets are much easier to make when you have "nothing to lose". Dropping out of Harvard, Stanford or MIT is certainly bold, yet compare that with the challenge faced by someone with a "steady job", spouse, kids and a mortgage. If this person leaves his job for a start-up that fails, he might lose his house and have to relocate his family. In other words, he has a lot more to lose (at least on the surface). Same goes for companies: a small company that "bets the farm" on a new product might go under, but compare that with a multi-billion dollar corporation with thousands of employees and shareholders. The later has a lot more downside.

The reality is of course more complicated than this. A large corporation might have a lot to lose if a bold bet goes wrong, yet it might also have a lot to lose if they don't innovate and evolve (just take a look at Kodak). Same goes for an individual, who might end up very unhappy if their corporate job is not satisfying - or goes away. A few takeaways I shared with the boys:

- Take advantage of situations in which you have nothing to lose. Say you take a risky job after college and it doesn't work out? Well, you just go get another job!
- Recognize that that you, or your organization, has an advantage over those who have a lot to lose - and hence behave conservatively. Having nothing to lose is a huge competitive advantage.
- If you, or your organization, does have a lot to lose, remember that "playing it safe" is not without risks. The risks tend to be longer term ones, but not less serious. Enduring organizations often reinvent themselves with bold moves and great "risks".

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Political Entrepreneur

We talk a fair amount at home about entrepreneurs. I frequently tell the boys about the entrepreneurs that I meet. Today we spoke about a different kind of entrepreneur from the typical Silicon Valley one. We spoke about our friend Leopoldo Lopez, who came over for dinner last night with his family. Leopoldo is the former mayor of Chacao (a large municipality in Caracas) and the leader of one of the main opposition parties in Venezuela.

We first met Leopoldo, and his wife Lilian, at Crissy Field. Turns out that they are kitesurfers like us. They were visiting San Francisco and a common Venezuelan friend put us in touch. We met at the beach and went kiting under the Golden Gate Bridge. Had a really good time, in spite of the fact that Leopoldo had to be rescued by the Coast Guard after kiting into a wind hole :-).

What makes Leopoldo a political entrepreneur? He has founded or co-founded two political parties (Primera Justicia & Voluntad Popular). This is the equivalent of starting companies rather than joining established ones. His current party did extremely well in last month's elections in Venezuela, taking away 17 cities away from the ruling government party (including in some of the government strongest areas, like Barinas). They achieved this with a strategy and execution that remind me of a Sillicon Valley start-up. They focused on the Venezuelan plains and Leopoldo spent months traveling through the key cities earning the support of their citizens. They tracked their performance analyzing which factors worked and which didn't.

Whatever your passion or your calling, you can be an entrepreneur.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Read the fine print

First day of classes for 2014! Started the year with a cautionary tale: a relative used to run a non-profit. While there she opened a credit card for the organization. Years later she left, moved and tried to lease a car. She got turned down for the lease. Turns out the organization had fallen behind on the credit card payments and my relative was personally responsible for it. She called the credit card company to explain that she no longer worked there but that did no good: she had signed on the doted line and assumed responsibility for the debt. The organization didn't have the cash available to pay the debt, so my relative had to pay it out of her own pocket to prevent her credit score and record from getting even worst (it had already been impacted).

Several lessons:

- Keep personal and professional finances separate. If you are assuming debt on behalf of an organization, make sure only the organization is responsible, not you personally.
- Remember that things can change significantly over time: maybe an organization has plenty of funds at one point and you don't think twice about assuming personal liability for its debts. But a few years later the organizations might have changed dramatically. The person you trust is no longer there... The business (and finances) might go South... Change is a constant.
- Have as much savings as possible for unexpected eventualities.
- Monitor your credit record.