Blame It on the 9

Dear Senderos,

My first marriage occurred on the spur of the moment, following a casual lunch at my grandfather’s favorite hotel in Tijuana. He lived in San Diego, so it was a quick drive and he loved the cheap, cheap prices and general ambiance of the place.

During the course of said lunch my grandfather, always my favorite relative, said something to me and my girlfriend along the lines of, “Hey, why don’t you kids get married?”

Thirty minutes later, my new wife and I found ourselves sitting in a dingy marriage-on-demand office with a Mexican lawyer humming the bridal march. Seriously.

As previously touched upon in my writings, not so many years before that, after a fight with a different girlfriend in Hawaii, I had moved out and soon thereafter decided it was time to move on with my life. So within a few days of the decision, I had bought a one-way ticket to Chicago to take up a tenuous offer of work, arriving in the cold city with $10 in my pocket. A perfectly rational decision, yes?

Jumping about on the timeline, when I was 26 years old, I had a (small) office in Beverly Hills doing freelance conference planning when a client, Jim Blanchard, suggested I move to Louisiana to help him with his business.

I don’t recall how long I pondered the matter, but I doubt it was more than a minute before I said yes and proceeded to close down my five-person shop, pack up the car, and within a couple of weeks was on my way. Why not? I liked Jim and had never lived in Louisiana.

Once, after the sale of a mutual fund company I was a partner in, I received a series of tax bills which, collectively, added up to 51% of the fruits of my very hard labor. I still well remember looking in the mirror and saying the equivalent of, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Within two months, I had quit my job and was putting my suitcases down on the floor of a rented house in Bermuda, walking on a multi-million-dollar “golden handcuff” in the process. Over the intervening period I had sold my house, sold or given away my horses and pretty much everything else I owned.

I could regale you with almost countless stories along the same lines.

“Hey, want to move back from Argentina to help start an online bank?” Sure, why not?

“Want to come to Africa and fly into an active war zone to meet a renowned rebel leader?” Count me in!

“Want to ride to an airless, frozen wasteland 15,000 feet high in the mountains to see if we can spot some flamingos?” I’ll grab my saddle!

Most recently, mid-conversation with one of my dearest friends and fellow long-distance rider, the up-and-coming Argentine wine-maker Agustin Lanus, I offered to finance his new business to the point of positive cash flow.

My wife, on hearing “We’re going into the wine business!” and accustomed to my nature, rolled her eyes and said something along the lines of, “Another business? Really?”

Blame It on the 9

About two weeks ago, a fellow Sendero and another one of my best friends in the world, Pete Kofod, suggested I take a test he insists all his employees take.

As background, Pete is a technology entrepreneur with a specialty in systems security. My son Drake is currently working with Pete’s company, The Sixth Flag, as an intern.

As a condition of his serving as an intern, Pete required Drake to take the Kolbe A test, a test that involves answering 30+ questions, none of which has a right or wrong answer. Furthermore, it doesn’t measure intelligence or skill levels.

Rather, it indicates how you approach decision making by identifying which of four approaches a person is most comfortable with. In the company’s own words, the four approaches are:

fact finders who have the instinct to probe and excel at evaluating and deliberating; follow-throughs who show the instinct to pattern and thrive when coordinating, planning and scheduling; quick starts who have the instinct to innovate and flourish when they originate, experiment and improvise, and implementors who show the instinct to demonstrate by constructing, repairing and crafting.”

The results of the test are expressed in a series of four numbers between 1 and 10, with 1 indicating a low preference for one of the approaches just described, and 10 a strong fondness.

As it is my nature, I was a bit skeptical when Pete first described the Kolbe A test and extolled the successes he had with it in employee testing. Even so, in light of his unwavering enthusiasm and strong encouragement, I decided to take the test myself and did so early the next morning.

The results, broken down by the four approaches were as follows:

Fact Finders: 5

Follow-Throughs: 2

Quick Starts: 9

Implementors: 3

This is the way the test results are presented:

When I sent Pete the results, he responded with the following:

“Why am I completely unsurprised? I thought you might be a bit longer fact finder, but that is likely because you enjoy writing, so you accommodate fact finding.

Basically, avoid any work that involves building detailed systems (that is what a good support team is for). Spend most of your energy creating new things and support them with finding facts. Enjoy a good wine and tell a great story about it.

Your success in life probably comes from the fact that you “knew thyself” long before you saw these numbers. Spectacular.

And my wife, who if anything is more of a skeptic than I, responded with…

“That's weirdly scary. Love the line about you saying yes without the sentence being finished.”

I would have to agree with my wife’s “weirdly scary” comment. And while, per Pete’s comment, I have for many years been true to myself, I must admit seeing that “9” was a real eye-opener.

In fact, I could even say it’s a life changer. While I don’t understand the algorithm Kathy Kolbe uses to come to her scores, reflecting on my life, there is no question the “9” jumps off the page.

In an earlier posting, The Truth About Gurus, I compared my life to that of the fictional Forrest Gump and tried to explain how things had worked out as they had.

“When faced with a crossroads, I will invariably follow the path that intrigues me the most. Even if—or maybe especially if—it involves the great unknown.”

With the insights provided by Kolbe, I would now amend my explanation as follows:

“When faced with a crossroads, I will invariably and instantly decide to follow the path that intrigues me the most. Even if—or maybe especially if—it involves the great unknown.”

Observations and Implications

To stress the point, the Kolbe A index isn’t meant to tell you which of the four approaches to decision making you are good or bad at. Rather, it tells you which you are more comfortable with and therefore most likely to use.

Having run too many large conventions to count, I can assure you that when it comes down to follow-through and implementation, I can be very thorough. However, those tasks always felt tedious. By contrast, I always loved the creative aspects of planning an event.

“Let’s get an elephant and put a big sign on its side and have it walk into the cocktail party led by a marching band!” (That actually happened.)

Yet, per the sampling of on-the-spot decisions listed above, the 9 ranking in “quick start” reverberates throughout my entire life.

And I have to say, I’m pretty sure it’s a big part of whatever successes I have had.

For starters, it has resulted in me never overanalyzing an opportunity.

There is a book on the topic called Blink that proves through various studies that a decision made in seconds, for example hiring an employee based on first impressions, was likely to be better than one that involved extensive deliberation.

Likewise, many of my on-the-spot decisions to jump into a new business have paid big dividends. The decision to hop on the plane to Chicago or move my company to Louisiana both proved to be life-changing in all the right ways.

And the quick decisions to agree to head off on one adventure or another have vastly fulfilled my life. To name the most recent example, the other day a friend here in Cafayate sent me a text inviting me to join him camping in the desert. The idea being to plant ourselves next to the off-road course followed by the racers in the Dakar Rally, which comes through this area every year.

Even though I had a pile of work to do, without hesitation I texted back that he should count me in, leading to an incredible all-night experience. The dinner, fire-roasted meat naturally, didn’t hit the camp table until about 1:30 am, and I didn’t hit the sleeping bag until 5:30 am.

My compadres, a cast of characters from the local community, only a couple of whom spoke English, didn’t sleep at all.

Then, when arising (all too early) at 7:30 am the next morning, I was able to watch some of the most insane racing on the planet… seriously up close and personal. As in, having to run a ways off when a racer careened off the torn-up track.

One category, the trucks, massive off-road vehicles roughly the size of a fire engine, literally catch air, their loud horns blaring to warn off any of the off-road cars that might not be getting out of the way quickly enough.

In any event, I ended up getting home at about 5 pm the next day, tired, dirty, and hungry (the Argentines are not big eaters during the day), but imbued with a renewed sense of life thanks to having stepped off the everyday path, and outside of my comfort zone, for 24 hours.

So, when it gets right down to it, I wouldn’t trade my 9 for any other number. But now, thanks to the Kolbe A test, I find myself hesitating to make snap decisions about things involving money and time commitments.

And when it comes time to deal with the follow-through and implementation in the wine business, I’ll make sure we hire the right person to handle that so I can focus on the creative stuff.

There really is something to the old adage about knowing oneself, and thanks to the Kolbe A index test, I think I understand myself in entirely different light. I don’t need to know why I am impetuous, but now that I know it is a fundamental component of my internal operating system, I can work to be in harmony with it.

If you, too, would like to take the Kolbe A Index test, go their website www.kolbe.com. It costs about $50 but, at least in my case, it was chump change for the insights it provided.

And if you do take the test, I would love to hear your feelings about the results you get in the comments section here.

Changing Topics: a Brief Comment on the Nature of History

As mentioned previously, my mother is now in her 90s and still very active, driving herself about and winning golf tournaments against much younger competitors.

But there is something else about my mother I am beginning to discover. Namely that she has been keeping family secrets. Over the last couple of years, she has dropped a couple of history bombs on me that have completely altered the narrative about the family I grew up with.

The latest was a stunner.

In the last edition of Sendero, I mentioned growing up with a hard-drinking stepfather who was Hawaii’s only WWII Ace.

Which is why you’ll understand my shock as a result of a conversation I had with my mother a few days after making that last posting.

“I read your article,” says my mother.

“About the drinking? Hope you were okay with it.”

“Sure, it was fine. But you know, Henry wasn’t a World War II Ace.”

“WHAAATTTT???”

“Nope.”

“WHAATTT??? But that’s what we heard all of our lives! I even remember him telling me about shooting down a Japanese zero. Are you kidding me?!”

“Nope, he never shot down any planes. He was shot down.”

“WHAATTT???? He didn’t shoot down ANY planes!!!”

“Nope.”

“How could this be? How could he have gone all those years pretending he was an Ace?”

“He lied.”

My wife and daughter, sitting in the room while this conversation was going on, were treated to the sight of me jumping around waving my arms, my motions punctuated with moderate expletives I won’t share here.

Okay, Henry was a pilot in WWII, albeit for a short time. And he later flew in the Korean War, though in that war he spent time a fair amount of time strafing lines of south-bound civilian refugees—a story he also told me, but in this case I believe it’s true.

Why? Because (a) he was really drunk when he told me the story, and (b) who admits to war crimes? Well, they would be war crimes except he was just following orders, so it was the brass—scared about North Korean infiltrators—who adopted the policy of killing them all and letting God sort them out. They are the ones who should be called to account, but of course that will never happen and most of them are probably dead by now anyway.

At the end of the day, I feel sorry for my stepfather. I always knew he was deeply insecure, but to go through life living a lie as big as that must have been a torment. Unless, of course, he was a sociopath, which, on reflection, he probably was.

If there’s a lesson in all of this, it is that if a secret this big could be kept alive within a small family unit over 60-something years, what are the odds that any history is completely accurate?

Not very high.

And with that, I will hit the trail for this week by thanking you for reading and for welcoming any new readers from the Liberty.me website, which has begun mirroring Sendero.

(I just spent a couple of delightful days with the folks behind that excellent site, but that’s a story for another day.)

There is so much going on just now that it may be more than a week before I get a chance to write again, but I look forward to it whenever it may be.

In the interim, we should be treated to some very interesting investment markets. As in “blind date” interesting… caution is called for, but remember, “This, too, shall pass.”

Meanwhile, most of the views I expressed in The Investment Edition still hold water, in my opinion. I got the price direction of oil right in the Observations on Oil posting, but didn’t count on members of the Fed Board continuing to pound the drum about multiple rate hikes. As you don’t need me to tell you, that, combined with general nervousness, has led to a pretty severe down stroke.

I fear now that the Iranian sanctions have been lifted, we will see oil in the low $20s sooner rather than later.

At some point, there will be the buying opportunity of a lifetime here… but not quite yet.

Until next time… happy trails.

David

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