The Repercussions of Robbery

I recently had a drone – which I had spent many hours building – stolen from me. Not very fun. But it has also been an opportunity to revisit the feeling of loss, the feeling of negativity towards the world due to loss, and the process of working through these feelings. You can treat it like a story – a story through the mind as different cognitive destinations are reached. These have then been condensed into stages… and what can be found below is the result. I don’t really seem to align well with the more classical “5 stages of grief”, it seems.

 

1. Feelings of negativity towards the rest of humanity (generalisation). Twenty minutes ago I was flying around, stopping (just in case I flew too close) whenever some dog-walkers  came past. I would smile at them and they would smile back. Now I look at the same people with a frown, thinking, “are you the thief?” When it could have been anyone to have wronged you, it’s easy to look at everyone as if they possibly did. To lose faith in everyone, because you decide the only reasonable action is to trust no-one.

2.  Feelings of negativity towards a small sub-section. After a few minutes of thief-generalisation and a loss of faith in humanity at large, I came to another conclusion: even though I don’t know who did it, that doesn’t mean I can’t trust anyone. Not everyone would steal the drone, only a select few. It’s important not to project the behaviour of a few dicks onto the rest of humanity. Just because – sadly – there is no huge neon sign above each dick who is sneakily integrated into the rest of society doesn’t mean I should imagine everyone with a neon sign over their head.

3. Choosing not to dwell on negativity. I enjoy reading books regarding our relationship with ourselves. Some people give these books labels associated with a lot of questionable attributes such as “self-help”, or “spirituality”. Daniel Goleman has recently successfully rebranded them as under a more respectable (and approachable, for sceptics and scientists) category of Emotional Intelligence. Goleman teaches that emotional intelligent people have learnt how to control the amount of time they spend ruminating: that is, the time they spend focused reliving negative emotions that don’t lead to anything fruitful. One of my favourite ‘spiritual’ teachers, Anthony de Mello, goes into it more deeply.  He says, “understand that the feeling is in you, it is not in reality. No person on earth has the power to make you unhappy. Only no-one told you that. They told you the opposite. Rain washes out a picnic. Who’s feeling negative, you or the rain?” Negative feelings happen due to our judgement of the event and our expectations. I was emotionally attached to my drone so to have it torn away from me is a painful and unexpected removal. I want my toys back. I expected to be able to keep the toys that I bought myself. But reading de Mello allows me to re-frame the experience in a different light. I can enjoy the picnic while it lasts, but if it unexpectedly rains, there’s no point being angry at the rain because it didn’t do what I expected (and hoped). Note that I’m not saying that I should allow myself to be a victim, and I that shouldn’t make efforts to mitigate the rain with, say, an umbrella (I hope you’re still somehow following this analogy). It also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t, as a society, stop trying to minimise the number of instances of ‘the rain’ happening. But, regardless of all our efforts, some events are out of our control. And after all is said and done, does this excuse the behaviour of a thief? No. Which leads to step no. 4.

4. Revisiting negativity. I’ll be honest, a lot of my teenage years were spent thinking (read: ruminating) about the motives of dicks. I was compelled to know: why did they do it? I probably could have had a happier childhood. But at the same time, there’s something to be said for working through a painful thought process for the purposes of insight. I have a huge respect for people who choose to tackle these problems head-on (by going into professions such as mental health, nursing, etc) instead of putting their heads in the sand under the excuse of “not ruminating”.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that everyone, to a certain extent, can be selfish and thoughtless towards others from time to time. The intensity and frequency of these events vary between individuals. But the law of nature is like this as a whole: the lion doesn’t consider the gazelle’s feelings. The lion considers whether he selfishly wants to eat or not. Humans have, to a large degree, been able to transcend this primal natural law by creating a society with its own set of laws. It’s really amazing how malleable the human mind is, to see it come from primitive ‘lion’ origins and then over years have it hammered to conform to view the world through the laws of society. And we can see this in kids: because kids are dicks. The kid who punches another kid in the face because he’s getting more attention. The cruel and thoughtless remarks. Kids stealing possessions from other kids, “because he wanted it.” But then, over the years, something magical happens. We can slowly watch as the once-dickish kids are hammered more and more to society’s vision of how to behave, and amazingly, the number of dicks get smaller and smaller. Indeed, to unconsciously see theft in such a negative light after revisiting how far we’ve come as a species is a testament to our ability to relabel a once “natural” action as “wrong” (I hesitate to call it a “natural” action, because the word “natural” is associated with positive traits. There is nothing positive about theft. Our ability to adhere to the less “natural” rules of society – which are, at the end of the day, a human construct – is nothing but good).

5. Humanizing the thief. As I said in the last point, we’re all dicks to some degree at some point or another. I’m definitely guilty of watching an illegal movie. I.e. I’ve stolen movies. So in some way, I can associate with the thief. Does that mean I also deserve a big neon dick sign over the top of my head? Well, I’d argue, “no”. My drone was a personal singular asset that had an emotional significance to me. The film is an infinitely reproducible digital product that cannot, in the same way, be stolen. The impact: emotionally and economically, is a lot more acute with regards to the drone. Does that excuse what I did? Not really. I guess I’ve stolen a service which the film provided me that I should have paid for. I’ve been a small part of a collective movement that could be destroying film. It made me think about how I can live my life better, when trying to align my actions to my values. Maybe I deserve a teeny tiny dick sign over my head.

6. Focusing on being a winner, as well as not being a loser. There’s one common theme about all of the 5 steps above. They all focus – by either trying to avoid it, extinguish it or understand it – on loss. Even if I was 100% successful in avoiding negative feelings associated with loss, I would only be completely neutral on an emotional spectrum. I’ve avoided the stick, but being completely focused on avoiding the stick, I’ve failed to notice the carrot. The carrot is gratitude. I’m grateful I still have my health. I’m grateful I have the means to buy another drone. I’m grateful I’ve learnt the skills to build the next drone faster, and potentially better. And I’m grateful that I’ve hopefully learnt a lesson on how never to get a drone stolen again.

Intrinsic Value vs Book Value

We’ve all had an instance in our lives when we need to buy a product, and we just turn to the most known name in the industry. Or maybe we instantly refer to the name that’s most prestigious. We don’t look at what it can do on paper, we just trust that the product beats its competitors because of the badge that it has associated with it.

I’ve been looking at buying a Ducati recently. I put a few tentative bids down on eBay and I bought a book that describes the development of the specific bike I’ve been looking at. I got really engrossed into how they created the bike, how everything they do is derived from two principles: handling and power. How they pretty much build the whole bike around the engine, and the heritage they have with L-twin engines.

And then a weird realisation happened. I realised that I was buying the brand more than I was buying the product. I was buying the story of the bike and the association with Ducati, more than the technical ability of the bike. I had shifted from my product focused philosophy to a brand focused one.

Up until now, I’ve rarely cared about a brand. I’ve always judged a product’s merits based on it’s ability alone – untethered to where it actually came from. This is the process of making a decision using logic to quantify the specification of the product vs. it’s cost. The product with the most “bang for its buck” wins (i.e. specs:price ratio).  And I still think this is the correct approach if you’d like to be rational. On paper, the Ducati is seriously overpriced relative to bikes with similar stats from other manufacturers.

But other people judge a product’s merits, less on the actual product, but more on where that product came from. They have “Brand Focus”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s not a completely rational thing to do in my opinion – but there is definitely an intangible value about owning a specific brand: a bit like art has intangible value. You can’t rationally derive the value from specifications: speed, braking ability, durability etc; rather you start deriving value from how the product makes you feel. And that, in my opinion, is a slippery slope.

Famous stock broker Warren Buffett calls these two ways of valuating ‘intrinsic value’ (product focus) and ‘book value’ (brand focus/how much the stocks are actually selling for, regardless to how much their calculated worth is).

Regardless of all that, however, is that Ducatis seem to really maintain their value well.  With a Ducati, its perceived worth is not detrimentally affected by lacking in specs: it holds the price it was originally sold for simply because it is still a Ducati and people continue to perceive it as valuable. This is also an apparent fact when buying stocks. There’s the worth of the company based purely on stats: it’s assets. But then there’s the public opinion on how much the company will grow: which is pure speculation and creates the perceived worth of each stock.

So, in the end, does it really matter where the value is derived, as long as it’s stable and predictable? To some extent, I think: yes, it still does. Brands can fall out of grace with the public: people might start to perceive Ducati as less luxurious. And public perception of a company’s growth can change overnight: and with it, the perceived worth of a stock. Stats are less fickle. Horsepower won’t change overnight unless someone gets a wrench to the bike (or mistreats it). Will that stop me from buying a Ducati in the future? Only time will tell…

Ad Hominem Absurdities

My colleague was telling me the other day of an instance when Obama came to the UK to give advice. Obama said, “if you leave the EU, you’ll be at the back of the line when you come to negotiate trade agreements.”

My colleague told me that we didn’t like what we heard. Not because of the information we were told: rather, we thought Obama had no right to get involved with British politics.

We didn’t see the information. We didn’t say, “okay, thanks for the feedback, I’ll see how this information fits into what I already know and see if I need to re-assess my decision making.” We reacted, saying, “who are you to tell us what to do?”

Obama is part of the other tribe. He’s not part of us, therefore he has no authority over us. Him even trying to tell us what to do is an insult to us.

It’s the same logic as football fans:  “you’re evil because you support x whereas I support y. Don’t even try to look at me because, although we both are fiercely passionate about the same thing, you’re not part of my group”.

Football fans are an example of when you take the Ad Hominem argument to attack groups rather than individuals. But it’s the same reaction: they’re not part of our tribe, so we attack them based on their lack of association with us rather than what they do.

And when you start seeing how this plays out in groups: when applying it to sales, we might glean an insight into another reason why Trump won. Trump is very good at targeting a market. You’ll notice Ivanka Trump has also picked up this ability. Ivanka is always talking about how she’s trying to represent womens rights: and although I would like to believe her, this is a a sound business market target as well. By making her ‘tribe’ women, she’s creating a very strong brand for half the population to associate with. And half of the population is a huge market to sell to.

Donald Trump did the same thing. While Hilary was busy alienating all the bigoted/racist people by calling them ‘deplorables’, Trump recognised that these ‘deplorables’ still had exactly power to sway the vote as other, more ‘upstanding citizens’. By giving some rhetoric that advocated a bigoted mindset, he created a tribe that included all those people. Suddenly his popularity rocketed. These people, plus the people who felt disenfranchised with politicians and their ability to positively impact their lives, were a huge influence for Trump’s success. Trump also gets double points for using tribalism as a tool to win popularity, because he gains the racist people’s votes by using their hate for other tribes: in the case, Mexicans, by blaming Mexicans for all their shared shortcomings.

Although, at times, watching this kind of behaviour makes me lose a tiny bit of faith in humanity, to isolate myself from it and to say “humans are idiots” would be the highest form of hypocrisy. I would be making the rest of humanity the ‘other tribe’ and then be carrying out the same behaviour I condemn so much. Sometimes all we can do is to take a big breath, go to sleep, wake up the next day, and try again to work together so that we can move ourselves forwards and create a better future for ourselves.