Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Why Noah built his boat and why you should build yours too


"We have sown and we have harvested, but without rainfall in the spring, there was not much to reap this year," lamented Noah as he sat down in front of the fire. Sarah stared at her husband, but did not say anything. It was not the best moment to tell Noah that she was expecting a baby, their first.

"Come and sit down by me, Sarah," went on Noah in a grave voice. "There is something I want to tell you." Sarah did what her husband asked from her and looked at him, trying not to show her alarm. During their years together, they had often gone through difficult times, but she had never heard Noah sound so desperate, so defeated.

Noah reflected for a long moment and then he shook his head. His words came out slowly, reluctantly. "I have had a vision, Sarah. God has talked to me." Sarah bit her lip and waited, since she knew what was coming. She did not believe in God herself, but she had always respected Noah's strong religiosity.

"Friends and neighbours are already going hungry," continued Noah, "and after paying taxes, we will have nothing left ourselves. If we just wait and hope, we might not make it through the winter." Sarah turned her eyes to the fire, searching her mind for words of encouragement to say to her husband, but she found none.

Suddenly, Noah's voice changed and his tone became determined, pressing. "God has told me that we must move. I am to sell our farm for whatever price I can get and use the money to build a boat, a large one." He was interrupted by Sarah's surprised reaction. "A boat? What do you want to do with a boat? You know nothing about fishing."

"There are wide fertile fields down the river, Sarah, I have seen them in my dream. God has told me that we can start a new farm there, a new life. I am to purchase a pair of goats, a pair of chicken, and a pair of sheep, male and female, and take them with us on the boat."

From all the nonsensical projects that Sarah had heard from her husband night after night, year after year, this was by far the most daring and, at the same time, the most insane. From their first encounter, Sarah had loved Noah because he was an entrepreneur, unfortunately, as it had turned out, a crazy one.

A pair of goats on a boat, what lunacy, thought Sarah, taking in a deep breath. Once again, it was up to her to put some sense into Noah's mind. "Only a pair of each is too risky," she objected firmly, "we should take a least two pairs of each sort, male and female."

It was the first time that Sarah had expressed support for any of Noah's high-risk ideas and he was so taken aback, that it took him a while to reply. "What if I am wrong, Sarah? What if we lose everything we have?"

Sarah contemplated the reflection of the flames in Noah's eyes. The project was too risky and she could not afford any doubts. She needed to ask the question. She had to be certain that Noah was not lying to her. "Did you really have a vision, Noah? Did God tell you what to do?"

Her heart ached when she saw the pain in Noah's eyes, when she saw him lower his head. "I am not sure if it was God, Sarah," his voice was barely audible now, "but I know that my vision is true." There was a silence, but it was short, just long enough for Sarah to lay her hands on Noah's. "Then, we will build the boat," she said.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Linda Duchaine under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Why Noah built his boat and why you should build yours too


"We have sown and we have harvested, but without rainfall in the spring, there was not much to reap this year," lamented Noah as he sat down in front of the fire. Sarah stared at her husband, but did not say anything. It was not the best moment to tell Noah that she was expecting a baby, their first.

"Come and sit down by me, Sarah," went on Noah in a grave voice. "There is something I want to tell you." Sarah did what her husband asked from her and looked at him, trying not to show her alarm. During their years together, they had often gone through difficult times, but she had never heard Noah sound so desperate, so defeated.

Noah reflected for a long moment and then he shook his head. His words came out slowly, reluctantly. "I have had a vision, Sarah. God has talked to me." Sarah bit her lip and waited, since she knew what was coming. She did not believe in God herself, but she had always respected Noah's strong religiosity.

"Friends and neighbours are already going hungry," continued Noah, "and after paying taxes, we will have nothing left ourselves. If we just wait and hope, we might not make it through the winter." Sarah turned her eyes to the fire, searching her mind for words of encouragement to say to her husband, but she found none.

Suddenly, Noah's voice changed and his tone became determined, pressing. "God has told me that we must move. I am to sell our farm for whatever price I can get and use the money to build a boat, a large one." He was interrupted by Sarah's surprised reaction. "A boat? What do you want to do with a boat? You know nothing about fishing."

"There are wide fertile fields down the river, Sarah, I have seen them in my dream. God has told me that we can start a new farm there, a new life. I am to purchase a pair of goats, a pair of chicken, and a pair of sheep, male and female, and take them with us on the boat."

From all the nonsensical projects that Sarah had heard from her husband night after night, year after year, this was by far the most daring and, at the same time, the most insane. From their first encounter, Sarah had loved Noah because he was an entrepreneur, unfortunately, as it had turned out, a crazy one.

A pair of goats on a boat, what lunacy, thought Sarah, taking in a deep breath. Once again, it was up to her to put some sense into Noah's mind. "Only a pair of each is too risky," she objected firmly, "we should take a least two pairs of each sort, male and female."

It was the first time that Sarah had expressed support for any of Noah's high-risk ideas and he was so taken aback, that it took him a while to reply. "What if I am wrong, Sarah? What if we lose everything we have?"

Sarah contemplated the reflection of the flames in Noah's eyes. The project was too risky and she could not afford any doubts. She needed to ask the question. She had to be certain that Noah was not lying to her. "Did you really have a vision, Noah? Did God tell you what to do?"

Her heart ached when she saw the pain in Noah's eyes, when she saw him lower his head. "I am not sure if it was God, Sarah," his voice was barely audible now, "but I know that my vision is true." There was a silence, but it was short, just long enough for Sarah to lay her hands on Noah's. "Then, we will build the boat," she said.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Linda Duchaine under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Immobility is always the worst option


Imagine for a moment that you would able to go after your goals without having to fear criticism from friends and family. Would you devote more efforts to pursuing your ambitions if you did not have to worry about ridicule in case of failure? How far would you invest yourself if you never had to deal with discouragement and doubts?

There are good reasons why we fear failure more than we crave success. If we formulate the proposition in purely material terms, the discomfort suffered from not having any car is far superior than the advantages derived from having two cars; similarly, the terror of losing all our savings in a stock market crash is stronger than the perspective of doubling our assets if stock prices rise.

Worry and anxiety are powerful inhibitors of achievement. Fear can make us discard viable initiatives; apprehension may consume our energies and prevent us from moving forward; concern can block reasonable attempts to improve our situation.

We stay behind because our minds blow risks out of proportion; we give up too soon because we underestimate our capacity to adopt preventive measures; we walk downtrodden paths for fear of lions that we have never seen; we stick to unproductive routines to avoid the discomfort associated with change.

Books and lectures that recommend to take risks remain unconvincing to most people. Common sense weighs heavier than motivational speeches. Change is disruptive; we crave what we can gain less than we dread what we can lose. Cheerful words and doubtful promises are not sufficient to assuage our concerns. Only realism can prompt us to overcome fear; only rationality can lead us to take entrepreneurial risks.

Thinking must take place before action if such action is to be productive; planning must take place before implementation if success is to be attained. Self-confidence needs to be built before it can be applied; skills must be acquired before they can be employed. How can we overcome exaggerated fears and take well-calculated steps? In which way can we increase our chances of success?

Reason is the most powerful tool for dismantling falsehoods. If we grow convinced that we stand a good chance of accomplishing our goals, we will become less worried and more adventurous. Logic is our cardinal ally for contesting overblown concerns. The best way to face fear is to demonstrate its irrationality, namely:

1. INTENSITY VERSUS LIKELIHOOD. The intensity of a potential catastrophe is independent of the likelihood of its occurrence. Salesmen promote insurance policies by painting vivid pictures of misfortune, but their sales presentations seldom mention the actual statistical probability of such misfortune taking place.

2. OBJECTIVITY VERSUS CULTURAL BIAS. The perception of risk is heavily influenced by cultural stereotypes. Saving rates differ from country to country according to how citizens see their future; the willingness to change jobs and move to a distant city is higher in the US than in Europe; the proportion of the population that invests in the stock market also varies from country to country.

3. EMOTIONAL VERSUS MATERIAL DAMAGE. Potential dangers need to be quantified in order to be properly assessed. If emotions take control, they will exaggerate the negative consequences of risk. On many occasions, the material damages that people actually suffer are minor compared to the accompanying psychological discomfort.

4. RISK PERCEPTION CHANGES THROUGH MARKETING. Many things we fear arise from stories written by marketeers. Why do California residents protect themselves more often against earthquakes than against divorce? Because salesmen market earthquake insurance very effectively, while at the same time, few couples are aware that a pre-nuptial agreement can protect them against a devastating divorce.

Taking the time to assess risks objectively is essential for making good decisions. If you are considering a challenging professional move, forget about irrational fears and ask yourself the right questions: if your new job proves to be a disappointment, what is the actual likelihood of your becoming unemployed? Even if you lost your new position, how long would it reasonably take you to regain employment?

We worry about risks that have been exaggerated by marketeers trying to promote their products or services. Those who sell pension plans frequently paint grim pictures of retired people living in poverty and rightly so. There is no reason why salesmen should refrain from offering their insurance policies, but it is up to us to appraise risks according to their true gravity.

The next time that you hesitate between taking action or staying put, do not make a decision until you have assessed all facts. Make an effort to discard emotions that might be polluting your perception. Quantify the positive and negative aspects; weigh off the severity of risks with the likelihood of their occurrence.

Logical analysis reshapes risks and unveils opportunities. Thoughtfulness replaces concern with prudence and worry with caution. On most occasions, a rational assessment of advantages and disadvantages will prompt individuals to take initiative. Becoming an entrepreneur in your everyday life begins with understanding risks and our ability to deal with them effectively.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by nattu under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Immobility is always the worst option


Imagine for a moment that you would able to go after your goals without having to fear criticism from friends and family. Would you devote more efforts to pursuing your ambitions if you did not have to worry about ridicule in case of failure? How far would you invest yourself if you never had to deal with discouragement and doubts?

There are good reasons why we fear failure more than we crave success. If we formulate the proposition in purely material terms, the discomfort suffered from not having any car is far superior than the advantages derived from having two cars; similarly, the terror of losing all our savings in a stock market crash is stronger than the perspective of doubling our assets if stock prices rise.

Worry and anxiety are powerful inhibitors of achievement. Fear can make us discard viable initiatives; apprehension may consume our energies and prevent us from moving forward; concern can block reasonable attempts to improve our situation.

We stay behind because our minds blow risks out of proportion; we give up too soon because we underestimate our capacity to adopt preventive measures; we walk downtrodden paths for fear of lions that we have never seen; we stick to unproductive routines to avoid the discomfort associated with change.

Books and lectures that recommend to take risks remain unconvincing to most people. Common sense weighs heavier than motivational speeches. Change is disruptive; we crave what we can gain less than we dread what we can lose. Cheerful words and doubtful promises are not sufficient to assuage our concerns. Only realism can prompt us to overcome fear; only rationality can lead us to take entrepreneurial risks.

Thinking must take place before action if such action is to be productive; planning must take place before implementation if success is to be attained. Self-confidence needs to be built before it can be applied; skills must be acquired before they can be employed. How can we overcome exaggerated fears and take well-calculated steps? In which way can we increase our chances of success?

Reason is the most powerful tool for dismantling falsehoods. If we grow convinced that we stand a good chance of accomplishing our goals, we will become less worried and more adventurous. Logic is our cardinal ally for contesting overblown concerns. The best way to face fear is to demonstrate its irrationality, namely:

1. INTENSITY VERSUS LIKELIHOOD. The intensity of a potential catastrophe is independent of the likelihood of its occurrence. Salesmen promote insurance policies by painting vivid pictures of misfortune, but their sales presentations seldom mention the actual statistical probability of such misfortune taking place.

2. OBJECTIVITY VERSUS CULTURAL BIAS. The perception of risk is heavily influenced by cultural stereotypes. Saving rates differ from country to country according to how citizens see their future; the willingness to change jobs and move to a distant city is higher in the US than in Europe; the proportion of the population that invests in the stock market also varies from country to country.

3. EMOTIONAL VERSUS MATERIAL DAMAGE. Potential dangers need to be quantified in order to be properly assessed. If emotions take control, they will exaggerate the negative consequences of risk. On many occasions, the material damages that people actually suffer are minor compared to the accompanying psychological discomfort.

4. RISK PERCEPTION CHANGES THROUGH MARKETING. Many things we fear arise from stories written by marketeers. Why do California residents protect themselves more often against earthquakes than against divorce? Because salesmen market earthquake insurance very effectively, while at the same time, few couples are aware that a pre-nuptial agreement can protect them against a devastating divorce.

Taking the time to assess risks objectively is essential for making good decisions. If you are considering a challenging professional move, forget about irrational fears and ask yourself the right questions: if your new job proves to be a disappointment, what is the actual likelihood of your becoming unemployed? Even if you lost your new position, how long would it reasonably take you to regain employment?

We worry about risks that have been exaggerated by marketeers trying to promote their products or services. Those who sell pension plans frequently paint grim pictures of retired people living in poverty and rightly so. There is no reason why salesmen should refrain from offering their insurance policies, but it is up to us to appraise risks according to their true gravity.

The next time that you hesitate between taking action or staying put, do not make a decision until you have assessed all facts. Make an effort to discard emotions that might be polluting your perception. Quantify the positive and negative aspects; weigh off the severity of risks with the likelihood of their occurrence.

Logical analysis reshapes risks and unveils opportunities. Thoughtfulness replaces concern with prudence and worry with caution. On most occasions, a rational assessment of advantages and disadvantages will prompt individuals to take initiative. Becoming an entrepreneur in your everyday life begins with understanding risks and our ability to deal with them effectively.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by nattu under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Monday, 27 February 2012

Proven business strategies during a recession


Change is great. We all love to see people try to improve things. Where would we be without adventurers and risk-takers? If you are in search of glory or wish to make a fortune, it obviously pays to be first. Nevertheless, during an economic depression, it can happen that early birds just get eaten first.

That does not mean that we should be sceptical about innovation, but only that, when money is tight, it is advisable to be extra careful. If you are running a business these days, you are probably watching your cash-flow like a hawk. Well done. My guess is that, right now, you need to make a major mistake like you need a hole in your head.

Managing a company in recession mode demands more of the ant than of the grasshopper in our souls. When the market recovers, there will be plenty of time for taking bold risks. In the meantime, a miser's frame of mind might be what you need to ensure business survival. In my view, in difficult times, one should keep in mind the following three principles:

1.- MAKE PRODUCTS FOR EASILY ACCESSIBLE MARKETS. If you are running a specialist service company in Minnesota, forget about the Chinese market for the moment. Chances are that you'll be able to detect better opportunities if you concentrate your attention on people next door. Transportation costs money and communication takes time. In times of deep economic trouble, I believe in focusing all efforts on the easiest markets and putting aside, temporarily, risky expansion ideas.

2.- USE QUALITY ASSURANCE TO SAVE YOU MONEY. If you are delivering services, such as painting houses, what level of quality should you try to achieve? How often do you give grounds of complaint to your customers? If your answer is never, you are doing great. If not, that might be good news as well. Quality improvements, as perceived by customers, often involve negligible costs for business. Delivering impeccable quality saves you money. For this reason, during an economic recession, I wouldn't recommend launching new products with potential quality problems that might take you down beyond hope of recovery.

3.- EVALUATE EVERY BUSINESS COST AS AN INVESTMENT. An economic recession blurs the line between fixed and variable costs, production and overhead. When money is tight, you need to take immediate decisions about where your cash is going. Evaluating every expenditure as an investment is a technique that brings about outstanding results. Is your inventory going to make you a profit within the next two months? Which steps of your process could be eliminated without negative impact for customers? In periods of crisis, one should eliminate investments in new technologies with long payback periods, since they might eat up the cash that you need to survive right now.

When you look around and see people going bankrupt, it is not unwise to become risk-shy. Before you explore new countries, take a walk down the street. Before you invest in new technology, make sure that you can afford it. Before you take additional cargo, stabilize your ship. One day, hopefully soon, the storm will be over and we will be able to go back to plain sailing, bold innovation, and massive expansion.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by individuo under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Proven business strategies during a recession


Change is great. We all love to see people try to improve things. Where would we be without adventurers and risk-takers? If you are in search of glory or wish to make a fortune, it obviously pays to be first. Nevertheless, during an economic depression, it can happen that early birds just get eaten first.

That does not mean that we should be sceptical about innovation, but only that, when money is tight, it is advisable to be extra careful. If you are running a business these days, you are probably watching your cash-flow like a hawk. Well done. My guess is that, right now, you need to make a major mistake like you need a hole in your head.

Managing a company in recession mode demands more of the ant than of the grasshopper in our souls. When the market recovers, there will be plenty of time for taking bold risks. In the meantime, a miser's frame of mind might be what you need to ensure business survival. In my view, in difficult times, one should keep in mind the following three principles:

1.- MAKE PRODUCTS FOR EASILY ACCESSIBLE MARKETS. If you are running a specialist service company in Minnesota, forget about the Chinese market for the moment. Chances are that you'll be able to detect better opportunities if you concentrate your attention on people next door. Transportation costs money and communication takes time. In times of deep economic trouble, I believe in focusing all efforts on the easiest markets and putting aside, temporarily, risky expansion ideas.

2.- USE QUALITY ASSURANCE TO SAVE YOU MONEY. If you are delivering services, such as painting houses, what level of quality should you try to achieve? How often do you give grounds of complaint to your customers? If your answer is never, you are doing great. If not, that might be good news as well. Quality improvements, as perceived by customers, often involve negligible costs for business. Delivering impeccable quality saves you money. For this reason, during an economic recession, I wouldn't recommend launching new products with potential quality problems that might take you down beyond hope of recovery.

3.- EVALUATE EVERY BUSINESS COST AS AN INVESTMENT. An economic recession blurs the line between fixed and variable costs, production and overhead. When money is tight, you need to take immediate decisions about where your cash is going. Evaluating every expenditure as an investment is a technique that brings about outstanding results. Is your inventory going to make you a profit within the next two months? Which steps of your process could be eliminated without negative impact for customers? In periods of crisis, one should eliminate investments in new technologies with long payback periods, since they might eat up the cash that you need to survive right now.

When you look around and see people going bankrupt, it is not unwise to become risk-shy. Before you explore new countries, take a walk down the street. Before you invest in new technology, make sure that you can afford it. Before you take additional cargo, stabilize your ship. One day, hopefully soon, the storm will be over and we will be able to go back to plain sailing, bold innovation, and massive expansion.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by individuo under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Rational Living - Letting go of prejudices that limit your potential


Ideas engage people and move the world. Our convictions contribute to our effectiveness more than our material resources. If we hold the right ideas, we will progress; if we believe in falsehoods and inconsistencies, we will fail. There is no escape from this principle.

Are your ideas helping you to improve your life? Are your beliefs promoting fear or prompting you to take effective action? Have you acquired a clear view of the world? Can you see reality without the distortions of wishful thinking? Can you face life without envy and discouragement? Are your convictions hindering or supporting your motivation?

We can define ideas that work as those that allow us to identify problems, analyse their causes, and figure out workable solutions. Worthless opinions are those that render us insensitive to danger, lead us to react irrationally to difficulties, and contaminate our emotions with anger or anxiety. Counter-productive views are those that sabotage our initiatives and waste our potential.

The first step to improve your life is to throw away all ideas that do not work; you have to let go of unproven theories before you embrace feasible solutions; you cannot become efficient until you discard all excuses for rigidity and inertia. In order to move forward, we must stop pushing backwards; in order to look at the horizon, we must lift our eyes from the ground. Let us review briefly five widespread convictions that are at odds with reality.

[1] The idea that you need the approval of dozens of people before you can improve your life: gregariousness is an essential component of the human psychology; we all love to be appreciated by friends and colleagues; on many occasions, honours and distinctions are as important as monetary rewards; nevertheless, this is not the same as professing that individuals are incapable of affecting their destiny unless they have obtained social approval.

In industrialized societies, personal initiative plays a determinant role in individual happiness. Innovation and change disrupt social structures; any person who deviates from the standard behaviour risks criticism and ostracism; innovators frequently find these psychological obstacles harder to overcome than lack of access to capital.

[2] The idea that you cannot obtain additional resources and that you have to content yourself with whatever you currently possess: physical resources are indeed limited, but this fact should not prevent you from establishing ambitious goals for yourself. Money and other assets can be borrowed if you demonstrate that you can use them productively.

The global economy is a scenario where resources are continuously shifted from low to high productivity areas. Purpose and initiative play a crucial role in exploiting assets to the maximum; men with visionary business models discover new applications for old technologies and additional customers for existing products. Even if material resources are limited, the only constrain to economic growth is human creativity.

[3] The idea that you are too young, too old, or inadequate to ameliorate your situation: such restrictions never hold true overall, although they might apply to specific goals in certain environments; for instance, learning to play the piano at an advanced age can be a lot of fun, but it makes difficult to pursue a career as a pop artist.

Restrictions can often be lifted or circumvented by changing the context; goals can be slightly modified in order to seek better market opportunities; personal limitations can inspire us to figure out more effective approaches to make or sell products; careers can be redefined; professions can be combined in order to serve clients in surprising ways.

[4] The idea that, if you have not already attained success, you'd better give up because you have no chance: despite the fact that extraordinary achievements are reported daily by newspapers, few people possess the strength of character to encourage friends and neighbours to pursue challenging goals.

Psychologically, watching the outstanding performance of athletes on television is less menacing that seeing a friend start up a business; praising the latest film of our favourite actor feels less threatening than supporting our spouse's dream to become a novelist. We do not mind being surpassed by those we have never met, but we dread the idea that someone close to us might grow faster than ourselves.

You have to let go of prejudices that prevent you from developing your potential; you have to discard traditions that are not in line with current opportunities. We live in an era of abundant resources and unlimited possibilities. By throwing away ideas that do not work, we open the door to realistic plans, workable solutions, and satisfactory results.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by biologyfishman under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 25 February 2012

How problems and discomfort lead to improvement


"Some matters pass off more quietly than anyone could expect," wrote Titus Livius two thousand years ago, "but times of trouble allow to tell apart discerning men. You will see them reflecting on the cause of their problems, rather than on the problems themselves."

These days, when catastrophe and disgrace fill pages of newspapers, we can all use some perspective to shield us from discouragement. Tidal changes have taken place in all ages. Instability and shifting paradigms will befall humanity again and again.
  • People have felt trapped in countries and occupations while their world fell apart.
  • Established markets have disappeared overnight.
  • Systems that were supposed to last forever have revealed themselves as too frail to be trusted.
Egg-shells look deceivingly fragile. The truth is that breaking out presents almost insurmountable problems for chicken. Baby chicken don't even know that they are inside a shell, since their eyes are still closed.

What makes the situation of infant birds even more critical, if that they have very limited time to accomplish their feat. The little oxygen that gets through the shell won't keep them alive for long. At a certain moment, almost by magic, baby chicken begin to move and break out of the egg.

Experiments have shown that the time needed for hatching varies with each individual bird. Try as you may, if you break the egg-shell yourself in order to help the bird get out, chances are that you will kill it. Do it too soon and the chicken will die. Waiting too long is also a sign of trouble. If the baby bird is unable to hatch on its own efforts, it means that nature has already decided otherwise.

Then why on earth do chicken break out of the shell? The simplicity of the answer will not make it less shocking. Birds hatch for one reason only: because, at a certain point in their development, it becomes too uncomfortable to remain inside the egg. It gets too constrained, too warm, too sticky, too hard to breathe inside the shell.

Invisible shells are the hardest to break. Inevitably, each of us carries around a few. Unlike those of chicken, our shells are not made of calcium, but of fear and indecision. We exaggerate problems and underestimate our resiliency. We cling to continuity even when we know that the old bridge ahead of the road has already collapsed.

If your conclusions don't match reality, re-examine your premises. If History has turned your most precious dreams to dust, maybe they were not meant to be realized.

Every chicken must break out of its own shell. Life will be always fraught with distress and difficulties. Don't you ever let them bring you down. Look at the world with a fresh spirit, choose your path, and move on. As Titus Livius put it so well,"urgent measures are meant to be applied with great dispatch."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by MAC SURAK under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

How problems and discomfort lead to improvement


"Some matters pass off more quietly than anyone could expect," wrote Titus Livius two thousand years ago, "but times of trouble allow to tell apart discerning men. You will see them reflecting on the cause of their problems, rather than on the problems themselves."

These days, when catastrophe and disgrace fill pages of newspapers, we can all use some perspective to shield us from discouragement. Tidal changes have taken place in all ages. Instability and shifting paradigms will befall humanity again and again.
  • People have felt trapped in countries and occupations while their world fell apart.
  • Established markets have disappeared overnight.
  • Systems that were supposed to last forever have revealed themselves as too frail to be trusted.
Egg-shells look deceivingly fragile. The truth is that breaking out presents almost insurmountable problems for chicken. Baby chicken don't even know that they are inside a shell, since their eyes are still closed.

What makes the situation of infant birds even more critical, if that they have very limited time to accomplish their feat. The little oxygen that gets through the shell won't keep them alive for long. At a certain moment, almost by magic, baby chicken begin to move and break out of the egg.

Experiments have shown that the time needed for hatching varies with each individual bird. Try as you may, if you break the egg-shell yourself in order to help the bird get out, chances are that you will kill it. Do it too soon and the chicken will die. Waiting too long is also a sign of trouble. If the baby bird is unable to hatch on its own efforts, it means that nature has already decided otherwise.

Then why on earth do chicken break out of the shell? The simplicity of the answer will not make it less shocking. Birds hatch for one reason only: because, at a certain point in their development, it becomes too uncomfortable to remain inside the egg. It gets too constrained, too warm, too sticky, too hard to breathe inside the shell.

Invisible shells are the hardest to break. Inevitably, each of us carries around a few. Unlike those of chicken, our shells are not made of calcium, but of fear and indecision. We exaggerate problems and underestimate our resiliency. We cling to continuity even when we know that the old bridge ahead of the road has already collapsed.

If your conclusions don't match reality, re-examine your premises. If History has turned your most precious dreams to dust, maybe they were not meant to be realized.

Every chicken must break out of its own shell. Life will be always fraught with distress and difficulties. Don't you ever let them bring you down. Look at the world with a fresh spirit, choose your path, and move on. As Titus Livius put it so well,"urgent measures are meant to be applied with great dispatch."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by MAC SURAK under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 24 February 2012

Four lessons you can learn from Confucius


"A man of happiness is consistent in his steps, not disorderly," wrote Confucius in the year 510 B.C. In our days, technology has rendered life less demanding in physical effort, opening the door to endless achievement or overwhelming conformity.

The multiplication of choices has increased individual capacity to make right decisions or colossal mistakes. "Foolish men do things without knowing their purpose," remarked Confucius, "but chaos is not the way; be observant, choose the beneficial, and try to attain it." From his writings, I have extracted the following four practical recommendations:

1.- DEFINE YOUR LONG-TERM INTERESTS. No formula can guarantee happiness, but following the fashion of the day is unlikely to bring peace of mind to anyone. Think of the people you know who are highly satisfied with their achievements. Is it not true that those are, almost without exception, individuals who have been pursuing difficult goals year after year?

2.- ACTIVITY BEATS IMMOBILITY EVERY TIME. "Fortune comes from turning tireless thought into faithful practice," wrote Confucius further. Twenty-five centuries ago, crying and wailing were as much of a waste of time as they are today. No matter how difficult your situation, taking determined action is the best alternative. Start doing something today to improve your state of affairs. A ship in motion keeps advancing even if there is no wind for a while.

3.- FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS. Low-cost electronic media are making traditional education obsolete. Nowadays, you can learn almost anything you want, no matter where you live. Assess your abilities, choose your field, and develop your expertise. As Confucius put it, "learning knows no rank and no end." Concentrate your efforts on cultivating your best qualities and they will take you as far as you wish to go.

4.- LEARN TO SHRUG YOUR SHOULDERS AT NONSENSE. "Wisdom does not fret and knows when to stand quiet," Confucius reminded his disciples. Life is full of nonsense and inconvenience. Even if you reside in a prime area, you will be caught in traffic jams from time to time. You will always have to deal with individuals who criticize you unfairly no matter what you do. Getting angry at other people's folly is a waste of resources. Move on and work at building a better life for yourself.

Everybody's time on earth is limited. An individual's best chance to attain happiness lies in his efficient use of resources and opportunities. Define your long-term ambitions and pursue them with passion. Happiness is not inertia, but purposeful motion. Become what Confucius defined as "a man of endless craving, who never tires of learning," and you will be on your way.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Enid Yu under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Four lessons you can learn from Confucius


"A man of happiness is consistent in his steps, not disorderly," wrote Confucius in the year 510 B.C. In our days, technology has rendered life less demanding in physical effort, opening the door to endless achievement or overwhelming conformity.

The multiplication of choices has increased individual capacity to make right decisions or colossal mistakes. "Foolish men do things without knowing their purpose," remarked Confucius, "but chaos is not the way; be observant, choose the beneficial, and try to attain it." From his writings, I have extracted the following four practical recommendations:

1.- DEFINE YOUR LONG-TERM INTERESTS. No formula can guarantee happiness, but following the fashion of the day is unlikely to bring peace of mind to anyone. Think of the people you know who are highly satisfied with their achievements. Is it not true that those are, almost without exception, individuals who have been pursuing difficult goals year after year?

2.- ACTIVITY BEATS IMMOBILITY EVERY TIME. "Fortune comes from turning tireless thought into faithful practice," wrote Confucius further. Twenty-five centuries ago, crying and wailing were as much of a waste of time as they are today. No matter how difficult your situation, taking determined action is the best alternative. Start doing something today to improve your state of affairs. A ship in motion keeps advancing even if there is no wind for a while.

3.- FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS. Low-cost electronic media are making traditional education obsolete. Nowadays, you can learn almost anything you want, no matter where you live. Assess your abilities, choose your field, and develop your expertise. As Confucius put it, "learning knows no rank and no end." Concentrate your efforts on cultivating your best qualities and they will take you as far as you wish to go.

4.- LEARN TO SHRUG YOUR SHOULDERS AT NONSENSE. "Wisdom does not fret and knows when to stand quiet," Confucius reminded his disciples. Life is full of nonsense and inconvenience. Even if you reside in a prime area, you will be caught in traffic jams from time to time. You will always have to deal with individuals who criticize you unfairly no matter what you do. Getting angry at other people's folly is a waste of resources. Move on and work at building a better life for yourself.

Everybody's time on earth is limited. An individual's best chance to attain happiness lies in his efficient use of resources and opportunities. Define your long-term ambitions and pursue them with passion. Happiness is not inertia, but purposeful motion. Become what Confucius defined as "a man of endless craving, who never tires of learning," and you will be on your way.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Enid Yu under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The link between productiveness and happiness


Given sufficient time, logic and consistency always produce optimal results. A rational approach to living gives you the ultimate advantage in the fields of investment, health, career, or relationships. Barring extreme bad luck or misfortune, ethical actions lead to happiness.

The easiest way to accelerate your personal growth is to concentrate your efforts on the area of your life where problems are most pressing. You only have one life to enjoy and it is up to you to decide which path to follow. Assess your situation objectively, placing facts above prejudice. Design your strategy according to reality. See what works well in the world and identify the keys to prosperity.

Complaining and wishful thinking are ineffectual. Ambitious goals can only be achieved through thoughtful plans and consistent implementation. Psychological balance can only be maintained through rational values and a sense of purpose.

Sound principles are as beneficial as they are demanding. Irrationality may seem comfortable in the short-term, but contradictions ultimately result in failure. No matter how experienced you are, mistakes are inevitable, but a wise man is not intimidated by difficulties. He sets goals and plans how to accomplish them.

Entrepreneurship epitomizes the rational approach to living. Innovative spirits do not ask if they can attain their objectives, only how. Creative minds are always looking for better options. Originality is an essential element of success. Productiveness is a fundamental ingredient of happiness.

Rationality enables self-reliance and logic sustains motivation. Do not allow lack of capital to stop your dreams, nor lack of contacts, nor massive ridicule. Seek out thoughtful, benevolent human beings who appreciate what you have to offer. Build your future around them and happiness will ensue.

History recounts the same tale again and again. When difficulties arise, scepticism turns into discouragement and irrationality into fear. Pragmatism leads to counter-productive actions and confusing results. Without a long-term perspective, problems soon strike the ship under the waterline.

A fully human life is impossible without thoughtfulness. This principle is universal. It knows no exceptions. No one can escape it. Learn from experience, abandon wishful thinking, and embrace a philosophy that works. Rationality, determination, and consistency are the essential factors of happiness and prosperity. Let them carry the day.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Hakan Dahlstron under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The lesson from Francois Rabelais


"Old people have long forgotten and the young have no time to learn," deplored writer Fran├žois Rabelais five centuries ago. What was he complaining about? The subject of his lamentations was neither social injustice nor bad manners. What bothered Rabelais was that his contemporaries ignored the lessons of History. That problem constitutes a plague that no society has been able to eradicate.

The Sheep of Panurge is one of Rabelais' best known stories. The dispute between Panurge, a malicious drunkard, and Dindenault, a merchant, is recounted in the fourth book of Rabelais' series "Gargantua and Pantagruel." The scene takes place on board of a ship that transports not only passengers, but also forty sheep "of delicate and savoury flesh," which Dindenault is taking to the market to be sold.

Panurge requests to purchase one of Dindenault's sheep, but the merchant demands an exorbitant price. After a heated negotiation, Panurge agrees to meet Dindenault's terms, but with the secret goal of taking revenge for being overcharged. Before the merchant can figure out what's going on, Panurge throws his sheep overboard into the sea, "bleating and making a sad noise."

When the other sheep see this, they immediately begin to run after the first one "all crying and bleating in the same tone." One after the other, the animals leap into the sea before the astonished eyes of merchant Dindenault, who in desperation, tries to prevent his last sheep from jumping off the ship, with the only result of being carried overboard himself and drowning.

"It is in the nature of sheep to follow any of their kind in any random direction it may go," explained Rabelais, "and this is what makes them the most silly and foolish animals in the world."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Masters under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The lesson from Francois Rabelais


"Old people have long forgotten and the young have no time to learn," deplored writer Fran├žois Rabelais five centuries ago. What was he complaining about? The subject of his lamentations was neither social injustice nor bad manners. What bothered Rabelais was that his contemporaries ignored the lessons of History. That problem constitutes a plague that no society has been able to eradicate.

The Sheep of Panurge is one of Rabelais' best known stories. The dispute between Panurge, a malicious drunkard, and Dindenault, a merchant, is recounted in the fourth book of Rabelais' series "Gargantua and Pantagruel." The scene takes place on board of a ship that transports not only passengers, but also forty sheep "of delicate and savoury flesh," which Dindenault is taking to the market to be sold.

Panurge requests to purchase one of Dindenault's sheep, but the merchant demands an exorbitant price. After a heated negotiation, Panurge agrees to meet Dindenault's terms, but with the secret goal of taking revenge for being overcharged. Before the merchant can figure out what's going on, Panurge throws his sheep overboard into the sea, "bleating and making a sad noise."

When the other sheep see this, they immediately begin to run after the first one "all crying and bleating in the same tone." One after the other, the animals leap into the sea before the astonished eyes of merchant Dindenault, who in desperation, tries to prevent his last sheep from jumping off the ship, with the only result of being carried overboard himself and drowning.

"It is in the nature of sheep to follow any of their kind in any random direction it may go," explained Rabelais, "and this is what makes them the most silly and foolish animals in the world."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Masters under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Principles of rational investing


In investments, like in most things in life, it all boils down to using the right methodology. How can we determine what is true? What facts are relevant? Which predictions make sense? Can we figure out the future by applying principles extracted from experience?

"If you intend to climb a high mountain, always choose the smoothest path," wrote Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu in the year 520 BC. In times of economic adversity, investing becomes the equivalent of climbing the Swiss Alps bare-handed in the middle of the winter.

After suffering the negative results of wrong financial decisions, many individuals are reluctant to place any money in the stock market. Are those fears justified? Making mistakes is inevitable in any human endeavour. A wise man must be willing to accept occasional errors and use them as stepping-stones for building a better future for himself. Why should we not view the stock market in the same way?

The main lesson to be drawn from past financial mistakes is that, when it comes to investing, methodology is everything. More careful research can help us make better decisions in the future. A more disciplined approach can minimize losses. Taking appropriate measures to reduce risk should prevent us from making the same faults twice.

The following principles of risk reduction have endured the best and worst of times. Use them to your advantage to build a prosperous financial future. From time to time, your decisions will not be correct, but if you adopt a prudent strategy, you can keep your losses under control at the same time that you let your profits grow.

[1] Choose shares of solid companies, preferably those that pay regular dividends: Unless you are a professional investor, it is advisable to avoid speculative stocks of small enterprises whose future is dependant on one single product or customer. During periods of economic adversity, well-established companies whose products fulfil fundamental human needs tend to fare better than small undertakings.

[2] Never place more than 5% of your savings on a single investment: Even if you make a correct decision today, circumstances continuously change. The easiest way to minimize risk is to spread your savings into many different assets. The rule of 5% implies that, over time, you should aim at having at least 20 different types of investments.

If you save money every month, it will take you less than two years to achieve this target. Risk reduction is worth the effort of researching 20 different investments. Some of them will turn out to be outstanding places for your money, while others may deliver negative results. Since you cannot know in advance, you will be better off by spreading your money.

[3] Diversify your assets amongst different sectors and countries: You have no control over what problems will affect specific industries or countries in the future. Those negative events are, to a great extent, unpredictable.

Follow the example of professional investors and spread your savings amongst different types of assets. If you diversify internationally by placing a good part of your savings in stable countries around the world, your financial future will be less affected by problems in any particular territory.

[4] Understand that nobody can predict trends with certainty, such as when the markets have hit bottom or are about to crash: You should never act blindly on someone else's advice, no matter how brilliant their track record is. Everybody makes mistakes and, as a general rule, it is better to trust facts than opinions. Listen to wise individuals, but always check things for yourself.

[5] Save regularly, monthly if possible, in order to ensure that you will also invest during periods of pessimism. Psychologically, it is easier to place your money in the stock market when prices are rising than when the world seems to be falling apart. Nevertheless, periods of economic misfortune tend to be the best to purchase assets at a low price.

This last principle is the most difficult to apply, since it requires enormous self-discipline. If we overreact to painful past experiences, we will overlook great investment opportunities. When the stock markets of the world go through a difficult period, the low prices can offer excellent possibilities for the future. If you adopt the habit of investing regularly, you will be able to make profitable decisions when few are willing to take any risk.

The essential principles of risk reduction will not provide you absolute protection, but they can help you keep your losses to a minimum. Whatever your strategy, check the facts for yourself and never trust anybody blindly.

Times of economic adversity are often the best to rebuild an investment portfolio. As Lao-Tzu observed twenty-six centuries ago: "Truth is often paradoxical. Don't make the mistake of believing that you know what you don't know." Making risk reduction a part of your financial plan can help preserve your peace of mind as much as your savings.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by obbino under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Principles of rational investing


In investments, like in most things in life, it all boils down to using the right methodology. How can we determine what is true? What facts are relevant? Which predictions make sense? Can we figure out the future by applying principles extracted from experience?

"If you intend to climb a high mountain, always choose the smoothest path," wrote Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu in the year 520 BC. In times of economic adversity, investing becomes the equivalent of climbing the Swiss Alps bare-handed in the middle of the winter.

After suffering the negative results of wrong financial decisions, many individuals are reluctant to place any money in the stock market. Are those fears justified? Making mistakes is inevitable in any human endeavour. A wise man must be willing to accept occasional errors and use them as stepping-stones for building a better future for himself. Why should we not view the stock market in the same way?

The main lesson to be drawn from past financial mistakes is that, when it comes to investing, methodology is everything. More careful research can help us make better decisions in the future. A more disciplined approach can minimize losses. Taking appropriate measures to reduce risk should prevent us from making the same faults twice.

The following principles of risk reduction have endured the best and worst of times. Use them to your advantage to build a prosperous financial future. From time to time, your decisions will not be correct, but if you adopt a prudent strategy, you can keep your losses under control at the same time that you let your profits grow.

[1] Choose shares of solid companies, preferably those that pay regular dividends: Unless you are a professional investor, it is advisable to avoid speculative stocks of small enterprises whose future is dependant on one single product or customer. During periods of economic adversity, well-established companies whose products fulfil fundamental human needs tend to fare better than small undertakings.

[2] Never place more than 5% of your savings on a single investment: Even if you make a correct decision today, circumstances continuously change. The easiest way to minimize risk is to spread your savings into many different assets. The rule of 5% implies that, over time, you should aim at having at least 20 different types of investments.

If you save money every month, it will take you less than two years to achieve this target. Risk reduction is worth the effort of researching 20 different investments. Some of them will turn out to be outstanding places for your money, while others may deliver negative results. Since you cannot know in advance, you will be better off by spreading your money.

[3] Diversify your assets amongst different sectors and countries: You have no control over what problems will affect specific industries or countries in the future. Those negative events are, to a great extent, unpredictable.

Follow the example of professional investors and spread your savings amongst different types of assets. If you diversify internationally by placing a good part of your savings in stable countries around the world, your financial future will be less affected by problems in any particular territory.

[4] Understand that nobody can predict trends with certainty, such as when the markets have hit bottom or are about to crash: You should never act blindly on someone else's advice, no matter how brilliant their track record is. Everybody makes mistakes and, as a general rule, it is better to trust facts than opinions. Listen to wise individuals, but always check things for yourself.

[5] Save regularly, monthly if possible, in order to ensure that you will also invest during periods of pessimism. Psychologically, it is easier to place your money in the stock market when prices are rising than when the world seems to be falling apart. Nevertheless, periods of economic misfortune tend to be the best to purchase assets at a low price.

This last principle is the most difficult to apply, since it requires enormous self-discipline. If we overreact to painful past experiences, we will overlook great investment opportunities. When the stock markets of the world go through a difficult period, the low prices can offer excellent possibilities for the future. If you adopt the habit of investing regularly, you will be able to make profitable decisions when few are willing to take any risk.

The essential principles of risk reduction will not provide you absolute protection, but they can help you keep your losses to a minimum. Whatever your strategy, check the facts for yourself and never trust anybody blindly.

Times of economic adversity are often the best to rebuild an investment portfolio. As Lao-Tzu observed twenty-six centuries ago: "Truth is often paradoxical. Don't make the mistake of believing that you know what you don't know." Making risk reduction a part of your financial plan can help preserve your peace of mind as much as your savings.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by obbino under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Monday, 20 February 2012

The paranoia of the Swiss cheese maker -a short story by John Vespasian-


"I will never reveal my formula to anyone," announced Ludovico Egli to the venture capitalists. At that point, it was obvious that the negotiation was over.

After spending three days in Brussels, trying to obtain funding to keep his farm afloat, Ludovico Egli had decided to reject the financiers' final offer.

Ludovico's father had passed to him the secret recipe for making Emmenthal cheese with mountain herbs. One day, it might be Ludovico's turn to pass the recipe to his son. No, he would never let strangers into a secret that had belonged to his family since the times of Wilhelm Tell.

Ludovico drove back from Brussels to Bern in his old Volkswagen, wondering what he was going to do next. He had placed all his hopes in obtaining funding from the Brussels venture capitalists.

After the failure of the negotiations, Ludovico Egli had no idea where to turn next. He was already two months late with his mortgage payments and he feared that his bank might foreclose his farm, the land of his father, the land of his ancestors.

When Ludovico arrived at his farm in Muri, a village near Bern, he went to bed and fell into an agitated sleep. The following morning, he got up early, as he usually did, milked the cows, took his leather bag, and walked up the mountain to pick up wild herbs to make cheese.

Ludovico knew exactly where to go. On Ludovico's seventh birthday, his father had revealed the place to him and sworn him to secrecy. "I will do whatever it takes to protect the recipe, I will protect the secret with my life," Ludovico had sworn to his father. A quarter of an hour later, he arrived at a cliff, stood still, and looked around to make sure that he was alone.

The secret herbs grew next to that cliff and nowhere else, as though they could not grow without the constant challenge of the wind. Ludovico bent down and began to pick up herbs, putting them in his leather bag.

"On Monday, I saw you drive by," said a female voice behind Ludovico's back. He froze and the herbs in his hands felt as warm as a cow's breath in January. Ludovico turned around slowly and faced Marguerite Stutsi, who lived in an isolated house near Ludovico's farm.

"I saw you drive by the petrol station," she explained with a smile. Of course, realized Ludovico, as he remembered that Marguerite worked in the restaurant next to the petrol station. He had known Marguerite all his life. With the years, her beauty had become less conspicuous and more profound.

"I was just going for a walk," Ludovico replied, as though to justify his presence by the cliff. I could have not given a more stupid answer, he told himself. She must think that I am retarded, or even worse, a liar. Besides, how could she help seeing my leather bag and the herbs in my hands?

Marguerite Stutsi contemplated Ludovico in silence for a long moment, wondering why he had never asked her out. All single men in Muri had asked Marguerite out. All except Ludovico. They walked together down the mountain slope, exchanging few words.

She has seen me pick up the secret herbs, lamented Ludovico in his heart. Now she knows the secret, the recipe of my father, the recipe of my ancestors. What if she tells anybody? The mere thought that his recipe could fall in the hands of strangers was making Ludovico sick.

They stopped walking when they reached the crossroad and stared at each other. For a second, all sorts of crazy ideas came to Ludovico's mind. Killing Marguerite and throwing her body down the cliff. Kidnapping Marguerite and keeping her prisoner in his farm.

But then he would have to take care of her all day, and who would milk the cows? Who would make the cheese? Damn woman, what was she doing in the mountain all on her own? Why didn't she have a husband and children to take care of? No, he could not let her take away the secret.

"Marguerite," he said in an irritated tone, "will you marry me?" The question did not seem to take Marguerite Stutsi by surprise. She shrugged her shoulders and replied simply. "Why?"

Ludovico's answer showed his long practice in cheese-making. "It's better to mix the herbs while the milk is still fresh. Besides, I have been planning to talk to you already since five years ago." Ludovico saw Marguerite hesitate and he added a further argument. "I want you to know that I don't mind that you work in a restaurant."

She looked at him in the eyes and nodded. It was only after the wedding that Ludovico learned that Marguerite actually owned the restaurant near the petrol station. Their daughter, Lisette, was born a year letter. One day, Ludovico will walk with his daughter up the mountain. One day, Ludovico will pass the secret recipe to her.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Gilles Gonthier under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The paranoia of the Swiss cheese maker
-a short story by John Vespasian-


"I will never reveal my formula to anyone," announced Ludovico Egli to the venture capitalists. At that point, it was obvious that the negotiation was over.

After spending three days in Brussels, trying to obtain funding to keep his farm afloat, Ludovico Egli had decided to reject the financiers' final offer.

Ludovico's father had passed to him the secret recipe for making Emmenthal cheese with mountain herbs. One day, it might be Ludovico's turn to pass the recipe to his son. No, he would never let strangers into a secret that had belonged to his family since the times of Wilhelm Tell.

Ludovico drove back from Brussels to Bern in his old Volkswagen, wondering what he was going to do next. He had placed all his hopes in obtaining funding from the Brussels venture capitalists.

After the failure of the negotiations, Ludovico Egli had no idea where to turn next. He was already two months late with his mortgage payments and he feared that his bank might foreclose his farm, the land of his father, the land of his ancestors.

When Ludovico arrived at his farm in Muri, a village near Bern, he went to bed and fell into an agitated sleep. The following morning, he got up early, as he usually did, milked the cows, took his leather bag, and walked up the mountain to pick up wild herbs to make cheese.

Ludovico knew exactly where to go. On Ludovico's seventh birthday, his father had revealed the place to him and sworn him to secrecy. "I will do whatever it takes to protect the recipe, I will protect the secret with my life," Ludovico had sworn to his father. A quarter of an hour later, he arrived at a cliff, stood still, and looked around to make sure that he was alone.

The secret herbs grew next to that cliff and nowhere else, as though they could not grow without the constant challenge of the wind. Ludovico bent down and began to pick up herbs, putting them in his leather bag.

"On Monday, I saw you drive by," said a female voice behind Ludovico's back. He froze and the herbs in his hands felt as warm as a cow's breath in January. Ludovico turned around slowly and faced Marguerite Stutsi, who lived in an isolated house near Ludovico's farm.

"I saw you drive by the petrol station," she explained with a smile. Of course, realized Ludovico, as he remembered that Marguerite worked in the restaurant next to the petrol station. He had known Marguerite all his life. With the years, her beauty had become less conspicuous and more profound.

"I was just going for a walk," Ludovico replied, as though to justify his presence by the cliff. I could have not given a more stupid answer, he told himself. She must think that I am retarded, or even worse, a liar. Besides, how could she help seeing my leather bag and the herbs in my hands?

Marguerite Stutsi contemplated Ludovico in silence for a long moment, wondering why he had never asked her out. All single men in Muri had asked Marguerite out. All except Ludovico. They walked together down the mountain slope, exchanging few words.

She has seen me pick up the secret herbs, lamented Ludovico in his heart. Now she knows the secret, the recipe of my father, the recipe of my ancestors. What if she tells anybody? The mere thought that his recipe could fall in the hands of strangers was making Ludovico sick.

They stopped walking when they reached the crossroad and stared at each other. For a second, all sorts of crazy ideas came to Ludovico's mind. Killing Marguerite and throwing her body down the cliff. Kidnapping Marguerite and keeping her prisoner in his farm.

But then he would have to take care of her all day, and who would milk the cows? Who would make the cheese? Damn woman, what was she doing in the mountain all on her own? Why didn't she have a husband and children to take care of? No, he could not let her take away the secret.

"Marguerite," he said in an irritated tone, "will you marry me?" The question did not seem to take Marguerite Stutsi by surprise. She shrugged her shoulders and replied simply. "Why?"

Ludovico's answer showed his long practice in cheese-making. "It's better to mix the herbs while the milk is still fresh. Besides, I have been planning to talk to you already since five years ago." Ludovico saw Marguerite hesitate and he added a further argument. "I want you to know that I don't mind that you work in a restaurant."

She looked at him in the eyes and nodded. It was only after the wedding that Ludovico learned that Marguerite actually owned the restaurant near the petrol station. Their daughter, Lisette, was born a year letter. One day, Ludovico will walk with his daughter up the mountain. One day, Ludovico will pass the secret recipe to her.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Gilles Gonthier under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Rational Living- How to apply entrepreneurship outside the business field


Aristotle was a great philosopher, but entrepreneurship was one thing that he never managed to understand. In the Nicomachean Ethics, his essay on justice and morality, he views society as a market where human desires are stable, where the demand for each product is constant, and each purchase has a predictable price.

One does not need to look at the world for long to rate Aristotle's view as highly unrealistic. The truth is that, in the field of work and commerce, prices vary incessantly. New products appear daily on the market. Growing ventures create jobs, while old-fashioned industries are reducing the number of their employees. Trading conditions change, markets move, and money circulates.

Businessmen are conscious of the fact that initiative leads to success. Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of innovation. Economic growth begins with one person making the first move and showing the way. In order to surpass average results, a man has to step out of the routine.

In the world of business, clients and profits are the result of entrepreneurship. A company that has profitable sales can always borrow money. Bankers seldom refuse a loan to businesses that generate positive cash-flow. Personal initiative fuels innovation and drives companies to higher levels of performance.

The situation is not much different in the area of relationships. Friendship and love grow stale without personal initiative. Developing a happy social life requires a certain type of entrepreneurship. This is a factor that cannot be replaced by any amount of wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial factor in love and happiness is frequently underrated or denied. Television repeatedly shows stories where success happens by chance. Films love to portray heroes who attain happiness by coincidence without any effort from their side. Those tales are mostly made-up and a wise man should never take them as a fair representation of reality.

Entrepreneurial activity involves shifting resources through time and space. A businessman might, for instance, borrow money at 6% interest in order to invest it for a 10% return. If he does that several times with growing sums of money, chances are that he will become very wealthy.

The example can be applied to the field of relationships. If you wish to enjoy a great social life in the future, you should make the effort to establish new contacts regularly. Even if you just meet one new person per week, sooner or later, you will get to know a few individuals who share your values.

Friendships and love relations can begin in the most unusual circumstances. The key requirement is that individuals should be open to an initial contact. Brief introductions may lead to further interactions that develop into long-term relationships. This is why entrepreneurs are always alert to unexpected opportunities and love to meet new people. You will observe the same attitude in those who enjoy happy social lives.

Entrepreneurial minds can be spotted by their extreme impatience at school or during their apprenticeship. They dislike slow motion and are driven towards activities that produce tangible results. They want to lead a life of growing improvement and continuous progress. They view speed as a synonym of efficiency.

Let me encourage you to adopt an entrepreneurial attitude in the area of personal relationships. Everybody has constrains in terms of time and resources, but those limitations should not prevent you from seeking out opportunities to meet new people whom you might find interesting.

Conferences that revolve around your favourite subjects constitute great places for meeting like-minded individuals. In the majority of cases, those initial contacts will not lead to friendship or love and that is precisely the way it should be.

Entrepreneurs are only interested in opportunities that are right for them. They know that, before they can embrace one successful idea, they will have to discard many others that lead nowhere. Possibilities are infinite, but resources are always limited.

Applying entrepreneurial principles to the field of personal relationships entails accepting that choices have to be made. The following three ideas might help you improve your effectiveness in developing new social contacts, either for friendship or love:

[1] The world is asymmetric: The notes in the agendas of entrepreneurs are often disorganized. Possibilities for personal growth and social development seldom present themselves in a predictable manner. Meeting new people can be a messy, uncomfortable process.

When personal contacts go beyond a brief introduction, we often realize that our first impression of someone was wrong. Language and cultural differences can be misleading. The world is not arranged according to geometric patterns. Social opportunities fluctuate and can be highly asymmetric. The best you can do is to view the world as a playing ground for your individual initiative.

[2] Targets move: Entrepreneurs realize that new possibilities are continuously being created. As time goes by, windows of opportunity appear and disappear. The same phenomenon takes place in the field of personal relationships. Environments change. Tastes evolve. People come and go.

There is not just one unique place where you can meet potential friends or a soul mate. There is not just one day of the week when you can make new acquaintances. Targets move as you breathe. A person that you meet by chance might be exactly the sort of friend you need at this moment, or not at all. The more people you meet, the higher your chances of finding like-minded individuals.

[3] Perspective changes perception: When a businessman decides to enter a new market, his resolution affects his attitude towards that field. If you are considering purchasing a car of a specific type, you will tend to focus your attention on those vehicles when you are driving on the highway.

The proportion of those cars in the street traffic would be the same as last week, but due to your change of perspective, you are now more aware of their presence. The same goes for opportunities of personal growth and social development.

If you adopt an entrepreneurial attitude towards friendship and love, you will be able to detect hidden possibilities in otherwise boring meetings. As you become more used to taking initiative, your results and self-confidence will improve, if only because you will discard quickly those relationships that don't work.

The ability to develop great relationships can be cultivated like any other. Taking initiative, seeking opportunities, and learning from mistakes lead to continuous improvement. At some point, when an entrepreneurial attitude towards relationships becomes your second-nature, you will have acquired a fundamental skill to further your personal happiness.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by jelene under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The importance of reading the writing on the wall


"In life," wrote Aristotle in the year 328 BC "it is often difficult to decide what to choose and what to endure when alternatives are painful and success uncertain." Whether you are in business for yourself, gainfully employed, or preparing for a better future, a day will rarely go by without your having to make decisions about people.

These are some choices that most human beings have to make in their lives:
  • Whether you will hire a person to work for you.
  • If a certain investment advisor is the right person to entrust your savings to.
  • Proposing marriage or not.
  • On whom you can rely in a critical situation.
I have made my share of mistakes with people, but luckily enough, I have also learned from them. Did I err differently on each occasion? Hardly. With the embarrassment of a slow learner, I must confess that, fundamentally, I have made every time the same mistake.

What was the reason for my repeated slips? In every case through all these years, without being able to recall a single exception, I have simply failed to read the writing on the wall. I have determinedly, doggedly, blinded myself to evidence once and again. I have ignored obvious danger signals and told myself that everything was going to be all right.

Fooling ourselves about pretended virtues of people we deal with is such a common phenomenon that makes one wonder if a remedy exists for such sickness. The good news is that there is a cure. The bad news is that the medicine is free. Possibly, for that reason, it took me so long to take it seriously.

"The essence of things doesn't change," is Aristotle's fundamental maxim. I should have spent more time reading Aristotle, an hour a day for instance. I guess that, sooner or later, I would have understood that the essence of a person doesn't change either, or to be fair, I should rather say that the essence of a person very rarely changes.

How does Aristotle's principle translate into practical advice? These are a few examples:
  • Who lies to you once, is likely to do that again in the future.
  • Aggressive people might calm down for a while, but their true character will soon return.
  • There is not such a thing as occasional dishonesty. A tainted soul seldom becomes white again.
  • Rudeness and abuse show the meagre virtue of those who practice them.
  • Moral cowardice often signals worse things to come in the future.
Do not fall into the trap of allowing wishful thinking to override your direct perception of reality. "It is absurd for an individual to doubt his sensing of external things," observed Aristotle, "yet man is easily caught by illusions."

When you experience someone's lies, rudeness, aggressiveness, or moral cowardice, make an indelible note in your mind never to trust that person ever again. Of course, from time to time, you will forget and suffer some negative consequences. Take heart, if you learn your lesson by the second or third mistake, you'd be already light-years ahead of most people.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by wwarby under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 17 February 2012

Define your theme clearly


When it comes to writing, quantity is not quality, but it sure helps a lot. Would Agatha Christie have made a fortune as an author if she had not written 80 books at great speed? The same goes for novelist George Simenon, who in his prime years was able to produce a complete book in two weeks.

Both Agatha Christie and George Simenon were known for their quick and sharp prose. If you are a writer in the 21st century, chances are that you post daily on your blog. Is there a way to increase your flow of ideas and to speed up your production? The following six principles can be, in my own experience, mightily helpful.

1.- FIX YOURSELF A DAILY PRODUCTION QUOTA. No formula can be made universally applicable, since we all have different schedules. Nevertheless, whatever your personal constraints, I am convinced of the positive effects of establishing a daily production objective. Even if you do a lot of travelling, you can take your laptop with you and write on the plane. A little done consistently every day will amount to a lot in just a few months.

2.- IMPROVE CONSTANTLY BY READING WIDELY. Some writers read web pages, others prefer books, newspapers, or magazines. Which one is best? It doesn't really matter as long as you do it regularly. The more varied the materials you read, the farther your mind will expand with fresh knowledge.

3.- HAVE PATIENCE, BUT NOT TOO MUCH. Doing research for an article or a novel is fine, but keep it within reason. There are sensible limits to everything and perfection rarely pays. When you really need to check some facts, do take the necessary time. Gather information with patience, but don't overdo it.

4.- WRITE QUICKLY AND EDIT EXTENSIVELY. There is no reason why you shouldn't be able to write almost as fast as you can think. Of course, the quickest you can type, the better. Some writers are fond of dictating their work into a recorder. Get your first draft done fast. Then take ample time for editing and polishing.

5.- DEFINE YOUR THEMES CLEARLY. Before you sit down to write, you should know where you want to lead your reader. Determine your theme and let it permeate every aspect of the piece you are working on. Knowing your destination will prevent you from losing your thread. Move towards your objective and do not ramble.

6.- USE SHORT WORDS, SENTENCES, AND PARAGRAPHS. There is much to read in the world and audiences have become very demanding. Text should be not only well written, but also pleasing to the eye. Keep it brief, be concise, and get to the point fast. One idea per paragraph should do. Using simple words is the best way to communicate complex ideas.

How can you prevent your improvement from stalling? There is a straightforward method to sustain your motivation to do better:
  • Set reasonable goals for yourself
  • Establish a system to measure your results
  • Use that feedback to check on your progress.
Do your running every day and soon you'll be one of fastest kids on the blog.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Rene Eherhardt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]