What Makes a Great Leader: Self-Care

The next element of a Great Leader in this blog series is Self-care. Self-Care is about balancing emotional and physical stressors in life with healthy behaviors such as exercising, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, relaxing, practicing mindfulness, abstaining from substance abuse, and pursuing creative outlets. Self-care also includes fostering beneficial and meaningful relationships with others, steering away from exhaustion, reducing our distress by forcing calm, and then listening to what our bodies are telling us about our needs as individuals and human beings.

With adequate self-care, we become healthy individuals, translating into healthy leaders who lead teams that foster positivity with increased performance at work as a by-product. Ultimately, we should strive to reach something the Ancient Greeks called Eudaimonia which is translated directly to ‘happiness’ or ‘welfare’. However, more accurate translations have been proposed to be ‘human flourishing, prosperity’, and ‘blessedness’.

Self-Care from Work/Life Balance

An important aspect affecting the quality of self-care is work/life balance. More time spent doing work means less time spent on ourselves and taking care of ourselves. Recently, there has been a shift by organizations and researchers focusing on the importance of work/life balance as when this is in equilibrium, it has shown to improve employee wellbeing, loyalty, and productivity.

Failing to maintain a work/life balance, results in physical and emotional stress, reducing our capacity to be creative and productive. Besides managing your own self-care, organizations can influence employee self-care by leveraging work/life balance. This is done by limiting workload, introducing appropriate supervision, providing adequate employee benefits, and allowing developmental opportunities. Leaders of today must be able to effectively balance work and life obligations.

How to Find Balance for Self-Care?

While it is important to improve emotional and physical health, it may also impede career progression if the balance tips too much in the favor of life and fun. This presents a dilemma for leaders as they then also require sufficient self-discipline to balance self-care. One could also argue that good self-discipline is also self-care. This dilemma may be easier navigated when you know yourself well enough to understand what you truly need at the moment and what you need to be happy. To reach this point, one needs to practice self-love.

Self-love is having respect for one’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. The tenets of self-love are self-knowledge; living in the present; spirituality; clarity of intention; and non-judgment of the self and interconnectedness between the individual and the world. Practicing these tenets will improve your self-love which will in turn strengthen your ability to self-care appropriately. When you love yourself, it is easier to care for yourself. Furthermore, self-love will provide other beneficial leadership traits such as confidence and optimism that encourage employee engagement.

Balance for Self Care
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What Improves Self-Care?

Working Smart Rather Than Working Hard

Adapting smart methods of working has shown to improve productivity and performance in some industries. This practice is reinforced by a team and management believing in the same principle. Working smart is only truly possible in the work environment if the leader creates it by empowerment and support of followers. Unfortunately, some organizations do not understand the difference between working hard and working smart, even though working smart delivers more results. If this culture cannot be changed, it is recommended that a new employer be found where a working smart culture is embraced. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to practice self-care and implement a work/life balance.

Staying Healthy – Fitness, Balanced Diet, Getting Enough Sleep

There is a vast amount of literature supporting exercise as a contributor to improved self-esteem, happiness, and wellbeing. Furthermore, resting enough with quality 8 hours of sleep every night and eating correctly also improves your health. These are basic requirements for a healthy mind and body yet we often forget this. Self-care starts with these basics.

Excercise and healthy activity improving Self Care
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A High Internal Locus of Control

As mentioned in a previous blog post, locus of control is about how much control we believe we have over the future. Leaders with a high internal locus of control believe they are fully in control of their future and their actions directly impact this. A high internal locus of control acts as an enabler for self-care. By believing you are fully in control of your future, you may realize that work/life balance is your choice. It then becomes easier to implement self-care once you adopt this attitude.

Other enablers of self-care include personal hobbies, self-forgiveness and personal reflection.

What Prevents Self-Care?

Being too hard on yourself

A high internal locus of control means you will likely take accountability for your own actions and results. Unfortunately, taking full responsibility for our future may also cause us to take our mistakes and problems personally and see them as a personal failure. We may be too hard on ourselves and tend towards harsh self-criticism.

Part of emotional maturity (also part of this blog series) is also the need to tame our internal monologue and our emotions. We must be able to “self-soothe” and being unable to do so may be emotionally and psychologically damaging. Self-care is not just about looking after ourselves physically but also emotionally. We need to remain mindful of our thought processes to stop ourselves from delivering harsh self-criticism.

Harsh self-criticism, preventing Self Care

Isolation

We are all familiar with the need for the company of other people. Relationships and connecting with other people prevents us from strolling into loneliness, where we forget that others share our humanity – happiness, and pain. However, not everyone has the need for company. Some people may label themselves as introverts and prefer isolation.

While we should respect this wish, as introverts genuinely need alone time, we need to keep in mind that relationships and belongingness are a key part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Isolation is required in moderation when our goal is independence, but this is not the solution when going through hard times. If we do so we make the mistake of not reaching out to friends or family for help, nor accept support from others should it present itself. By isolating ourselves from others, we may cause psychological damage. Self-care includes allowing ourselves to rely on others and benefit from relationships.

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs where belongingness is essential to self-care
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Other stumbling blocks preventing self-care include poor stress management, not taking breaks, and not living a healthy life.

Conclusion

In our busy lives, we spend so much time and energy chasing goals and caring for others, we may forget to apply self-care. While ambition and compassion are not negative things and are often present in leaders, it is important to seek balance in your life and keep in mind that there is no shame in looking after yourself and attending to your needs. A great leader must obtain balance in their lives between achievement and self-care.

Be sure to check out the other elements of a great leader in The Raven Roost blog series.

Sources

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What Makes A Great Leader: Emotional Maturity

Emotional maturity may be defined as, “the balance between the brain and the emotions, between the inner and outer world of the individual”. Emotional maturity is an essential aspect in the development of the individual and progresses with us as we age. It has also been described as the ability to remain cool under pressure, using cognitive rather than emotional processes whilst upholding our values and beliefs and displaying a sense of humor, initiative, perseverance, and knowledge.

Different emotions according to emotional maturity

A distinction between emotional maturity and emotional intelligence has to be made. Emotional intelligence may be described as the ability to perceive, understand, and regulate our own or another person’s emotions. However, emotional intelligence is actually the ability to intelligently analyze and identify emotions – without the need to regulate or manage them. Emotional intelligence is thus an enabler that facilitates emotional maturity.

Proper emotional intelligence followed by strong emotional maturity are the two basic factors that contribute to one’s ability to implement leadership techniques. By being emotionally mature, individuals can capitalize on their strengths and can overcome their weaknesses, achieving success. Self-awareness in leaders means being able to not only identify the rationale of your thoughts but also the feelings generated by them and their origin. Emotional maturity is thus an important building block contributing to leadership efficacy.

Mindfulness

Great leaders are able to demonstrate great degrees of mindfulness, where mindfulness is the ability to reflect on our behavior, thoughts, and feelings, not just in the past but at the moment. For example, if we find ourselves in a situation where we feel our emotions are taking over – anger, sadness, etc., the first step to mindfulness is the ability to pause and acknowledge our emotions. The next step is to then recognize the origin of the emotion. Once we do this, we can deal with that emotion rationally and logically.

Mindfulness leading to emotional maturity

As with many of these elements of self-leadership, by understanding through mindfulness and self-awareness is what drives us and how we can improve, these elements can support us in becoming the best versions of ourselves.

What Increases Your Emotional Maturity?

Mature Expression

A mature expression is essentially how a person fully demonsrates what they think and feel on matters of concern to them, yet they do so with both courage and consideration. However, this must be balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others. In addition, by applying mindfulness first, we must identify rational and healthy emotions to express and ensure they are right for the moment.

Mature expression enabling emotional maturity

Furthermore, leaders must keep in mind the healthy and appropriate display of emotion is normal. Team members will often respect leaders more if they witness a mature expression of emotion as it humanizes the leader and improves trust amongst the group, leading to more effective leadership and performance. Conversely, immature expression of emotion leads to a loss of respect for the leader and could flare up tensions if a particular team member was on the receiving end of the emotion.

Other enablers that may increase your emotional maturity include good anger and stress-management, self-control, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

What Decreases Your Emotional Maturity?

Ego

The need to satisfy one’s ego is a stumbling block that many people face. Our ego causes us to seek constant recognition and validation from our peers and the world. It is natural for a human being to want to feel important. As everyone has an internal ego that needs to be constantly fed, it’s essentially a breeding pool for conflict between people. The recognition of the ego is the leading cause of strife in humanity. Although we all deserve attention to function properly as human beings, we must understand that the world does not revolve around us.

Despite our ego constantly needing validation and attention, it is recommended to focus on the recognition and existence of our ego, reduce external factors around us that cause us to demand greater ego validation, and applying mindfulness to ground our ego. A healthy personality is required to ensure that one’s ego remains a part of a unified and coherent self at all times.

Ego, a stumbling block for emotional maturity

Ego defence is what contributes to emotional immaturity when we believe we deserve something and justify the emotion connected to it. Connected to mature expression, we need to identify if the emotions we are experiencing are not only justified but also consider the thoughts and feelings of others. My suggestion to leaders struggling with ego validation is encouraging close friends and colleagues to provide honest feedback around the leader’s ego conditioning and grounding. As we are sometimes blind to ego defence or gratification, it helps to have this identified so that we may improve our behaviour.

Other stumbling blocks that may reduce your emotional maturity include, depression, poor anger management, short temper, and powerlessness.

Conclusion

Strong emotional maturity is necessary for a great leader. Great leaders can monitor and be mindful of their emotions as they perform their roles and guide their teams towards success. Emotions are common, but their use is not for self-validation and ego-stroking but instead balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others with courage as their catalysts.

How Can I Determine My Emotional Maturity?

Emotional maturity is still a fairly new concept that is separate from emotional intelligence and many people and organizations still do not differentiate between the two. As a result, there are no emotional maturity tests available that I have stumbled upon. However, as emotional intelligence is an enabler for good emotional maturity, it may be a good starting point on your journey to becoming an emotionally mature leader. I recommend this test from the Institute of Health and Human Potential.

Be sure to check out the other elements of a great leader in The Raven Roost blog series.

woman on a flower field
Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com

Sources:

Avkiran, N. (2005). Interpersonal skills and emotional maturity influence entrepreneurial style of bank managers.

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What Makes A Great Leader: Locus of Control

What makes a great leader? Great leaders are admired and remembered. Civilizations have written stories and erected statues in their honor. You can find thousands of reasons why someone is a great leader but ultimately it boils down to how well an individual leads themselves. Undoubtedly millions of pages have been written throughout history, by people attempting to diagnose not only the characteristics of a great leader but also to describe and articulate the leader’s internal thought processes and spirit. As part of a special blog series, we will explore some of the elements of this self-leadership or self-mastery – how a great leader’s mind works, logically, emotionally, and spiritually (also called the seeds of influence). The first element of a great leader that will be reviewed is Locus of Control.

Individuals who believe that their destiny is in their own hands and that most of their actions directly impact their future are generally happier and more successful than their counterparts. This ability is defined as an internal locus of control and the converse known as an external locus of control. Those with a dominantly internal locus of control can be classified as “internals” and those with a dominantly external locus of control as “externals”. Individuals may be classified along this continuum depending on their locus of control, as depicted below.

The spectrum of locus of control
Source: MindTools.com  

Where internals believe their hard work, decisions, and plans determine their future, externals believe that outside forces such as luck, chance, or fate determine the future or outcomes and that the result is independent of their actions.

Why is this important for Leaders?

Knowledge of the intricacies of locus of control and how it affects behavior is a key part of effective leadership. Traditionally, successful leaders are thought to have a greater internal locus of control and less successful leaders with a lower internal locus of control. Despite this belief and the conclusion that an internal locus of control is associated with greater happiness or success in individuals, some studies offer different views where higher levels of success are displayed in individuals with a strong external locus of control.

Additionally, unhappiness has been reported in individuals with a strong internal locus of control and it is therefore suggested that a balanced combination of internal and external locus of control results in optimal levels of happiness. This is also described as a move towards a collaborative and altruistic leadership style and away from traditional narcissistic or dictatorial styles.

What Increases Your Locus of Control?

Self-Determination

Successful people believe that they are doing what they choose to do because they choose to do it. Self-determination is a key characteristic of successful people, as this severely restricts the impact of outside forces on the individual’s goals. Self-determination also creates intrinsic motivation which is the strongest form of motivation and is more likely to result in continued success.

A simple example of self-determination is exercise. Regular strenuous exercise requires discipline and as it consumes your time and can be painful at times. It is observably much easier to sit on the couch and mindlessly watch series on Netflix. However, the changes to your body, overall fitness, health, and other physical improvements as a direct consequence of your self-determination are a product of a strong internal locus and can create a positive cycle of reinforcement. These are also important components of self-care.

Self-determination may lead to joy, part of a internal locus of control

Optimism

Often self-determination alone is not enough to achieve success, there must also be an accompanying belief that success is possible. By thinking positively and believing that your goals may be achieved through your actions, your internal locus of control will improve. However, a word of caution pertaining to the combination of self-determination and optimism. It can result in “superstitious behavior’’ where correlation and causality may be confused, resulting in difficulty changing dysfunctional behavior such as arrogance and narcissism.

Other enablers that may increase your internal locus of control include self-confidence, positive reinforcements, self-evaluation, and motivation.

What Decreases Your Locus of Control?

Belief in Fate

Believing in fate or destiny essentially means that an individual believes that all choices are predetermined and that a future has already been decided for them. It is an attitude often summarized by the phrases “It is meant to be”, or “Everything happens for a reason”. Whilst some people may find fulfillment that a cosmic force in the form of religion, supernatural believes, star signs, or otherwise determine their future, others may find it disempowering or even disheartening that no matter what they do, they cannot escape the inevitable. This disarmament of choice and free will in the mind of the individual builds an extremely strong external locus of control.

Religion and supernatural beliefs do not necessarily indicate an external or internal orientation, and adults may move towards an internal locus of control as their perceptions mature, and their agency increases. Furthermore, the perspectives of the parents and their role in introducing religion into the lives of their children have a greater impact on their children’s orientation than religion itself.

Another important factor is the ability to separate your belief in destiny or fate from religion. As we age we might realize that we are able to decide our own future through our own decisions and our outcomes are not predetermined by supernatural forces. This may be realized through the understanding that multiple “predetermined” outcomes are possible under the belief structure, putting more emphasis on individual choice than previously thought possible.

Hopeless is a dead end and part of a external locus of control

Hopelessness

There is good support in academic literature for the link between hopelessness and a high external locus of control and perpetuating cycles that may develop. People with this are burdened with a sense of hopelessness may suffer from depression, emotional withdrawal, and stress-related health issues. Burnout also comes into play due to sheer exhaustion and perpetual stress. Developing an internal locus of control is a means of eliminating these negative aspects, together with support from friends, family, and professionals.

Other stumbling blocks that may include low self-esteem, lack of motivation, powerlessness, and dependency.

Conclusion

A strong internal locus of control is necessary for the mind of a great leader. These leaders are able to guide themselves towards their dreams and goals with the belief that their hard work and determination will lead them to the future they desire. However, we also know that an internal orientation must be balanced with a sense of mindfulness, self-reflection, and grounding in the leader to prevent the creation of a narcissist, often thought of as the worst kind of leader.

How Can I Determine My Locus of Control?

Fortunately, there are several online tests available that can tell you where you lie on the spectrum. I recommend either mindtools.com or the original test developed by Julian Rotter in 1966.

Description of internal vs. external locus of control
Source: kgrierson.com

Sources:

Anderson, C. R., & Schneier, C. E. (1978). Locus of control, leader behaviour and performance among management students. Academy of Management Journal, 21(4),

Andrisani, P. J., & Nestel, G. (1976). Internal-external control as contributor to and outcome of work experience. Journal of Applied Psychology, 61(2), 156–165.

April, K., & April, A. (2007). Growing leaders in emergent markets: leadership enhancement in the new South Africa. Journal of Management Education (Vol. 31).

April, K., Dharani, B., & Peters, K. (2011). Leader career success & locus of control expectancy. Academy of Taiwan Business Management Review, 7(3), 28–40. Retrieved from

April, K., Dharani, B., & Peters, K. (2012). Impact of locus of control expectancy on level of well-being. Review of European Studies, 4(2), 124–137.

Cho, Y. J., & Perry, J. L. (2012). Intrinsic motivation and employee attitudes role of managerial trustworthiness, goal directedness, and extrinsic reward expectancy. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 32(4), 382–406.

Goldsmith, M. (2008). Helping successful leaders get even better. Business Strategy Series, 9(3), 95–103.

Manichander, T. (2014). Locus of control and performance: Widening applicabilities education. Indian Journal of Research, 3(2), 84–86.

Neal, M., Weeks, G., & DeBattista, J. (2014). Locus of control: A construct that warrants more consideration in the practice of couple therapy. The Family Journal, 22(2), 141–147.

Prociuk, T. J., Breen, L. J., & Lussier, R. J. (1976). Hopelessness, internal-external locus of control and depression. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 32(2), 299–300.

Rotter, J. B. (2004). The social learning theory of Julian B. Rotter.

Thomas, W. H. N., Sorensen, K. L., & Eby, L. T. (2006). Locus of control at work: a meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 27, 1057–1087.

The Rise of Technology Stocks

Anyone interested in Economics or Finance would be aware of the astronomical gains made by Technology stocks in the past few years, particularly those listed on the NASDAQ. The NASDAQ stock market is the world’s second-largest stock exchange, just behind the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and is known for its price volatility. Stocks listed on the NASDAQ are concentrated in technology, biotechnology, financial services, media, communications, retail, and transportation.

The FAANG Stocks

When it comes to technology stocks, the most famous amongst them are part of the group commonly referred to by the FAANG acronym – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (Alphabet). Other notable technology stocks in the same league as the FAANG stocks (but not included in the acronym just to keep it short) are Tesla, Nvidia, and Microsoft.

Source – Forbes

The FAANG stocks are renowned for their great returns and market capitalization. Funds have even been established that specifically follow these stocks and other large tech companies on the NASDAQ. At the time of writing, $10,000 total invested into FAANG stocks five years ago would be worth almost $50,000 today, a return of 400%! In comparison, the NYSE Composite (an index tracking the NYSE) delivered a return of 29% over the same period. This can be explained by the societal embrace and trends towards the technologies on offer (Social Media, Online Shopping, Digital Entertainment, Computer Systems, Software, and Communication.)

An example of a FAANG tracking index – Source: Intercontinental Exchange

Furthermore, there is a lot of hype among investors and speculators alike around the 4th Industrial Revolution. Essentially, the 4th Industrial Revolution refers to an ongoing evolution in society and manufacturing to favor mass automation using cyber-physical systems such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other cutting edge technologies. Buyers of FAANG and other technology stocks hope to capitalize on this trend.

The 4 Industrial Revolutions – Source: Kemp Blog

The 2020 Global Economic Crash

In 2020, the global economy witnessed one of the greatest crashes in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty regarding an oil price war. During March 2020, global markets had declined by approximately 25%. Lockdowns initiated across many nations led investors to fear that many businesses would not survive and unemployment would soar. Furthermore, hospitals would be overloaded with the sick and mass fatalities would be seen, further crippling the workforce.

As most businesses with brick and mortar stores or traditional business models came to a grinding halt during lockdowns, only those that could overcome these constraints could continue to operate and generate revenue. Technology stocks were directly positioned to take advantage of this. A good example is Zoom Video Communications Inc., which is a leading voice and video conferencing software company. With mandatory social distancing in place, business continuity required communication between all employees, and Zoom provided the perfect means for this. Ordinary individuals also used Zoom to connect with friends and loved ones during this period.

Zoom in use for a video conference – Source: The Guardian

The stock price of Zoom rose from $68.04 on the 1st of January 2020 to a peak so far this year of $457.69 on the 1st of September 2020, an increase of almost 7 times. People around the world longed to continue their usual routine and go on with their lives as before, albeit as safely as possible. This led to a surge in online shopping, digital entertainment demand, and online communication. Fortunately, the companies on the NASDAQ and technology stocks were ready and able to meet these needs. During this period, the US Federal Reserve provided the largest economic bailout on record to assist flailing companies and prevent further rout. This act emboldened investors to stick to high returning technology stocks.

Many countries are now over their initial COVID-19 infection peaks, with travel bans lifted and businesses reopening. It would be expected that the demand for technology stocks would then lessen and the stock price would drop as the demand for their service would lessen. However, the opposite has happened and these stocks continued to rally. Seen as a haven from further global economic risk, investors continued to purchase these stocks and the prices continue to rise.

The Problem with Technology Stocks

The price-earnings ratio, also known as the P/E ratio is a ratio between a company’s share price and its earnings per share. This ratio is an excellent rule of thumb used to determine whether a company is overvalued or undervalued. Simplistically, by comparing P/E’s of similar companies, we can determine if a company’s stock is a good buy or not. At the time of writing, companies on the NASDAQ have an average P/E of 35 and in comparison, companies on the NYSE Composite have an average P/E of 21.9.

Source: CFI

Generally speaking, this suggests that technology stocks may be overvalued or investors expect higher earnings in the future. Buyers of high P/E stocks are also more interested in capital gains based on an increasing stock price over time, rather than earnings in the form of dividends. P/E ratios also help investors determine the payback period for their investment. For example, if a company had a share price of $60 and the latest earnings per share was $3, it would take 20 years (Price divided by Earnings) to recoup the share price, assuming constant earnings.

Steins Law was proposed by Herb Stein in 1976 while analyzing economic trends. It states that “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop eventually”. It is suggested that such a process will stop of its own accord if there are limiting external factors. We can apply this law to rising stock prices. These prices cannot keep climbing indefinitely, as a point would eventually reach where their market caps would exceed the total wealth of the world. This cannot happen. By this logic, the exorbitant prices of tech stocks will stop rising eventually – but when?

Source: FinSec Partners

Conclusion

If Stein’s law suggests the technology stocks will stop climbing at some point in the future and the high P/E ratio suggests overvaluation, we can conclude that a stock price correction will soon occur. This correction would result in more realistic P/E ratios and create a speed bump in the stock’s price rise. As of 3rd September 2020, this process began with a minor correction as the NASDAQ fell 6% lower from an all-time high, although a slightly lower drop was experienced in the NYSE Composite on the same day. This suggests a more skeptical economic outlook from investors rather than specifically a decrease in faith in technology stocks. A more reasonable explanation is that investors have chosen to sell their stocks to capitalize on their gains generated over the past year.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Warren Buffet, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful”. Great returns may be reaped during this time but also at great personal risk. As tempting as technology stocks may seem, we must be mindful that what goes up, must come down.

Source: Imgur

The Future of Innovation

Despite what many believe, a new iPhone released every year is not true innovation. True innovation (also called disruptive innovation) changes the way society behaves and functions, shattering the status quo. It reduces our strain on resources and creates enormous value. When was the last time you witnessed a true innovation? Or have we mostly been witnessing clones and iterations upon iterations?

People have been dreaming about flying cars for the past century, yet we still use the combustion engine developed over a hundred years ago. Why have the dreams and hopes born out of science fiction not materialized? Our planet is in desperate need of life-changing innovation to solve our greatest challenges such as war, famine, and overpopulation.

What does the reasearch tell us?

It has been found that the rate of new U.S. patents registered annually has been steadily decreasing, backing an argument that a peak has already been reached and innovation is slowing. Furthermore, research has shown that the time required to make new scientific discoveries is growing, along with the size of the collaborating team. We continue to need more time and more people to innovate effectively. Further research has also demonstrated that this is the case despite increased public and private economic investment.

Source: Bloom et al. (2019).

Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every 2 years. Phrased differently, the growth of microprocessors can be described as exponential. If we relate this law to innovation, it seems that the team and time required for innovations may also have to increase exponentially. If this is true, we will soon reach a resource limit that prevents us from developing any further ground-breaking innovations. All the low-hanging innovation fruit may have already been plucked and we are awaiting an inevitable halt in progress.

However, this scenario is only possible due to the limitations of human intellect. Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is the intelligence demonstrated by machines and computers, may provide a solution. AI is already present in our everyday lives in the form of Google searches, plane auto-pilots, and email management. In recent years, AI built by IBM and/or Google has successfully beaten world champion Chess, Go and StarCraft II players, demonstrating that humans can be outsmarted by computers provided that the AI has been created for that task. Of course, there is still a significant way to go before there could be an AI with proficiency in multiple tasks and the capability to make breakthrough innovations.

Taking this into consideration, a paradox appears. How can humans with limited intelligence and resources build an AI with unlimited intelligence and resources?

The Technological Singularity

This is answered by something hypothesized for some time, called the technological singularity. The singularity is a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization. The catalyst to this change would be the creation of an AI that is capable of making upgrades and improvements to its own systems. Once this occurs, there will be a snowball effect or a runaway reaction resulting in an Omni intelligent being. This new God AI would be able to solve all our innovation needs and any other problems… if this God AI doesn’t decide to annihilate humanity first.

This superintelligence could just as easily usher in a new dystopia as it could a utopia. Many global technology leaders have issued warnings about the dangers of AI if its development goes unchecked. We just don’t know how humans will be perceived and how it’s final equation will determine our fate. Just as science fiction paints a picture of what the future could be with flying cars as an example, we should not forget the darker realms of science fiction where villainous entities such as Skynet from the Terminator series reside.

The Future

Alas, it seems in my opinion that we will soon reach a fork in the road determining the destiny of mankind. The right road leads to a stagnation of innovation, where our planet will meet its inevitable doom thanks to our own hands… but at least we’ll get a new iPhone every year! The left road leads us to gamble with AI to solve our innovation needs, however, the outcome could be the same as the right road or it could deliver us into a new golden age instead.

What are your thoughts on the challenges of true innovation and how we could overcome them? Is AI our savior or our destroyer?

Randomness and its place in Gaming

Randomness (also called RNG – Random Number Generator) is a technique often seen today in gaming and entertainment services. Randomness eliminates patterns and principles of organization, introducing unpredictability. It relinquishes all control from the individual and leaves all prospects to chance. Strategy and planning are completely thrown out the window in most cases. Randomness elements seem to be present in a wide variety of games and services, often going unnoticed by most users.

Why do some people not notice Randomness and the Random Number Generator

Most people cannot differentiate randomness from predetermined patterns and sequences. A study published in 1985, identified that 62% of the sample group misinterpreted random sequences as something other. Furthermore, a paper from 2013 explains that this is because randomness is inherently ambiguous and the human mind strives to make sense of it, attributing systemic causes to outcomes. Some people may find the chase for a particular random outcome exciting i.e. gambling and others are not even aware that randomness is a factor.

Reward and Effort

Imagine a class of students where you have a wide range of academic results from each student, most likely following the normal distribution. These students are expecting, and rightfully so, that their grades or outcomes, will be proportional to their effort (consisting of time and resources) – high effort and high reward. However, their professor informs them that this semester, everyone will be receiving random grades. The amusing thing is everyone with low effort expecting low grades would celebrate this announcement whereas students on the opposite end of the spectrum would be absolutely livid. We cannot accept randomness when it is not proportional to outcomes or does not meet our expectations.

Students celebrating success not earned due to the random number generator

This is because randomness should only help decide the outcome when the individual’s effort is low. The national lottery is a good example of where randomness is used correctly. The cost of a lottery ticket is quite low, hence low effort on the part of the individual is also low.

Randomness done right

When it comes to game design, the stark differences between the board game, snakes and ladders, and chess highlight the correct uses of randomness in game design very clearly. Snakes and ladders is a game of absolute chance, where every move and turn is only decided by the roll of the dice. Chess, however, every move is under control by the player. This is why there are grandmaster chess players and not grandmaster snakes and ladders die rollers.

Modern comparisons of the Random Number Generator in gaming

However, this does not mean that serious competitive environments can only exist where randomness does not feature and that a game featuring heavy randomness features cannot be successful. Two very popular strategic collectible card games, Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering demonstrate this quite well.

Hearthstone is a digital-only card game started in 2014 based on fictional content from the WarCraft games. Being only digital, random elements are easily implemented in Hearthstone’s code. The randomness in this game has not been positively received by all players, where randomness can cause large swings in game outcomes. Furthermore, many professional players exploit randomness mechanics to win high-level tournaments. Hopeless situations are often turned around by sheer luck. Despite these problems, the game enjoys a massive global following due to its casual appeal, easy to understand mechanics, and its digital platform.

In contrast, Magic The Gathering (MTG), often considered the first collectible trading card game, began in 1993 as a physical version but has slowly appeared digitally over the past few years. It contains extensively fewer randomness mechanics although not completely free of them. The randomness elements that do exist still frustrate players, but most of it can be circumvented using good deck design and game knowledge. Many consider MTG to be more competitive and serious than Hearthstone, however, Hearthstone has a significant market share in comparison, also available on more platforms including mobile devices. MTG utilizes many complicated game mechanics, creating a hurdle for new players, and the game content is designed to appeal to an older audience. Furthermore, the increased randomness in Hearthstone allows the game to appeal to newer audiences where a stroke of luck may allow them to win matches against more seasoned opponents.

Loot Boxes

Again, this randomness and Random Number Generator results in frustration for competitive players who have put in considerable effort but results in elation for new or casual players who have put in very little effort. A similar randomness element pertaining to gaming exists in the form of “loot boxes”. Loot boxes are consumable virtual items that can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection of further virtual items, which may be purely cosmetic or provide advantages to players who purchase them.

Due to the random nature of these items and the fact that they are often purchased directly or indirectly using fiat currency, they have come under great scrutiny across the world and have been classified as gambling in some cases and deemed illegal. Loot boxes use a similar approach to lottery tickets, but in contrast, loot boxes can cost more than lottery tickets with rewards dismal in comparison. Another case of effort not proportional to the outcome.

Loot boxes using the random number generator
An example of Loot Boxes in a game

Conclusion

Using randomness and the Random Number Generator to determine reward outcomes is an easy methodology for developers to apply. No tedious balancing is required nor extra work to design the processes. In some cases, using randomness to generate outcomes may be the correct choice. But in other cases unfortunately a very poor design decision and quite frankly, lazy. Where I believe this is true is when the designers have not taken into account the individual’s effort and equated it with the outcome.

I’m afraid that the gaming and entertainment industries continue to use randomness in their products, to attract new players, providing challenges (however frustrating) to experienced players based on the role of the dice and simply because randomness is easy to implement. In particular, players in competitive settings who have put in considerable effort in the form of time and resources (assuming this correlates with player skill), should not have their chances of victory stolen by randomness mechanics.

Furthermore, rewards such as loot boxes should also not employ randomness, especially if the rewards impact the gameplay and the likelihood of success. Until the industry realizes that rewards should be proportional to the effort from the players, we will continue to be frustrated with the way randomness is implemented.

What are your thoughts on the implementation of randomness in the gaming and entertainment industries? What solutions or steps could be taken to allow more positive experiences for all players?

Inherent Laziness – Why are we Lazy?

A characteristic that I believe all human beings have in common is our potential to be lazy and procrastinate. Even actions or behaviors we know will be extremely beneficial or necessary for success we end up neglecting. We seem to have inherent laziness.

Keen-eyed readers will note that I stated “potential”. This is because we know for a fact that there are members of society that deviate from this observation. These are typically people that excel and are renowned in their respective industries or groups. We often question very naively, “What is their secret?”, with a shameful hope of an answer that aligns with our desire for minimum effort or easy implementation.  However, the answer is basically always the same – hard work and sheer discipline. The potential to be lazy and procrastinate is present but these individuals overcome it.

With 99% of the population suffering from this inherent laziness, it should be quite observable in everyday life. Two observable laziness truths I’d like to discuss are Parkinson’s Law and the Pareto Principle.

Parkinson’s Law and Inherent Laziness

Have you ever sat in a three-hour examination writing an essay, and perhaps despite the simplicity, you had to use the entire three hours to complete it? Or maybe you only had a few short tasks to complete at work for the day, but you only completed them just before the end of your shift/workday? If you answered yes to any of these, you may have experienced something called Parkinson’s Law. Essentially, Parkinson’s Law occurs when “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If something must be done in a year, it’ll be done in a year. If something must be done next week, it’ll be done next week. If something must be done tomorrow, it’ll be done tomorrow.

Parkinson's Law Chart of Effort vs. Time impact on inherent laziness
Parkinson’s law displayed as Effort vs. Time (credit to https://www.mysassybusiness.com/)

The foundation of Parkinson’s Law is the timeframe. Human beings tend to complete tasks when due, so rather later than sooner. This is literally the definition of procrastination. I believe that procrastination prevents us from becoming the best version of ourselves simply because we fail to set personal goals with definitive deadlines.

The Pareto Principle and Inherenet Laziness

The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80:20 Principle) states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. There are plenty of examples in the world such as:

  • 20% of criminals commit 80% of crimes
  • 20% of drivers cause 80% of all traffic accidents
  • 80% of pollution originates from 20% of all factories

The list only goes on. Another interesting example relating to teams and groups of people is that 20% of the team is responsible for 80% of the work. I’ve seen this numerous times in academics and business involving teamwork. If this is a natural phenomenon in society, is there a bias for individuals to lean into either the 20% or 80% group?

Demonstration of 80-20 principle impact on inherent laziness
The Pareto Principle (credit to https://quotiss.com/)

If so, one could argue that there is a tendency for individuals to succumb to group laziness. Based on the above, generally, 80% of a group will slack on execution because they know or assume the other 20% will rise to the occasion. If this is true, we make a conscious decision about which group we fall into. Even worse, if you fail to hold yourself accountable for this decision, the majority of the group is displaying the same behavior as you, creating a difficult situation for the minority carrying the majority of the load.

What do you think?

Do you agree with these conclusions or have any examples to share? Besides our failure to create strict timelines for our personal goals and tendency towards group laziness, what other phenomena do you think impacts our inability to reach our full potential? Do we have inherent laziness or is there something we can do about it?

Rebuilding Society – Realising Your Potential

An ominous storm stirs over in the distance. Before you and the crew have time to change course, the ship sails directly into the epicenter of the cataclysm. Your vessel is destroyed, along with your equipment and reserves. Fortunately, all lives were saved as everyone is washed ashore to a nearby island. Even better, as almost fashioned up by some bored deity, this island has an abundance of natural resources for the survivors to utilize during their stay. Everyone assumes a rescue in due time, but what if it never comes? Do we need to begin rebuilding society?

A shipwreck making it necessary to begin rebuilding society

The Way Forward

A mutual decision is made by the group that a new society should be forged, with every individual contributing their skills and talents to building this. Help is not coming and the group is completely isolated from the rest of the world. A crucial but unnerving question takes hold of your mind… how will I contribute? More importantly, how will I aid to ensure we can achieve an equal quality of life as we had back home.

Everyday blessings we took for granted such as electricity, running water, medicine, etc. will have to be created from scratch. As we only have the clothes on our backs we have technically been thrown back to the stone age. With not even the simplest tools available, hopefully, there is someone with fundamental skills such as mining and smelting. Will I be an innovator in the new world or do I rely on someone else to place the first building blocks of the invention before I can begin playing my role? Will I provide value during this developmental period or will I become a burden?

Cavemen starting fire, rebuilding society

Discovering Your Value in the Rebuilding of Society

While not a serious issue someone should base their worth on, I believe this topic is a fun thought experiment. I thought about this on and off for some time – I’m not an engineer, how could I possibly help rebuild society after an apocalyptic event? Will I be a woodcutter or berry picker to earn my keep? I currently work in sales, which is in no way useful in this situation. Blogging won’t help either!

Then I thought beyond my job and focussed more on my skillset.

Then it hit me…

I have a degree in biology. My post-graduate studies involved antibiotics. My knowledge is sufficient enough that I can find, isolate, and administer antibiotics to the survivors in times of need. I also know enough about human physiology and biochemistry to provide general medical assistance. Further to that, I worked at a beer brewery for several years. I could easily brew beer like the ancient Egyptians did thousands of years ago. I can contribute to the rebuilding of society.

Beer brewing like the Ancient Egyptians contributes to the rebuilding of society

What About You?

How would you contribute to building an early society provided that the society in question was large and abundant, easily accessible natural resources were available?