Author: Pedro Porto Alegre

Born and raised in Brazil until the age of 16. Moved to Canada as an exchange student and played basketball for Red Deer College. On third year of school transferred to the University of Calgary where he attained his B.Comm in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Today, he works in business and writes about insights and knowledge acquired throughout his life.

My Farewell Letter to Alberta

Eleven years ago I boarded a plane headed to Canada for what should have been a short exchange program… little did I know that this “short trip” would lead me to discover a new life that I had for so long dreamed about.

As a kid I used to watch NBA games on Friday nights, and we would always get Denver Nuggets games. I loved watching the pre-game show as it would show the players landing in the Rockies in the middle of a snowstorm all bundled up. For a kid who had never experienced anything colder than 5C I used to fantasize about what life was like in North America. That eventually became a reality, but a little more north of the Colorado Rockies…

Red Deer, Alberta was my new home. I remember flying over farm fields that would disappear into the horizon. I had never seen anything like it growing up in Sao Paulo. I would eventually go on to open some doors through basketball, going to college and graduating from a Canadian university. There were times I had to pinch myself as it all felt like a dream.

IMG_0051

 

Despite being away from family and friends for so long, life was flying by. I built new friendships and a new family who made sure I always felt loved and that I belonged here. I never spent a Christmas or a Thanksgiving alone thanks to those people.

The life of an immigrant is different, and that was something I accepted from the beginning. Going a couple of years without seeing family and filling out endless visa forms every year were my new reality. I had grandparents and great-grandparents who were immigrants themselves and I knew the stories about their struggles to build a new life in Brazil, where hope for a better future drove them to work hard every day. It was my turn now and I wasn’t going to forget the shoulders I was standing on.

I’ve worked construction jobs, sold car cleaning supplies at gas stations, helped with start ups, drove delivery trucks, stocked grocery store shelves, and more. Those were all teaching me about life and about the people of Alberta from all walks of life: different religions, different home countries, different social classes, and different political views. Those are life lessons I’ll carry with me forever.

Today I say goodbye to beautiful Alberta… I grew up in the big city but learned about myself in the Canadian prairies. I’ve had the opportunity to visit every corner of this province and picked up so many amazing stories along the way. This place will forever feel like home to me.

Last Photo Apartment

Our last picture in our Calgary home!

As Sarah and I pack our bags today and make our way out East, we will never forget our roots, but we will also not look back. You can’t swim against the currents of life and this is where this river is leading us next. Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons and putting you through experiences that you need to go through… such as that short trip to Canada eleven years ago.

Toronto, we are coming with open arms and open minds… we will adopt your way of life, embrace your history and give back along the way. You’re our new home now.

The show must go on…

IMG_4345

PPA

 

Human Incompetency In A Flat Screen World

“Most men would rather die than think. Many do.” – Bertrand Russell

How much truth does the quote above carries today? With tech companies coming out with driverless cars, digital refrigerators that order food and clean themselves, smart TVs that listen to voice commands, and more, it is hard not to wonder what will computers not do for us in the future.

This is what Google's driverless car looks like. Would you hop in for a ride?

This is what Google’s driverless car looks like. Would you hop in for a ride?

Back in the day people had to work harder to get things done. There didn’t use to be phones with alarms to remind us of our appointments, they had to write it down with a pen or just plainly remember it. Free time didn’t revolve around Facebook, but rather on playing cards or reading a book (yes, a physical one). And chatting with friends actually required you to use your vocal cords (and not your fingertips).

Where has all of those primal capabilities gone? Will in 100 years from now our society still be able to look at each others’ faces while speaking to one another? Will we know how to drive on highways at a constant speed without using cruise control? Or will we still be able to play sports with our bodies rather than with our game consoles?

How much has the exponential growth of technology advancements negatively affected us?

How a Business Should Use Tech

In the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, he talks about the role of technology in companies’ success. He points out that technology speeds up the processes that lead advancement rather than substitutes them. You can have all the gadgets to measure risk, predict trends, produce more, and cut costs but if you don’t have the right people, none of that matters. A business will not succeed, no matter how much the Gods of computer science want, if it doesn’t have self-motivated people willing to work hard towards a common goal.

Jim Collins makes the analogy of a flywheel, which takes a long time before it completes a full circle. Pushing a flywheel at first takes a lot of effort, and it might just move an inch or two in the beginning. But as you keep pushing the wheel, it soon starts gaining momentum and eventually it no longer needs to be constantly pushed to keep spinning.

Edwin Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, was the pioneer of computer animated feature films. In 1995, his dream of producing the first computer-animated movie was reached when Pixar launched Toy Story, but what most people don’t know is how that turned into a reality.

Pixar Animation is the perfect example of how the usage of technology has not overridden the importance of its people.

Pixar Animation is the perfect example of how the usage of technology has not overridden the importance of its people.

Long before Catmull incorporated Pixar Animation with the help of Alvy Smith and Steve Jobs, he had been dreaming about computerized movies. He did not know when or how he would get there, since at the time when he was going to school the field of computer science was brand new. In other words, he knew where he wanted to go, but did not have the right people to help him get there.

He kept learning and applying himself on the field, until he joined Lucasfilm where he had the resources to experiment and eventually create the Pixar Image Computer. When Lucasfilm had to size down due to George Lucas’ divorce, Ed and Alvy were left alone looking for investors to keep Pixar “alive”. That is when Steve Jobs came along and was able to pump cash and business knowledge into the veins of what became to be known as Pixar Animation.

Ed Catmull, in his book Creativity, Inc., emphasizes the management tactics he uses to keep Pixar’s creative environment vibrant. In the early days it would take them many years to complete one film. But as the technology evolved over the years, they were able to shorten that time period and work on multiple projects at the same time. And that is how the company grew.

In other words, without the right people clocking in the hours and pushing that flywheel every single day, advanced computer systems would not have been able to produce Toy Story, Bug’s Life, or Up on their own. What technology did, instead, was offer a way to do make operations run more smoothly and films produced with greater detail. The core of Pixar still revolves around creative people thinking of great stories, not of advanced computer systems producing good looking films.

People vs Smartphones

A smartphone is worthless without its applications.

Therefore, people aren’t addicted to their phones, they are addicted to the apps in it.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc… are responsive technologies. In other words, they respond to our stimulus instantly, and since patience is not one of humans’ greatest assets, it works quite well with us.

Social media platforms have enabled us to stay connected at all times, but it has also disabled us from staying connected in the physical world.

Social media platforms have enabled us to stay connected at all times, but it has also disabled us from staying connected in the physical world.

On top of that, these social media platforms make us interact with other humans without having to expose ourselves. Humans love the feeling of belonging, and as a matter of fact we feel safer when we are part of a group. Now, add instant response to social interaction and you have a very addictive tool readily available almost unlimitedly (and as you might also know, humans love tools as well…).

So, that photo that you posted on Instagram that is racking up likes is actually sending a rush of instant gratification to your brain every time it shows on your locked screen. It’s like a drug, and we are all becoming dependent users of it.

How Technology Cancels Its Purpose

In the age of flat screens we are all guilty of being addicts.

But don’t get me wrong, technology has brought many positives into our lives. Being able to fly across the globe in less than 20 hours was unthinkable 100 years ago. Talking to friends in other continents has become nearly free (thanks to Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp). Not to mention finding unique places to eat in our gigantic cities, due to our beloved GPSs.

But when we are setting up phone alarms to wake us early to go to work and we’re still arriving late because the first thing we do in the morning is check Facebook… the whole purpose of technological practicality goes to waste.

An 8 hour work day is now taken over by 3 hours of afternoon Internet surfing. Exercising three times a week has become nearly impossible now that we need to catch up on our favorite shows on Netflix. Reading a book? Haa we’re too busy reading what other people are up to on Twitter.

The bottom line is, as humans beings the only reason why we are here today is because we have been able to develop critical skills that have enabled us to progress – such as reading, speaking, running, thinking, driving, building, etc. Technology should never replace those skills. Rather, it should enhance them, accelerating the momentum as we push that flywheel.

 

PA

Let’s Put Alberta’s 2015 Election In The Books

The reason why this post is under the “Business” tab is because: 1) I had nowhere else to put it, and 2) because politics is a form of business on its own.

For my foreign readers, I apologize about this post, but maybe you will get something out of this. For those who don’t know, Alberta is the economic engine of the oil-driven Canadian economy. The province has the third largest reserves of crude oil in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela) and is expected to produce nearly 3.8 million barrels of oil per day by 2022. If you haven’t heard much about the “Alberta’s oil sands” yet, then click here.

The province of Alberta's official flag.

The province of Alberta’s official flag.

However, that’s not all. Alberta has the fourth largest population in Canada (just over 4.1 million people), has the second highest GDP per capita in the country ($84,390), and is the home to the city with the second most businesses’ headquarters in Canada, Calgary.

On May 5th of 2015 Alberta had its 29th general provincial elections, where the New Democratic Party took down the the Progressive Conservatives who had been in power for the past 44 years. Quite the feat to say the least.

Voter Turnout

This time around we had an amazing number of voters take their opinions to the ballots, amounting to the highest turnout in 22 years. Out of 2,543,127 possible voters, 1,481,477 voted (58.25%). It is not where we would like it to be yet, but it’s a huge step in the political scene of Alberta.

Living in Alberta for the past 7 years, I’ve noticed that politics isn’t much of a conversation topic at the dinner table. Growing up in Brazil, politics account for nearly 100% of the conversation in any given day (mostly due to corruption scandals, however).

I still have my doubts about how much that was due to the Netflix hit series “House of Cards”, but so be it.

So, here we are today, May 6th, looking at a somewhat unknown future for ourselves as Albertans.

Policies

Over the past few months we could read a lot about what each party was going to offer (click here for more) if they were elected on May 5th. And, as of the past week we could see an unmeasurable amount of party signs on our lawns everywhere we went.

It all came down to a battle between two parties, really, the Progressive Conservatives (PC) vs the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Below you can watch a 30 minute condensed debate held on April 23rd of 2015 between the PC, NDP, the Wildrose, and the Liberal parties. It is easy to see that the Wildrose party was on the defensive the whole time – “we will not increase income taxes” – and the Liberal party was trying to squeeze in an argument here and there from time to time. The show really went down between Jim Prentice (PC) and Rachel Notley (NDP), who were both on the offensive throughout the program.


 

Oil companies were all in favor of the Progressive Conservatives (PC), who’s main points were:

  • maintaining existing two-tier corporate taxes (3% for small businesses and 10% for businesses with more than $500,000 in annual revenues);
  • adding $18 billion to the Heritage Fund (fund to support government programs in healthcare and education) over the course of 6 years;
  • funding long-term infrastructure capital assets in the province;
  • protecting jobs and getting off the boom/bust oil field cycle.

Whereas a large part of the population – especially after the debate – was supporting the New Democratic Party (NDP), who’s main points were:

  • funding of the Office of the Auditor General, which helps identify wasteful spending and regulatory mismanagement;
  • in-province refining and upgrading to create more value-added industries in Alberta;
  • improving transportation and access to local markets in the Agricultural sector;
  • improving healthcare, education, and job creation within a fair revenue creation system.

Outcome

Once the NDP was announced winner of the 2015 election many people took their opinions to the social media platforms claiming that now we are all doomed.

Maybe NDP’s idea of increasing corporate taxes by 20% (from 10% to 12%) in a time of economic crisis is a bold movement, but so was the PC’s budgetary cuts in healthcare and education in April to compensate for the province’s deficit.

Having election in times like these is always though, because each person has their own concerns about what should be fixed and what should be left untouched, but the matter of the fact is that politics’ issues go way beyond what an average person could comprehend. If you put money here, something has got to give there – there is a lot at stake and a lot of people to look after.

No politician will ever be able to make everyone happy. What political parties intend to do is to propose their ideas to solve a problem. Each one has their own set of solutions, and as Albertans we had to bet our money on one of them.

I believe that change is always good, especially one that hasn’t happened in over 40 years. I understand that what gives Alberta an edge over the rest of the world is our low corporate taxes, what attracts capital investment making of us a free enterprise province. But I also understand that we need to look at the long run.

We need higher investment in education and healthcare. We cannot allow our governments to take money out of those sectors because they are what make society progress. The business environment is changing and we are in a higher need of educated workers in the market than ever before (that is why the federal and provincial governments have so many programs in place to attract qualified immigrants to Canada). And we also need to reduce waiting times at the E.R. without privatizing our healthcare system – because in the end of the day we need our people alive.

Can we expect the NDP government to set up stricter environmental rules to the oil companies? Yes. Can we also expect the NDP government to create over 27,000 jobs? Yes. That is what Rachel Notley preached during her campaign, and now as Albertans our duty is to help the province continue to move forward.

Will the NDP make mistakes along the way? Of course. But we should trust our leadership and work with them to help make Alberta’s vision of progressing into a role-model province become a reality.

There is no reason to complain if you didn’t vote NDP, quite yet. And there’s is no reason to celebrate if you voted NDP quite yet, either.

 

PA

Earth Gazing Through The Lens of Astronauts

” To have that experience of awe is, at least for the moment, to let go of yourself, to try to send that sense of separation, so it’s not just that they were experiencing something other than them, but that they were at some very deep level integrating, realizing the interconnectedness with that beautiful blooming ball…” – David Loy, in Overview

On this mini-movie “Overview” released in 2012, through a series of interviews with astronauts and philosophers, you really get to see Earth from a different perspective.

There’s one thing astronauts said they caught themselves doing more often than not while in space, which was what they they called “Earth Gazing”. In their respective missions the focus often was on the Moon, or on the Stars, or on Mars, but once they were up there they had a profound realization when they looked back at what was behind them.

They describe Earth as a “oasis in the middle of nothingness”. In “Overview” a series of images and video clips takes you to a place of speechlessness, of just pure amazement where talking about what you’re seeing doesn’t matter at the moment.

Seeing Earth just floating in the middle of infinity, with its constantly changing ecosystem mutating through auroras, thunder storms, cloud formations, ocean currents, and human presence makes you wonder what are you here for.

Being here is extremely hard to think about these things, because we are so caught up in the lives that we’ve created for ourselves, our problems, our jobs, our relationships, that we never take the time to look at what’s around us.

I’ve always said that, so far, the one thing that has amazed me the most in this short period of life that I have gotten to experience on Earth is the human spirit.

Looking how far humanity has come, from hundreds of thousands of years ago to today, we get to look up to the skies and “see” people adventuring into the cosmos. Just imagine going back and telling our cavemen ancestors that one day we would be up there.

This film will have some profound effect on you the same way it had on me. Enjoy and share it with others!

 

PA

The Mysterious Power of Our Unconsciousness

Do you know that feeling when something inside your mind already knows what to do, but you’re still trying to reason your way around it?

That “something inside your head” happens to be your instincts.

The same way the Canadian Geese know when it’s time to fly south, your mind knows when it’s time to let go, or when an opportunity is right for you, or when danger is around the corner.

We all neglect our instincts because we live in a world where reason rules. We must always be in control. We must always know what is going on, and if something doesn’t make sense, we shouldn’t listen to it.

In Blink Malcom Gladwell tells us a little bit about what happens in our unconscious, and why we should listen to it more often.

What’s Behind that Locked Door

What's hidden behind that door can help you make major life decisions.

What’s hidden behind that door can help you make major life decisions.

Baseball movies. We have all watched one. Where the entire franchise decides to draft a particular player because of its batting percentage and other loads of stats, but that one old man who has been around the game for decades tells them otherwise. He tells them that that other player that has a lower batting percentage is a better choice for the team. Nobody wants to believe him, and as it turns out in the end he was right.

That old man does something that those businessmen and statisticians don’t often do: he listens to that little voice inside his head.

Gladwell tells the story about one of the world’s top tennis coaches named Vic Braden who began noticing something unusual whenever he watched a tennis match.

In tennis, the players are given two chances to serve the ball across the net, and if they fail twice in a roll the point goes to the opposition. That’s called a double-fault. In professional tennis, double-faults happen once every 100 serves or so. Those are very rare.

Vic Braden began noticing that milliseconds before any player would serve he knew whether he/she would commit a double fault. He decided to bring his friends along and keep track of how many times he would get it right: he would call out loud (not that loud, since that would distract the players) whenever a double-fault was about to happen and they kept a tab of his success rate. In the course of numerous games he would get twenty out of twenty right!

Vic would spend numerous nights sleepless trying to figure out how he was doing that. He wasn’t noticing anything unusual about the player’s form, or the wind direction, or anything else; he just knew it when it was about to happen.

That snap judgement Braden was making in the blink of an eye was coming from what was behind that locked door in the back of his mind.

How our Unconsciousness Works

Behind that locked door are infinite amounts of information that Vic Braden had been collecting over the course of his career in tennis. Information that most of the time went unnoticed by his conscious mind, but his unconsciousness picked it up.

In an experiment ran by a psychologist named Norman R. F. Maier we can see exactly how much influence our unconsciousness has over our conscious decisions.

He tied two ropes to the ceiling of a room full of objects far enough that you couldn’t touch both at the same time, and asked people to come up with as many ways as possible to tie both ropes together. There are four possible solutions to this problem:

  1. stretch the rope as far as possible, anchor it to a chair, then go and grab the other rope
  2. tie an extension cord to the end of a rope so it is long enough to reach the other rope
  3. grab one rope with one hand and use a pole to bring the other rope towards you
  4. swing the first rope back and forth and simultaneously grab the other rope and attach them together

Most people figured out the first three solutions. But the last one, only a few thought of it. Ten minutes later, Maier would walk across the room without telling them anything and swing a rope by the window. Right then and then people would think aha! and went on to figure out the fourth solution.

After the experiment, he asked the people how they thought of swinging the rope, and most people answered that they didn’t know, it just came to their minds.

Norman concluded that our unconsciousness can pick up on things that our consciousness cannot. We can only process so many things at once in our minds, but behind that locked door our unconscious can process a lot more.

Survival Instincts

Malcom Gladwell points out that throughout the lifetime of a police officer only about 10% of them get involved in a real life shooting. And from the testimonials that the police departments get, it is nothing like what we see in Hollywood films.

We can find a few descriptions in common as we read the testimonials:

  • I couldn’t hear anything
  • My vision went blurry and I could only see the target
  • I could watch my bullets entering the suspect’s body

All of these seem strange, and almost impossible. But that is a perfect example of our instincts taking over.

Dave Grossman, a former army lieutenant colonel and author of On Killing, argues that the “optimal” state of arousal is when your heart rate is in between 115bpm and 145bpm. In that window our instincts are believed to serve us the most good and we can make snap decisions very quickly.

Larry Bird had the ability to slow things down and make instinctive decisions in the blink of an eye.

Larry Bird had the ability to slow things down and make instinctive decisions in the blink of an eye.

Larry Bird was one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. He was known to have “great court vision” and a “feel for the game” that very few others had. He claims that in the final moments of the game the stadium would go quiet and he could not see anyone in the stands. As a result, he could knock down the game winning shot more times than not. He played at that “optimal” range of beats per minute.

The reason why we hear stories of people doing impossible things in moments of stress is because some people manage to operate in the optimal heart rate range when faced with “danger”. And if it wasn’t for those very same instincts humanity would not have survived as long as it has so far.

When to Listen to Your Instincts

The question that you’re left with by the end of Blink  is: “when should I listen to my instincts and when should I reason through a problem?”.

Gladwell says that we should consciously analyze a problem when the issue is straight-forward, such as planning your work schedule or negotiating a better price in a purchase. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to become more complicated, we should rely on the big computer hiding behind that locked door since it can handle more variables than our consciousness.

Our unconsciousness is there for a reason, and it has helped humanity survive through over 200,000 years of danger. Neglecting it would be foolish of us, the same way it wouldn’t be very smart to solely rely on it. Starting to develop a better feel for when to listen to what’s behind that locked door is what will strengthen your decision-making skills.

 

PA

Pocket: The Knowledge Tool Missing on Your Phone

Every knowledge wizard needs his tools in order to maintain the wizard status.

This is what their logo looks like.

This is what their logo looks like.

This app is one of those tools.

Pocket is a not so widely known app that enables most successful people to read everything they stumble upon online and get ahead of everyone else.

I discovered this one when reading a Business Insider article and never looked back since then. If I had to pick one app to have on my phone, this would be the one (yeah Facebook, you’ve been demoted).

By following a few simple steps upon opening the app you can set up a Pocket button on any of your devices that will save anything (from videos to articles) to your Pocket account and keep it there for whenever you have extra time to read it.

And once saved, you don’t need internet connection to access your saved articles (only the archived ones – the ones you’ve read already), so this is perfect for when you’re commuting to work or even when you’re sitting on the porcelain throne.

Download this app here for Iphone users and here for Samsung users.

 

PA

Why is China No Longer a “Sleeping Giant”

Napoleon Bonaparte once pointed at China and said: “There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will shake the world.“.

China is a giant that has awaken

China is a giant that has awaken

When you think of economic powers the first countries that come to mind are: USA, the EU (European Union) as a block, India, and China. You have probably noticed that I’ve left South Africa, Brazil, Russia, and many others out of the equation. That is because I believe these countries most likely will not become global powers within the near future due to their inconsistency to deliver economic results (which is due to many reasons that range from commodity dependency to political corruption).

Looking back, the same countries seem to have held the top spot in the largest economy in the world ranking for centuries:

Year Country
1-1500 India
1500-1888 China
1888-present USA
2020-onwards China?

Although the world economic dynamics has changed dramatically in the 20th century (with the birth of the Internet), by looking at the past and analyzing current trends in the world it is reasonable to make certain predictions.

China currently has the largest population in the world, it holds the largest trade balance in goods surplus, the largest foreign reserves, and is quickly becoming one of the most important sources of foreign investment. All of these observations point at the same direction: China is well on its way to take away USA’s global power belt.

Most people would agree with that statement, however, very few could explain why.

China’s Strengths

Population

Up until 1520, India had the largest population in the world, until China took over and has been on top since then. Although population size represents a significant factor when determining a country’s global power strength, it can work against you if it is not properly controlled. And that is what happened to China, when they decided to implement the “One Child” quota throughout the country in 1979 – pushing birth rates to fall from 5.5 in the 70s down to 1.6 in 2012.

There was way too much poverty and the country was consuming alarming amounts of energy – although they continue to experience those same symptoms today. The policy was intended to alleviate social, economic, and environmental issues; however, it has caused some new problems in return. China’s population is aging, with the 25-54 age cohort representing nearly 48% of the population – in contrast with the 0-24 cohort representing only 32%. They are not replacing themselves.

Young Chinese are feeling the push and pull of family duty as they deal with aging parents. This puts a constraint in their productivity and well being.

With that, population-wise, India is forecasted to surpass China by 2030.

So, China’s population supremacy has been a two-sided sword, causing both benefits and damages to its development. But as of right now, they do possess an immense work force that willing to put in long hours, what has led China to grow its economy dramatically over the past few decades – currently second largest in the planet.

Gigantic Economy

China has a predominately goods’ – rather than services – economy. As of 2012, China had the largest trade balance in goods surplus in the world by a large margin, with Germany coming in second place – that is, when a country exports more than imports. With an increasing amount of foreign investors dumping money into Chinese companies and multinationals opening HQs in China’s largest cities, the giant of the East has proved to be a tempting place to bet your money on.

Here’s a quick overview of manifestations of global powers in the world over the centuries:

1800s-1914 1945-1990s 2000s-present
Largest Economy China until 1888, then USA USA USA (soon to be China)
Largest Trading Country UK USA China
Dominant Reserve Currency Pound Sterling Dollar Dollar and Euro

Economists forecast that China’s GDP will surpass USA’s by 2020. This is due to a changing level of play in the economic field. The effects of globalization have really benefited China, who until the 2000s had a tough time integrating its upsides with the Western world. But today, with the Internet so easily available and flights going in and out of China on an hourly basis, it has become much easier for the Chinese to offer their services to the Western economic powers.

China’s Drawbacks

Open ocean access

If you look at the global map you might notice that China does not have direct access to any ocean. Although this might seem trivial, it limits China from freely having maritime commerce, open ocean commercial fishing, and a significant navy force.

China's limited access to the ocean presents some serious economic drawbacks.

China’s limited access to the ocean presents some serious economic drawbacks.

If we look at the USA, they have direct access to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. Off-shore oil drilling and goods’ exportation are only two of the many benefits the Americans experience with their geographic location. The Chinese, in the other hand, are limited to land.

This type of restriction forces the Chinese to maintain good diplomatic relationships with their land neighbors. Aside from India – which has become a strong economic partner of China over the past years leading to the so-called “Chindia” – most of the neighboring countries are economically poor, forcing China to feed the Western world with what it has to offer.

Currency convertibility

Before 2009, the Chinese government prohibited almost all export of currency or its usage in international transactions. The US Dollar – which, as of this day, still is strongly tied to the Yuan’s value – was the currency used to perform such transactions. So, with Chinese people unable to have US Dollars and the international community unable to hold the Yuan, all transactions were made through the People’s Bank of China, leading to a lot of bureaucracy.

In June of 2009, the Chinese government started a program that allowed certain places to utilize the Yuan for international transactions between certain countries, removing the hassle of converting everything to US Dollars beforehand. Nowadays, all Chinese provinces are allowed to do the same, however this type of trade is only available between certain countries: Russia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Japan.

This type of limitation ends up restricting the usage of the Yuan, which in turn ends up having little reserve currency power.

Conclusion

To determine a country’s global power we must look at more than just economic and military factors – and the ones discussed above are just a few of them. There are two types of power resources: hard power and soft power. Hard powers are factors such as the country’s economy, territory, population, military, and finance. Soft powers are things such as knowledge, technology, and culture.

China clearly has a strong economy, currently the largest population on planet Earth, a large military, and a territory the size of the USA. However, its soft powers are weak compared to the ones of developed nations. Most of the strongest universities in the world are in the USA, Japan, and Europe – China has only 3 universities in the top 100. Technological R&D follows the same pattern.

But, Thomas Friedman once said: “When I was growing up, my parents told me, ‘Finish your dinner. People in China (and India) are starving’. I tell my daughters, ‘Finish your homework. People in China (and India) are starving for your job.’.

Don’t be fooled by their limitations. China has changed a lot. But so has the economy. I hardly believe that one single country will dominate as global power from here and on. With a much “smaller” world today, a single country cannot do anything on its own. We are already seeing a shift in mentality on how things are done economically, and this new way of thinking will be easily translated onto how global governance operates, as well.

 

PA

 

Jazz: an American Story

When we think about music today, popular music has been on the decline. The market has become a lot more segmented; rarely you will find artists’ fan bases as large as The Beatles anymore.

Miles Davis continues to be one of the biggest legends of Jazz.

Miles Davis continues to be one of the biggest legends of Jazz.

People have more freedom to choose. With the iTunes revolution, you can now download individual songs from various artists and group it into a playlist – or the so called mixed albums. Unless you are a die hard fan of a band, chances are that you won’t download the full album. Music producers have been struggling to put out strong albums that will sell in its entirety (and the vast majority is illegally downloaded online anyways). Marketing has more than ever become a crucial tool in the industry.

But let’s rewind a bit. Let’s discuss the origins of most of the music we listen to today… I am not talking about African music (the actual root of things), I am talking about Jazz.

Early days

By mid-1800s enslaved American people, who were extremely religious, were widely known for playing spiritual music. This genre was a major driver in the African-American community’s involvement with music. In turn, by the end of the 19th century another genre began to appear: the ragtime.

Some might argue that ragtime isn’t jazz, others would argue otherwise. So let’s put it this way, the genre was the embryo of jazzScott Joplin – a Texan born in 1867 – was widely known for it and played it in the red-district streets of St. Louis. The sound was very simple, yet extremely happy. Joplin liked to describe ragtime as something “that’s not to be played fast”:

In the transition to jazz, another artist had a great impact in the birth of the genre: Jelly Roll Morton. He likes to call himself the inventor of jazz. Born in New Orleans, the pianist had a foot in ragtime and a foot in jazz. His music was also very happy and people loved to dance to it. And he was the major influencer of the first type of jazz, known as Dixieland jazz.

Dixieland Jazz

Also referred to as Hot Jazz or Early Jazz, dixieland was originated in the beginning of the 20th century in New Orleans. The musicians were often very poor, since most of them were African-American. But this humility gave dixieland a distinguishable touch to its sound.

Artists strived to help each other rather than to steal the spotlight. It was a very easygoing sound, and often played in the streets. The standard band composed of  a banjo, a trumpet, a clarinet, a tube, and a piano or drums. There were also lyrics and it quickly became very popular in Louisiana. Musicians, such as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, like to describe dixieland as a style of playing rather than a style of music:

Kid Ory, another great dixieland musician, took the genre to Chicago where it developed a different variation. Since there were richer people in the Windy City, most of them white, dixieland was being played by people who had better quality instruments – which is evident when you listen to it. Ory brought with him a student by the name of Louis Armstrong, who eventually took the genre to New York. And that is how the early days of jazz began spreading.

With more sophisticated people jumping into the jazz scene, by the mid-1930s a new style was being born: Swing Jazz.

Swing Jazz

Swing had a Manhattan air to it. It was more sophisticated and the music was no longer improvisation. Great artists were born from Swing, such as Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Bobby Short and more.

Duke Ellington was an African-American academic from NYC who played the piano. His music was a little slower, and if you try closing your eyes as you listen to it you will be able picture the elite dressed up in suits dancing to it. It sounded “very NYC”.

Benny Goodman was another legend who played swing. He was a white man from New York who played the clarinet, and his sound was even finer. The transition of jazz from New Orleans to Chicago and New York began attracting richer and more academically inclined people, what highly influenced the genre.

Since the elite had money, they were often traveling to Europe, and with them they brought Jazz to France. A notorious artist from Paris who went by the name of Django Reihardt made the American swing jazz sound very French. The man had only three functioning fingers and that’s how he played his guitar (alongside his good friend Stephane Grappelli):

As the the African-Americans began losing their “market share” in jazz to the white people, they grew mad and that is when a new style was born in the 40s: the Bebop Jazz.

Bebop Jazz

This was a more modern style of jazz, which was extremely hard to play because it was a very broken-up sound that only specialists could manage the chords. Due to its level of difficulty there were not many musicians in the scene – some artists hated the style, claiming that it took away the romance from jazz, and often boycotting the bebop musicians. With that, bebop didn’t last very long, but it was a very important phase in the history of jazz.

Charlie “Bird” Parker played the saxophone and was a major player in the scene. His music had a lot of improvisation – like usual bebop sound – and consisted of a very complex melody. Parker had a lot of problems with drug addiction and died at 34, but his footprint in the history of jazz inspired many others who came after him:

Another great artist who played bebop was the one and only Dizzie Gillespie. Although Dizzie started in swing jazz, the trumpet genius had many talents and his great friend Parker eased him into bebop.

As mentioned earlier, bebop didn’t last very long, specially because of a popular jazz style that was about to take over in the late 40s: Cool Jazz.

Cool Jazz

With the intention to take out the “excess” from bebopMiles Davis gave birth to Cool Jazz with the release of his historical album “Birth of Cool” (1957 – but recorded in 1949).

This was a slower jazz and in it you could really listen the notoriously known “walking bass”. It was a radical movement that incorporated elements from classical music. It was popular in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York – it was exactly what people needed after the war:

By the 1960s, the African-American jazz musicians began a new movement: Free Jazz.

Free Jazz

This style did not have a fixed harmony anymore, it was free improvisation. Geniuses like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman led the way with its often criticized style of play.

Coleman drew a lot of attention and generated some controversy due to the lack of harmony in his music – even more than Parker and Gillespie did with Bebop Jazz. Not anyone could follow because it was so free and open:

Alongside Free Jazz in the 60s, another movement was occurring: Fusion Jazz.

Fusion Jazz

That is when jazz players decided to join forces with Rock n’ Roll. Although rock musicians often lacked instrumental skills at that time, they were taking jazz’s audience away. So Miles Davis decided to take the leap.

Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” (1969) was the first fusion jazz album of all time. If you listen to it you might ask yourself: where is the rock? That is because only a few elements of rock were incorporated into the jazz genre, such as the beat and the electric guitar. Although there aren’t any heavy rock and roll solos, you can listen to some guitar “attacks” here and there.

Now, in Chuck Corea’sReturn to Forever” album (1972) you can feel the rock a little more. And with that, most of the jazz after the 70s was a style of fusion. This is V.S.O.P. (with Herbie Hancock) – another great fusion band:

You can really see how jazz influenced rock after this phase, when bands like YES and Pink Floyd – which played with a higher level of complexity than others in the past – began to run the progressive rock scene. The superior instrumental skills from jazz musicians had been transferred over.

A parallel movement that began in the 50s was also unfolding: the Third Stream.

Third Stream

This was a mix of jazz with classical music. Extremely complex which also had some improvisation involved. Bands like The Dave Brubeck Quartet released a really good album named “Time Out” (1959). This was very classical, with a little bit of jazz here and there:

And here it “ends” the main jazz styles that really took off over the years past. But this isn’t all, as jazz has an amazing way to adapt with any genre of music…

Jazz Nowadays

Nowadays a lot of music is considered jazz – what makes jazzists really mad. But sometimes it is hard to classify what kind of jazz certain sounds are, as the art is so easily adaptable with any other music genre. And this is what makes jazz so dynamic and interesting.

It is important to note that all the styles discussed above continue to be played today, some more than others, but overall the spirt has not died for any of them. However, with so many cultures being affected by the “jazz contamination”, I have selected a few really good jazz adaptations seen today worth listening to:

  • Jazz + Bossa Nova: Stan Getz Quartet
  • Jazz + Samba: Pat Metheny Group – “The Road to You”
  • Jazz + Spiritual: Take 6
  • Jazz + Pagode: Dizzie Gillespie featuring Trio Mocoto
  • Jazz + Latin Music: Machito (Cuba) featuring Cannonball Adderley (USA)

Enjoy!

Note: I must give credit where credit is due: Paulo Porto Alegre (my father, acclaimed musician and professor) who gave me a compressed Jazz course one afternoon. He’s a Jazz specialist and the reason why I began listening to this great genre.

 

PA

 

The 6 Negotiation Traps to Beware Of

In a perfect world, people would negotiate being fully transparent and no written contracts would even be necessary to be signed. As Warren Buffet once did, he never even had to sign a written contract in a deal with the giant Walmart, because they had an established trusting relationship in place and Buffet “knew that they would deliver, and they did”.

Beware of negotiation tactics in order to better position yourself

Beware of negotiation tactics in order to better position yourself

However, in most situations this is not the case. Yes, you should sign a written contract in order to set the ground rules of the relationship, and yes, you should be aware that there are dirty tricks that are often used in negotiations.

Here I will discuss some of the most famous negotiation tricks and how to avoid becoming a hostage at the table.

1. “Let’s meet up at my place”

The physical surroundings of a negotiation are known to play an enormous role in the outcome of a meeting. Often the other side picks the place they want to negotiate and sometimes this might mean they are setting you up for failure.

For example, if they arrange the negotiation to be taken place at a bar or a noisy place, they are probably trying to make you feel uneasy what will lead you to want to conclude the negotiation as fast as possible.

So, whenever you can, be the one to pick the place. This will make sure that you are negotiating in a place that you feel comfortable at, and hopefully the other side feels the same way. Remember, a good negotiator looks for mutual gains, so take into consideration the other side’s needs.

However, there are times that letting the other side pick the spot is advantageous to you. Stepping into their turf will put them at ease and more open to suggestions.

If you ever get caught up negotiating in a “uncomfortable” place express your concerns and postpone the negotiation to another time and a different place.

2. Personal attacks

This is one of the dirtiest tricks in the book, and often used by people who a poor negotiators.

In this situation the other side will make personal attacks to your appearance, ignore you, make you wait for them, refuse to make eye contact, and more.

A perfect example is if the other side makes a comment about how tired you look. All these comments are intended to put you down and make you feel self-conscious. If you do look tired the other side should not be commenting on it, as this is irrelevant to the negotiation.

Whenever you feel that you are being attacked make sure you mention it to the other side and be hard on the problem. No negotiator should have to put up with such behavior.

3. Threats

This one if self explanatory. If the other side starts making threats of taking something away from you, or doing something harmful, remember one thing: the only reason they are doing that is to build up pressure on your side. Good negotiators don’t cave in to pressure.

On the other hand, warnings are a lot more legitimate than threats. These are realistic potential outcomes that could occur in the case of failing to reach an agreement. For example, expressing that if no agreement is reached, you both should be aware that the media will expose both parties’ inability to negotiate a deal, and no one wants that.

Also, expressing your plan of action in case no agreement is reached could be seen as a warning rather than a threat. For example, “if no deal is reached we will have to go with company X instead, as we absolutely need the material Y in order to produce product Z”.

If you ever feel that you are being threatened you can do any of the following: ignore it, make them unauthorized, make them irrelevant.

Businesses often record phone calls (and express that they are doing so) to avoid either side from threatening each other, forcing them to act in their best behavior.

4. Anchoring

In this case the negotiator will try to “anchor” an initial value proposal to a lower one. For example, if you are selling a house worth $200,000 the other side might make an initial offer of $100,000, what is extremely below your expectations, increasing the amount you have to bargain for.

Anchoring the price means throwing a first desirable price

Anchoring the price means throwing a first desirable price

This technique can be advantageous when the price of a product is unknown to both sides. Letting the other side throw the first price will give you an idea of how valuable this product is to them, and from there you can begin bargaining for your price.

However, if you are aware of how much something is worth (such as the home you are selling), go right ahead and throw the first price. This will allow you to start off with some advantage and have the other side bring the value to their desired range.

Beware that throwing an unrealistic price, such as $300,00 for the house, might make you lose credibility, leading the other side to walk away from the table without even bothering.

5. “Take it or leave it!”

I believe we have all been held hostage of this tactic. When we go to a store, for example, a product has its price tag on it and that is how much it will cost you – no room for negotiation. This is a non-interactive deal making method that is very effective in most developed countries.

If you ever travel to Peru, for example, on the way to Machu Picchu you will encounter a bunch of street vendors that will be willing to sell their products to much less than what they are asking for. This happens because they have a lot more to lose if they don’t sell that product than you do if you don’t buy it.

If you ever encounter a “take it or leave it” situation ignore it at first. Carry on with your principled negotiation trying to get to the bottom of the objective criteria as to how much something is valued at. Try to present different solutions, and if you do bring up that you are aware of such tactic explain to the other side what they have to lose if they don’t make a deal.

At Michigan University, professor George Siedel in his negotiation class asks his students to bargain for a lower price in a “take it or leave it” situation, such as buying a hamburger from McDonalds. And, unlike what most of us would have guessed it, generally over 69% of the class is successful in negotiating a lower price, yielding an average discount of 40% overall.

6. Contrast Principle

This tactic is famously used by real estate agents. It is an illusion that makes things look different when presented in sequence.

Presenting houses in sequence can help boost the value of the final house

Presenting houses in sequence can help boost the value of the final house

For example, when someone is looking for a house, the real estate agent often takes the person to a really run-down house that looks horrible. The person says that there is no way that they would live in there. And then he/she takes the client to another bad looking house – once again it is a no-no. But finally, the real estate agent takes the person to a beautiful looking house – very expensive – and the client often agrees to buy it. The agent has just created the illusion that the last house is a perfect place that is extremely hard to find by presenting bad looking houses beforehand.

Most likely, if those two ran-down houses were not presented beforehand the client would not have bought the last house in the first place, and that is why you should beware of this tactic. Make sure that you always use objective criteria when analyzing a deal and avoid becoming affected by external factors.

Finally…

Becoming aware of these 6 tactics can make you a much better negotiator. It will help you become more knowledgeable of what is really going on and help you stay on track.

You can even use some of these tactics – with the exception of 2 and 3, for obvious reasons – as tools to better your position in the negotiation, as long as these don’t conflict with your ethical standards. Remember, don’t do anything that you would regret later if it were to be shown in the front page of the newspaper the next day.

 

PA

Who would you pick to be the face of your franchise?

Let’s pretend you have hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in the bank and you want to start a new NBA franchise today. What player would you pick to build this team around?

Who would be the face of your franchise?

Who would be the face of your franchise?

I am a Lakers fan, and realistically I would not pick Kobe Bryant today to be that guy. Probably 12 years ago I would, but not today. Neither I would pick Lebron, Carmelo, or Durant.

Here I will explain to you who would I pick based on statistics with a little sprinkle of reality in the middle.

Stats Talk

Let me first define the metrics I am using to analyze each player (based on the 2013-14 season):

  • MPG: minutes per game
  • PPG: points per game
  • APG: assists per game
  • RBP: rebounds per game
  • SPG: steals per game
  • BPG: blocks per game

I have also decided to use three advanced statistics metrics because I believe they will be able to better define how effective each player really is:

  • PER: player efficiency. This is the player’s productivity per minute taking into account positive accomplishments (field goals, assists, blocks, steals, etc.) and negative accomplishments (turnovers, missed shots, fouls, etc.) – the NBA average is of 15.00
  • TS %: True shooting percentage. This is the player’s shooting efficiency taking into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws
  • BPM: Box plus minus (or just +/-). This shows the impact a player has on the team taking into account when he is on and off the floor, per 100 possessions. From the team’s perspective, it represents how many points they are up or down by when the player is playing.

There is some controversy regarding the PER, because this metric is largely an offensive one, since it only takes into account two defensive statistics – blocks and steals. And since it is a “per minute” metric, it might show distorted numbers, because it cannot measure when one is playing against the other team’s second unit. However, since I am analyzing players of similar quality (all starters) and of similar minutes, this should not present a problem.

My Picks

According to a study done by Dave Berri – professor of economics at Southern Utah University – players in the NBA are at their best when they reach 24 years of age and stay that way until 25, then start declining. Of course, this is not the same case to all players, such as Jordan who won all his titles after the age of 28.

However, since I am assuming that there will be no anomaly in this sample, I have picked the top 8 players under the age of 24 in the NBA today that I believe could potentially serve as a good first building block. Assuming that every thing else is perfect – that you have a great coaching staff and you are the GM of this team – picking players this young and already established would attract other key players to play for your team.

All the data below is based on the 2013-14 NBA season:

Player Age MPG PPG APG RPG SPG BPG PER TS% BPM
Anthony Davis 20 35.2 20.8 1.6 10 1.3 2.8 26.5 58.2% 3.7
Kyrie Irving 21 35.2 20.8 6.1 3.6 1.5 0.3 20.1 53.3% 2.9
Kawhi Leonard 22 29.1 12.8 2 6.2 1.7 0.8 19.4 60.2% 5.4
DeMarcus Cousins 23 32.4 22.7 2.9 11.7 1.5 1.3 26.1 55.5% 4.2
Paul George 23 36.2 21.7 3.5 6.8 1.9 0.3 20.1 55.5% 4.5
Damian Lillard 23 35.8 20.7 5.6 3.5 0.8 0.3 18.6 56.8% 2.6
Klay Thompson 23 35.4 18.4 2.2 3.1 0.9 0.5 14.3 55.5% 0.7
John Wall 23 36.3 19.3 8.8 4.1 1.8 0.5 19.5 52.4% 2.6

From looking at the data above we can conclude a few things right off the bat:

  1. all of these players have a positive +/- average contribution
  2. all of these players have an above 50% TS %
  3. there are only 2 players who play the center/power forward position (Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins)
  4. Kawhi Leonard has considerably smaller MPG and PPG metrics
  5. Klay Thompson has considerably smaller PER and +/- average contribution

Analysis

  1. The reason why all of these players have a positive +/- average contribution is because they are all key players on their respective teams. They are all starters and play a considerable amount of minutes, contributing in all aspects of the game.
  2. Having a TS % above 50% is a good sign. The NBA average tends to be always above 50%, so these numbers are not so surprising. But to put things into perspective, last season’s MVP, Kevin Durant, had a TS % of 63.5%. So the players above aren’t doing so bad.
  3.  Unfortunately, today’s game does not have that many dominant centers anymore. The league even eliminated the center position from the All-Star ballot last year (what I think is outrageous). However, these two young players, Davis and Cousins, seem to be right up there with the best in the business, such as Noah, Howard, and Duncan. With that, these two guys have their stock values increased due to the shortage in their position.
  4. The way Greg Popovich runs his team is very different from the rest of the league (what might be a hint to the other coaches as to why they keep winning titles). Pop uses all of his bench in every game, and it is rare to see someone in the Spurs scoring more than 25 points. Consequently, Leonard has lower PPG and MPG averages in comparison to the other guys. However, he has something that no one else in this list has: a ring and a Finals MVP award.
  5. Thompson’s low PER is due to the fact that last season he did not contribute to the team all that much in any other categories besides scoring. This could be alarming, however I decided to pull Klay’s early 2014-15 season PER and we can see an improvement: 22. Aside from his new 4-year $70 million max contract extension, we can all agree that Thompson has improved a lot over the summer, as he was one of the members of the Gold medalist USA team in the FIBA World Cup. His low +/- is not alarming as I am sure this number will increase in the upcoming seasons.

With that, who would be the best pick to build a franchise around today?

Reality Check

Taking into consideration that Davis, Irving and Cousins did not play for playoff teams last year, it is easy to understand why they put up such big numbers. They were the star of their teams and got a lot of the offense going through them.

DeMarcus Cousins was not part of a playoff team in the 2013-14 season

DeMarcus Cousins was not part of a playoff team in the 2013-14 season

Wall, Lillard and Thompson played for teams that were strong playoffs contenders. Although Golden State did not get past the first round, they were still a pretty strong team, finishing 3rd in the highly competitive Western Conference. Lillard proved himself by beating the Rockets with a last second shot taking his team to the second round for the first time in years. Wall, in the other hand, managed to lead his team to the second round of the weak Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the Bulls. All three of these players have proved to be a critical part of their team’s success, but none of them ever got past the second round.

Finally, George and Leonard were part of championship contending teams. Indiana dominated the East but came up to when they lost to the stacked back-to-back NBA champions Miami Heat. Leornard’s Spurs won the title and he had a breakout season by winning the Finals MVP. His performance during that Finals took a lot of people by surprise when he showed the tip of the iceberg of his upside potential.

If I had the chance to take any single one of these guys today I would. But if I had the privilege to pick, I would go with…

My Pick

Anthony Davis.

Anthony Davis has the potential to become one of the best centers to ever play the game

Anthony Davis has the potential to become one of the best centers/power forwards to ever play the game

The hype about this guy is real. His stats are right up there among the best players in the NBA. On the 2014-15 season opener he had 9 blocks – the first player to ever do that in a season opener since the 1974-75 season. He is currently in the top 10 in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals in the league.

Considering that NBA MVPs generally have a PER of above 27.5 (Jordan has a career PER of 27.91), on his second season he recorded a PER of 26.5 – considered to be a “weak” MVP contender.

He finished in the top 5 in double-doubles recorded in the league in the 2013-14 season, with an average of 20.8ppg and 10rpg at the age of 19. Plus, the kid can shoot the ball from 18 feet with consistency.

Taking into account that he has won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 and another gold medal in the 2014 FIBA World Cup with the USA National Teams all before the age of 21 adds even more credibility to his curriculum.

He has an immense wingspan of over 7’7″, what makes it understandable why he blocks so many shots, gets so many steals, and grabs so many rebounds.

And, on top of all of that he has proven to be extremely coachable and professional at such a young age.

The sky is the limit for AD, and if he continues on this pace he will certainly become one of the best centers/power forwards to ever play the game.

With that, he would be my pick to be the face of my newly formed franchise, as he would also easily attract other key players to join the team.

I will leave you with a few of his highlights. Enjoy.

 

 

PA