Wrong and right, a practical approach to the news

A news story is just that,. It is not the entire picture of an event – it never is and probably never will be. The world creates too much information to pack into an hour or less of stories.

Responsibly balance what you interpret

This is where your brain and heart come in. It is up to you to always remember that with each story there are two sides and perspectives on every matter. It is important to remember:

  1. That groups of people aren’t all bad
  2. Power is a delicate asset (and privilege) to have over someone
  3. There is still racial (and religious and economic …) tension in the U.S., if not the world. If you ignore it then, like an infection, it will only get worse.
  4. The words we choose are powerful in fueling or dousing the issues above. Negatively classifying a group may be easier for you, but can unnecessarily create a bigger divide per #3 .

For every story you show me of a “black” person shooting a “white” person, I could Google the opposite. Show me A Muslim shot in America, I can Google a tragedy of another group’s loss. We see it every day on social media. The untold stories of a group desperately trying to prove that their group is not the problem. Sadly, I’m doing so, they often try to prove how another group is the problem. They do so directly or indirectly, on purpose or sometimes on accident. Both sides rarely get covered in the same breath. Rarely is there any attempt to see how both sides have pain, loss or tragedy. Why? What would be lost?

Wrong is not exclusive

Can we start by agreeing that these are all wrong? If a police officer dies or an unarmed civilian dies they are both wrong, right? Is it wrong when a police officer frames a civilian? Of course it is. Since they are an authority with power news of it will cause a shock wave of fear in citizens minds that hear it. More so than a story of a civilian framing another civilian. It goes for all types of power: A teacher taking advantage of a student; a political official taking advantage of their constituency; a boss taking advantage of their employee; a wealthy person kicking a homeless person on the street. People fear the powerful preying on the less powerful and praise a David that takes down a Goliath. Not all people of power are corrupt, but when corruption infiltrates the powerful the consequences can be widely devastating to a society. 

The dynamic of these fears toward the powerful are likely learned from our history: Once those of power gain absolute power, freedom is lost. – But I digress. What I am really driving at here is: it is all wrong.  Why not nurture a society that openly confronts each wrong individually and makes an effort to put an end to them all?

The Importance of Being Heard

B2T86N Businesswoman shouting at telephone. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.
Average Comcast call
When people aren’t feeling heard they get angry. Think of how mad you get when Comcast (or another cable monopoly) takes your money and gives you no options to resolve the problem on the phone. Being rendered powerless sucks. Of course, you *have* the power to sue or visit their office, but, for the most part, there isn’t much you can do without exerting far more effort than should be required.

Now imagine all your neighbors have no money, and Comcast does it to your entire neighborhood – at the same time or in the same building. More directly, imagine a group of any [race|religion|etc] in a town of low income or out of work people (more importantly, imagine a group “just like you” with less) that simultaneously see multiple shootings of “their own” killed on TV by an alternate group. Imagine hearing the victim was unarmed or under age. What if they felt they didn’t have a voice or options? Would they riot? Probably. Would they be wrong to do so? Yes. Is the other group wrong for killing their unarmed, less fortunate, less empowered person? Yes. It is all yes!

You don’t have to choose a side. You don’t have to say “no” to one thing just so you may agree to another. Believe it or not, you can agree it is all wrong at the same time! No one gets hurt when you support people that have been wronged. Your group will not suffer as a result. (Those that do are probably the outliers that have gotten us in this tense situation in the first place. Help educate them too.) Believe it or not you can openly understand why a person has been wronged and is angry. You can also openly not agree with how they reacted too.

The wrong & right seesaw

We often try to highlight one wrong doing to that best represent how we feel, and,  inadvertently, we can end up belittle the other wrongs that occurred in the situation. As a result, more people feel unheard and more problems pop up. What would happen if people understood the other side and let them have the voice they are dying to have. “Hey [person relating to a tragic event], we are all sincerely sorry for your loss. It shouldn’t happen and we will sincerely going to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” We don’t use slurs or classifications to supplement our condolences, and, then, we follow up with action.  What if we just said – yeah – about what happened – that’s not right. It shouldn’t happen again. What if those with more power or money or influence said, “Yes, I can see how we can make others feel powerless. Can I use my position more responsibly in some way? Can I use my position to squelch these issues instead of just fearing I will lose the position I have?”

Practical answers to wrongdoing

Is it wrong when a Muslim is easily labeled a “terrorist” but a non-Muslim of the same offense is just a “shooter”? Yes, of course it is. Is it wrong when an unarmed child is killed? Yes. Terribly so. Is it wrong when an officer is shot in the line of duty? Of course! It is tragic. Is it wrong that anyone is racially singled out, verbally or more tangibly so? Why do you need a rebuttal to that question? Of course it is wrong. Does it happen all the time? Yes. Far too frequently. Can we stop it all? Probably not. Can we try? Yes. Are there income gaps? Yes. Are they all for unjust reasons? Probably not. Are there many that are? Definitely. Is income inequality in those cases wrong? Without a doubt. Do we lose anything by admitting it? No.

We can always try to put an end to any of those wrongs. It is each of our individual responsibility to do so because when we don’t EVERYONE suffers eventually – in some pent up, anger filled, mob assembled way. Call it societal debt: You may want it easy now and ignore how others feel, but eventually it bubbles up – with compounded interest.

It seems like the world has so many “but”s, and “only if”s and “what about mine”s to divvy out. Sure, have those words – it’s natural. What I am asking is that you try and supplement a story with, “I see”, “I understand”, “Yes that is wrong”, “How can we make it better” or “I agree with one part, but it doesn’t help anyone that they said the other.”

My approach

How does it work in practice in my mind? Well if you read this far maybe you’d like to know 😉 If a group I don’t agree with says something that makes sense I try and say “okay that is a good point. I agree with that single point.” And follow up with ,  “However I don’t think it is right to also say X. Can you dig into that more?” or “can you explain what you mean by Y?” Do I fear I will lose my overall position if I concede one iota of ground? Absolutely. But that fear is one to battle within yourself, not support. It is really hard to do, but when it is all said and done I feel like often both sides walk away feeling more bonded, fulfilled and with much to think about.

I have found, as I take this approach of openly agreeing to points that make sense to me (even if the larger argument does not) and being specific with what I don’t agree with, the other side follows suit. As a whole the debate becomes a conversation. I have found that you may get flack for saying “I agree with what you said, but you probably shouldn’t use this word”, or asking “why did you use that word?” may get an initial negative reaction, but it often ends well.

I am also trying to be more balanced on my social media. If a story has a fair point (no matter what side) I try to “like” it. If people gang up on a figure or group, but the point the group is making seem reasonable – I try to ask them to dig in more. Even at the risk of being deemed “wrong” or some sort of traitor by my friends for asking.

If the story has terms that divide unnecessarily like “thug”, “terrorist”, or uses grouping terms like “cops”, “blacks”, “muslims” I try to dig a bit deeper into their reasoning. Why? As Ghandi said, be the change you wish to see. It is just as much an exercise in self improvement than it has to do with changing minds. It is hard as $h!t to do those things – and deep down I know it is the overall right thing to do. Usually working on things with that combination are pretty valuable in life.

 

I may get flack for this post, but in the spirit of it – feel free to let me know where you disagree and I will try to see your side while offering mine 🙂

 

9 Ways to start learning about (or investing in) startups and entreprenuers

imgres-4“I’m looking to start investing in (and learning about) startups. Where should I start?”

I get this question a lot, so I figured a blog post may the optimal way to answer it moving forward. 🙂

Of course, it goes without saying that investing in – well – anything really, comes with its own sets of risks.  [Blah blah blah, legal jargon]

For starters, Angel.co is a great launching point (if you haven’t already signed up I suggest you do so.) There you can learn about, and meet, all kinds of startups ranging from super early to the more later types. Meet entrepreneurs, people who want to work in startups, or find a startup or syndicate and place a bet on an idea you love.

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To get in on an investment round for a pre-IPO company start with FundersClub.com and EquityZen.com. They’ll send emails intermittently letting you know when a fund is being made available.

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If you want to get shares in companies that are NOT doing rounds or looking for an investment then you’ll have to buy shares from current or former employee on a private marketplace. Sharespost.com and SecondMarket.com helps facilitate that process.

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If your goal is to just find a way to invest with more upside than a bank and less risk than a stock, I suggest using LendingClub.com for microloan investments. There you give out roughly $25 per person to thousands of people looking for them. You’ll have to keep your money in for a couple years (although there are ways to liquidate sooner if needed) but you can see about 5%-20% annual returns depending on what you set your risk tolerance to.

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Tangentially, if you are looking to meet entrepreneurs and get in on a more personal level to invest, become an advisor or just learn about the startup community, there are a few options: StartUpTravels.com that connects you to entrepreneurs around the world (full discloser, it’s a project I am working on now,) FounderDating.com and CoFoundersLab.com where you can meet other founder types to start a business are worth noting.

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If you are looking for a more in-depth look at the risks that go along with some of the investing products above you can check out my friend Daniel Odio’s blog here: http://danielodio.com/show-me-the-money-six-strategies-to-put-your-cash-to-work

Guns Germs and Steel

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This book has been suggested to me numerous times by friends across many of my circles. So, I had to give it a shot.

The first few chapter were a bit slow (a lengthy,  seemingly repetitive explanation of how small islands grew and lost their kingdoms.) However, once you get past them it picks up quite a bit and you begin to realize why it is on so many people’s “top reads” list.

Guns, Germs, and Steel gives a deep cumulative explanation of how some civilization were able to rise, fall, or never to progress at all. If you’ve ever wondered why native Americans got all the European’s diseases and not the other way around or why some secluded tribes didn’t advance as quickly as the west, you should read this book. If someone you know ever made an ignorant racist comment on why their race is superior and you didn’t exactly  have the data to refute the superficial facts – you should 100% read this book. If you are a history nut, it is insane if you have yet to read this book – so give it a go. Power through the first few chapters and then let it ride 😉

http://www.amazon.com/Guns-Germs-Steel-Fates-S…/…/0393317552

You can see my running read book list on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/sshadmand/books

​I invested 50/50 in Betterment and Wealthfront and this is what happened

022312_etfs_front_leadI’ve been hearing a lot of debate between financial “experts” and casual investors around the pros and cons of ETFs and managed VS. unmanaged accounts.  As I mentioned in this posts about “when experts disagree do your own thing” I figured the only way to get a non-bias answer is to spread my investments in them all and see what happens in 30 years. Sure, anything could happen but if nothing else I’ll learn a lot.

​I recently invested 50/50 in Betterment and Wealthfront for my unmanaged ETF test (based on my good friends Daniel Odio’s post) to see how they perform overtime and to compare the results to my fully managed investment account. This won’t be as much of an investigation and extension of any debate but rather a summary of my personal experience with products and services across the board. For this post I will focus on what my initial experience has been between Betterment and Wealthfront so far.

I thought it would take a while to start spooling up some experiences but in the first inning (as a new depositor into both Betterment and Wealthfront accounts. Same amounts, risk settings etc  ) Betterment is definitely ahead, here’s why: the stock market took a plunge these last few weeks and I wanted to  invest in the possible fire sale. Now whether or not that tactic is sound is another story. What matters to me personally is that I was able to invest directly from my bank account into Betterment within 24 hours seamlessly. In addition the site and my app showed me the money was deployed and begun to display gains/loses immediately. Wealthfront took over a week to transfer and although the money shows as being pulled from my bank account there is still no sign of it in the Wealth front app or dashboard. The app has no insight into anything and just shows a list of recently posted blogs by the company.

That lag has already cost me 3% and If the market continues to recover it who knows how much that will mean long term. Of course if the market continues to dip the lag in wealth front will be a lucky break but I don’t use a service hoping it will work poorly so that sways in the market will work in my favor. 

Regarding the apps, Betterment is the winner so far as well. Welathfront may have no more information and graphs once the funds display correctly, but who knows at this point as a new investor – current there is just a 0 on the screen that is not clickable. Betterment lists my pending transaction, as well as current deployed capital broken down by earnings to date. And it’s the same story for the website. From a user experience point of view Welathfront just shows me the same form it showed me when I initiated the bank transfer – no updates or info is accessible for this account with any useful information.

The lack of “warm and fuzzy” information I am getting as a new customer leaves me concerned for what my future experiences will be like with Wealthfront.  It’s far to early to count them out since, if after the funds are deployed, I may get great graphs, information, tax benefits, and more but as a new user the cold hard fact it I am more satisfied with the way Betterment is taking care of me than Wealthfront.

In closing, at this stage of the experiment I:

a) hope that the post-funding user experience at Wealthfront is way better than the ramp up experience.

b) suggest that WealthFront improve upon the points listed above.

I know there may be many features and options that I am missing that both can do but in the initial experience where features are limited as is my expertise with using the systems I can only comment on what I know as a new customer and that is what I have done. Honestly, I win if both do well so I mean it when I say: best of luck to the challengers!

The 6 Books That Shaped How I Think and Work

gettintoyes
Getting to Yes
The first biz related book I read as a child. I learned early on that negotiating wasn’t just an art of cleverly persuading your counterpart  to yield to your will (which I believe many old and young try to do) but instead it taught me the notion around doing your best to find a situation that benefits both sides of the fence. This book is also filled with tactics and lessons that give you a whole new perspective on what is really happening when a buyer and a seller meet and a tool belt too.
thedipThe Dip
The first startup book I read almost a decade ago. It is a short book but a frank and honest one too. The dip sets a tone and map for what’s in store when creating a startup. I remember when I ended up facing a dip or two  along the way there was comfort in knowing that the rollercoaster ride was just a necessary step in a path towards…?
5tempsFive Temptations of a CEO
This book was suggested to me by the (former?) CTO of Zynga. Unlike most business books that are bullet point lessons and biographies this one is written as a fictional story of a man that has the conversation of a lifetime with a stranger on the subway. Often times when making harsh and rash decisions about setting expectations with employees, or when trying to manage my emotions or ego, memories of this book are triggered. It has helped me more than once find my way back to center.
madetostickMade to Stick
Fantastic book for those of us that didn’t come from a marketing background (although I am sure it is valuable to those that did too.) Often when I write letters, blogs, taglines or give presentations I use the lessons from this book to get a feel for whether or not it will “stick” with my audience and use some tactics to drive a message home.
reworkReWork
By the time I read this book  I had already learned many of its concepts through my own trial and error. Nevertheless it made my top 6 list because of how well it articulated those learnings. Reading this book is like sharpening your knives if you know the lessons of a startup already or it is a great set of building blocks to work from if not.

stumbling-on-happinessStumbling on Happiness
Boy did I love this book. It was given to me by my good friend Daniel and it was probably the fastest book I ever read. Dan Gilbert combines psychology, philosophy, history, and science beautifully to give a candid and thought provoking look at what happiness really means and why is it so different for everyone. I find myself referring to the lessons in this book quite often around relative happiness, how our imagination can be terribly misleading – but being aware is a big help!
Some other books of note:
The Fountain Head: A controversial book that seems to be either hated or loved. Which ever side you chose to be on I would be surprised if it was not called powerful. You don’t have to believe in the writers philosophy benefit from a perspective into  the power of ideals, confidence, and certainty in oneself.
Thinking fast and slow: A large dry read at times but making it through was worth it. I learned a lot about how great and poor the mind can be all at once. I learned not only to be more cautious with my assumptions  but a sense for where that cautions is needed more and why letting go can be a powerful tool as well.
Freakenomics: To see the world through the eyes of an economist is a gift. Thinking in terms of noise reduction, drawing data from samples and parallels and using statistics to prove how powerfully wrong our assumptions can be was thoroughly entertaining the whole way through.
The tipping point: I didn’t fall in love with this book like others but it definitely deserve a read for its historical observations around business that have succeeded and failed and the factors and people that contributed to them.
 4 hour work week: I hold the lesson passed down in this book around work/life balance with me. I truly believe that we should be working to make less work and using that reduction as a badge of honor instead of the more classic concept that more hours equal a better output.
Hard things about hard things: A glimpse into the mind and life of a entrepenuer that almost lost it all on more than one occasion and the lessons he learned about running a company are packaged up nicely for us to lern from with far  less scars

Book Review: Thinking Fast and Slow

ThinkingHow do the implications of how quickly you can add 3+3 and how much time you will take calculate 11*27 have on your daily life? Well – quite a lot says Daniel Kahneman, the writer of Thinking Fast and Slow and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics. The fundamental occurrence between the “think fast brain” (which he calls Version 1) and the “thinking slow brain” (called Version 2) dictate how well we are able to make decisions at large. This book helps lay down a more clear understand of how we are able to, or unable to, make decision as they relate to specific topics such as finance, bias, regret, politics, happiness and more.

In it Daniel describes how the Version 1 brain allows us to make quick decisions using heuristics so that we don’t freeze up (like our Version 2 Brain would do) when we are asked a complex questions. Unfortunately although effective often times those heuristics are very wrong and we rarely are able to notice when they are. How can you slow your brain down when it is thinking fast and speed it up when thinking slow? It starts first with an understanding of how they fit together. It helped me understand why I have always created “rules of thumbs” and “red flags” in my life while having a desire and fascination for also creating “repeatable processes” and my love for making “extreme theories” that guide me through my decision making process. Based on the book it is a fairly optimal way of allow yourself to think fast as often as possible with an backup system to slow down and challenge what sounds good with what has been predetermined to be an irrational thought pattern.

This is a great foundational book for understanding how the mind interact with the world around it through a mix of psychology, statistics and probability. It is Freakonomics meets Tipping Point meets Stumbling on Happiness (all of which I greatly enjoyed reading). Where as each of those books are more focused on answering questions for a specific subject matter, Thinking Fast and Slow is a far more robust book that jumps into all the inputs and outputs surrounding life. Think of it as A History or Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson for the human condition.

 

I’ll leave you with another example of the fast thinking heuristics and the slow deliberate one battling it out:

A man drives a gas guzzler that gets 10 miles per gallon and his more environmentally friendly friend has an economic car that drives at 30 miles per gallon. In an effort to improve their carbon footprint they both upgrade from 10 mpg to 12 mpg and from 30 mpg to 40 mpg. Which upgrade has a greater net effect to the gallons used if they both drive an equal number of miles?

Let your quick mind answer, then grab a calculator and check your hunch. In the example the 10 mpg person improved by 10% where the 30 mpg increased by 33%. The difficulty is in the use of miles per gallon as the metric which does not work well for this comparison.

Now calculate them both before and after the upgrade traveling 3,000 miles.

3000/10=300
3000/12=250
50 less gallons used

3000/30=75
3000/40=50
25 less gallons used

The gas guzzling friend made a greater improvement to the world twice as much than the Eco friendly one.

You can see my running read book list on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/sshadmand/books

The difference between the US Debt & Deficit.

The super short version:

Let’s say Sam gets $50 per year in allowance (revenue), but owes his Mom $100 in “debt” after two years.  He accrued that debt by spending $100 per year. So, he spent $50 more per year  (“yearly deficit”) than he made in allowance.

2 years * $50 yearly deficit = $100 debt.

 

As told by others:

More depth of the difference between debt and deficit: http://ptmoney.com/us-federal-debt-vs-deficit/

Even greater detail specifc to the US economy as it relates to taxes, social security, military spending etc:

http://useconomy.about.com/od/fiscalpolicy/p/US_Debt_Deficit.htm

The History of the US Debt

Breakdown of US Debt Over Time:

Here is a breakdown of debt accrued over 40 years:

http://www.skymachines.com/US-National-Debt-Per-Capita-Percent-of-GDP-and-by-Presidental-Term.htm

Here is a picture snapshot from the site incase your feeling lazy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Per Presidency Comparison:

This is the total debt accrued per president in a more condensed format:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I crossed checked it with the treasury data to make sure it was kosher – you can too: http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt.htm

 

Reflection:

The great thing abot history and numbers is it help remind us there is a difference between what rememebr and what really hapened.

If your going to base your opinions on these numbers and term, please know what they are, or else not only are you doing the country a diservice, but you are letting people use your naivety to control your feelings on an issue.

Opinion:

As you can see it isnt a question of president,  the larger issue is that spending more than we make has been an issue without our country as a whole for a long time. Many of us complain about the economy in a warm room with a bed to sleep onand food in our stomach. (Of course many do not, and we need to fix that too), but we spend more than we should, and then hope someone will save us so we can do it again. That might be a better issue to reflect on then the unsubstantiated blame game.