Author Archives: SMS

Dislocations

Reading Time: < 1 minute

When I was in business school, during our first week orientation dinner event, we did a group exercise.

I forget all the details, but we broke out into groups of five or six.  Each person was assigned a role representing a function in a company – marketing, sales, purchasing, inventory management, manufacturing, etc.  The leader of the exercise would give the front of each organization the actual sales number for that period.  And then each function had to deliver a single forecast to the next function in the organization without communicating or discussing any additional information, ending with the manufacturing function who had to decide how many units to produce.  And this was repeated for a number of periods.

The gist of the exercise was that the actual forecast went something like 10,000 units in the first period, 11,000 units in the second period and then 10,000 units for every remaining period.  

However, this singular and relatively small change, generally produced wildly fluctuating forecasts throughout each team.   I mean laughably huge, seesawing projections for changes in demand that totally disrupted the organization.  Some organizations would produce no units in some periods, have stock outs in some periods, or end up with triple the amount of inventory required by the end of the exercise.

I feel like COVID just did that to the world’s economy.  And we will be living with wild fluctuations, supply chain disruptions, and asset dislocations for some time.

Three Take-Aways: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.” – Essentialism

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” – Essentialism

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three key take-aways from the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

  1. Trade-Offs & Boundaries

Trade-offs and boundaries are good things.  Acknowledging that everything is a series of trade-offs will help you not try to do it all and be more thoughtful about where you do spend your energy.This one is pretty intuitive for me, maybe because of my training as an engineer.

However, I can definitely work on setting better boundaries.  The pandemic and work from home have not helped keep clear boundaries.  This is one I will need to work on a bit.  

“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.”

“Mastering this Essentialist skill, perhaps more than any other in this section, requires us to be vigilant about acknowledging the reality of trade-offs. By definition, applying highly selective criteria is a trade-off; sometimes you will have to turn down a seemingly very good option and have faith that the perfect option will soon come along.”

“Essentialists, on the other hand, see boundaries as empowering. They recognize that boundaries protect their time from being hijacked and often free them from the burden of having to say no to things that further others’ objectives instead of their own.”

  1. Priorities

However, before you can really evaluate trade-offs and set boundaries, you need to have a clearer sense of your priorities and values.  Without knowing what you want to focus on, want to accomplish, want to contribute etc., one cannot effectively prioritize.  

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

“What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like? What if we stopped being oversold the value of having more and being undersold the value of having less?”

“The first type of nonessential you’re going to learn how to eliminate is simply any activity that is misaligned with what you are intending to achieve.”

I most definitely need to spend some time on this one.  Here were two good thoughts about figuring this out.

“To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.”

  1. Step Back And Apply An Editorial Mindset

There is a reason newspapers and book publishers use editors.  Sometimes, you need someone who can step back, look at the bigger picture, and apply a critical eye.  Editors use their judgement and guiding principles to apply selection criteria about what should be included and what should not.  And they strive to ensure the included content is accurate, truthful, and consistent with the voice of their publication.  And a good editor seeks to bring out the best in their published content.  We should all spend time applying those editorial areas of focus to our own lives.

“Doing less is not just a powerful Essentialist strategy, it’s a powerful editorial one as well.”

“What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot, and characters.”

“Being a journalist of your own life will force you to stop hyperfocusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture. You can apply the skills of a journalist no matter what field you are in—you can even apply them to your personal life. By training yourself to look for “the lead,” you will suddenly find yourself able to see what you have missed.”

Off-Leash

Reading Time: < 1 minute

I like dogs.  And most animals for that matter.  My wife tried to kill a spider in our bedroom the other night, and I yelled at her, and intervened to perform a rescue and recovery mission to the back porch. 

However, off-leash does not give your dog permission to sniff my crotch.  Or anywhere else on my body.  

My. Personal. Space. Is. My. Personal. Space.  Whether or not your dog is tethered to you.  

Your dog’s “way of saying hi” might intersect with my way of saying “stay away from me”.

I was a competitive distance runner long enough to have fought off a wide variety of four legged animals.  So, if your dog comes at me unexpectedly.  I am betting on the human to come out on top.  We have been doing it for thousands of years.  Keep that in mind, if your dog is not socialized and is not tethered to you.

Off leash does not equal out of control.  Just because McDonald’s has a playground, doesn’t mean my eight year old can eat your french fries.  Same goes with your dog in public multi-use spaces.

Family Mission: Lamb’s Canyon

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lamb’s Canyon is between Park City and Salt Lake City; just off of Interstate 80.  I had been wanting to explore the area for a while.  We stopped off at the exit once in April coming back from SLC, but it was still pretty snowy, the season gate to the road was still locked, and we were not prepared for a long hike.

But we took advantage of a little extra time during the long fourth of July weekend to plan and do a hike in Lamb’s Canyon.

At this point in the season, the gate is open so you can drive all the way into the trailhead.  The trailhead is well marked, has restrooms, but fairly limited parking.  I saw several cyclists on the road, so that might be something I have to check out at some point.

The weather has been hot and it seemed like many folks started early.  However, we only saw a handful of folks on the trail, so the hike gets a good marks for being low traffic.  We did see a few trail runners, and some lady on an e-bike (boo).  The Lambs Canyon Trail is in good shape, although there are several downed trees across the trail.  The trail is reasonably shaded.  And there were lots of pretty wildflowers.

Here are the stats on our ascent:

Over two thousand feet in just under three miles is no joke.  And it was a pretty steady ascent, so be prepared.  On All Trails, the hike was rated as Moderate.  I would rate it as Moderate Plus for sure, maybe even Difficult.

Our goal was to turn off and head out to Millvue Peak.  Although the actual Lambs Canyon Trail continues straight.  But the trail once you leave the Lambs Canyon Trail and turn left toward Millvue peak was pretty overgrown at this point in the season, still had some fairly serious elevation gain, and we were feeling a bit low energy, so we picked a lunch spot looking at Gobbler’s Knob and turned around.

I think we will try to come back and attempt the hike again in the Fall when the weather is cooler, there are less bugs, and maybe some of the vegetation has subsided.  

Unexpected Benefit

Reading Time: < 1 minute

I am a cyclist.  I generally ride as much as I can.

This does create some tension in my personal life.  Safety is a root cause.

So, I have ridden with Road ID’s “ecrumb” application (https://www.roadid.com/pages/road-id-app)  for several years.  It allows my wife, or anyone else I add, to track my rides via an emailed link.  There are similar applications from other companies.  The main benefit is if something unforeseen would happen, your last known location is traceable.

Recently, I discovered an added benefit of the application.  I lost my phone on my ride. 

I had put my phone in my jersey back pocket.  That’s fairly common.  But this was not a particularly well fitting jersey and I had my repair kit in there as well.  And, I had a little off bike incident that apparently dislodged my phone without me knowing it.  We won’t call it a crash, since I never hit the ground, but I did come off the bike in a fairly unceremonious way.

As soon as I got home, I realized my phone was missing.  We looked on the “ecrumb” and the application reported the last known position as the spot of my little event.  When I rode back to the spot, there my phone was, laying under a little bush.

A nice surprise.

Influential Reads – June 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Waiting for the right time is seductive. Our mind tricks us into thinking that waiting is actually doing something.”  – Farnam Street

Half way through 2021.

Updated stats through June:

ArticlesBooks
January654
February491
March643
April532
May970
June542
July
August
September
October
November
December
Total38212

Here are my most influential reads – in no particular order:

  1. CDC eviction moratorium: Supreme Court leaves ban in place through July – “The ban has just been extended another month, until the end of July, and the Biden administration said it will end then.”
  2. A Working Narrative – “The future of remote work is also, however, easily linked to general labor concerns, the role of work in American lives, corporatism and the social contract with our present system of capitalism.” SMS here: The current conversation at the executive level in my company seems to be missing the point that some portion of the employee population has now experienced remote work and does not want to go back to the office for that reason – unrelated to COVID concerns.
  3. 20 of the Best Adventure Quotes of All Time, Courtesy of Author Bill Bryson – “What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.”
  4. On the Crisis and Inflation, Barron’s Shows How the Past Can Be Prologue – “Americans may take the chance to go on more vacations and go to more concerts and movies in the next few years, but they probably won’t be getting more haircuts or more takeout.”
  5. Infrastructure Finally Gets Its Week. But Inflation and Jobs Haven’t Gone Away – “So, there’s the bipartisan package totaling $559 billion to fund unambiguously needed projects for transportation, power grids, broadband, and the like, which will be financed without tax increases but by unused past spending authorizations, increased IRS enforcement, and things like selling off part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”
  6. We Were Shocked – Shocked! – that Massive Stimulus Caused Inflation – “So clearly, the big mismatch between supply and demand in this cycle is the problem. And it isn’t just in used cars and trucks. It isn’t just in hotels and airfares. In fact, it is a myth that there is a small set of categories that are inflating wildly while other prices are inert.”
  7. The Fed Pulls Back on Its Ultraeasy Stance. Volatility May Follow – “Yet the admission of this seemingly self-evident fact took markets by surprise.”
  8. Overwhelming Moab – “The common theme is incredible recreational experiences and towns that are a bit off-kilter.”
  9. ‘Revenge Travel’ Will Be All The Rage Over The Next Few Years – “The term is also retribution against COVID-19 and how it is losing its power to control our lives, including canceling travel plans.” SMS here:  You are not owed anything, and certainly not anymore than anyone else.
  10. The remedy for high house prices is . . . high house prices – “As always, sales lead prices. If sales continue to trend much lower, expect prices to reverse course soon.”

Note: This is based on when I read the article, not necessarily when it was first published.  Unfortunately, my backlog of things I would like to read always seems to dwarf the amount of time I can devote to reading.

Lessons I Learned Working For A Family Business

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It was not a conscious decision, but I went to work for a family business.  In fact, I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself into.  To be clear, it’s not all bad.  But different.  And complicated.  Sometimes messy.  Kind of like a family. 

Here are three things I learned.

  1. Peter Principle Is In Full Effect: 

“The Peter Principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.”

Examples of the Peter Principle were all over the place.  We would move people around.  And, they would fail miserably.  And, we would try them in some new role.  Repeat.

  1. Just When You Think You Were Out…

One of the primary reasons that the Peter Principle is really common is that leaving is not really an option.  You do not really resign from your family.  Or get fired from your family.

I have not held a lot of roles, especially compared to some of the resumes that I see with multiple one and two year stints.  However, I have never really considered being a “lifer” anywhere.  In a family business, a lot of folks are lifers.  Maybe it is not their only option, but it is the only one they will consider.

Second (and third, and fourth, etc) chances are common.  We had one guy, a family friend, who had been fired multiple times.  And rehired.

Also, you will find a lot of people, who will really only have one experience on their “resume”.  This is not to say they are not competent.  It is just to say, they will only have one perspective.  Which can make driving organizational change difficult.

  1. Work and Play Blurred

The lines between work and play were very, very blurry.  Or maybe the right way to say that is, the lines between professional and social were complicated.  For someone like me, who tries to separate work and life a bit, realize that you will be on the outside.  And viewed as a bit unusual for trying to separate the two.

Folks in the organization, who typically would not have the attention of the CEO, went on vacation with the CEO.  Or maybe lived with the CEO.  Or was married to someone related to the CEO.  And that worked outside the family of the CEO.  There were lots of relations – same last names, siblings, spouses, cousins, etc.  You get the point.  It is a very, very complicated organizational chart to navigate.

Family Adventure: Camping In Grand Teton N.P.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

We spent the last two weekends camping in Grand Teton N.P.  Here are some highlights.

Campground:  

We stayed at the Signal Mountain Campground in sites #69 and #68 for the two weekends.  The campground itself is moving toward the north part of the park, but not quite all the way up to Colter Bay.  The location is off of Teton Park Rd. and is right on Jackson Lake.

The two sites we stayed at where both in the “generator free” zone.  Theoretically, there is a vehicle size limit in the campground as well, but that did not seem well enforced.  

Both sites had private paths down to the lake, which was key.  We preferred #68 vs. #69, since the site had more space for your tent, etc.  Site #69 is better for small RVs that do not need a tent.

Hikes:  

We did six hikes.  Here they are in my order of preference:

  1. Cascade Canyon – This was a great hike.  We opted for the (fairly expensive) boat ride across Jenny Lake.  And once we cleared most the folks who stopped at inspiration point – other hikers thinned out considerably.  We went up the North Fork of the trail for about another half mile or so and found a good lunch spot.  The views were amazing.  We want to come back and try to make it all the way to Solitude Lake, but need an earlier start.
  1. Hermitage Point – This was pretty long hike (~9 miles), but the views were worth it and the traffic was surprising low.  We had an awesome lunch spot all to ourselves.  I would suggest hiking clockwise.  The opposite direction we hiked, but you would get better views of the mountains.  
  1. Woodland and Lake Creek Trail – We did this hike on our way out of the park on our last Sunday.  The trailhead is in Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, which is a cool story and worth researching.  The hike is short (~3 miles) and easy, but nice.  Traffic was not bad, despite being close to Jackson, due to limiting cars in the parking lot (no overflow parking on the road allowed).  We waited a bit for a spot, but it was worth it.
  1. Taggart Lake – We did this hike heading out of the park on Sunday of our first weekend.  Since we had to break camp, we got a bit of a late start and the trailhead was packed with substantial overflow of cars onto the shoulder of the road.  Despite all the other hikers, this was a pretty enjoyable hike and we snagged a great lunch spot on a rock in the lake.  The hike was ~4 miles and pretty easy.
  1. Grand View Point / Two Ocean Lake / Emma Matilda Lake complex – We affectionately called this one Daddy’s Death March.  One, the parking lot is not where the book said it was going to be, so we added another 1.5 miles or so on unexpectedly.  Two, it was hot.  Three, we wove a few trails together, so my family was convinced we were lost, while I on the other hand knew we were in Wyoming the entire time.  In all seriousness, I think we would have liked this hike better if it had been cooler and we had saved ourselves some mileage at the beginning.  I think we hiked ~11 miles.  These trails are toward the north side of the park and away from the mountains, so much lower traffic.  And I did particularly enjoy the trail segment between Emma Matilda and Two Ocean Lake, which we walked heading westerly and were staring at the mountains the whole time.  We did see three separate piles of bear scat, so bring our bear bell and spray.
  1. Signal Mountain Summit – This was our first hike of our first weekend and it disappointed.  The view at the top was marginal.  The hike itself – while low traffic – was not that great.  A plus was the trailhead was at our campground.

We used Hiking Grand Teton National Park by Bill Schneider as a reference and it was worth it.

Other Thoughts:

A few other thoughts – aside from the park is phenomenally beautiful and we had two great weekends.

On the Cascade Canyon hike, I was pretty surprised at how many folks we saw venturing fairly far up that trail that were totally unprepared for any change in conditions.  Think shorts, tshirts, poor footwear, and little to no water or food.  We live in a mountain environment.  The weather folks are mostly guessing and they are wrong a lot.  Be prepared.

The first weekend was very busy.  Jackson looked super busy – we just drove through it.  Some of that was a hangover from Memorial Day weekend, but I would be prepared for lots of traffic and some long lines.

Our annual National Park pass continues to pay for itself.  We bought ours at REI.

We live at about 6,700’ so the altitude was not an issue.  That was about the base of most hikes.

Being On Vacation Is Not An Excuse For Being An Asshole

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Before you “revenge travel”, consider this.

I grew up in Florida.  I hate Orlando.  And most parts of Florida south of that point.  Too many tourists.

We have been here in Park City Utah for about 18 months now.  I am most certainly not a local, but I am grumpy like one.  And I understand why the locals are grumpy.  Too many tourists.  There is a reason on a weekend powder day, the locals are in line by 8:30a and back at the parking lot by 10:30a.  To the guys in the pickup truck from Idaho the road rage merged into us in the turn lane at the Canyon resort on a panic powder day – I hope you got stuck at the Orange Bubble lift line and all your powder lines got packed out.

Traffic laws also apply when you are on vacation.  Slow down.  Especially if you do not know where you are going.  Which obviously you don’t.  To the guy in the minivan that flipped me off on Moose Wilson road in Grand Teton last weekend because you had to yield for 30 seconds on the one lane bridge, I hope the pictures you took out the window of your van sucked.  Sucked more than having to drive a minivan.

There is also wildlife.  I want you to see a moose.  I think they are cool.  There was one sleeping in my neighbor’s front yard the other day.  So, the moose jam you are creating is not impressing anyone.  Respect the wildlife.  Act like you’ve seen some before.  And, you probably miss most the wildlife because of the previous point.

Locals also shop at the grocery store you are storming through like a hoard of locusts.  Grocery shopping is not a timed event.  Rather than be that tourist, learn to pre-order everything online for pickup.  One, it will save you a couple hours of your vacation.  Two, it will create a local job. 

But mostly, please remember that being on vacation is not an excuse for being an asshole.  You are not more entitled than anyone else, especially the people who live where you are vacationing.

You Cannot Eat Growth

Reading Time: 2 minutes

History may not repeat, but it seems to rhyme.  I am totally plagiarizing that quote for somewhere, but I am being too lazy to go reference it.

But I feel like I have seen this story before.  And it ended fairly predictably last time.  Lots of publicity around high growth, but unprofitable business.  And asset classes with no inherent earnings power.

Remember, you cannot eat growth.  Growth won’t pay mortgages or tuition.  Or really anything else for that matter.

The focus on growth and sales, for the sake of growth and sales, feels eerily reminiscent of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  You can see some of that in metrics like the following:

The only part that seems to be missing is some metric like “eyeballs”.

The concept of scaling a business and taking market share is not lost on me.  However, many of these growthy businesses have no clear answer to when can you stop scaling and focus on driving operating leverage and creating economic profits.  Do not underestimate the operational challenges in turning that corner.

If you were running your own business that was your livelihood, would you prioritize sales growth or cash flow?  Why would you think about investments in other situations any differently?

At some point in the future, more investors are going to be forced to think about that and decide which one matters more – sales growth or cash flow.  

In February, there started to be some pullback in some of the growth oriented names, most evident in the pullback in the NASDAQ 100.

There’s probably no one reason.  However, an increasing focus on future cash flows would be bad news for many of these names.  A change in speculative appetite is a change in the degree to which investors care about cash flows at all — the degree to which they believe that there will always be another person (the “greater fool”) who will pay more for an asset than they did.

Focus on math and fundamentals.  Boring, yes.  A little FOMO, for sure.  But, unlikely to lead you astray.