This week showed good progress toward setting up portfolio management at my new organization. But, by Friday afternoon I was really tired. You know how your thoughts wander a bit when that happens. Since I’ve been writing this blog, too often thoughts or experiences click on ideas for blog posts. When we are really into something, our experiences all feed into our own frame of reference. I was worried that I’m becoming unproductively obsessed. Fortunately, I found out this week that I’m not unusual.
Philip Roth, a successful novelist since the ‘60s, was in the news this week. He turned 80, is about to publish a set of profound works, and is in a PBS special that will air soon. I heard an interview with him on NPR. He said he’d retired from writing. He has post-it notes stuck up around the house reminding him he’s retired. That’s because it’s now OK for him not to think about everything he observes as a possible story or character in a story. I sort of get that in my own smaller blogger sort of way. So many things I see or hear click together and seem like they are part of what I want to write about in “The Other Side of Risk.” Being retired and not having to think about everything in terms of his work give him a sense of restful peace. Maybe I’ll do that someday, but for now making odd connections is sort of fun.
NPR got me going this week with a story about physicist mosh pit enthusiasts. There are these two Cornell physicists who like heavy metal rock and mosh pits. Watching from the side one day, one of them realized that there are probably patterns in how the moshers slamdance that could be instructive to understand. So, there you go again, two guys who love physics and love mosh pits putting two and two together. It’s not just me. The heavy metal physicists studied mosh pit motion and created a model. You can see it at the NPR website.
Reading about the mosh pits and looking at the model, I started thinking about portfolio management. Maybe the projects we do in big organizations are sort of like slamdancers in a mosh pit. Each slamdancer initiates motion driven by his own motivations. The interactions create a sort of synergy and positive feedback, but there’s also a sense of risk because of the randomness of it all. Is it just random, or are some of the motivations collisions that do harm? And the pit is always surrounded by a set of those less adventurous participants who get involved to some degree and find satisfaction in watching or boosting along the occasional crowd surfer who comes his way. It seems sort of a big deal to cross over from being an observer to a slamdancer.
When we implement portfolio management, how much should it be like a mosh pit? Do you want to retain the energy and synergy of the mosh pit? Participants like mosh pits because they can randomly self-initiate and bounce off one another. They move to ear splitting music that raises the energy level but masks shouts of pain. And, there’s the risk of getting slammed by someone twice your size. But people take the risk. They like it; and it’s fun to watch.
I think I’m rambling incoherently. Maybe that’s just the tired in me talking. People are more likely to create crystal clear vision, devise thoughtful strategies, collaboratively set priorities, share resources, and track progress to be sure that their portfolio of investments is paying off. We’re organized. Portfolio management should be like a watching a waltz at the royal ball. Shouldn’t it?
Maybe I’ll play some Bad Brains and Anthrax at the first Portfolio Steering Committee and see what happens. I probably won’t, but it’s been fun thinking about it. If things get crazy, I will check back with the mosh pit pattern research.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”
The photo is from the NPR website.