Cookies vs. Cookie Dough: A Risk Tolerance Analogy

 Today I learned:

1. Everything I Know About Risk Tolerance I Learned in the Kitchen: I recently met with an investment advisor and to kick-off the meeting he walked me through a Risk Tolerance assessment. You know the test – it is the same one you are required to run through at the bank every time you change your RRSP portfolio. I assume this holds true for your 401K in the U.S. too.

Having done this quiz a number of times, it got me thinking: Is there a more creative way to tackle this subject?

http://thepinkpeppercorn.blogspot.com/2010/05/chocolate-chip-cookies-for-new-house.html

Without any immediate ideas I dropped it until the other day.

I arrived home from work to find my wife and four year-old daughter making chocolate chip cookies. I came in at the perfect time. The hard labour was done – all that was left was to lick the spoon and put the trays in the oven.

After a failed attempt to wrestle the spoon from my daughter I was faced with a simple decision.  I could wait 9 minutes for the cookies, or I could dig in to the uncooked dough immediately.

For me, that decision is simple: Eat the cookie dough.

After eating a couple cookies worth of dough I started to think about my decision. Other than the obvious – I have more than a bit of a sweet tooth – could I learn anything from my behaviour?

I realized that given the choice to eat chocolate chip cookie dough now, or wait 9 minutes for what will hopefully become the perfect combination of crispy chocolatey goodness, I will always go with the dough.

Why?  I know the cookie dough will be good, now. I also know that if executed properly the finished product will be better. The problem is that so, so, so many things can go wrong.  A kid might need to go pee. I might get distracted by an incoming email. Don’t even get me started on telemarketers.  Nine minutes could easily become twelve, and all will be lost.

It is about risk. And when it comes to cookies, my tolerance is pretty low.

2. Analyis of Risk – The Cookie Dough Method: The above baking-based self-assessment made me wonder, does my dough-first strategy translate to other aspects of my life? My investment strategy?

The Cookie Dough Method for Analysis of Risk Tolerance was born. Or, I guess, baked.

Do you think your approach to baking cookies can predict your risk tolerance in investing? Take a nibble on my quiz to find out…

Take the Survey

A. Your age is:

  1. Under 18 (If your mom does not let you use the oven alone please navigate to this page now.)
  2. 19- 64
  3. 65 or over (Cookies should not be a prominent part of your diet and will wreak havoc on your cholesterol. Navigate here.)

B. You are headed out to buy the ingredients for a batch of cookies. Do you:

  1. Methodically record all the requirements from a recipe card you got from your mom, which she got from her mom?
  2. Arrive at the store and then shop for what need based on the recipe they put on the bag of Chipits.
  3. Wing it. You can borrow from your neighbours if you forget eggs or sugar.

C. Your oven is:

  1. In tip-top shape. You have it serviced annually.
  2. A professional, model. You installed because it matches my fridge. You don’t really know how to use it.
  3. Oven? You prefer to cook over an open fire in your backyard.

D. You are responsible for:

  1. Providing cookies for yourself, and probably a husband/wife and kid or two one day.
  2. Providing cookies for yourself, your spouse, your ex-spouse, all the kids and three generations of elders.
  3. Responsible?

E. It is Sunday and you invest 2 hours making a batch of cookies for your kid’s birthday party. Your oven thermostat breaks and they are all ruined. You:

  1. Pay a weekend night service charge to get things fixed before you bake again.
.
  2. Go to the bakery and buy whatever is recommended.
  3. Take another kick at it.  You’ll guess right this time.

F. The timer is about to go off and the phone rings. You:

  1. How could it ring? You planned ahead and turned the ringer off.
  2. Call screen and answer if if sounds interesting.
  3. Answer it and agree to a survey that will take “about 5 minutes.”

G. How would you describe your overall cookie status?

  1. I already have a cupboard full in case we have visitors.
  2. I have been known to take all my cookies and invest them in one of those Christmas time cookie exchanges where people try to show up with raisin-based “cookies” and then trade up.
  3. I live cookie to cookie.

Results

http://cache.kotaku.com/assets/images/9/2011/04/scoring.jpg

Total the value of all responses:

Score 7-8: You are a lot like me. You have a low tolerance for risk and must consider this in both your baking and investment strategies. You should consider safe investments. Oreos for example. Start with the bulk of your portfolio in short to medium term bonds and pre-made Pillsbury dough. The rest of your portfolio should go into highly diversified, large cap stocks and Girl Guide Cookies.  Tinker with home made recipes but save some chipits for mom’s recipe.

Score 9-15: You have a moderate risk tolerance, and may want to consider learning more about investment strategies and recipe development. You might consider a portfolio that is anchored by an index fund, and something from a bake sale. You could probably handle a good chunk of cash invested in fruit (e.g. AAPL) or other natural resources. Every once in awhile you’ll burn your cookies, and your capital, but in the long run you should have enough around to at least enjoy the crumbs.

Score >15: You have a high tolerance for risk.  You have never even tasted cookie dough.  In this economy, if you want to retire with a full cupboard one day, you need to marry a rich chef.

Real-Life Application

I am working on a full online and interactive version that will allow you to take your results straight to the bank, to skip their annoying questions and save time in the investment process (Note: I am not really doing that, and if you thought I actually was, click here.)

Obviously (or at least I hope it is obvious) this was meant as a joke. That said, I do see some applications for this type of thought process. As my kids grow up, I foresee difficulty trying to teach lessons like planning for retirement and the time value of money. Trying to get kids to think about what they want in an investment strategy is tough, but with a bit of creativity maybe we can teach them the same lessons through real-life application.  ”Come on kids, Daddy wants to talk about RRSP’s. We’re going to bake a cake…

Comments?

So, what’s your risk tolerance?  Do you steal from the tray or wait patiently until they are done? Do you keep a close eye on the process (READ: stare eagerly through the window with mouth watering and the oven light on) or just trust that things will work out in the end? Do you ever open the door early just to check if they are done?

As well, any other ideas on how to apply this type of thinking to teaching kids or others about money?


The Streaming Diet, plus Saved by the Pomodoro?

Today’s two things come via links courtesy of Daniel Pink. His book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – has been sitting near my bed for months. Now that I see all the great content on his site and twitter account (@danielpink), I might just be motivated enough to move it up in the queue.

Today I learned:

1. The Streaming Diet:

“Personal Productivity is the new Dieting”

– Daniel Pink

The central concept proposed (linked below) is that information, much like our caloric options, has proliferated to such an extent than an entirely new industry has been created to help us manage the issue. Essentially, he suggests we pile too much information on our plates now, in the same way we started to pile too much food on our plates decades ago.

A useful analogy, in my opinion, and a concerning one.

Despite a multi-billion dollar diet industry, collectively we clearly haven’t figured out food. Obesity rates continue to climb, particularly in kids.

Does the similarity between food and information mean one day ADHD will be the new Diabetes?  It’s been 72 years since McDonald’s was founded and we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the food in front of us. Certainly in the 6 years since Twitter launched the stream of cool stuff coming at us has simultaneously multiplied and become more difficult to say no to. I have never been great at turning down the chance to super-size my value meal. I am no better at avoiding the seduction of another glance at Twitter, email, RSS feeds…the list goes on.

That all said, I actually had some personal success with dieting through 2011.  My breakthrough came when I translated a trick that had helped me manage a family with two kids, full-time work and a part-time MBA program for 2.5 years. The solution was simple: meticulous planning, diarizing and recording of everything on my calendar.  In translating the idea to food this meant keeping a diary of all food intake via an app on my phone. I set no goals or dietary restrictions, but found the simple act of keeping track kept me honest and motivated. Personal drive immediately and drastically improved the quality and volume of what I consumed. In 9 months I lost about 20% of my body weight – a drastic improvement with almost zero effort.

It all makes me wonder: Could the same “diet” concept translate to managing a information overload?

This seems to me a worthy experiment. So, here is my plan:

For one week I will keep a simple but meticulous checklist recording every time I do the following things:

  • Check my work inbox
  • Check personal email
  • Review my Twitter feed
  • Navigate to Google Reader
  • Click into Google + (accidently of course, because why else would you visit a ghost town every day)
  • Check out my Facebook timeline

If, after a week, the idea seems manageable and promising I will continue my checklist in hopes of seeing if my behaviour changes over time. My working title is The Streaming Diet and March 1 (tomorrow) sounds like a natural place to start.

Link to Daniel Pink: How to Say No…Especially to Things you Want to Do

2. Saved by the Pomodoro? Keeping on task is a problem for just about everybody. If you don’t have issues with it, you probably quit reading this post somewhere in #1 above.

The question is, can a Pomodoro save us from ourselves?

Pomodoro is italian for Tomato, and apparently the shape of most simple timers in Italy, so in North America this idea might gain wider appeal as the Egg Technique (though it would not have the same marketing appeal).

The concept, via pomodorotechnique.com is simple:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

I find the concept appealing in its simplicity. I also find it appealing in that there is an app for it.

Screenshot from ITunes Canada

I’ve been an advocate of mini-breaks for years and I used them incessantly while studying to artificially “chunk” my progress.  I like the concept for work too, due to the natural tendency to allow interruptions – phone, email, open-door – to impact my ability to buckle down and keep me from critical tasks for the day.

This seems like another worthy experiment for me. I have a sense that the short time blocks might simultaneously make me more productive, and help me with The Streaming Diet that starts tomorrow.

Time to go shopping in the app store.

Link to the inspiration for this post, Daniel Pink: Can a tomato make you more productive?

Link to the “cheat sheet” on pomodortechnique.com


Leave ‘Em Be, plus What I Learned from the Honey Badger

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

http://i1112.photobucket.com/albums/k488/sqacct7/Topic%20Photos/Section%20B/betterthanyouquotes.jpg

Today was my first day back in the office after a week at home recovering from surgery. As I sat down with different people on the team through the day one thing became abundantly clear: Everything was under control.  This didn’t come as a surprise mind you, but it is good to learn that your expectations have been met, or exceeded. It reminded me of a great quote on hiring and team building:

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them alone to get on with it.”

David Ogilvy

2. What I learned from the Honey Badger: With 39+ million hits on You Tube, most people have seen the hilarious Honey Badger video (linked below). I’ve been exposed to it a number of times, but always from the perspective of humour.  When the link crossed my path again today I saw an opportunity to view it in a different light.

Can we learn anything about business from the Honey Badger? It turns out we can.

For me, there are three key lessons:

1. Be fierce:

“The most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a sh*t. “

The Honey Badger knows what he wants, and he goes after it. In his case the prize is a treasured Cobra and maybe a taste of larvae. For you it may be additional responsibilities, a new contract or just a chance to bend the bosses ear. Whether your goals are personal or career driven, it pays to clearly identify what you are after and then be fierce in your pursuit.

2. Be relentless:

“It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t care.”

The Honey Badger takes its problems in stride. Stung by a swarm of bees? Bit by a cobra?  Day to day, hopefully at least, you are not likely to be taken down by a cobra, but other pitfalls and speed bumps are all around us. Downsizing? Negotiations falling apart? Crappy boss? We have problems every day. And we choose our own response. Take your licks, get back up and continue driving forward with both eyes squarely on your prize.

3. Accept pursuit:

“The Honey Badger does all the work, while these other animals just pick up the scraps.”

You wouldn’t surround yourself with Jackals by choice, but they are a sign you are doing something right. In business the jackals will multiply in the good times. Don’t be concerned when they are hanging around. Be concerned when they aren’t.

I should note, I chose a business angle to this post, partly because I googled the subject and it turns out I am not the only person with a slightly odd sense of humour who thinks we can learn something from the Honey Badger. I actually found a couple other blog posts referencing personal learnings and life lessons from the Honey Badger. These are the two best I found:

As well, for those of you who would prefer to see the Honey Badger video in the light context that I am sure it was originally intended, I apologize. Here is a link to another hilarious video that I promise not to analyze and ruin for you. There is certainly nothing to learn from it, other than the fact is it an obvious reminder for self-censorship.


Leading with Lollipops, plus Sibling Bonds

In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.

Today I learned: 

1. Leading with Lollipops:

“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”

– Drew Dudley

This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.

Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”

This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend.  It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.

The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for.  Here it is:

In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.

I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.

Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life  so I could attend the program.  Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.

Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return.  That’s leadership.

Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)

2. Sibling Bonds:

“They are with us for the entire ride.”

– Jeffrey Kluger

I have known for years that my brother just gets me.  My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.

Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.

The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”

This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?

At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.

Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling.  They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.

Time to make a phone call…

Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.


I’ll Never Be a Wine Writer plus Raising Successful Kids

Today I learned:

1. I’ll never be a wine writer:  I fancy myself as a bit of an oenophile – my expertise may be questionable, but it is improving and I at least approach the subject with a relentless enthusiasm to which the empties in my garage can attest.

That is why I am saddened to admit I would never make it as a wine writer.

This lesson hit me today, like the feeling you get after quaffing too much (or really any) Yellowtail,  as I read this month’s edition of Ask an Oenophile in BC Business Magazine. One quote sealed it for me:

Everybody should drink more Beaujolais. It’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s lyrical, it’s ethereal. Really good Beaujolais smells like you just made out with your first love in a field of fresh strawberries – there’s a smell of wet earth, a little sweat, ripe strawberries…This wine, especially the 2009 vintage, has this incredible Audrey Hepburn character. It’s lithe, but there is this enormous charm and depth behind it all. 

I can’t talk like that.

More precisely, I won’t talk like that.

I could learn, but I need to be able to enjoy a nice bottle of Syrah and then respect myself in the morning.

2. Raising Successful Kids: I came across a thought-provoking blog post today about 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children (link below).

Several interesting points are made – I think there could be merit to the concept of giving incentive to learn from the masters. I particularly like one of the responses to the post which included a suggestion kids could learn alot from Ted videos. This seems like a viable way to introduce new ideas and it may be worthy of experimentation with our oldest daughter. With the recent explosion of TedxKids events, I expect age appropriate content may be more and more available, making this idea quite tangible.

The point I really keyed in on though was the final one in the article – teach kids to be powerful.

This led me to reflect on our approach to parenting. As the author recommends, we try to avoid any form of negative self-talk. We encourage the kids to avoid expressing actions in terms of accomplishment (i.e. “I am good at riding my bike,” or “I can’t tie my shoes.”) and instead we ask them to frame everything around the idea of practice. The thought is that this will ensure our kids understand that if they set a goal and then put in the time and effort, eventually they will be able to do whatever they want.

For example, when my daughter learned to stand up on skates, we congratulated her and then we talked about how the first time she tried she was not able to get up, but she practiced (by doing x, y, and z) and she gradually got better, to the point she was able to do it by herself. The idea is to re-enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter what you can or can’t do, it only matters what you are willing to put the time in to learn.

Thinking back now, this approach seems to be working.

Our oldest daughter now tends to frame her comments around the process of learning as the accomplishment, rather than the activity itself. We don’t hear things like, “Mommy, I cut my fish!” but rather she says “Mommy, I learned to use my knife!”  Hopefully in the long run this type of framing goes a long way to helping our kids understand that setting goals and practicing will allow them to do anything they want.

Link to the original blog post referenced above: 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children.


Staffing decisions and Who was Jasper Mardon?

Today I learned:

1. Staffing: When you make a tough personel decision, and no one on your team is surprised when you deliver the news, you made the right decision but you made it too late.

2. Who was Jasper Mardon? The other day I was shuffling through a pile of papers my dad gave me from his working days. An old resume, materials from training programs, newspaper articles. The kind of stuff most people would have trashed years ago.

In the middle of the pile I came across something interesting: an undated stack of papers in a font and style that could only have come from the early PC days. It was labelled “Life’s Lesson’s Learned” by Jasper Mardon.  A forgotten document. Deep in a pile of forgotten documents.

As I tossed it on the “shredding” pile,  the dedication caught my eye: “To my brother, Humphrey Mardon, with whom I shared a war and a sense of values…(and) the officers and men of the Third Queen Alexandra own…with whom I served.” It seemed important. At least to Jasper Mardon it must have been important.   I decided to give it a quick glance. I was immediately enthralled.

The document is essentially fifteen pages of quotes to live by. In a simple, direct style Jasper Mardon shared the collective wisdom of his life and work.  What struck me first was that regardless of when he wrote it, his opinions are still bang on.

Mr. Mardon organized his thoughts into broad categories – Private Life, Man Management, Work Rules, Courtesy, Training & Education, and Public Obligations. Even within this you can see what he felt was important in life.

A few of my favourites:

One cannot be half-ethical. Ethics are like virginity, one has it or one has not.” This was just too good. I googled it to see if this was just a collection of popular quotes.  No results.  An unpublished Jasper Mardon original.

Avoid being one of those experts who is the opponent of anything new.”  Is there a better motto to abide by in a dynamic workplace? I frequently catch myself dreaming up up barriers to change. It is just easier than actually changing.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable people who will have the courage to argue with you.” This reminded me of a Seth Godin blog post.  (I recommend you check his post. It hit so close to home for me that I sent it to my direct reports. The link will also explain why I requested that they please, please not refer to me as “Garmin.”)

Management must balance the interests of the three stakeholders, the shareholders, the employees and the community at large.” As a student I heard triple bottom-line thrown around in class on a daily basis. Classic MBA speak. The concept seems obvious today. Was it so clear 30 or 40 years ago? History suggests it was not.

Criticize early on when it is useful, not when it is too late and merely self-serving.” This gets to the heart of project management in a large organization.  In my experience projects are extremely easy to start, and extremely difficult to deliver.  The tendency is kick things off with whoever you can get on board. Whoever is in has their say. As momentum builds everyone and their dog wants to jump in and add their two cents. “What about this feature?” “I can’t sign-off without that…”  The result is a never-ending loop. The challenge for every project manager is to identify those late-comers and to mitigate risk by getting them to criticize at the outset, while you can still do something about it.

After reading the document I called my dad and asked what he knows about the Mr. Mardon. My dad described him as a brilliant man – an icon in the Pulp and Paper industry. He was also a demanding but tireless mentor to anyone in whom he saw promise and effort.  A guy who spent his life trying to both teach and learn. There is also a little bit of background available online – the best source I found is the You Tube video posted below.  I can’t find any mention of his “Life’s Lessons Learned” though.

It strikes me this man was ahead of his time.  We all create and broadcast in the media available to us when we are around. Mr. Mardon had a dot-matrix printer and the modest aspiration of recording his takeaways from life.  If he was around today we would probably all have the opportunity to share in his insights. We’d be reading his blog, or following his tweets. My guess is he would have been all over social media.  In his own way he said it himself: “To continue to be ‘tuned in’ on the network you must continually contribute.” My e-business or marketing profs couldn’t have said it better.

So that is how I learned about Jasper Mardon. Insights from a  forgotten document that is as relevent as any reading or lecture from my entire MBA, uncovered from a pile of forgotten documents.

More on Jasper Mardon

If you want to learn more about Mr. Mardon, this was the best piece I could find:

I should also mention I thought about publishing a copy of his work here but decided it was not mine to freely post. I do have a pdf of the orginal document. If you would like to give it a read, send me a message at darrenmcknight (at) gmail.com and I will e-mail you a copy.


Pain: Past, Present and Future

Today I learned:

1. Pain – Past and Present:  When it comes to my stance on crime, I don’t consider myself an eye for an eye type of guy. I talk tough at times, but in reality my views are relatively liberal. Knowing this, I was surprised at my own reaction today when I read about the first sentence handed down to a 2011 Stanley Cup rioter. 17 months for the offender.

My immediate emotions?

I was happy he received a lengthy punishment, and admittedly a bit disappointed he didn’t get more time. I immediately put myself in the judge’s shoes and concluded I would have been pleased to have a chance to throw the book at him.

This made me reflect back on my thoughts during the riot.  It was utterly painful to watch. After watching my favorite team suffer a tough loss, the sight of smoke over downtown made me feel even worse for my city. I was angry and embarrassed. I was hurt. While watching the events of the evening I tweeted this message:

The pain didn’t wear off for days. To a certain extent I am definitely still pissed off about it.

Reflecting on my emotions, past and present, and how they could impact my own decision-making actually helped teach me a valuable lesson. I may see myself one way, but emotions have a habit of clouding decision-making. Today’s announcement and a moment of placing myself in the judge’s shoes altered my own position to a place that is quite different than when a cooler head prevails.

All this is a perfect reminder for times when an important decision is required: Take a step back and recognize the emotion. Then set it aside. The correct decision must be based on what you believe is right and wrong, not how it makes you feel.

2. Pain – Future: With ACL reconstruction a few days away, today I picked up some crutches as I will be relying on them to get around for a few weeks. At that moment it hit me: A lot of pain is in my future.

It was indeed quite a disconcerting little lunch hour adventure. A pain-free walk (absent all jumping, running and pivoting mind you) to pick up crutches, knowing I will soon put myself through weeks of pain and months of rehab so I can enjoy those simple pleasures again.