Author Archives: sticker1

The Fallacy of Stock Price and Other Disturbing Things

“When you have some spare time, read this.” [piece in the Harvard Business Review]  That was May of 2017 and the request was from… a VIP-  I should have responded sooner.  25 revisions later the topic is still stuck in my head.

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Broad Themes

A few themes of the piece (editorialized by me):
-Stock price is a grossly overweighted indicator of success, and many large companies now make shortsighted decisions to gain favor in some aspect of the market.
-Capitalism is good at comparing the prices of goods & services and at valuing risk. It is bad at assessing the value to people (both employees and society), especially over time.
-The dominant financial system disproportionally rewards anonymous investors, but that anonymity throttles the information that investors might want to use to represent their interests in the market.
-That same anonymity creates a slippery slope of moral hazards that neither investors or managers are well suited to navigate. Some cultural norms have made it even harder for individuals as investors, or as actors in corporations, to make clear judgements about ethical behavior.
-Laws are poor substitutes for good judgement and ethical behavior.
-Corporate personhood as we currently have it, fails to account for the difference in lifespan and in needs that actual people have. Corporations can live forever so long as they can excrete profit.
-Real leadership requires a unique blend of passion, moxie, and humility that isn’t easily taught in your local MBA program.

Broader Responses

The most important role of corporations in society is to make incredible things happen. Corporations enable leaps forward in technology (and subsequently quality of life) to which no other paths exist.  We remember Ford for interchangeable parts, and Google for making the internet useful. Corporations ostensibly bring people and knowledge together to solve really hard problems and share the rewards (somewhat) in proportion to their labors. This can be a great thing, but many improvements are needed to properly account for the associated social and environmental costs (among others) and ensure equitable renumeration. We, as non-corporate people, also have to understand that that markets will never be perfect, and that government (or society at large) has some role in assigning costs that cannot otherwise be assessed. It’s easy to miss the range of functions that corporations perform simultaneously. If nothing else re-prioritizing some of the more societal functions will make organizations more attractive to talent.

As an engineer, I tend to focus more on the technical specifics of what a business does. My dominant view is that “the product” is the most important aspect of a business.  Most of this article got me thinking about how different running a business is from just doing cool stuff that people want to buy. You can’t do cool stuff if you don’t have any capital, aren’t making any money, or don’t have structures in place to organize the effort.

This piece did not especially help me understand a different question I’ve been thinking about since I stopped doing manual labor for a living: “why do we get paid what we get paid for what we do?*”  Modern capitalism perpetuates some bizarre inequalities between occupations that don’t make sense to me. Many occupations that are highly compensated return low value to society- and many functions that provide essential social value are poorly compensated (like teachers). I’ll keep looking for this one…

I can’t read this article and not think about leadership on an intensely personal level. We follow the people because we believe in the vision they see- to the top of a mountain, or the top of an earnings statement. The responsibility in following someone lies on each of us to make sure that those leaders can actually get us there. Do they have knowledge and experience and some scars to inform that vision? Or do they just talk louder, promise bigger, and blame someone else when it goes wrong? We follow leaders because we’ve seen them take a little more share of the blame and a little less of the credit than they deserve**.

I spent most of the summer reading “Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell. It’s an excellent explanation of how pure capitalism is supposed to work. Supply vs demand, price signals, invisible hand… helpful to understand, but fails to tell the whole story.  Particularly now, as stock prices have already recovered from a bear market but millions of people and businesses are insolvent, it is clear that shareholder value does not tell the whole story. As we consider other looming “major disruptors” like climate change or unprecedented wealth inequality, the rest of the story is yet to be told.  It’s clear to me that the societal functions & impacts of corporation decision-making need a lot more consideration.

Standout Quotes

If you don’t read the piece, these are the direct quotes that stood out to me.

“…and that many chief financial officers are willing to forgo investments in projects expected to be profitable in the longer term in order to meet analysts’ quarterly earnings estimates. According to surveys by the Aspen Institute, many business school graduates regard maximizing shareholder value as their top responsibility.”

“As a result, managers are under increasing pressure to deliver ever faster and more predictable returns and to curtail riskier investments aimed at meeting future needs and finding creative solutions to the problems facing people around the world.”

“Moreover, the fact that they can hedge or immediately sell their shares and avoid exposure to the longer-term effects of that vote makes it difficult to regard them as proprietors of the company in any customary sense.”

“In a well-ordered economy, rights and responsibilities go together. ”

“prioritizing high returns on invested capital for initiatives at GrowthCo, and introducing more shareholder-­friendly governance, including tighter alignment between executive compensation and returns to shareholders. The plan would effectively dismantle DuPont and cap its future in return for an anticipated doubling in share price.” (I think this is called killing the golden goose)

“Such a model would start by recognizing that corporations are independent entities endowed by law with the potential for indefinite life. With the right leadership, they can be managed to serve markets and society over long periods of time.”

——

*One of my favorites from working in Missoula and not making a lot of money
**not my line. Credit to Seth Godin, I believe.

GSE

The best thing about old friendships- they just keep getting better. Dustin came thru Missoula in July while driving a new (to him) truck home to Portland. We haven’t gotten to spend much time together the past few years and we both felt overdue for some shenanigans. I’ve struggled with a neck injury this year, and Dustin is more open-minded than a simple climbing trip would accommodate. We picked a week in October, settled on a sport we’ve never done, and drove to a place we’ve spent very little time. It was awesome.

I drove thru Grand Staircase-Escalante (GSE) National Monument in 2011 and barely stopped for gas. I was 26. I was focused on climbing. That was dumb. We explored a handful of classic slot canyons and motored around some incredible proposed wilderness area.

Not surprisingly, a week of perfect weather, during a year in which road trips and public land are the only recreation activities didn’t result in a lot of solitude, but we managed to find a little bit anyways. We slept under the stars, hiked enough to make ourselves smell terrible, and cooked on the tailgate. Necessary.

After the “classics” of Escalante, we were eager to find a little more variety and an excuse to drive back up Hwy 12 from Escalante to Boulder. Capitol Reef National Park is apparently the least visited of the Utah National Parks. While the scenic drive was slammed with people, the perfect 5.9 hand crack just off the road was not and I got my climbing fix.

Game for one more healthy exploration, we finished the trip on Saturday with a car-to-car trip down the Burro Wash on the east side of the park. There were a handful of cars at the pullout, but as usual, once we left the “standard” trail, to head for the top of the canyon, we were alone.

One major difference: the “slot” canyons of the Escalante were deep and mysterious, but didn’t allow for much view outside the canyon. In the more open canyons of Capitol Reef the views were more expansive and the various side canyons gave a single wash the feeling of an entire mountain range in a single afternoon. 10 out of 10.

Two old friends, a sweet truck, and some of the worlds most beautiful desert. The conversations were better than music or podcasts and didn’t stop for 6 days. We walked and drove and marveled at the severe, abundant beauty of the desert.

It was a good trip.

pc: dustin

Mountain Home

We are privileged to live in a mountain place. Miles of off leash terrain for ourselves and the dog, alpen glow on peaks we can see from our deck, and trailheads to deep wilderness just outside town. October 12th was my 36th birthday, and I can’t help but look at my life and feel profoundly grateful.

Unfortunately like most other places in America, there are plenty of folks living in this same idyllic setting that have more important responsibilities and less resources. For the past few years, I’ve found a lot of purpose in financially supporting the community at Mountain Home Montana. I got to know Mountain Home through a long friendship with their current executive director and her husband, who let me sleep on their couch and found me a room to rent when I first landed in Missoula- no small example of putting their values in action inside and outside of the office.

My own mom had my oldest brother at 19, alone, and in a foreign country. She had some help, but it was a far cry from the comprehensive and compassionate network that Mountain Home Montana provides.

They are celebrating 20 years of operations this month, and asked me to help find 20 new donors to pitch in $20 each. I’m happy to match half of the ask, and hope that you’ll consider joining me in supporting the young moms and dads that Mountain Home Montana helps put down roots here in this amazing place.
https://mountainhomemt.org/donate/

Thanks.

What Would I Have Posted Instead

A few nights ago, we watched The Social Dilemma and I’ve been thinking about it frequently. Within the first 5 minutes I deleted the Instagram app off my phone, and was thinking more seriously about deleting my facebook account permanently. I was disappointed they interjected an overly dramatized fictional narrative inside of an otherwise well researched and effectively delivered documentary, but the underlying explanation of the mechanisms and risks that “social media” presents were completely on point.

It’s easy to think that in a pandemic it’s nice to have a way to keep track of people.
Creating high quality content (say, for this blog) is hard, and various social media platforms make posting convenient.
We are all addicted to dopamine.
And so when social media use is at an all time high, now is the time to think even more carefully about using it.

A few observations:
The frequency and quality of posts here have dropped steadily since joining instagram in 2014- and I’ve already posted most on Instagram than in 9 year history of this blog.

Since finding the “Set Usage Reminder” feature in Instagram and setting it to 20 minutes/day, I’ve pretty much averaged 20-25minutes per day for most of 2020. Some days are embarassingly higher. I will never get that time back. Occasionally, I’ve found genuine knowledge from folks like Connor Beaton or Dale Remsberg. Usually though, I find myself getting FOMO from people I barely know or sucked into videos of launching large ships into the ocean.

While wordpress, and “blogging” more generally, are forms of social media, I rarely browse my wordpress feed. It’s much more of a content creation platform, even though the point is to make content consumable. I’ve learned a lot from writing this blog and doing it has been a reliable way to meaningfully reflect on my life in ways that an Instagram post will never be able to. A photo might say 1,000 words, but the work you put into the words matters.

I pay for WordPress. It’s not much, but they maintain the domain, and I have good control over what the site looks like and how people can engage with it. That takes more work than maintaining a publicly accessible Insta/Tweet/whateverkidsusethesedays, but it paints a far richer picture of who I am. The “free” social media platforms make it easy to put yourself in a box, one which they in turn can sell you profitably to the highest bidder.

I took a break from Instagram in August, and am doing so again. I still have a desire to share, to create a record, and to reflect. A few images I haven’t shared that I don’t want to forget

Abigail and I spent 5 days in the Beartooth Mountains in August- a sweet return for me 17 years since my previous trips.

I stole west to Snoqualmie Pass for a very ambitious overnight with two favorite characters. Despite being thwarted by poor visibility and snow conditions, we made the most of a sweet traverse thru the range:

And Jasper finally made it to the Sawtooth Range in Idaho over Labor day weekend (with Abigail, myself, and some other friends):

Content is hard and this post is far from perfect. Instead of shelving it with 20 other imperfect drafts, I’m posting. Because I’d rather share, and remember, and know that tonight I was trying to think carefully about this important topic. Thanks for following.

On the Occassion You Misssed

For the Class of 2020- 

You will not get to sign yearbooks, walk the halls with the confidence you’ve earned in surviving their trials, or enjoy a graduation party under beautiful June skies. Your high school experience has been a critical time of hard work, coming of age experience, and (hopefully) a lot of fun.  To miss celebrating with the people essential to that time is a true loss, a real sacrifice. 

Instead, you have been thrust into a situation more serious and more complex than we wish any of our loved ones should face. A situation that your government, and all voting citizens, could have and should have done more to prevent. 

That will never be made right for you. 

My only hope is that you find some solace that your sacrifice is for something greater than yourself. It is for the health of our communities, for our medical professionals, for your friends and your neighbors. It is in concert with the many sacrifices of people across the world. It makes you a part of a movement that is teaching us, like many past catastrophes, to be more compassionate, generous, humble, and curious. A movement that reminds us to care more actively for our loved ones, and take interest in the affairs of the world. Our connection to each other, for better or worse, has been laid plainly in the fragility of our humanity.

In the next steps of your life, this shared sacrifice will give you something in common with every other 2020 graduate you meet. You will all have a story to tell and a similar shared sacrifice.  You’ll know, better than I do now, to celebrate small victories quickly but also play a long game, and to cheer more loudly for others than for yourself. I’m confident this shared experience will pay reliable dividends.

The future is bright- have confidence that you are strong and resilient. I cannot wait to hear about the things you achieve.

2019 – A Summary

I didn’t get a lot of writing done this year. We moved, bought a house, changed jobs, traveled the world, traveled the west, got a dog, and celebrated family. A few photos just for the photo, a few photos just for the moment and the people. I’m just a damn lucky dude.

2019 Book List

I’ve finally started to make recreational reading part of my life again. Pleased to have chewed through these titles this year:

Born to Run, Chris McDougal*****
Flash Boys, Michael Lewis*****
MoneyBall, Michael Lewis
Fire and Brimstone, Michael Punke
Getting Green Done, Auden Schendler (re-read)
Rock Warriors Way, Arno Ilgner
Farsighted, Steven Johnson
Maid, Stephanie Land
The Impossible Climb, Mark Synnott
Breaking & Entering, Jeremy Smith
Refuge, Mark F. Twight
How To, Randall Munroe

(because I haven’t done one of these before, I included some favorites from 2018 also)

2018

How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg
Barbarian Days, William Finnegan*****
The Push, Tommy Caldwell
Alone on the Wall, Alex Honnold

Craft

We watched the 14th Reel Rock film tonight. It was an awesome film, and totally inspiring. A woman that loves to highball, disparate communities conjoined by climbing, and two of the best in the world chasing an arbitrary mark because it was fun.

Tommy and Alex climbed the Nose on El Cap every single day for weeks. They did it every day. Before noon. Sometimes before 9am. Unreal. What stood out across the films was the steady and absolute dedication to craft.
Looking at my recreation, it’s easy to be spread thin:
Climbing is fun
Running is fun
Skiing is fun
Ice climbing is fun
Bouldering is fun
Playing cello is fun
Cooking is fun
Writing is fun

Even work, sometimes, is fun- but when I just dabble none of it is actually satisfying. With less time I’ve kept the same palate of activity but rounded the fine edge into a comfortable flavor of mediocre. I want to explore the depths again. I need a project. An arbitrary standard that I can really hew towards.

To feel sharp at something. It’s been a while since I’ve been honed up. 

progression

(a picture of my life 2019.07.30)

we are complex beings

formed of chance interactions and lucky circumstances
we grow and mature on a diet of curiosity and risk

failures stretch us just as much as success tempers us
we apply our talents, share with others, and grow wealthy in spirit. 

when it becomes our time, we pass into the next state of being. 
perhaps alike our origins, or free beyond our wildest comprehension. 

the progression begins again. 

Jasper

I hate posts about not writing. Plenty of adventures being had, but I haven’t written about them. I miss that and hope to get back to it soon. One adventure though is just starting: we got a dog and named him Jasper:

His first day with us. Photo by A.

I’ve never had a dog before- it’s awesome. The responsibility is terrifying and frustrating, and confusing. I was skeptical on getting a “designer” dog from a breeder, but even in these first few weeks his calm temperament and natural joyfulness have won me over.

This little dude is game. 100%. Game.

I’ve never enjoyed dog slobber, or picking up poop, even my neighbors dog barking typically draws my ire. My now regular interactions with these things have opened my eyes to how petty I’ve been. To how much I can love something despite the complexity it adds to my life.

Not sure who is on which end of the leash here. Photo by A.

I’ve always tended to frame challenges in metrics: the length of a run or the difficulty of a climb. One great piece of marriage advice I got around our wedding last year: “the point of marriage isn’t about the title or the experience of love- it’s a growth opportunity, for you, to grow in ways that literally no other thing can teach you.” There are no metrics for that. Abigail and I might feed and walk Jasper, but it sure seems like he will end up providing much more for us than we can measure.

Photo by Jasper’s breeder, Sheila

Thanks Yellowstone Springers for a truly amazing addition to our family.