Monthly update: Better conversations and broader investments

Mar 26, 2022 5:06 am

Hi !

I hope you've had an excellent March – and if you haven't, you've still got four days to put that right. It's been a busy one for me: I had a blast at Center Parcs, spent three days learning to talk to people, and finished a decent draft of my book.

Here's what's coming up in this newsletter:

  • After nearly 40 years, I learn how to interact with other humans
  • My patented method to tell how someone thinks within 1 minute
  • I mention Russia and probably offend everyone by mistake
  • And more!

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πŸ—£ This month in conversation

This month, I went on a three-day conversation course. No, not French conversation or anything like that. to talk to people.

Why? Because having better conversations makes every day better – whether it's opening up friendships by going beyond "the weather" at the school gates, deepening relationships with people you already know, or being a better listener at work.

The experience was brilliant, largely due to having an amazing group of fellow students – all of whom were far better than average conversationists, which I thought odd at first but makes sense when you think about it. By interacting with them through the exercises we were practising, I got to know some of them more deeply than people I've known for years – despite not knowing basic facts like what they did for a living or where they were from.

Here are some of my stand-out lessons from the course:

  • Questions are powerful, but by asking a question you dictate the direction the conversation goes in next. Making statements ("it sounds like that was exciting for you") or just echoing back key words ("difficult time?") lets the other person elaborate, and they might go in a more interesting direction than you would have done.

  • When we do ask questions, we should strive for those that open up wider themes or reveal something deeper about the person rather than just collecting facts. So when talking about someone's holiday, rather than "which hotel did you stay in?" you might prefer "what was a memorable moment for you?"

  • By answering a typical small-talk question like "how are you?" or "what do you do?" in a non-generic way that reveals something about yourself, you can start to move towards "big talk". An easy answer to "how are you?" is to give a rating out of 10, which breaks the expected "fine, thanks" pattern and naturally allows the other person to ask a follow-up if they want to.

  • You can do or say just about any weird thing you like, as long as you acknowledge it first ("I know you're not supposed to ask this, but...") so the other person is comfortable that you're knowingly breaking the rules rather than just lacking social skills.

In general, learning a "meta-skill" that can improve life broadly was just as powerful as I hoped it would be, and I'll be looking out for other opportunities. If you've learned anything cool that falls into this category, let me know!

πŸ“‰ This month in investing

My policy on any hot topic of the moment (whether it's US politics, racial injustice, vaccination or whatever) is simple: say nothing unless I have an informed and qualified opinion that might add value to the conversation. Which I never do.

I'm going to veer close to breaking that policy by mentioning Russia, but only in a sense of making some general observations about investing. I'm also going to take a risk by not prefacing it with a statement about how war is bad and the investment implications should be the least of our worries, because I trust that's pretty bloody obvious and you're reading in good faith.

Looking at my personal portfolio over the last couple of months, having a decent amount of diversification (between property, global shares, metals, crypto etc) has paid off so far: overall I reckon I'm down by a few percentage points, which isn't as bad as I expected. I don't think there have been many winning plays in the market recently, so "not losing too much" seems like a good result.

More broadly, the situation has strengthened my conviction in the two categories of asset that I was already a particular fan of: real assets like property, and businesses you control.

The Russian stock market has been closed for weeks, making the value of any holdings in its shares effectively zero for now, and when it re-opens it's bound to be a lot lower than when it closed. Other markets around the world have sold off due to worries about the knock-on effects. What can you do about this? Nothing.

But property? As long as someone still wants to live there, you're all good. (I imagine even rental property in Russia is performing OK, if you put aside the fact that you'll be getting paid in a currency that's collapsing relative to others.) If you own a business selling something people want, you're all good too – and if demand for your product falls due to factors beyond your control, at least a solution (like shifting to sell something else) is within your control.

Of course, as I started by saying, diversifying broadly is the key – but these advantages of property and private businesses are why I don't buy into the typical advice that you should have the majority of your wealth in public stocks and bonds.

🧠 This month in brainpower

I've developed a rough theory that you can tell a lot about how someone thinks from how fast they talk.

Fast-talkers have high raw processing power: their mouth has to work hard to keep up with their brain, and their success comes from solving problems quickly based on instinctual answers that "just come to them".

Slow-talkers think deeply: they take a long time to express their ideas because they're constructing them deliberately and carefully considering them before they speak. They'll never win on speed, but they can sometimes have powerful insights because they're willing and able to go deeper than others.

Try to categorise some people you know, or even celebrities: my wife and I did this, and talking style seems to map pretty well to thinking style. If you believe in the concept, explain it to someone else and get them to categorise you: if you can identify your preferred style of thinking, you can put yourself in situations where that style would be an advantage. For example, I think deeply but slowly, so try to construct situations where I can gather the facts then respond later, rather than have to come up with a solution on the fly.

There will also, of course, be some people with high raw processing power who also have the ability to think deeply. These people can, frankly, sod off.

🍿 This month in media

🎧 Since I moved house I barely get through any podcasts because nothing is more than a five minute walk away. But I make sure I listen to every new episode of My First Million before getting to anything else. It covers business and investing in a style that's just incredibly fun and compelling, and I think I've recommended it to people more than any other podcast.

πŸ•Ή You've probably heard of Wordle – a popular word game that was recently bought by the New York Times. I've only played it once because I'm terrible at word games and only enjoy doing things I'm good at. But it has sparked two pun-based clones that are a lot of fun (largely because I'm good at them): Heardle (for songs) and Worldle (for countries).

πŸ’€ This probably falls into the category of extremely boring for most people, but I loved this article debunking most popular sleep research. It may be because the conclusions are good news for me: being sleepy is normal, and there's no need for most people to get eight hours of sleep.

That’s it for March! Feel free to write back and let me know what you've been up to.



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