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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Michael Lewis on Luck

One of the few Michael Lewis books that I have not read and have no intention of reading is Moneyball.  My dislike for sports (and that goes for all of them including football/soccer) is stronger than the real pleasure I get reading Lewis' work.  This is something I try not to say too loudly, especially during the World Cup, since I risk offending people I care about (and the people who sign my paychecks).   Umberto Eco was dead right about football/soccer and I, being a democratic kind of gal, extend my contempt to all the others.

Happily Lewis has other books without a sports theme but here's the common thread in all of them - the crazy world of money.   How crazy?  Well, at the start of his career when he was a wet-behind-the ears college graduate Michael Lewis went from being an unemployable Art History major to working in the 1980's for one of New York's biggest investment firms as a bond salesman raking in some serious money.  The story of how this happened is told in one of his best books, Liar's Poker.  Was it his fine education (Princeton) or his just-lurking-under-the-surface talent for investment that got him this job?  Nope. It was sheer dumb luck.  He just happened to be seated next to someone at a dinner who liked him and put in a good word for him with the firm.  The absurdity of that and what he discovered as an employee at Salomon Brothers makes for a fine tale.  I also highly recommend The Big Short (about the 2007 financial crisis) and Boomerang (about the financial crisis in Greece, Iceland and Ireland).

Recently Lewis went back to his alma mater to give the commencement speech.  Open Culture just posted it.  Nicely done.  What he tries to convey to these new graduates is the importance of luck in any successful endeavor and he gives them a mild warning about having a sense of entitlement. I couldn't help but think, however, as I watched it and as the camera panned over the faces of the graduating class that I was not looking at the "lucky."  Student loans, a tight job market and a country that is looking down (I learned a new word yesterday) Taxmageddon make for pretty unfavorable conditions for success, however you choose to define it.  None of this is their fault, mind you.  It's just pure dumb blind bad luck...


Just Me said...

Victoria, my dear. I think you are making a mistake on Moneyball. I do not like sports either, but I really enjoyed this book and the Movie. In fact I have watched it twice, and I never do that.

It is less a story about baseball, and more a story about how a person goes against the Conventional wisdom and discovers value that all others ignore because they are looking at the wrong things. They miss place value. There are profound lessons in life and in business in this story, so I would not be dismissive just because you think you don't like sports!

BTW,..I am glad you put up the video. It did not seem to generate much interest at Isaac Brock, but I thought it was GREAT!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Marvin, I think you just caught me with a full cup.

Back to basics and trying to cultivate that Beginner's mind. Thanks for pointing it out and I will try Moneyball.

I agree with you. Lewis is wonderful in this video - funny and wise.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Good one!
I shall wait to get luckier.


Just Me said...

and then this from PBS News Hour...