{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Deliberate

Where did your hopes and dreams originate? What was the inspiration that led you to set a goal?

Humans are a society of imitators and plagiarists. Genuinely new ideas are a rare and precious thing.

Instead, we appropriate ideas. Test them. Adapt and incorporate what works. Sometimes discard what doesn’t. Belief systems evolving as knowledge and wisdom are not only acquired but applied.

Some folks choose to dogmatically persist with faulty assumptions. Ideology proving more comforting than fact. Fear of losing face. Shared tribal identity. The Emperor’s new clothes.

Long ago, I worked in a photo lab. Every week thousands of customers would bring in their holiday photos to be developed and printed. Through their pictures, I got to vicariously travel the world.

In time, a pattern emerged. I would see variants on the same pictures over and over again. The same clichéd experience. The same crowded monuments. Different faces, but the same holidays.

It got to the point where after seeing the first couple of holiday pictures in a roll of film, I could predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy what the remainder would contain.

Visited Paris?

  • Arc de Triomphe. Tick.
  • Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Tick.
  • Champs-Élysées, teeming with jostling crowds of shoppers and tourists. Tick.
  • Eiffel Tower, surrounded by jostling crowds of tourists. Tick.
  • Palace of Versailles, showing jostling crowds in the foreground. Tick.
  • The Mona Lisa, out of focus and speculatively shot over the heads of a jostling Louvre crowd who are all attempting to do the same. Tick.
  • White hilltop basilica, either Sacré-Cœur or Montmartre. The photographer can rarely remember which. Tick.

As I processed an endless stream of holiday photos, I watched the progress of restoration projects and renovations at postcard sites all around the globe. I also had a pretty good idea of which ones were currently obscured by scaffolding!

The notable thing about a set of holiday photos soon became the absence of one of the obligatory trophy snaps. Those images seemingly everyone felt compelled to take as proof of visit.

A polite inquiry would usually yield an entertaining story about travel delays. Getting hopelessly lost. Industrial action. Pickpockets. Streetfood that tasted great on the way in, but fought hard on the way out.

Something different.

Unexpected.

Off script.

Original.

Occasionally I would ask a customer why they had chosen a particular holiday destination? How had they had selected those particular sites to visit and take photos of?

Most would look at me blankly.

They hadn’t “done” France before. Tick.

Those sites were “what you do in Paris”. Tick.

On particularly quiet days in the store, I might ask who determined what you are supposed to “do” when visiting Paris?

Invariably their answer would include some combination of tourism brochures, travel guides, package tours, and loved ones’ travel photos from when they had undertaken that same holiday informed by those same sources.

Which wasn’t a bad thing. However, it did leave me wondering how many of the customer’s holiday dreams were actually their own?

Versus how many of their goals were seeking to emulate dreams they had borrowed from others?

Had they experienced a conscious yearning or intellectual curiosity? A desire to explore a particular location out of genuine interest in the cultural experiences or natural splendour on offer?

Or had they simply been manipulated into responding to an idea created by a marketing campaign?

How much was genuine personal desire versus mindless appropriation of the desires of others?

I was unable to arrive at a conclusive answer to my questions. Yet based upon the sheer volume of repetitive holiday snaps, there seemed to be far more imitating than original thinking taking place.

The ancestry of ideas

I read a fascinating article recently about the evolution of ideas. It focussed on professional rugby league coaches over the last 50 years. Tracing the pedigree of over a hundred modern coaches back to just a handful of their successful forebears. Generations of apprenticeships had seen techniques refined. Yet the underlying approach and philosophy remained largely unchanged.

Many things had remained constant. The team featuring players who were biggest, fastest, fittest, most skilful, and trained hardest were more likely to win. Teams featuring an older playing roster, lacking in funds, or plagued by injuries tended to lose.

Throughout those 50 years, there had been only a handful of genuinely new ideas. Roughly one per decade. Each led to a brief period of dominance for the innovative team. Before long, other coaches emulated and ultimately negated the competitive advantage of those new ideas.

Today, there are hardly any coaches who have not been indoctrinated into those same schools of thought. The old guard had been disrupted, found wanting, and eventually became extinct. Innovation gradually became orthodoxy. In the old days, those arguing for the innovative approaches were viewed as heretics. Today, the heretics are those who argue against those same ideas.

An endless lifecycle, as old as time.

We see this same lifecycle at work in many facets of life.

Benjamin Graham and David Dodd pioneered the innovation of Value Investing back in the 1920s.

Warren Buffett adopted and applied the approach so successfully he managed to top the Forbes rich list.

Today it seems half of FinTwit are self-described value investors. Some apply Graham’s analytical approach. Others worship at the altar of Eugene Fama and Ken French’s value factor statistical approach. I suspect more than a few don’t realise that those are entirely different things!

Just like rugby league coaching ideas, as the popularity of the value investing innovations grew, their competitive advantage diminished.

The FIRE movement provides another example of the appropriation and adoption of ideas.

The current generation of financial independence seekers and aspirational early retirees may attribute many of the ideas to Mr Money Moustache.

The generation before may have associated them with Jacob Lund Fisker of Early Retirement Extreme fame.

Those of us who predate the internet may have first come across those ideas in Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s book “Your Money or Your Life”.

Each successive generation repackaging and rebranding the same key underlying themes.

I recently stumbled across an article titled “Early Retirement”. It followed the familiar formula of such pieces. Profiling a time-poor middle-aged white guy who quit his corporate job, established some passive income streams, and retired. Next, was the young couple pursuing geographic arbitrage, supporting their greatly reduced living costs on a tropical island paradise by working part-time. Finally, there were the obligatory features of people who bought themselves lifestyle jobs after hitting eject from busy lives or high-stress careers in the big city.

Articles like this regularly appear in the lifestyle section of Sunday papers. This particular one was published back in February 1957! The only difference between then and now is the article subjects weren’t all running monetised blogs or seeking exposure for unregulated financial “coaching” services.

The core set of ideas that have likely existed since humans concluded that growing vegetables was a less risky pursuit, with a more certain outcome, than leading a hunter-gatherer style existence scavenging for food.

Origin of a dream

Which brings me back to the opening set of questions.

Where did your hopes and dreams originate?

Did you have an epiphany? Discover the solution to a problem, or a way forward, for yourself?

Do they represent a natural conclusion to a journey? Perhaps continuing a direction of travel you had already been unwittingly venturing along?

Or did you hear somebody else talking? Think their goals sounded cool? Decide to adopt them as your own?

Study hard. Work harder. Grind your way to the top.

Find a significant other. Have a couple of kids. Settle down in a house in the suburbs.

Be your own boss. Find a work/life balance that works for you. Maybe retire one day.

Remove the financial imperative. Make time investment decisions driven by enjoyment rather than material value alone.

Bag all the Munros. Ski every winter. Surf every summer. Visit every country. Live the endless summer.

Why do you wish to achieve what you wish to achieve?

Is your desired outcome really your personal attainment of the goal itself?

Or is what you seek something tangentially related to that goal?

Adoration.

Affirmation.

Bragging rights.

Keeping up with the Joneses.

Kudos.

Status conferred.

Deliberate

The vast majority of those holidaymakers appeared to have enjoyed a great time on their vacations. Their photos certainly made it look like they did!

I’m less convinced that many of them could explain why they chose a given destination, or why they had chosen to visit a given collection of postcard sites for trophy photos.

I suspect that many of us would be a little uncomfortable to admit, even to ourselves, that we had just been blindly walking a well-trodden path. Reading from a script. Playing a part that somebody else had written. Following the herd.

I wonder whether the same uncomfortable feeling would arise if we stopped and asked ourselves why we had selected a given living location? Asset allocation? Investment portfolio? Life goals?

For some, these would be considered and well-informed decisions that were consciously made.

For others, they may be the financial equivalent of high-season tourists. Battling jostling crowds. Visiting overpriced postcard sites. Potentially putting themselves in harm’s way.

All because they were appropriating someone else’s dream or blindly seeking to emulate folks back home, without really understanding why.


References


Featured by
--- Tell your friends ---

Next Post

Previous Post

11 Comments

  1. Fire And Wide 17 July 2020

    Hey. I love posts like this one – my ultimate fav is Tim Urban’s about Chef’s vs Cooks, well worth a look if not found already.

    Unsurprisingly, I agree with so much in this. I’ve never been able to understand why people don’t put the effort into thinking for themselves what they want. It took me a fair while to realise being a natural contrarian came with some advantages after all.

    I can understand people wanting inspiration – that’s been true throughout the years. But to blindly follow without questioning, without taking the time and effort to decide if that’s what you want – well, that’s just lazy to me.

    It’s like outsourcing your life….and that always ends up so well…….!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 17 July 2020 — Post author

      Thanks Fire and Wide.

      Thinking takes effort.

      Independent thinking requires imagination. An investment of time and effort with an uncertain outcome. Yielding results that are likely to prove controversial or unpopular, potentially setting the thinker up for judgement, mocking, ridicule, or scorn.

      But here is the thing: having done the thinking on something, we may prove to ourselves that conventional wisdom or status quo is actually correct. This isn’t a bad thing, as it means we now understand why that is the case.

      • Fire And Wide 18 July 2020

        Exactly. You may well end up in exactly the same place. But if you put the effort into thinking you know it’s because you want to be there – not because somebody else influenced you into thinking you should be.

        Always a pleasure to find other thinkers – cheers!

  2. themoneymountaineer 17 July 2020

    Mr In-deed-ably,

    Just to say thank you – you’re a great writer! New to following your posts, having arrived via Monevator etc. It’s a refreshing change for me from obsessing over SWRs et al.

    And of course agree with your thoughts above – the tricky bit is picking through all of the long settled aspirations in your mind and deciding which ones you ACTUALLY aspire to and which you somehow inherited.

    When I first caught the FIRE bug I thought I wanted to ‘retire’ to running a glamping ‘Yurt Farm in the woods’ – then one day I realised that was just an episode of a lifestyle programme I’d watched many years before!

    I now aspire to ‘escape to the mountains’… which will sound to you all like I’m making the same mistake again… but having been a mountain obsessive all my life I’m much more confident this is actually ME.

    Cheers, MoneyMountaineer, MoMo

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 17 July 2020 — Post author

      Thanks for reading MoneyMountaineer, and for the kind words.

      Living in a magazine or lifestyle programme seems idyllic when we’re dreaming of something more/better/different, especially during the morning commute! In practice it may turn out to be a bit two dimensional however, as it isn’t a well rounded life full of valuable pursuits and cherished relationships.

      If all that lies in the mountains for you, then I wish you every success in turning your dream into a rich well balanced reality.

  3. John Smith 19 July 2020

    As always I enjoyed your whole essay. But mostly I like how well you summarized the FIRE movement cycle / schema (MMM, Jacobs, 1957 etc). Jabobs Fisker (ERE) book was like a bible (inspiration) to me. I like when people challenge the obvious paths the crowd follows because “that’s the way we did things from father to son”.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 19 July 2020 — Post author

      Thanks John Smith.

      For me, the best part of Fisker’s journey was the way that once he succeeded in eliminating the financial imperative from his decision making, he moved on to new challenges and left the FIRE world behind.

      In much the same way that cash is an enabler rather than a goal, financial independence is just one of many milestones along our journey through life. I think many in the FIRE movement lose sight of that.

  4. HK Expat 20 July 2020

    The Life magazine was fascinating. Not just for the adverts, but the difference in the quality of articles compared with now. Straightforward reporting rather than opinion!. I found the Hungarian articles most interesting with a perspective 1 year after events particularly when I saw that Andropov was the Russian ambassador knowing he subsequently became the supreme leader of the USSR. How to build a career in an autocracy I guess!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 July 2020 — Post author

      Thanks HK Expat. I agree, it was an interesting time capsule. Some of the (then) popular science articles were fascinating given how things subsequently played out. Providing yet another reminder that for the most part we have little clue about where things are headed!

      I did have to chuckle when I saw the “How I retired in 15 years with $300 a month” advertorial on the Letters to the Editor page. Shysters telling dreamers a story that they want to believe, the only real difference between then and now were the numbers in the sales pitch!

  5. Ben Hoyle 25 July 2020

    Excellent post.

    You can apply the same logic to most of culture – music, novels, TV, film. The older I get the more I find that ideas and concepts that seemed truly novel were actually just a reflection of my ignorance of the underlying sources.

    I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – I would even argue there is often very little “original” thought – there are even theories floating around that all thought is to some extent an imitation of our environment (albeit an imperfect one).

    I don’t think you can go wrong with a hefty dose of diverse knowledge and self-reflection. You can’t really ask the question: “Why am I visiting the Eiffel Tower?” without an awareness of the patterns of others and an understanding that the question can be asked. I agree that few are lucky enough to have the luxury of time and the pathology of mind to do this!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 25 July 2020 — Post author

      Thanks Ben. That’s a fair observation, novelty is a product of our limited experience.

      In my case the “why am I visiting the Eiffel Tower?” type question is often triggered by exactly those patterns of others, as they queue and jostle around me! Lemmings all.

What say you?

© 2020 { in·deed·a·bly }

Privacy policy

Subscribe