Entrepreneurship: Faith, is Everything
1 October 2019 (modified on 10 January 2021)
There has been a buzz recently about a quote related to Steve Jobs in the last days of his life, which basically said:
Both watches show the same time…
As we get older we are smarter, and we slowly realize that the watch is worth $30 or $300 – both of which show the same time.
What a few people missed, is that it does not matter at all that Steve Jobs probably never said that. What matters is the spirit, and besides, the smile on the photograph of a sick man was not forged.
After discovering that the part of an essay purported to be Steve Job's last words are in fact a myth (...), I have come to the conclusion the message is still valid.
That is the essence: this sentence carries a formidable truth. And truth is the essence and the motivation for a human myth (see Joseph Campbell's Book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces).
Selflessness and fear
We admire Steve Jobs for the same reason that he admired Mahatma Gandhi or Einstein. Because he embodied "the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers" and "while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do".
All an entrepreneur is, is a person with an abnormal dose of faith, that they could do something to make this wacky world a better place.
A faith so great, in fact, that an entrepreneur is willing to squander their money without a second-thought. When we hear "practical people" calling these entrepreneurs "egoists", we feel bad, very bad, because we get the sneaky feeling that these critics are right. Because surely all that trouble that entrepreneurs create must be bad for people around them and bad for their health ("Look at how Steve Jobs ended his life! He would still be alive today!").
Let us be reassured: that is a lie, invented by tyrants who want to keep us all quiet, so that they can stay in business without deserving their dough. The X-quality of entrepreneurship is selflessness.
Selflessness: caring about other people’s needs and problems more than your own.
(definition by MacMillan dictionary)
Oh, and the definition of self, is not one's body. It includes our beloved ones: our better half, children, parents, and friends.
And entrepreneur is a person who must be willing to submit themselves to the torture of going to bed at night, with nightmares of what could happen to their beloved ones if they failed. But they have to pursue that faith with a stronger determination: because now, their beloved are counting on them, and one could never let them down. And waking up in the dead of night, with the heart-sinking feeling that one will never make it, and worse, a gut-wrenching foreboding that one will go down into history as the hangman of one's family. And the individual who can snap out of this death trap, and reach for the stars with his spiritual hands, has spiritually graduated as an entrepreneur.
The terror in the dead of the night is thus part of the secret initiation rite of the entrepreneur. Why is it secret? Well, would you casually say to your spouse at the breakfast table: "You know darling, I realized last night that I will go bust. We all gonna die. What do you think?"
I thought I ought to do my coming out about that. I see no valid reason why the rest of the world should be kept in the dark. I know I am in very excellent company.
Indeed, every infantryperson who already met her or his first engagement has had to go through a similar initiation rite, only much tougher. As a certified arsehole, and finest tactical genius of American military history, once stated:
Every man is scared in his first battle…
Every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he s not he s a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared.
Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire. For some it takes an hour. For some it takes days. But a real man will never let his fear of death overpower his honor his sense of duty to his country and his innate manhood.
Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.”
George S. Patton
Patton, just as his German counterpart Erwin Rommel, was essentially a military entrepreneur. He forged forward with joyful determination, and his tanks were always ahead of the competition. When Patton captured the city of Triers, the markets back in London had no idea what had just hit them. In Switzerland a "Patton" is military slang for a fast infantry march designed to take the foe by surprise. In Britain, a "Rommel" is a fast, decisive military manoeuver that leaves the foe dumbfounded and completely sidetracked.
Steve Jobs was no doubt a pacifist; but he was out to disrupt IBM in the early 1980s; and when he released the iPhone in 2007, he scored one hell of a Rommel.
Risk taking versus risk aversity
There is a maxim that Patton applied, that also applied to Jobs:
My flanks are something for the enemy worry about, not me…
My flanks are something for the enemy worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I'll be cutting the bastard's throat.
That is the whole spirit about entrepreneurship, which is embodied in the way Patton or Rommel envisaged movement warfare.
We, in the banking industry have a difficulty with this, because we manage our clients' money. The most important thing we must learn to do, is to hedge bets. When we insert structured products or speculative funds in our portfolio, we all wink because it is a marketing ploy so that we can write "growth" on an investment strategy; because younger audiences prefer that term over "conservative" (elder person) or "balanced" (middle-aged). We are in the business of safeguarding money. The watchword of banking is trust, so the watchword of the banker is prudence. Hence, if we told a client that we intended to manage their portfolio in the same way as Patton was managing his Sherman tanks, it is highly dubious that our client would like that.
So, is it fundamentally different? Well, not really. Jobs was very much into oriental philosophy, and he was aware that opposites (as in the Chinese yin and yang) tend to meet at the top of the mountain... or at the bottom of the valley. The biggest problem that these managers of movement warfare had to face, was logistics: the most crucial items were water and food for the men, as well as fuel and ammunition for the tanks. There rest did not matter so much. Then there was coordination with other firms on the market: without artillery or aviation, you were a lame duck staring into the barrel of hunter's gun. If a general officer reduced himself to that extremity, he would have a solid reason for having a bad feeling about all this.
The same thing applies to wealth management: a portfolio entirely converted into Swiss Franks would be one of the safest investments known to humankind. It would also be an assured way, nowadays, to achieve negative performance (unless, of course, one's reference currency was funny money like the British Pound).
Also, there is something of the Indiana Jones in a wealth manager, who is trying to navigate her or his way in swampy terrain infested by central bank tigers ready to pounce on human flesh, political thugs waiting to stab the analysts in the back or to strangle them, and regulatory scorpions creeping into one's bed at night. If anyone out there has an adventurous spirit and a healthy dose of inconscience, now is the best time to apply for an opening in the private wealth industry.
Impetuosity and prudence
The ultimate truth, is that impetuosity and prudence are the two flips of the same coin. Most human beings are one or the other, so they are never whole. Entrepreneurs embark into a hero's journey that is marked by toil, defeats, pain and sorrow; but also by occasional moments of joy or glory. They are on the way to become whole again.
A good illustration of that point was the lasting friendship between George Patton and Omar Bradley during World War II. Bradley was everything that a good general was ever intended to be: competent, careful, deep-thinking, considerate and smartly-dressed. In a word: a first-rate military wealth manager. And as the myth goes, Bradley quarreled with Patton, telling him he was a reckless fool, that it was the reason why he was still splashing in the mud, and why Patton would never get another star on his elmet. Indeed Bradley had a point, because he was now flying in the high circles of the Allied Forces Headquarters in England, while Patton was still splashing in the mud of Lorraine. And Patton deeply resented what he considered a personal injustice. But Bradley secretly felt like a dog for having supported Patton, and -- even deeper -- because the mud of Lorraine was where every American soldier dreamt to be in the winter of 1944: kicking some Tiger's arse, instead of attending boring General Staff meetings were one was a junior ranking officer. Over time both colleagues became resentful at each other.
Failure and Success
In the end, both were right, of course. The whole game of entrepreneurship in the long term, is to reconcile these two aspects of the daredevil tactician and the banker. That is how Steve Jobs rebuilt Apple from the ground up into a world powerhouse; but not before he had gone through years of purgatory.
That part of the hero/entrepreneur's journey is technically called the belly of the whale:
Jonah 4 1:4
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?
This is, approximately, how this wisdom would have been rended in 1860's American English:
Quit whining, son.
Put your boots back on
an' jump back on the horse cart, will you?
We’ve got a long road to California.
Where has Apple been going?
The Far-West maverick and the Wall Street banker need to be balanced, of course. But sometimes, just like today at Apple Inc. it can be overdone. Whereas Jobs made innovative computer products for the masses, today Apple mostly sells crazy Mickey Mouse watches for the super-rich, as well as Alice in Wonderland picture books. And this, at prices ten times higher than a Disneyland boutique would charge you, and despite that Walt Disney are better craftsmen for dreams.
The point is, Apple is not in the business of fairy tales, but of quality electronics products for the masses. What is really happening with their iPhone 7, 8, 9, X and so forth, is a tried and true form of racket that had already been practiced in past. During the Renaissance, there had been a very honorable outfit in Rome called The Church, which had saved Europe from illetrism in the high Middle Ages. They had been, however been infiltrated by bankers, who capitalized on the considerable reputation of a maverick who had lived in Palestine: a spiritual entrepreneur by the name of Jesus-Christ.
And these loansharks regularly organized large events for the nobility (at the time, they were called Crusade Calls), where the chief fundraiser came on stage and invariably stated with rapturous fervor:
Wow... We are sooooo happy!
And the audience responded with the ritual thanksgiving:
And then the fundraisers sold, for a hefty price, relics of the Messiah's apostles, such a St. John Ive's fingerbones, as well as other religious trinkets without much use in this world (and which no one would be able to stuff in a shroud pocket).
And if you were really rich, you could afford an indulgence for paradise, an inconditional remission for all you sins in this world. That was the religious equivalent of Apple's Mac Pro with a base Pro Display XDR display, complete with a $999 stand. Of course, the common point between the indulgence and the Mac Pro, was that neither the loansharks that infested the Church at the time, nor those in Apple today, ever had legitimate licenses to sell paradise keys to the public.
Think that a $20 cable or a $40 dongle is expensive? Those are nothing compared to Apple's new $999 monitor stand.
This should start to explain, why the Most High, in His great mercy, allowed Jonah to spend a healthy time in the belly of whale to think over the respective service values of a $30 or $300 watch.
The indulgences scandal also explains why another spiritual entrepreneur named Martin Luther decided, back in 1517, to start a new spiritual entreprise, aptly called the Reformation. He did not beat around the bush: he stated his program in 92 points.
And the cycle restarted.