Monthly Archives: December 2013

Book Review: Tribes by Seth Godin


tribes by Seth GodinI listened to this book on my phone and I feel that I did a great disservice to the book. The book was packed with information and I felt compelled to stop what I was doing to take notes. That doesn’t work well when I’m at the gym or when I’m riding my bicycle. I loved the message, but I felt that the ideas could have been better organized or explained in a more digestible manner.

The theme of the book is leadership. We all have the capability to be leaders, to initiate a tribe and get followers. A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. If you don’t desire to be a leader, then you can still be part of a tribe as a follower and enjoy all the benefits of being a tribe member.

In the past tribes were restricted by geography, but since the arrival of the Internet, time, cost and distance are no longer an impediment to create or to be part of a tribe.

Some of the characteristics of a tribe are:

  • to be passionate and
  • to enable followers to stay connected.

Ever since the industrial revolution, people have learned to be “Sleepwalkers,” that is, obedient and fearful employees. Ever since we enter grade school, we are taught to conform to the group and to be like everybody else. Whereas at one time conformity used to be a desired personality trait, nowadays it is quickly becoming a liability.

Today we have the tools to create our own future. We can gather around a group of like minded-people, create a following and earn a living while creating art. Today we have the tools to write a book and publish it in 20 minutes; to create our own YouTube channel with almost $0; to create a podcast and make it available to million of people.

Mr. Godin encourages us to become heretics, that is to go against the established belief or custom, to have the courage to express our ideas and share them with the world. At the same time he acknowledges that a leadership position is neither easy to occupy nor comfortable to stay in, but it is much preferable to be a leader than to blindly follow the status quo.

 

Book review: Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Fooled by RandomnessHow many of the financial market millionaires have amassed their great wealth by skills and how many have been just lucky? After reading this book you will asking yourself the same question.

There are many things that I like about this book. One of them is that Mr. Taleb properly labels the business news as entertainment that creates stories out of any market noise. Mr. Taleb reminds us that journalists are entertainers, masters at compressing ideas into six second sound bites that can pique the interest of the public. After all, we – the public are the product and the advertisers are the clients who pay the bills. The journalist’s goal is to retain the attention of the public long enough to show them the advertisements.

Another concept that I enjoyed was the concept of alternative realities. We get the hypothetical example of the 25 year old person who gets paid 10 million dollars every year for playing Russian roulette. We might even feel admiration for that person if he is still alive after a few years, even to the point of forgetting the alternative reality, the reality that he had one in six chances of death. Mr. Taleb reminds us that even if the probability of getting that bullet in the head is a distant probability, the probability is still there and it could happen at any time. Mr. Taleb uses this analogy to portray what really happens in the financial markets every day. Traders tend to forget that there is always a small chance of having big losses. The financial crisis of 2008 is the most recent example, but history is full of these unforeseen financial catastrophes.

At the beginning I had a hard time getting into the book. It seemed to be a bit too intellectual for me, but later on I got used to the style of Mr. Taleb and at the end I ended up enjoying the book. I found it dry at times, but hey, how exciting can you make a book about statistics? Overall, I learned a lot. I learned to prepare for the unexpected, to always have an exit strategy and never to gamble more than what I can afford to lose.

Book Review: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

the 48 laws of powerOnce again, I listened to the book on my Android phone and after many hours of meditation, I’m still not sure whether the author wanted us to absorb his message literally or if he was highlighting the absurd.

Mr. Greene tries to teach us how to obtain power by cunning, manipulation and  lying. He states his 48 laws of power and then uses historical examples to show  a “transgression of the law” and an “observance of the law.” The historic examples are taken from three thousand years of history from leaders of ancient China and Greece to our present days. Many of the stated laws are distilled from the teachings of well known philosophers such as Machiavelli, Sun-tzu and a few others.

I belief that Mr. Green purposely showed the most shrewd ways to gain power and ignored the many ways that people can obtain power by honesty, by giving, by showing gratitude and by serving others; the bookstores are already full of those books. Mr. Green found a fantastic way to differentiate himself in a crowded market.

It is my believe that obtaining power by deceit and cunning is way more difficult than obtaining power by honesty and by a desire to help others. At a given moment, the mask becomes too heavy to carry and if you manage to carry it all the time, you obtain power by giving up your true self. It is not different from the professional who becomes rich by working so many hours that he never gets to enjoy his wealth. Is it worth it?

All that being said some laws make perfect sense:

“5. So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life.” This is my own interpretation of the law: You might be loyal to your spouse all you life, but it only takes one incident of infidelity in order to destroy your reputation as a faithful spouse.

9. Win through your actions, never through argument.” This one is self evident, every action that we take speaks louder than words.

Some of the laws totally disgusted me. Here are two examples.

7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.” This law it way too common in the corporate and politics world. Sure, this law helps us obtain power, but do we feel good about ourselves?

14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy.” People pose as your friend just to find out what you are doing, how they can take advantage of you and how they can betray you when the time is right. This is what Mr. Greene teaches us to do.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The writing is delicious and I recommend it even if I don’t agree with most of the content. The book is entertaining and a great history lesson.

Book review: “The Four Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss

The Four Hour Work WeekI have been hearing about “The 4-Hour Workweek” since it came out in 2007. Unfortunately I waited until now, almost 7 years later to listen to  it.

The book was engaging from the beginning. I listened to the book on my Android phone and at times I found myself paralyzed, refusing to move one inch in order to better absorb segments of the book. Right after listening to the book I bought the kindle version which I intend to read in the near future.

I find this book one of the most motivational and inspiring books that I have ever encountered.

Tim explains how he went from $40,000 per year working 80 hours per week to $40,000 per month working only 4 hours per week, and he shows the readers how they can set up a similar system for themselves. I believe that his method was oversimplified. Just getting traffic to a website seems an impossible barrier for most businesses. Nevertheless, this process has worked for enough people to keep the dream alive.

Tim explains in detail how to outsource your business and your personal life. He explains how to find and train a virtual assistant for a fraction of the cost of a North American employee.  I believe that Tim is in part responsible for the increased awareness of the existence of virtual assistants in the Philippines and other Asian countries.

Tim shares with us many traveling tips. In fact, he makes us aware that we don’t have to be millionaires to spend 6 months in Argentina or the many other exotic places that he mentions. Traveling and living abroad is within the reach of many North Americans and less complicated than we make it out to be.

The part I enjoyed the most, was the concept that we don’t have to wait until age 65 to start enjoying life. That there are alternative lifestyles to the typical 9 to 5 and that work for the sake of work is idiotic. Do we really want to spend most of our lives in a cubicle worrying about satisfying one more customer, or do we want to start living our lives, spending more time with our families and traveling to faraway places?

Overall, I highly recommend this book. You might not agree with everything in it, or you might find that some ideas are out of your reach, but in one of its 400 pages, you will find some nuggets of wisdom which could be applied to your life.

Book review; Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is the kind of book that you cannot put down. It will be 3:00 am and you will feel compulsed to read a few more pages.

Atlas Shrugged book coverWhat would happen to the world if the government increased regulations over every business and the creator of those businesses just quit, disappeared, retired?

Business people are denounced as bloodsucking leaches who feed on the weakness of others, but what would happen if those peoples just stopped innovating? Society as a whole would regress.

In Atlas Shrugged, the regression of society is taken to an extreme where society can no longer function. Those entrepreneurs who risk their lives and well being for their own self interest are a fundamental part of society and without them we are back to dark ages.

I cannot recommend this book enough.

 

Working in Canada (Icebreaker at a toastmaster’s meeting)

Dancing Tango
Dancing Tango

My name is Alain Guillot and I was born in Colombia, South America.

Many years ago, I was reading an issue of National Geographic magazine. The main story was the Quebec referendum (the possible separation of Quebec from Canada). The Fleur de lys was displayed on the front cover with photographs of thousands of people on either side of the debate waving their flags. It was at that time that the idea of coming to Quebec was planted in my head. If history was to be made, I wanted to be there.

I applied for a student visa even if I didn’t have enough money to sustain myself as a student. I was ready to leave the certainty of my present life to leap into the unknown of a different language, of a different culture, of a different country, of a different life.

I went to Concordia University and I started resenting my university studies from the first semester. I found myself during many hours, days, weeks and month memorizing stuff, not to learn but to pass a test. As soon as the test was passed, I would empty my brain in order to create space to memorize more stuff.

During every class, I would try to find the direct relationship between what I was memorizing and the practical applications in real life. At that time, I found very little relationship. Today I find almost none.

Eventually I graduated at the end of 2001. Yes… Let’s find out what is the real value of this piece of paper.

With a name like mine, Alain Guillot, a French name due to my grandfather’s decision to immigrate to Colombia, I was granted many interviews.

When I was sitting across the desk from my prospective employer, they would try to figure out why someone with a name like mine would have a Spanish accent. Many of them asked me if I had changed my name. A few were honest enough to tell me that they needed someone to speak to clients and that my French was not good enough.

After three months of searching, finally one of the top financial institutions hired me. My new title was “Financial Advisor”. My real job was to push financial products.

I had a utopian idea; that the real job of a financial advisor was to help clients get the most for their savings, and that if I could help them get an extra dollar for their investment, or if I could help them save money on unnecessary expenses, my mission would have been accomplished.

However, there was a conflict of interest. In order for my employer to earn more money and for me to earn a higher commission, I was supposed to sell the products with the highest service fees, the highest expense ratio, even if I could offer a similar financial product for a lower cost.

I give you an example. Mutual fund A and Mutual fund B are almost identical. However, one has and expense ratio of 2% and the other one of 0.25%. If I wanted my employer to make money and if I wanted to have money to pay my rent, I would sell mutual fund A and get a higher commission. If I wanted to help my client to the best of my knowledge, I would sell mutual fund B and get almost no commission.

Many of my first clients were my friends and family. And the inner fight would go inside of my head. Do I want to eat, or do I want to offer the best possible product to my clients. Sometimes I opted for one; sometimes I opted for the other one, depending on how desperate I was.

Our sales department was composed of many teams. I was always the lagger of my team. My supervisor was upset at me because our team didn’t earn enough points to win another sales trophy, another pen, another watch, another trip to Cuba or whatever the incentive there was for that particular month.

Eleven months after being hired, the words “I quit” escaped from my lips. I tried to grab those words and swallow them back, but it was too late. It was out there in the open and I didn’t take it back. I returned my laptop, my keys and I walked out of my job a free man.  Free from an education that I considered inept and free from a job that made me feel dishonest.

During my university years I used to dance as a hobby and I decided to earn my living as a dance teacher.

I posted flyers on the walls of the university, the copy centers, the book stores and all the restaurants that would give me permission. Finally, I had one student, then two, then three. At the peak of my teaching career I was seeing 200 students every week. I was hosting monthly dance parties with more than 100 dancers. I felt that I was selling happiness and that I was giving great value for the money of my students. I was earning a lot more than when I was a financial advisor and I felt honest. In addition, my Spanish accent was not an inconvenience to hide and get rid of, it was a pleasant bonus.

My last eight years have been dedicated to a school called Dance Conmigo, which means Dance with me. I gave myself completely to this school. I gave my heart and soul. I knew that I gave my best and there was never a conflict of interest. The happiness of my students was my happiness.

Last Sunday I closed the doors of my school. I gave the keys to new tenants. After eight years, I walked out of my job with pride and satisfaction.

Today, I stand in this room wondering what will be the next chapter of my life