No energy? No brain? No problem!

Haven’t been posting as much lately, since I ran into a wee spot of crunch at work. Nothing too severe, but enough to take my evenings and energy away from me.

In an effort to counterbalance crunch time I’ve been indulging in as much media as possible. I find that my generally sunny disposition becomes dampened and even sour if I let my life get too one-dimensional.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger

This is a book written in the style of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack to honor of Charles T. Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett, one of the most talented investors in the world. They’re also two of the richest men in the world. They’re a team, the two of them, and Warren’s the public face of it, Charlie instead preferring to lurk in the background.

Well, no longer.

Charlie’s apparently quite the witty genius, and his friends and family have gotten tired of him not being more widely revered. This book is a loving testament to the person they admire so much, and it’s full of what people say about him and also the talks, papers and lectures he’s given them on life and investing principles.

It starts out being rather emotionally moving, a true labor of love, erecting a sort of shrine to honor him while he’s still alive. I hope someday to have been interesting enough and done enough interesting things to inspire something like this on my behalf. 🙂

I haven’t gotten particularly far yet, but that’s not saying much, seeing as how the book is so absurdly large that it’s measured in pounds rather than in pages. (“How far along are you?” “About half a pound.”) But it holds promise.

The secret of his investing, it seems, is a slavish devotion to studying multiple disciplines (economics, physics, psychology, etc) and how all the different factors of a company add up to a decision to invest… or not.

What interests me about his approach is that he’s studied all these subjects, found out how they applied to investing, then created a specific framework out of them for analyzing an investing opportunity. By framework I mean a separate independent system of rules and criteria applied to anything, with conditional requirements that need to be met to justify investment.

It’s like a pre-flight checklist of factors to consider before taking off. Partly borne out of the fact that even a genius can’t keep all the information he needs to have at his disposal to make a decision in his head all at once.

I like systems. And that brings me to the next book I’ve been reading…

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

It’s a nifty little book that makes the case for setting up a business as an interconnected series of systems and processes that anyone can follow, so that the business needn’t rely on its principal for its very survival. Put simpler, it’s a guide on how to build a franchised business that anyone can run.

The perspective the book offers is particularly interesting to me because it shows me why businesses like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Quiznos do so well. Someone started the first business, then dove into it and figured out how the core of the business should operate and how to repeat those results. Everything from how long to grill a burger on one side to how many shots of espresso go into what size cup to how long you toast this type of bread has been examined, experimented with, and written down in an operating manual.

Forgetting the quality of the food at McDonald’s, consider its human beings. Generally they’re considered to be slack-jawed doofuses (doofi?) and yet, notice how every single McDonald’s you’ve ever been in has delivered the same quality food to you, no matter where you are. Over however many thousand McDonald’s locations there are, that’s pretty impressive.

At its core, McDonald’s gives you food, quickly, consistently. Because Ray Kroc figured out how everything works and how to make ANYONE duplicate the results of the very first McDonald’s, consistently. Even uneducated 16-year-old high school students can do it, because everything’s planned, written down and systematized.

Everything from how many times to shake the fries as they come out of the deep fryer to what the employees say to customers is a part of this system. These processes are so simple, so boiled down, so pre-planned that anyone, anywhere can do them exactly the same way. All these processes are written down in a book you can hand to anyone and have them follow it, step by step, to run every aspect of the business.

And that’s why these businesses work. Ray Kroc doesn’t have to manage every single individual McDonald’s. Neither does Howard Schultz of Starbucks. That’s why they’re so successful. Delivering consistency is of paramount importance to a franchised business, and every different Starbucks you go to should have drinks that taste the same, instead of vary. These systems destroy variance and establish consistency without any dependency on any one person.

They run themselves.

That’s what these businesses were designed to do. And this book, The E-Myth, shows you how to set up a business like that. It’s about systems, much in the same way that Charlie Munger seems to work on a personal level for investing. He develops systems for himself to run through so he doesn’t have to have every single subject he’s ever studied in mind at the same time, because that would simply be impossible.

That concept interests me at its core. Approach a subject, find out the best way to do it, then set up steps to systematize it and be able to repeat it no matter what. I don’t have to be motivated, or happy, or even awake to do it because I boiled it down to different steps I could follow even if I’m half dead.

To some extent, with 3D art, I’ve done that. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve pounded every technique, every concept, every mechanical action associated with 3D art into my brain that I can hammer out what I need to with the minimum of brainpower.

Design work still requires creativity and careful thought, but if you can get all that out of the way as early as possible, the rest of the job is smooth sailing. My feelings become irrelevant, just like they should be when it comes to doing my job.

On the job, I encounter a lot of situations where I can’t remember every single step of the process I’m supposed to do because a) we’re figuring it out as we go to some extent, and b) it’s sometimes a LOT to remember. So I started writing these things down as I do them, both for the benefit of the team and so I can have a written checklist of things to do to achieve the desired result, the same way, every time.

It’s been working out extremely well professionally, and I’m already looking at ways I can apply that to my personal life and projects. The biggest appeal in that idea to me is that since I’m interested in so many things at any given time, I can theoretically throw myself face-first at a huge wad of “pre-production” work when I first get interested in something and then periodically maintain it over time without needing a huge time or energy commitment. Because I set up little systems for doing it.

My friend Eric von Rothkirch has been independently having the same thoughts, and recently made a post on exactly what I’ve been talking about.

That’s all for now, just a fun little mind-dump. I have been reading some other very interesting books that I’ll get into soon, when they’re more relevant to the topics that I’m in the mood to talk about. 🙂

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