Switching Gears

I’ve wrote about adding randomness to your routine here. Its amazing what it will add to your creativity. In that light, I figured why not delve into a follow up on a slightly similar theme. It’s about dealing with adversity, and the challenges of things that will never go away.

Look at it as a constant. There are things in life that are going to try and knock you off track. Those phone calls you get where your stomach turns over a bit. That deadline that is looming at work, but your stuck because you can’t get anyone to help you over the hump. That project that just isn’t what your interested in, so you procrastinate. These things will be there NO MATTER WHAT.

So what do you do in the face of turmoil? Meet it head on. Have that hard conversation. Stay level headed and ALWAYS step back and analyze before jumping rationally into a decision or argument. Its something I’m currently working on. I have always had a tendency to act irrationally, but step back and go, “why did I do or say it that? I could have done it better”. Well, now I’m into action.

I love the churn of chaos more than most people, just because I understand things aren’t perfect. As much as you think so and so (insert person here) is living the dream, they aren’t. Their problems are just a different set than yours.

So switch your gears and learn to deal with a bit of chaos. It’s everywhere.

How to Get There

Direction. Inspiration. Momentum.

People that know me know that I like to boil things down to their simplest aspects.  It might be because I’m slow or not quite as smart as the rest of us out there, but that’s not the point.  Direction, inspiration, and motivation as I see it, are the three things I need everyday to succeed.  You might disagree, and want to talk about being prepared and planning and all the rest of the things people tend to focus on.   To me, that’s missing the forest for the trees.  To clarify, here is a bit about each point.

The first aspect, Direction, is fairly simple.  There is no middle when you are working regardless of whether its for you or for someone else.  Business (and life for that matter) is full of choices.  You need to meet those choices head on, pick a direction and start moving.  The beauty in this strategy is that you can ALWAYS redirect yourself at a later point to adjust.  Your not just “stuck” going down a path.  Picking a direction just trains you to get moving.  The importance of this can’t be overlooked.

Inspiration is another straightforward thing, albeit a bit tougher to define.  We all need good reasons to get things done.  For me its more than good pay, although that is of utmost importance to make sure it is in line.  There needs to be someone or something getting you excited about what you are doing.  You might be making a widget that 1 person in the world will use, but if you FEEL inspired to make that widget then it will be made with extreme intensity and care.  Inspiration is around every corner and can be simple as a conversation with someone, or it can be as complex as complete this project and you might have a monetary bonus involved.  Finding ways to inspire should be on your list of things to accomplish if you want to be a leader instead of a follower.

Momentum is the final piece of the puzzle for me.  There are lots of reasons why I save this for last but it all really comes down to a single aspect.  Once you’ve picked your direction and gotten inspired, completing tasks will “feel” easier.  And with each completed item, you’ll get more and more excited seeing that finish line getting closer and closer.  It’s infectious.  It’s the part of the puzzle that when you look at your watch you can’t believe that 5 hours have passed.  That’s momentum.  Complete disregard for other things and serene focus.

In my mind, all three of these items need the other’s to succeed.  It’s not easy either.  Its work to get the first going, put the second in place, and then follow up with the third, but getting them to work together will all but seal the deal in a successful project.

So contact me. Talk to me about why I’m wrong.  Who knows, you might pick a side, find some encouragement, and start getting things done at an alarming rate.

Do You Really LIKE it?

If this question isn’t the most popular of all time, it has to be close: “How is your job going?”.

Inevitably the kosher answer to this question is, “It’s going good”.

Rarely do you get the outlier event of a person telling you how much they LOVE what they are doing.  And if they do tell you that, they probably are a bit disillusioned about what they are doing and their impact outside of their 4 walls.  (Don’t get me wrong here, there are people that are in this camp that are making a difference. They are also higher burnout candidates. People that will be crashing hard in several years.).  A bit more often you will get the other side of the coin.  It’s the people that tell you they really are having a hard time with their job.  They don’t like it for a myriad of reasons.

The boring “It’s going good” is something I try to avoid.  I’m always taking a side with such a question. Incidentally, it’s probably why my friends think I am a bit TOO opinionated.  Having an opinion is interesting. Being in the middle is easy.

So back to my central point.  If you are in the middle ask yourself “why?”.  What is it about your job that you find incredibly interesting.  What is it you DON’T like.

There is a really easy barometer for this if you have a hard time sorting those two things out. Do you easily forget details about aspects of your job?  Those are probably the things you don’t like.  The things you have to CONSTANTLY remind yourself of.  Write that stuff down and keep a list of it.  Don’t worry you probably already do. You have reminders set up to tell yourself to do it because you won’t naturally want or REMEMBER to.  That will make up your list of things to look for as negatives in your next career move.

This is just some quick and simple personal career and goal planning advice that I try to follow. It can really help immensely, because making career decisions is incredibly hard on either side of the “How is your job going?” question.  Being armed with REAL QUALITATIVE information will be fruitful.

What Your Missing in Managing

There isn’t a more frustrating thing in the world than dealing with management that doesn’t get it.  I know everyone fundamentally has some issue with someone in power at work above them, whether its their direct manager or being out of tune with someone above that lives in the clouds.

It’s only natural. It is like some crazy class system that has been adopted for capitalism.  It kind of makes sense to me, but the lines are getting super blurry as knowledge workers are starting to make up the lions share of the workforce in America.  The difference in skill sets between managers and their minions is getting ever so small.

So what are companies missing?  Why is it always tough to find good people, especially in middle management?

To me it’s simple.  Find people that others WANT TO FOLLOW.  It is a very natural thing for some people to lead. Its a whole different skill set than understanding technology or process or the rest of the underlying business principles.  Those are the skill sets that can be taught.  Having the ability to get others to WANT to follow you IS NOT.

I don’t care if someone has been at a company for 10 years and they work really super hard, and glow in the dark because they are so smart.  It DOES NOT translate into managing teams of people.  You are constantly going to be fighting resistance in these situations because in reality, you have never been a leader.  You have never been able to get several people going in the right direction and hitting on all cylinders and communicating. It’s a really hard thing to accomplish, don’t get me wrong, I do understand that.

So next time you are thinking that a person deserves to be managing because they are really good at their job, step back and give them a huge deserving raise to keep them around.  Take a hard look at them and see if people WANT to follow that person.  OR are they just BETTER at their job than others which deserves merit, but in a whole different way than promoting into managing.

Learn with Stupid (me)

In a world of never-ending lists, I figured why not make one of my own?  I am pretty sure, in the next 5-10 years, all writing whether it be factual or fictional will just be pages of lists.  That way everyone can read the first couple points on each page, make an incorrect inference, and form an opinion that misses the point of the list.  But I digress…

So for MY list, I wanted to lay out 4 concepts I am currently actively following while trading.  These are just loose concepts that help me follow some rules when I am making plays.  And yes it’s beginner crap, but its still stuff I didn’t know when I started adding portfolio positions.

1. Average INTO your positions. I used to just blanket plop down an allotted amount on a particular play, which is really dumb when you think about it. Averaging into a position helps smooth out that crazy volatility that you fight daily.  It also lets you think about whether your making a smart play if the primary or any other trend goes against you before you’ve put your chips in that basket.

2. Monitor your portfolio beta. If you don’t know what Beta is, look it up and learn about it.  Its simple to understand. Its a correlation of sorts to the S&P500 (really whatever underlying you want). If the S&P is going up or down, how is your money going to react.  REALLY helps you understand where you might be on a daily basis by taking a quick glance at the SPY.

3. Speculate smartly. It’s sort of an oxymoron to say something like that, but it’s important. Start to watch how stocks react to events. Ask yourself twice (or 3 times) if you want to go along with the trend of what the crowd is betting on.  I have been burned many a time on this.  Just overall be smart and play low limits when making these bets, that’s all I can say.

4. Sell insurance. I’m at the fledgeling point of my career in this, but I have added it as a tennant of my portfolio.  I have shaved off about 20% of my money to put to work in selling index spreads with defined risk. Its a complicated topic, but there is much to be gained by getting into this game.  It adds an income stream of some sort by collecting premiums from those that are hedging bets. No better way to define it.

So there you go, some of my stock trading principles. Be waiting with baited breath for my next list.

Elephant Gun Blasted

I’ll admit it.  I got my a@# handed to me on my most recent foray into options.  I’ll also admit that I totally stole the title of this post from a phrase my friend Andy uses. I can’t help it, as it sums up BEAUTIFULLY what happened to me today.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

I have been following Visa (V) hard for the last couple months. So going into earnings I decided to speculate a bit, being extremely bullish on the quarter and place a 75/85 bull vertical spread. It wasn’t expensive, and I had defined risk on the downside and playing a spread kept the costs manageable. I was, like MANY, MANY others out there expecting a good 3Q earnings report. All they did was blow their numbers away, AND reaffirm 4Q guidance. All is great right? The aftermarket pops, I go to sleep thinking I nailed it.

Except it didn’t go that way. Futures turned overnight and then V tanked. The bottom fell out. I traded out of my position with a marginal loss when the stock rebounded to 76 or so during intraday.

Easy reminder of where we are economically. Things aren’t behaving irrationally. Tug of war between the bulls and bears is leaving positions hung out to dry. When you think things are going up, they go down.

For now, I’m going back to being safe in the market. Cautious is a difficult card to play, though ;)

Make Your Own Rules

Corporate America is an awesome place to find all kinds of things that need changing.  I’ve wrote about them before here.  Another concept I have been trying hard to get myself into is “making my own rules”.  Of course this is within reason, and I’m talking strictly about furthering the business.  For example, I’m not saying go take tons of unsolicited time off. I’m also not saying to DON’T get your work done.  Also it’s probably good practice to follow corporate HR policy.

I AM saying find ways to push your management and their management.

When you spend a couple of years working, you quickly figure out there’s a formula everyone’s following. It’s the “blueprint” of the game.  You get to work, respond to emails, check your calendar of the day, head off to your meetings, put out fires, and hope to keep the project(s) your working on completely on task while getting everything done on that project you can.  All the while being distracted by a myriad of different things like the internet, lunch, and impromptu hello’s with co-workers.  It can be dizzying, especially if you work at a place that works hard to follow some sort of process that everyone cares immensely about following.

So there it is.  That’s what the current formula is.  I challenge you at some moment to change the rules.  Figure out something different to do while staying within your corporate framework.  Push the envelope, its the only way you are going to keep things fresh.

If you’re not GETTING challenged and challenging others, you can guess that you are getting super complacent and not getting the best out of what your doing.  So take a step back, and ask some hard questions AND make people answer them.

Your rewards, fiscal or otherwise, may lay behind those questions…..all which might not have been exhausted if you didn’t decide to “make your own rules”.

Beautiful Blue Sky

So, in reality we are all searching for the thing that is going to make us the MOST happy.  Something that will keep our interest.  Something to keep us working hard, honest and feeling rewarded at the end of the day.

Y combinator had a great post HERE about ideas that they would like to fund. I find posts like this interesting, but not for the fact that you might find some blueprint for a business, but just something that will spurn ideas about a particular niche. It makes brainstorming incredibly easy. Send a link to some friends, stir up the pot about your thoughts, and then start conversing about viability of your combined ideas.

That’s what I spent part of my Monday morning doing, expanding on one of those points. I at least have one idea that I think is valid and viable: A niche auction web presence.

The market is huge and there is just so much that is being done wrong. It operates on pure volume in the eBay world domination model. In general I think you could to try to exploit the market of valuables and goods that need to be verified (Think jewelry, antiques, purses, etc) by a third party for authentication. A couple of things make me think there’s a space for this. First,it’s a totally fragmented marketplace made up of small brick and mortar businesses selling higher priced goods and buyers skittish about whether those goods are authentic. Second, there is also a nice healthy trend of eBay selling counterfeit items. Both of these point towards opportunity.

Execution and figuring out the details are of course the hard part, BUT its also super interesting.

You might find my thoughts interesting, or maybe not. It’s irrelevant to the central point. Staying on the sidelines won’t get you anywhere.

Start blue sky’ing your ideas on something you want to do. There are so many things that need to be improved it’s just silly.

Knock, Knock

Who’s there?  Opportunity probably.

It’s something that I am constantly searching for.  It’s around almost every door you peek behind.  I tend to think there is one coming up with GOOG releasing earnings.  The markets in the tank for sure, and people are all over the place, but yesterday was promising.  The Freddie, Fannie situation is still looming large in terms of impact on the financial system as a whole, and its hard to be positive about it.

I’m almost always wrong (at least lately), but I am going to put a position out there to make some dough. Liking the 550-580 options ranges.  My play will be some sort of spread there this morning.  Risking a bit of money on the chance that google kills it to make some scratch on premium.

If I can’t be an optimist, I don’t want to invest.  This bear stuff is causing me to go home and kick my dog and yell at random people in the streets.  That’s gotta stop.

Also, on the value side, I strongly suggest you take a look at TEX.  It is starting to trend upward, and a 1.2 billion dollar stock buyback should draw big money interest. I’m in around 44 a share (dollar averaged).  The ride up will be fun.

Feeling Sentimental

Everyone seems to have figured out the top and the bottom of the Market lately…er wait, its the top . Its a constant reminder to me of how complex the economy is and how most everyone is dead WRONG. It’s probably why value strategies have withstood the test of time against all detractors as well. It can weather the fact that in the short term, you don’t know which direction the market is moving. Your betting on a longer term trend. The sentiment is so tough to nail down.

It’s not that you CAN’T make money right now trading. It’s just that its a bit harder. People telling you that they called being short today, will loose their arse tomorrow, and hand it all back because they probably were lucky being short in the first place. Anyone that tells you any different is probably not telling the truth. Hell, I can tell how much of a rookie I am as I wanted to be long SPY and short Oil. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Glad I am being overly cautious before putting money out there.

I am going to follow that mantra because sentiment is all over the place.