A trip to Rosario Beach, up in the North West, yielded a short but beautiful hike, a moderate drive in sunny weather, and a break from the daily routine. Oh, and also some memorable pictures….
People are always looking to make money, even the ones that aren’t actively and greedily fixated on money as a goal. If you make too much or too little of it, there are ethical questions raised about whether or not you deserve it.
People often judge others based on their success or failure. You see a rich man and argue they should “give to the poor” as if the money is yours to distribute. Or you look at a homeless person on the street and fault them for being lazy, as if you knew what got them there. Judging others in this manner cannot be said to be an endearing trait, but this shouldn’t preclude us from observing society as a whole and asking ourselves when it is ethical to make money. Does the manner of making money count? Why are some ways better than others? Is the thief who gives his wealth to the poor on ethically solid ground?
I posit that there are essentially four categories of methods for acquiring wealth.
Builders create objects of lasting value – these may be tangible or intangible – and acquire wealth because people desire these objects.
Solvers provide immediate solutions to systemic inefficiencies, and acquire wealth because people pay for the convenience.
Gamblers make bets on how the world is going to evolve and acquire wealth by reaping the rewards when their bets pay off.
Cheaters operate outside of the system, and acquire wealth by breaking the rules that everyone else is playing by.
As an entrepreneur who wants to build a business, you should probably shoot for the first category. You can choose to be a solver for some time and use it as a stepping stone, but that only lasts until someone else comes along and one-ups you. If you want to be successful long term, you will need to build something of lasting value.
You probably should not build a business as a gambler. In an environment where information is uniformly distributed, the gamble is statistically unlikely to pay off. The gamblers are fighting a losing battle, as the odds are against them and the house always wins. To use information asymmetry effectively in the long run, you would need to be a cheater instead.
The cheaters are arguably the most interesting category of the lot. It is necessary to define the ‘system’ to understand what it means to operate outside of it. For instance, a tax evader may be operating outside of the legal system, but in a corrupt society where everyone evades taxes and few people are punished for it, the ethical boundary may be different from the legal one. And consequently, a cheater in one system may be playing by the rules in another.
You probably should not build a business as a cheater, because someone, somewhere, is going to come after you. A snitch may be doing the right thing, legally speaking, but caught between the two systems – the law and the mafia – they don’t fare too well no matter what they do.
We stayed the weekend in New York City at the Radisson Martinique Hotel on Broadway. On Sunday, the day we were heading back to Seattle, we decided to find a coffee shop close by to get breakfast and pass some time. After a quick detour to buy a comfortable pair of shoes – that had nothing to do with breakfast – we tried to locate this place called ‘Gregorys Coffee’, which was well-rated online.
Alas! Gregorys was not to be found. Certainly, it was supposed to be on the corner of W 31st St and 6th Ave, but perhaps Google Maps was wrong? Had they closed shop and left? We walked up and down the street several times, and I would have been persuaded of a mistake if it weren’t for the fact that I actually recalled seeing the name just a few minutes earlier in big bold lettering, as we were making our way to the shoe shop.
It was a complete mystery…until I realized that we had been walking on the wrong street. We had been looking for the place on Broadway instead of 6th Ave! And that’s how the case was finally solved.
Allow me to introduce what I have decided to call the ‘Wikipedia Effect’.
The Wikipedia effect is the feeling of desperation and bewilderment caused by trying to read up on any technical topic at Wikipedia and traversing too many links on the website to other related pages. After about a dozen clicks, the reader begins to realize that each topic leads to deeper, more complex topics and they are walking down a deep cave with nothing but a dim flickering lantern.
A casual observer might mistakenly believe that the prime directive in life is the pursuit of happiness. In reality, I believe the ultimate goal of the conscious organism is the pursuit of meaning.
This pursuit takes many shapes and forms, and is often described in different words. People talk about wanting a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. Others want to be challenged, to feel, to overcome obstacles and emerge victorious. And at times, they ask why – why should I do what I am doing right now? The answer to this question takes a philosophical turn – if you keep asking why, you are eventually forced to come face-to-face with the ultimate question – why does something exist rather than nothing?
Many years ago, I asked myself that very question, and kept hitting a very frustrating dead-end in my chain of logic, until one day I had an “Aha!” moment. I finally had a key insight, and it was this: the question of why anything exists is entirely meaningless unless there is someone to ask the question. The question of why is therefore entirely subjective, and it is the subject’s responsibility to define the answer.
In simpler terms, if you are a conscious – self-aware – organism, you are obliged to set your own goals and objectives, rather than look for instruction from elsewhere. Ironically, most self-aware organisms learn early on to conform to existing frameworks of goal-setting, and seldom venture outside of their bounds. Whether it is religion, culture, tradition, parents’ teachings or society’s laws – the conscious individual must make conscious choices in walking down the path.