Three Questions That Can Change Your Life

lifeplanning

Once again, I have the Wall Street Journal to thank for this post.

Today there was a story about “life planning”, an approach to financial planning developed by the The Kinder Institute that is based on the premise that advisors should first discover a client’s most essential goals in life before formulating a financial plan, so a client’s finances fully support those goals.

In order to discover such goals, George Kinder, the founder of the Kinder Institute, suggests that its advisers ask potential clients the following three questions:

  1. Imagine you have enough money to satisfy all of your needs, now and in the future. Would you change your life and, if so, how would you change it?
  2. This time, assume you are in your current financial situation. Your doctor tells you that you only have five to 10 years to live, but that you will feel fine up until the end. Would you change your life and, if so, how would you change it?
  3. Your doctor tells you that you have just one day to live. You look back at your life. What did you miss out on? Who did you not get to be? What did you fail to do?

The idea of life planning seems like a great idea, and I am going to spend some time reflecting on my answers to the three questions.

It brings back memories of a high school English class where we had just finished reading some Shakespeare play (I have no idea which one) and the teacher asked the question “Do you think people  prepare themselves for dying?”

No one seemed to want to answer, so I raised my hand and said, as only a naive 17-year old can, “It seems like they do since a lot of people have life insurance.” While he was nice enough to acknowledge my answer, in the back of my mind I had the sense that’s not what he was really asking. He then went on to explain how many, if not most, people rarely think about the end of their life, or do much to really get ready for it.

I think the issue is not that people don’t want to think about the end of their life, it’s that they don’t want to think about their current life.

The WSJ article references the General Social Survey, which is conducted every few years by NORC at the University of Chicago, a research organization. In the 2012 survey, just 33% described themselves as very happy and only 27% said they were satisfied with their financial situation.

Meanwhile, 47% described their lives as routine or dull. Asked about their work, 37% said they were only moderately satisfied and another 12% said they were dissatisfied. These numbers haven’t changed much over the past four decades.

Given those kind of sobering statistics, the power of the three questions becomes more obvious.

The questions are meant to get us thinking about the here and now, not about our life 20 years from now. I think the earlier in life we are able to answer the questions, and live our life based on the answers, then the happier our end of life will be.

And while I can’t offer you any insight as to how you should answer the third question, I  do suggest you consider spending your penultimate day alive reading my blog, since a day of that would seem like an eternity…Badabum-ching!

Who Knew I Was the Bitcoin Tipping Point

bordenbitcoin

In yesterday’s post I talked about my experience of setting up a Bitcoin account, and in exchange for doing so, receiving .004207 of Bitcoin, the equivalent of $1.00, from Coinbase

I suggested you may want to do the same, but my guess is many of you did not.

And that may turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made.

You see, the Bitcoin community has been waiting for some type of seminal moment, something along the lines of Apple or Amazon announcing that they would use Bitcoin as a form of payment. Until that happens, Bitcoin is just be something computer geeks and anarchists use.

Well, that seminal moment has arrived, and who knew it would be yours truly acquiring my first bitcoin.

You see, today, the value of Bitcoin has gone up almost 8% – in just one day! My bitcoin account is now worth almost $1.07.

You may think that’s nothing, but by using the magic of compounding, if that sort of increase happens every day for a year, then my account will be worth over $227 million! (for the type of reader who likes the details, that assumes 250 bitcoin trading days in a year, with a daily growth rate of 8%).

I’ve always had a feeling that my every move online is being watched, and I think today’s spike in the value of Bitcoin confirms that belief. Those “spies” must have thought that If Jim Borden, with all of his Twitter followers is buying bitcoin, we better act now to get in on the ground floor. (latest Twitter update).

So I’m not bothered by the fact that Big Brother is tracking me; my only disappointment is with my blog readers. No one signed up for a Coinbase account through the link I provided:

https://www.coinbase.com/join/jborden_l4DZog

Doing so would have doubled the value of my account to over $450 million in one year. Oh well, I’ll just have to learn to live within my means.

So tonight it’s time to head out to the local Barnes & Noble and buy the latest copy of the Robb Report. I’ll also have to retrieve today’s Wall Street Journal from the trash and for the first time ever look at the million dollar houses listed for sale without making some snide remark like “Who would ever want to live in a place that big?” (I would, actually). There’s also a Ferrari dealership right down the street from me that I may be visiting this weekend.

And not to rub it in, but this could have been your weekend too.

I Am Now .004207 Bitcoin Richer!

bitcoin

I’ve been reading about Bitcoin for a couple of years now, and I must admit I still don’t fully understand how it works. Terms like blockchain and mining confuse me, as does the mystery surrounding who created Bitcoin. (Here’s a useful site describing Bitcoin.)

But I thought perhaps the best way to find out what it is and how it works was to just dive in and buy some Bitcoin and go from there.

There seemed to be several options for purchasing Bitcoin, but I thought I would go with the recommendation of Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist I have mentioned in this blog before.

Fred has written several posts about Bitcoin, and in a recent one he mentions Coinbase as a site where you can buy, sell, and use Bitcoin. Coinbase is one of the startups Fred’s company, Union Square Ventures, has invested in, and I trust Fred enough that he has done his due diligence on Coinbase before his firm invested in it.

Fred also talks about having a Bitcoin denominated wallet, a USD denominated wallet, and the vault where he keeps most of his bitcoin. (Apparently there is some confusion as to whether Bitcoin should be capitalized and if “Bitcoin” is both singular and plural in usage.)

So I set up my account (it’s free), connected my Coinbase wallet with my bank account, and once I verified the connection, Coinbase gave me .004207 Bitcoin!

If you are interested in creating a Bitcoin account, and getting .004207 bitcoin just for signing up, here is a link:

https://www.coinbase.com/join/jborden_l4DZog

In the interests of full disclosure and transparency, if anyone does create an account using the link above, I get another .004207 of Bitcoin!

I’m hoping that even if just 1% of my ever growing Twitter following signs up for a Coinbase account through my linkI’ll be able to retire years ahead of schedule.

By the way,  .004207 is currently equal to $1.00…

Life, and Humans, Find a Way

goldblum jurassic

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story today about the potential impact of robots and automation on the workplace.

Gartner, a technology research firm, has estimated that a third of all jobs will be lost to automation within a decade.

Bill Gates has stated that automation threatens all manner of workers, from drivers to waiters to nurses. “I don’t think people have that in their mental model,” he said.

The question as to what happens to all of those people who are replaced by automation is the focus of monthly meetings at MIT between scientists and economists. While the meetings cover a wide range of topics, one that caught my eye was  a discussion about what happens if there is no meaningful work for humans.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting.

It’s getting harder and harder to think of jobs that a robot can’t do as good or better than a human.

Henrik Christensen, head of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s robotics program and a specialist in industrial robots, believes that most truck drivers won’t have jobs in 10 years.

Others believe the transition from human to automation will take much longer, and point to the banking industry as an example. ATMs have proliferated over the past 30 years, but the number of tellers only dropped from 484,000 to 472,000 from 1985-2007.

I remember reading  a story when I was in grade school that talked about how one day cars will no longer need a driver and would thus allow us to work, read, or rest while we were in transit. The cars would all be controlled by technologies that would virtually eliminate accidents as well. That story was from 45 years ago, and it seems as if we are just now on the cusp of driverless cars finally becoming a reality.

Whether it takes a couple of years or a couple of decades, it seems as if such changes are inevitable. So where does that leave you and I?

On the one hand it may seem alluring to think of a life of leisure, having robots do all of our work. But at the same time many of us define ourselves by the work that we do. If we are no longer working, who are we?

And if many of us are no longer working, what do we do to generate an income so that we can support ourselves and our families?

I am sure such questions were asked every time there was a major technology breakthrough, from the printing press, to  the ATM. But somehow, humans survived, even flourished, through all of these changes.

So while we can never predict the future, we can certainly learn from the past and prepare for such changes.

And I take great comfort in knowing, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, humans always find a way.

You Get the Behavior You Reward

punishedbyrewards

A basic tenet of management is that you get the behavior that you reward.

The problem is that many times there are unintended consequences associated with the behavior that you get, and it ends up undermining the ultimate objective the reward was meant to encourage.

For example, I tell my students that I could guarantee nearly 100% attendance in every one of my classes, even if it was a class of second semester seniors, most of whom already have a job lined up for after graduation. I would simply make up a grading scheme where 100% of the grade was based just on attendance. If you never miss a class you get an “A”; if you miss one class, a “B”, and so on down to missing four classes results in an “F”.

My logic behind such a grading system might be that I think showing up for class and being an active participant in class discussions might be the most effective way for students to learn the material.

And assuming that students care about their grades, then I would certainly get the behavior – showing up for class- that I am rewarding. But that’s all I’ll get.

The students won’t be engaged in the learning process at all, since there’s no incentive to do so. While students might love such a class, I imagine it would be a complete disaster for the teacher, who created such a reward system thinking it was in the best interests of the student.

Alfie Kohn, in his outstanding book “Punished by Rewards”, talks about  these types of issues as well (only much better than I can do). The book is subtitled “the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, As, praise, and other bribes.” Here’s a brief summary from the web site:

Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives. Programs that use rewards to change people’s behavior are similarly ineffective over the long run. Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.

So in my class attendance example, I would get temporary compliance, but I would not have changed their attitudes about the value of showing up for class as part of the learning process.

In the business world, many times well-meaning managers set-up reward systems which they believe will motivate the employees to  act in a way that is in the best interests of the company. However, most workers focus on doing what is best for themselves, which may not be in sync with what is best for the company.

Here’s one example: a sales manager may create an incentive in which her salespeople would get a commission equal to 10% of the total sales dollars the employee is able to bring in. Assuming that the commission is important to the salespeople, they will respond to this incentive by going out and trying to maximize sales dollars. Such a response is in the best interests of the salesperson, but it may not be in the best interests of the company.

The salesperson will focus on trying to maximize sales dollars, since that is what their commission is based on, and won’t really care too much about anything else related to the order, things that are important to the company. For instance, the salesperson will gladly offer great deals to his or her customers, and not really worry much about whether an order is profitable, since that is not their concern. The salesperson might give very generous payment terms, since again all he or she is focused on is making the sale, and not worry about when the customer will pay, or if the customer will ever pay.

In this case, there is a relatively simple fix, base the salesperson’s commission on the profitability of the order, and not just the sales value of the order. Doing so will align the what is good for the salesperson with what is good for the company.

Dan Pink, in his great Ted talk on the Puzzle of Motivation, also gives many examples about how rewards often lead to worse performance. The key, according to Pink, is to focus on intrinsic rewards, such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose and not extrinsic rewards such as bonuses or raises. If you can get people excited about doing work that matters, provide an opportunity for them to learn how to excel at doing such work, and create an environment where they have the freedom to do such work, the results will be great for both the employee and employer.

The bottom line is that all of us need to think about the types of rewards we are using as a way to get the behavior that we want from others, whether we are acting as parents, teachers, business people, or policy makers. You’ll get the behavior that you reward, just make sure that it’s the behavior that you want.

Before I began writing today’s blog post, I had been thinking of ways to attract more readers to my blog. I was all set to start paying people $100 for every one of my posts they would read, but according to Alfie Kohn, that would be like a bribe, and people would soon lose interest in reading my blog, and I certainly don’t want that to happen.

So I think the best way to get people to read my blog is to just remind them of how much better a person you will be as a result of reading my blog.

So if you have read this far, you aren’t any richer, but at least you’re a better person. Really, you are…

Next Play, Next Play

Male high school student asleep in class

After a turnover, a bad call, a missed shot, or a lapse in judgement, Coach Jay Wright is always telling his players, “next play, next play.”

The mantra is meant to help his players forget about what just happened, and to just focus on the present.

You hear golf announcers saying that the best players are able to forget about the bad drive they just hit or the putt they just missed, and just concentrate on the shot at hand.

Baseball players need to forget about the fact that they may have struck out the last three times they were up to bat, and give their undivided attention to their current plate appearance.

What I’m hoping is that if such a mindset works in the world of sports, it can also work in the world of teaching.

Today was just one of those days where I felt bad for my students. They were stuck in their seats having to listen to me drone on and on; I was getting bored myself! Not sure what it was, but I just didn’t feel like I brought my A game today.

Fortunately none of the students fell asleep (OK, there was the one guy). I guess the rest of them had managed to find something interesting to read about on the web, or a friend to text with while I was blabbing away. And I couldn’t blame them if they did look for such diversions. It’s my job to get them interested in what I am trying to teach, and if I see them engaged in such activities I view that as a sign that I need to up my game.

So while I might be inclined to mull over everything that was bad about today’s lecture, it seems as if I need to forget about it (it’s a sunk cost), and just think “next class, next class”.

I’m hoping it’s one more life lesson that sports can teach me.

Why Can’t Everyone Be Like David?

medtransport

Talk about serendipity. Today started off with a call to 911, ended with a successful surgery, and along the way included a chance meeting with one of the most fascinating people I have ever met.

This morning my Aunt slipped on some ice and ended up breaking her hip.

My Aunt Eileen is an amazing woman. She is 79 years old, but she could easily pass for someone 10-15 years younger. She lives with my 88 year old mom, and basically acts as her caregiver. In addition to that full-time job, she also manages to keep in touch with all of her grandnephews and nieces, as well as her great grand nephews and nieces, often using social media to do so. Somehow she remembers all of their names, as well as all of their birthdays! She is someone special.

I spent most of the day at the hospital keeping my Aunt company, first in the ER and then in the patient room my Aunt was transferred to. She was in quite a bit of pain, but kept a positive attitude throughout the day.

The staff, as always, was caring and professional. But one person, David, stood out.

David was the person who transported my Aunt from the ER to her room. As we walked down the hallway, David began to serenade my Aunt with a song about a woman named Eileen. Not only did David have a beautiful voice, but you could tell he was singing from the heart.

When he finished singing, he engaged my Aunt in a conversation about how much he was honored to be wheeling her to her room. Along the way, he had a kind word to say to everyone he saw, and he seemed to know everyone.

I had a chance to talk with David a little bit. He told me had been working in hospital transport for almost 10 years, and it was obvious he loved his job just as much today as he did 10 years ago.

He also told me that he had just gotten a new job, one he had been waiting to hear about for almost 11 years. He had been hired by the City of Philadelphia to be a security guard at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

I mentioned that he probably wouldn’t be able to sing to people at the library, but he said he sings with his inside voice. He also said there’s a lot of people who come into the library who have nowhere else to go, the homeless, the unemployed, and others who are struggling. He says he makes time to boost their spirits, and will occasionally sing to them very quietly.

David just works at the hospital occasionally, and so I felt fortunate that our paths crossed. It’s not often you meet someone who finds such joy in what he does, and is able to brighten the day of everyone he meets, particularly those who are in pain, whether at a hospital or at a public library.

I tried to think what David’s secret was, and it seemed to come down to being willing to share your gifts with others, looking for the best in others, and always having a kind word to say to everyone you meet. I guess it’s not really a secret at all.

So a tip of the hat to David; the world could use more people like you, the Singing Orderly.

The Magic of Compounding – Start Early

benfranklin

Remember that time is money. – Ben Franklin, Advice to a Young Tradesman, 1748

To prove what Franklin meant about the time value of money, let’s use an example, one that pays homage to Franklin. Another famous saying of Franklin’s is “A penny saved is a penny got.”

Imagine someone took Franklin’s advice, and took a penny and saved/invested it back in 1748. Let’s assume that the return that penny was able to earn over the years was equal to the historic return of the S&P 500 for the past  86 years of 9.6% per year.

If no one touched the account that the penny was put into, 267 years later it would be worth over $426 million (or just enough to buy the new Apple Watch).

What is at work here is the magic of compounding, or the idea that you are earning a return not just on your original investment, but on the annual returns as well. A simple example should help explain this.

If you invest $10.00 today in an account that returns 10%, after one year that account would be worth $11.00. If you just leave the money in the account, and again earn a return of 10%, then at the end of the second year the account would be worth $12.10, since you earned 10% on not just the original investment of $10.00, but also on the dollar you had earned during the first year.

As evidenced by the penny example above, the longer the time period, the more powerful the effects of compounding.

David Bach, the author of the great book, “The Automatic Millionaire“, provides a great example in his book of the importance of starting young when saving for retirement. Bach shows three different ways to accumulate over $1,000,000 by age 65. I like to show this example to my freshmen students every year.

The first way is to invest $3,000 per year for just 5 years, starting at age 15. If you do nothing else, and assuming a rate of return of 10% (using Bach’s numbers), then at age 65 the account will be worth over $1.6 million.

The second way is to invest $3,000 per year for just 8 years, but you don’t start until the age of 19. If you do nothing else, and assuming a rate of return of 10% , then at age 65 the account will be worth over $1.5 million.

The final way, and one that I urge my students not to follow, is to delay starting to save for retirement until the age of 27. If you do this, you will need to invest $3,000 every year for the next 39 years until you reach the age of 65. At that point, the value of the account, assuming a rate of return of 10%, will be worth over $1.3 million.

The message is clear, the earlier you can start saving for retirement, the better, all thanks to the power of compounding. I also suggest to my students that by the time they are 65 years old, $1,000,000 will likely not be nearly enough to retire on, and so I remind them once again about the importance of starting early.

A final example I like to show my class is how much a year of college might cost when they are ready to send their first child to college. Assuming that such an event will happen in 25 years, and using Villanova’s current estimated total cost of one year of college of $60,000, along with the College Board’s estimate that college costs have increased at an annual rate of 5% per year for the past 10 years, then the cost of one year of college will be slightly over $200,000 ( or about the projected cost of a Grande Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte from Starbucks in 25 years).

I tell the students the example is not meant to have them reconsider having children at some point, but to help them understand the impact of compounding and the importance of planning. In addition, I tell them that they should think about what might be happening with their salary each year, that hopefully their salary increases are outpacing the the growth rate in college costs. I also manage to sneak in the value of community colleges, suggesting that a great way to go to college in the future would be to spend the first two years at a community college, and then the final two years at a four-year college.

In my opinion, teaching students the importance of the time value of money is one of the most valuable lessons they can learn in college, if they haven’t already been taught it before.

If any of you would like to play around with the examples above, here is the link to the Google spreadsheet I created. You can change the values for the rate of return, the number of years, or the amount that you are starting off with, and you will see the impact of such changes in the future value of such an investment. The spreadsheet has two tabs at the bottom; the first tab is named compound_basics and contains the Ben Franklin and college costs examples, and the second tab is named auto_million and has the three different ways to accumulate $1 million.

One final example related to compounding is something known as the Rule of 72. The way this rule works is that it allows you to get a rough idea of either how long it will take to double your money given a certain compounding rate, or alternatively, what compounding rate you would have to earn if you want to double your money in a certain number of years.

For example, if you want to double your money and believe that you can earn a 6% return, you divide 72 by 6 and you would get 12 years. If you would like to double your money in 8 years, you would divide 72 by 8, and the result would be a compounding rate of 9%. The rule of 72 gives remarkably close results to what you would get if you used Google or Excel.

The bottom line on the value of compounding – it’s never too early and it’s never too late to start saving for the future.

And if you felt this post was too long, just think about how much your investments have grown since you started reading…

 

My Cognitive Dissonance and Confirmation Bias Are Kicking in Again

sleeper

(please note – this is one of my longer blog posts – you’ve been warned!)

As a vegan, there are certain beliefs I hold about which foods are good for me and which foods are not.

When the results of new studies are announced that reach conclusions that are not consistent with my beliefs as a vegan, I experience cognitive dissonance.

As defined by Wikipedia, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

And since no one wants to be in mental stress, we look for ways to reduce our cognitive dissonance. One popular way to do so is through confirmation bias, which according to Wikipedia is the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.

And so today my cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias were both kicked into high gear as a result of the new set of recommendations from Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of roughly a dozen academics and nutrition experts  which provides advice to the Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services,

On the plus side (since these guidelines were in line with my prior beliefs – confirmation bias), were the recommendations for people to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less red meat. In addition, such a recommendation is not only because of the health benefits of such a dietary approach, but also because of its impact on the environment.

According to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, large-scale animal operations can generate large amounts of waste, pollute waterways, and produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Thus, consuming less red meat will have a positive impact on the environment.

On the negative side was that the report scrapped guidance that Americans limit their cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams a day—less than that found in a couple of eggs, saying that dietary cholesterol was no longer a big concern.

That certainly goes against much of what I have read, and so I had some cognitive dissonance. As noted above, one popular way to remove such dissonance is to look for evidence that either supports my existing set of beliefs or evidence that refutes the new information I have just come across, and so that’s what I set out to do.

One of the first articles I came across was from the Forks Over Knives web site which had a story posted with the title, “No One Eats a Cholesterol Sandwich—It’s Meat, Milk, and Eggs That Make Us Sick.” Since the argument put forth in this article supports my belief system, I am going to give it more credibility than the research that was used by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. I do realize though that confirmation bias is at work here, but since I have read quite a bit about the the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, I am ok with someone accusing me of confirmation bias when it comes to being a vegan.

The committee’s recommendation that suggests fish is a viable alternative, both from a health perspective and environmental perspective, is also quite questionable in my mind. Here is a great article (I know, confirmation bias), on the problem with eating seafood, from the multiple perspectives of compassion for animals, health consideration, and environmental impact.

Another recommendation that surprised me was the committee’s recommendation concerning coffee. The panel said consuming three to five cups of coffee a day can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

I question coffee as having any significant medical benefit, particularly when consumed in such large amounts. But  since my beliefs about coffee are not as strongly held as my beliefs about eating meat, my cognitive dissonance was not as strong and so I felt little need to look for something to refute such a claim, and I can live with such a disconnect between what I believe about coffee (and have read elsewhere) and what the panel’s recommendations are.

But all this talk about cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias makes me think at what point do such behaviors become a serious problem. Should I just blindly refute everything that comes out that is not in alignment with my vegan belief system and continue to look for evidence to support my beliefs, even if such evidence is a little weak?

(In the case of being vegan, it would take a lot more than just some concerns about the health benefits of veganism. There are also the issues of animal rights and environmental impacts to consider, both of which also favor a vegan lifestyle. That is why I don’t ever see myself becoming an ex-vegan.)

But this type of behavior can be found elsewhere; think of the current  vaccination issue. The evidence showing the value of vaccinations is overwhelming. But there is a group of people who already hold strong beliefs against vaccinations, and such people will continue to look for and find evidence, and pretty weak evidence at that, to support their beliefs. This is simply another example of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias in action, and not with a good outcome. The same could be said with regard to smoking.

One final example I will mention, and one that is near and dear to me, is my use of Apple products. I love my iPhone; I think it is the greatest piece of personal technology that has ever been created. I feel just as strongly about Apple laptops and desktops.

But imagine that a company created a smartphone that many people believed was superior to an iPhone. If I read  a glowing review of such a product, I would enter a state of cognitive dissonance. I would then immediately start finding articles that confirm my belief that the iPhone was still the best phone in the marketplace, even if such articles were a little weak in their arguments. Confirmation bias behavior like this could lead me to sticking with a phone that in reality could be an inferior product. (I know it’s a far-fetched example, there will never be a smartphone as great as the iPhone, but just play along…)

I will admit it took me a long time to switch from Windows to Mac computers, thinking that Macs were not serious computers for business types. And so despite the rising popularity of Macs, I stuck with my Windows PCs, finding lots of support for such a decision in on-line forums, articles, and web sites (confirmation bias in action once again). It wasn’t until one of my sons bought a Macbook and I got to use it, that I realized that the Apple computer was a superior product, and that it would meet my needs. So in this case my confirmation bias delayed by several years the gratification I could have had by using an Apple computer.

We all experience cognitive dissonance, often with beliefs that run deep with us. And we turn to the use of confirmation bias to further support those beliefs in such situations. To lessen the potential negative outcomes sometimes associated with confirmation bias, we need to keep an open mind, consider how important such beliefs are to us, and be willing to change when the evidence becomes clear that our old beliefs are no longer true.

And so to bring this full circle, let me close with this humorous clip from Woody Allen’s movie “Sleeper”, which offers a futuristic view of how some of our beliefs from the past could turn out to be so wrong. Woody’s satire is, as usual, right on the mark.

Thanks for reading.

What Pet Should I Get?

whatpet

It’s the year of completely unexpected book releases. First there was the news a couple of weeks ago about Harper Lee’s sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And just today it was announced that a new Dr. Seuss book will be available this summer

Here’s a brief description of the book from Amazon, where it is currently in the top 20 of all books for sale.

This never-ever-before-seen picture book by Dr. Seuss about making up one’s mind is the literary equivalent of buried treasure! What happens when a brother and sister visit a pet store to pick a pet? Naturally, they can’t choose just one! The tale captures a classic childhood moment—choosing a pet—and uses it to illuminate a life lesson: that it is hard to make up your mind, but sometimes you just have to do it!

It sounds like a life lesson that applies to all of us, not just children.

It is hard to make up our mind, to make a decision and be willing to face the consequences. It’s hard to make a change, even when we know it’s for the better. It’s hard to make a commitment that we need to honor everyday.

But as the book points out, sometimes you just have to do it. We can’t spend all of our time researching our decisions, the result is what is known as paralysis by analysis. It’s easy to get caught up in doing the research, because it allows you to avoid making a decision.

I remember when I was thinking about opening a personal training studio; I called almost every franchise owner I could, asking them a series of questions designed to help me make the right decision. This went on for several weeks, and while I may have gathered some useful info, I probably had every answer I needed after a couple of days. But making the phone calls and gathering the data was allowing me to postpone making the decision.

But it all came to a head when I made a phone call to a studio owner in California. The young woman, who was probably about half my age and had been running her studio for a couple of years, kindly answered all of my questions, but then she finally said, “Jim, it’s important to get the info you need, but at some point you have to stop making phone calls, and just make a decision.”

She was right, and a day or so later I made the decision to open a studio. And just like leaving a pet store with a new family member, once you make a decision, that’s when the fun (and the hard work) begins.

And while I am sure Dr. Seuss’ book will have a happier ending than my business, the lessons I learned were invaluable. And those lessons were made possible thanks to a stranger on the other end of a phone call.