Tag: money (page 1 of 2)

People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character

Actions, reactions, and what comes next

We are, I would suggest, in a period of collective shock due to the pandemic. Of course, some people are better at dealing with these kinds of things than others. I’m not medically trained, but I’m pretty sure some of this comes down to genetics; it’s probably something to do with the production of cortisol.

It might a little simplistic to separate people into those who are good in a crisis and those who aren’t. It’s got to be more complex than that. What if some people, despite their genetic predisposition, have performed some deliberate practice in terms of how they react to events and other things around them?

I often say to my kids that it’s not your actions that mark you out as a person, but your reactions. After all, anyone can put on a ‘mask’ and affect an air of nonchalance and sophistication. But that mask can slip in a crisis. To mix metaphors, people lose control when they reach the end of their tether, and are at their most emotionally vulnerable and unguarded when things go wrong. This is when we see their true colours.

A few years ago, when I joined Moodle, I flew to Australia and we did some management bonding stuff and exercises. One of them was about the way that you operate in normal circumstances, and the way that you operate under pressure. Like most people, I tended to get more authoritarian in a crisis.

What we’re seeing in this crisis, I think, are people’s true colours. The things they’re talking about the most and wanting to protect are the equivalent of them item they’d pull from a burning building. What do they want to protect from the coronavirus? Is it the economy? Is it their family? Is it freedom of speech?


Last week, I asked Thought Shrapnel supporters what I should write about. It was suggested that I focus on something beyond the “reaction and hyperaction” that’s going on, and engage in “a little futurism and hope”. Now that it’s no longer easier to imagine the end of the world as the end of capitalism, how do we prepare for what comes next?

It’s an interesting suggestion for a thought experiment. Before we go any further, though, I want to preface this by saying these are the ramblings of an incoherent fool. Don’t make any investment decisions, buy any new clothes, or sever any relationships based on what I’ve got to say. After all, at this point, I’m mostly for rhetorical effect.


The first and obvious thing that I think will happen as a result of the pandemic is that people will get sick and some will die. Pretty much everyone on earth will either lose someone close to them or know someone who has. Death, as it has done for much of human history, will stalk us, and be something we are forced to both confront and talk about.

This may not seem like a very cheerful and hopeful place to start, but, actually, not being afraid to die seems to be the first step in living a fulfilling life. As I’ve said before, quoting it is the child within us that trembles before death. Coming to terms with that fact that you and the people you love are going to die at some point is just accepting the obvious.


If we don’t act like we’re going to live forever, if we confront our mortal condition, then it forces us to make some choices, both individually and as a society. How do we care for people who are sick and dying? How should we support those who are out of work? What kind of education do we want for our kids?

I forsee a lot of basic questions being re-asked and many assumptions re-evaluated in the light of the pandemic. Individually, in communities, and as societies, we’ll look back and wonder why it was that companies making billions of dollars when everything was fine were all of a sudden unable to meet their financial obligations when things weren’t going so well. We’ll realise that, at root, the neoliberalist form of capitalism we’ve been drinking like kool-aid actually takes from the many and gives to the few.

Before the pandemic, we had dead metaphors for both socialism and “pulling together in times of adversity”. Socialism has been unfairly caricatured as, and equated with, the totalitarian communist experiment in Russia. Meanwhile, neoliberals have done a great job at equating adversity with austerity, invoking memories of life during WWII. Keep Calm and Carry On.

This is why, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, despite the giant strides and inroads into our collective consciousness, made by the Occupy movement, it ultimately failed. When it came down to brass tacks, we were frightened that destroying our current version of capitalism would mean we’d be left with totalitarian communism: queuing for food, spying on your neighbours, and suchlike.

So instead we invoked the only “pulling together in times of adversity” meme we knew: austerity. Unfortunately, that played straight into the hands of those who were happy to hollow out civic society for financial gain.

Post-pandemic, as we’re rebuilding society, I think that not only will there be fewer old people (grim, but true) but the overall shock will move the Overton Window further to left than it has been previously. Those who remain are likely to be much more receptive to the kind of socialism that would make things like Universal Basic Income and radically decarbonising the planet into a reality.


Making predictions about politics is a lot easier than making predictions about technology. That’s for a number of reasons, including how quickly the latter moves compared to the former, and also because of the compound effect that different technologies can have on society.

For example, look at the huge changes in the last decade around smartphones now being something that people spend several hours using each day. A decade ago we were concerned about people’s access to any form of internet-enabled device. Now, we just assume that everyone’s gone one which they can use to connect during the pandemic.

What concerns me is that the past decade has seen not only the hollowing-out of civic society in western democracies, but also our capitulation to venture capital-backed apps that make our lives easier. The reason? They’re all centralised.

I’m certainly not denying that some of this is going to make our life much easier short-term. Being on lockdown and still being able to have Amazon deliver almost anything to me is incredible. As is streaming all of the things via Netflix, etc. But, ultimately, caring doesn’t scale, and scaling doesn’t care.

Right now, we relying on centralised technologies. Everywhere I look, people are using a apps, tools, and platforms that could go down at any time. Remember the Twitter fail whale?

The Twitter ‘fail whale’

What happens when that scenario happens with Zoom? Or Microsoft Teams? Or Slack, or any kind of service that relies on the one organisation having their shit together for an extended period of time during a pandemic?

I think we’re going to see outages or other degradations in service. I’m hoping that this will encourage people to experiment with other, decentralised platforms, rather than leap from the frying pan of one failed centralised service into the fire another.


In terms of education, I don’t think it’s that difficult to predict what comes next. While I could be spectacularly wrong, the longer kids are kept at home and away from school, the more online teaching and learning has to become something mainstream.

Then, when it’s time to go back to school, some kids won’t. They and their parents will realise that they don’t need to, or that they are happier, or have learned more staying at home. Not all, by any means, but a significant majority. And because everyone has been in the same boat, parents will have peer support in doing so.

The longer the pandemic lockdown goes on, the more educational institutions will have to think about the logistics and feasibility of online testing. I’d like to think that competency-based learning and stackable digital credentials like Open Badges will become the norm.

Further out, as young people affected by the pandemic lockdown enter the job market, I’d hope that they would reject the traditional CV or resume as something that represents their experiences. Instead, although it’s more time-consuming to look at, I’d hope for portfolio-based approaches (with verified digital credentials) to become standard.


Education isn’t just about, or even mainly about, getting a job. So what about the impact of the pandemic on learners? On teachers? Well, if I’m being optimistic and hopeful, I’d say that it shows that things can be done differently at scale.

NASA Earth Observatory images showing emissions dramatically reduced over China during the coronavirus outbreak (via CBS)

In the same way that climate change-causing emissions dropped dramatically in China and other countries during the enforced coronavirus lockdown, so we can get rid of the things we know are harmful in education.

High-stakes testing? We don’t need it. Kids being taught in classes of 30+ by a low-paid teacher? Get over it. Segregation between rich and poor through private education? Reject it.


All of this depends on how we respond to the ‘shock and awe’ of both the pandemic and its response. We’re living during a crisis when it’s almost certainly necessary to bring in the kind of authoritarian measures we’d reject at any other time. While we need to move quickly, we still need to subject legislation and new social norms to some kind of scrutiny.

This period in history provides us with a huge opportunity. When I was a History teacher, one of my favourite things to teach kids was about revolutions; about times when people took things into their own hands. There’s the obvious examples, for sure, like 1789 and the French Revolution.

But perhaps my absolute favourite was for them to discover what happened after the Black Death ravaged Europe in particular in the 14th century. Unable to find enough workers to work their land, lords had to pay peasants several times what they could have previously expected. In fact, it led to the end of the entire feudal system.

We have the power to achieve something similar here. Except instead of serfdom, the thing we can escape from his neoliberal capitalism, the idea that the poor should suffer for the enrichment of the elite. We can and should structure our society so that never happens again.

In other words, never waste a crisis. What are you doing to help the revolution? Remember, when it comes down to it, power is always taken, never freely given.


BONUS: after writing this, I listened to a recent a16z podcast on Remote Work and Our New Reality. Worth a listen!


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Quotation-as-title by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Header image by Ana Flávia.

What would you do if you were the richest man in the world? Now you can find out!

This is simultaneously amusing and horrifying:

A simple text-based adventure exploring the age-old question: What would you do if you had more money than any single human being should ever have?

It’s a text-based adventure game that gives you options as the richest man on earth, while educating you on how that money was amassed, and the scale of what would be possible with that kind of wealth.

Source: You Are Jeff Bezos

Reduce your costs, retain your focus

The older I get, the less important I realise things are that I deemed earlier in life. For example, the main thing in life seems to be to find something you can find interesting to work on for a long period of time. That’s unlikely to be a ‘job’ but more like a problem to be solved values to exemplify and share.

Jason Fried writes on his company’s blog about the journey that they’ve taken over the last 19 years. Everyone knows Basecamp because it’s been around for as long as you’ve been on the web.

2018 will be our 19th year in business. That means we’ve survived a couple of major downturns — 2001, and 2008, specifically. I’ve been asked how. It’s simple: It didn’t cost us much to stay in business. In 2001 we had 4 employees. We were competing against companies that had 40, 400, even 4000. We had 4. We made it through, many did not. In 2008 we had around 20. We had millions in revenue coming in, but we still didn’t spend money on marketing, and we still sublet a corner of someone else’s office. Business was amazing, but we continued to keep our costs low. Keeping a handle on your costs must be a habit, not an occasion. Diets don’t work, eating responsibly does.

What is true in business is true in your personal life. I’m writing this out in the garden of our terraced property. It’s approximately the size of a postage stamp. No matter, it’s big enough for what we need, and living here means my wife doesn’t have to work (unless she wants to) and I’m not under pressure to earn some huge salary.

So keep your costs as low as possible. And it’s likely that true number is even lower than you think possible. That’s how you last through the leanest times. The leanest times are often the earliest times, when you don’t have customers yet, when you don’t have revenue yet. Why would you tank your odds of survival by spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need? Beats me, but people do it all the time. ALL THE TIME. Dreaming of all the amazing things you’ll do in year three doesn’t matter if you can’t get past year two.

These days we have huge expectations of what life should give us. The funny thing is that, if you stand back a moment and ask what you actually need, there’s never been a time in history when the baseline that society provides has been so high.

We rush around the place trying to be like other people and organisations, when we need to think about what who and what we’re trying to be. The way to ‘win’ at life and business is to still be doing what you enjoy and deem important when everyone else has crashed and burned.

Source: Signal v. Noise

Wielding your pension fund for good

Some wise words in this article in The Guardian from Aditya Chakrabortty. Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m increasingly aware of the power that we have, collectively, around where and how we spend and save our money.

In big French companies, pension savers are offered the chance to invest 10% of their money in a fond solidaire, or solidarity fund, which supports unlisted social enterprises. In Britain, your average pension member doesn’t even get consulted on what values they’d like their money to support – whether fighting climate change or building social housing. Yet, rather than tackle those issues, the Labour party seeks to build a parallel finance system, in the form of a National Investment Bank, while other left economists talk about building a sovereign wealth fund, just as Norway has done with the proceeds of North Sea oil.

But we have a sovereign wealth fund already. It’s worth over £2tn and it’s called our pension funds. The big battle is to give us agency over our own savings, rather than leaving it all to some pinstriped manager on a fat commission.

I have several pensions (Teachers’ Pension, Local Government, personal, Moodle…) and, as much as I’m able, I ensure that the money is being ethically invested. There’s so many frontiers on which we can change the world, not all of them are super-exciting…

Source: The Guardian

 

The role of Lady Luck

This post on Of Dollars and Data is a bit rambling, at least from my perspective, but I did like this paragraph:

Think about the story you tell yourself about yourselfIn all the lives you could be living, in all of the worlds you could simulate, how much did luck play a role in this one? Have you gotten more than your fair share? Have you had to deal with more struggles than most? I ask you this question because accepting luck as a primary determinant in your life is one of the most freeing ways to view the world. Why? Because when you realize the magnitude of happenstance and serendipity in your life, you can stop judging yourself on your outcomes and start focusing on your efforts. It’s the only thing you can control.

I think this chimes well with Stoic philosophy: focus on the things within you control. There are going to be times in all of our lives when bad things happen. Conversely, there are going to be times when good things happen. We can’t control anything apart from our reactions to these things.

Source: Of Dollars and Data

Multiple income streams

Right now, I’m splitting my time between being employed (four days per week with Moodle), my consultancy and the co-op which I co-founded (one day per week combined). In other words, I have more than one income stream, as this article suggests:

Having multiple income streams can come in handy if one income stream dries up. After two years in business, I’ve learned that you’ll always have peaks and valleys. Sometimes everyone is paying you, and sometimes your lead pipeline can look barren. I started a marketing and PR agency and spent that first year working my startup muscles: planning, strategizing, defining markets. If I hit a slow month, I kept working those same exercises. While it helped grow my business, I sometimes needed an intellectual rest day.

People who have only ever been employed (which was me until three years ago!) wonder about the insecurity of consulting. But the truth is that every occupation these days is precarious — it’s just hidden if you’re employed.

This is a short article, but it’s useful as both a call-to-action and to reinforce existing practices:

Developing a secondary income stream is easier than you may think. Think about how you like to spend your off hours and research potential markets. Maybe you’re really good at explaining something that is a difficult concept for other people–create a course on an on-demand training site like Udemy or Skillshare.

In general, we think more people are paying attention to us than they actually are. Your first endeavour doesn’t have to set the world on fire, be a smash hit, or a bestseller. The important thing is to get out there and provide something that people want.

Through volunteering, putting myself out there, and developing my network, I haven’t had to apply for a job since 2010. Also, with my consultancy, it’s all inbound stuff. Some call it luck but, as Thomas Edison is quoted as saying:

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

I’d add that knowledge work doesn’t look like work. But that’s a whole other post.

Source: Inc.

No cash, no freedom?

The ‘cashless’ society, eh?

Every time someone talks about getting rid of cash, they are talking about getting rid of your freedom. Every time they actually limit cash, they are limiting your freedom. It does not matter if the people doing it are wonderful Scandinavians or Hindu supremacist Indians, they are people who want to know and control what you do to an unprecedentedly fine-grained scale.

Yep, just because someone cool is doing it doesn’t mean it won’t have bad consequences. In the rush to add technology to things, we create future dystopias.

Cash isn’t completely anonymous. There’s a reason why old fashioned crooks with huge cash flows had to money-launder: Governments are actually pretty good at saying, “Where’d you get that from?” and getting an explanation. Still, it offers freedom, and the poorer you are, the more freedom it offers. It also is very hard to track specifically, i.e., who made what purchase.

Blockchains won’t be untaxable. The ones which truly are unbreakable will be made illegal; the ones that remain, well, it’s a ledger with every transaction on it, for goodness sakes.

It’s this bit that concerns me:

We are creating a society where even much of what you say, will be knowable and indeed, may eventually be tracked and stored permanently.

If you do not understand why this is not just bad, but terrible, I cannot explain it to you. You have some sort of mental impairment of imagination and ethics.

Source: Ian Welsh

You get paid what other people think you’re worth

Great post by Seth Godin:

Yes, we frequently sell ourselves too short. We don’t ask for compensation commensurate with the value we create. It’s a form of hiding. But the most common form of this hiding is not merely lowering the price. No, the mistake we make is in not telling stories that create more value, in not doing the hard work of building something unique and worth seeking out.

Create stuff that people value and that is in scarce supply. Focus on leaving the world a better place than you found it.

Source: Seth’s blog

How to get people to pay you what you’re worth

Good advice in this article for people who (like me) are asked regularly whether someone can ‘pick your brain’.

If you decide you do want to give advice, do it on your terms. If they ask to meet for coffee and you don’t have time, send an email instead. If they ask a question that requires a novel-length answer, address one part of it, or send them some helpful links. Don’t fear being explicit that you didn’t have time to answer in full by saying something like: “Thank you for reaching out. Your question requires an answer that I unfortunately do not have time to fully address due to my work. However, you might find the following books/links/thinkers/YouTube videos helpful.”

Given I live in the back of beyond, most of my initial meetings are online, which makes life easier. I give people 30 minutes for free, and then that sometimes leads to them asking me to put together a proposal for them.

What I particularly like about this article is that it encourages readers to find ways to give back to their sector / profession:

Once you’ve created boundaries around when and where you’ll provide help on demand, you can begin looking for other, more expansive avenues for giving back. This can include devoting your time speaking on panels, at schools/universities, on podcasts, or at workshops for free if it’s a cause or audience that would benefit from your knowledge. Though beware of the requests that can often follow on from such engagements, and refer to the third step when answering them.

One thing that’s not mentioned in this article that I’ve found can work is if you offer a ‘critical friend’ service. This is basically billing them for a day’s work at your regular rate, from which they can draw down time for advice when they need it.

Source: Quartz at Work

The immorality of retaining wealth

The image I’ve chosen for this post came via social.coop rather than the article cited, but it does indicate where non-inherited wealth comes from. This wealth is then often used for investment or speculation that then becomes unearned income.

I like the way that the author frames things in terms of how much people retain, rather than how much they earn:

Note that this is a slightly different point than the usual ones made about rich people. For example, it is sometimes claimed that CEOs get paid too much, or that the super-wealthy do not pay enough in taxes. My claim has nothing to do with either of these debates. You can hold my position and simultaneously believe that CEOs should get paid however much a company decides to pay them, and that taxes are a tyrannical form of legalized theft. What I am arguing about is not the question of how much people should be given, but the morality of their retaining it after it is given to them.

Also, I like the idea of a ‘maximum moral income’:

We can define something like a “maximum moral income” beyond which it’s obviously inexcusable not to give away all of your money. It might be 5o thousand. Call it 100, though. Per person. With an additional 50 allowed per child. This means two parents with a child can still earn $250,000! That’s so much money. And you can keep it. But everyone who earns anything beyond it is obligated to give the excess away in its entirety. The refusal to do so means intentionally allowing others to suffer, a statement which is true regardless of whether you “earned” or “deserved” the income you were originally given. (Personally, I think the maximum moral income is probably much lower, but let’s just set it here so that everyone can agree on it. I do tend to think that moral requirements should be attainable in practice, and a $30k threshold would actually require people experience some deprivation whereas a $100k threshold indisputably still leaves you with an incredibly comfortable lifestyle better than almost any other had by anyone in history.)

Source: Current Affairs