Tomorrow’s Protein… Available Today!

0 Comments

Remember the Jetsons, the animated sitcom that ran from 1962-1988? It explored “space age” life. Or what about the Flintstones, which explored life in the “stone age”? Both shows provided context for everyday concerns.

The concepts of food in these two shows could not have been more different. Stone age cuisine was almost always based on huge portions of animal protein, while space age food was convenient and abundant.

Here’s an image of Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Dino going out for a bite:

flintstones_ribs2

Now let’s head from the Stone Age to the Space Age. Here’s an image from the Jetsons in which George, Jane, Judy and Elroy sit down to dinner at home. They’re presented with dozens of options that can magically appear piping hot with the press of button.

1*9CVdPjdG236L8hj_KOdykQ

Well, as global population continues to boom towards 9.7 billion by 2050 (as expected by the UN Population Division), the world will definitely need more food. Further, as incomes rise, I expect meat demand to skyrocket, generating inordinate pressure on the entire value chain for animal protein and stressing an already precarious environment. Consider this chart from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

global-demand-for-meat_v7

Without growing supplies, this demand shock could lead to soaring food prices and its usual companions, political instability and social unrest.

But we can’t rely on beef, pork, and chicken to feed this growing appetite. There is an enormous ecological cost to producing the livestock we know and love at scale. To mitigate the environmental impact of protein without bringing austerity to the dining table, we’ll need to turn away from traditional livestock for our protein fix. One recent study predicted that alternative protein sources could provide one third of protein to humans by 2054.

With futuristic names like Soylent, Exo, and Beyond Meat, startups are already vying to seize the future of food. And they’ve attracted investments from Silicon Valley’s elite, including Timothy Ferriss, the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, the Twitter co-founders, and Bill Gates.

Here are four protein sources of the future to watch today:

 

Insects

As I have written before, insects like crickets are a promising source of sustainable protein, since they consume fewer resources and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than resource hogs like cows and, well, hogs. (Although one recent study suggested that the efficiency gains for factory-farmed crickets are not as dramatic as the UN had believed).

One startup exploring the potential of the insect is Exo, which makes cricket protein bars. Flavors include cacao nut, peanut butter & jelly, blueberry vanilla, and apple cinnamon. Each bar has 10 grams of protein, sourced from around 25 crickets. Further up the chain, companies like Tiny Farms are building out infrastructure to produce insects on a large scale.

 

Lab-grown meat

Rather than relying on existing sources of animal protein, some are trying to grow it from scratch—in a lab! In 2013, a Dutch scientist grew a synthetic hamburger. It cost $330,000. One journalist who was invited to try it noted it tasted like a normal hamburger, but more lean. In two years, the lab has gotten the price down to $11 per patty.

Scientists are optimistic about the prospect of synthetic meat, saying that it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing animal protein by 96% while keeping the planet well fed.

 

Algae

Another approach is to try to move away from meat altogether by developing alternative plant protein sources. Many are getting excited about algae. Fans claim it is an efficient and nutrient-dense source of protein.

Soylent, the Silicon Valley startup hoping to replace your arduous daily eating regimen with a slick white tube of complete nutrition, is betting on the green slime of the sea. Its newest release (Soylent 2.0) is already 20 percent algae, and the founders have ambitions to genetically engineer a strain that provides all your nutritional needs. Other companies like Solazyme are pumping out a range of other algae-based products.

 

Peas

The humble pea is also a compelling and promising source of future protein. Peas are especially sustainable because they use nitrogen efficiently—and the market for them is expected to grow by 10% per year in the coming years. They’re also completely allergen-free, making pea protein an appealing option for any organization seeking to serve large groups in which accommodating allergies is difficult.

Companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek—both backed by Bill Gates—are producing meat and egg substitutes using pea protein. Imagine putting together a “chicken” sandwich using “Beyond Chicken” and the egg-free “Just Mayo.”

 

We may not yet be in the space age of food, but one thing seems clear: we’re definitely moving beyond the Stone Age. Yabba Dabba Doo!

 

What We Can Learn From Yogi Berra

0 Comments

On September 22, we lost Yogi Berra, a titanic figure in American sports and culture. He played in 18 All Star games and was on the winning side of 13 World Series in his capacities as coach, manager, and catcher. Unsurprisingly, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972; Americans will never forget his athletic career.  I know I won’t.

Yogi_horiz-1024x683

The first professional baseball game I ever attended was in 1983. My father and I drove to Yankee stadium from New Jersey. Berra was a coach, soon to be named Manager, of the Yankees. (Hush hush, but as a Bostonian and genuine Red Sox fan, it was this experience that prevents me from disliking the Yankees…much to the dismay of neighbors, colleagues, and local friends!).

But beyond his sports greatness, Berra had personality and wit. His amazing ability to dispense folksy yet deeply insightful wisdom in phrase length is perhaps only rivaled by Warren Buffett. In fact, The Yogi Book, a concise and wit-filled written version of his aphorisms, has been a New York Times bestseller. It won’t shock me if it revisits the list again. A quick read of the book reveals the mind of a nuanced, flexible, unconventional thinker who was destined to succeed in many walks of life.


Yogi Berra was a nuanced, flexible, unconventional thinker


As I read through his many famous sayings, five Yogiisms stood out for their relevance to leaders, investors, and those actively managing their careers. The wisdom these messages contain is timeless.

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. Yogi’s message here is that we need to think for ourselves. Don’t follow the pack; they may be lemmings. I’m sure many investors would agree that a crowded trade is a dangerous bet. Consensus and agreement should be frightening. In investing and your career, it may be best to be a contrarian. Go where others aren’t. Or as noted by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. The message here is that it’s easy to suffer analysis paralysis. Don’t. Complexity and tough calls are a fact of life. As overwhelming as they may seem, action actually has the potential to alleviate uncertainty. You can transform ambiguity into insight. And don’t stress about the ideal: perfection can be the enemy of the very good.

We’re lost, but we’re making good time. Yogi loved his job, playing and coaching baseball. The lesson is clear: embrace the journey over the destination. If you’re so focused on where you’re going (winning the World Series or getting that promotion you’ve had your eye on) but can’t stand the day to day, what’s the point? How will you feel if you don’t reach your destination? Let’s not forget my favorite Life Is Good saying: “Not all who wander are lost.” Wandering may in fact lead to a better outcome than anything you could have planned.

The future ain’t what it used to be. Yogi was born in 1925, and bore witness to some of the most dramatic changes this planet has endured, and not just in society, but also in how we imagined what was to come.  Accept that change is constant. The future is dynamic, and our expectations will always be shifting. Don’t get left behind with a past version of the future. You’re never going to be completely accurate with predictions, so adjust assumptions frequently.

Baseball is 90% mental; the other half is physical. Yogi recognized the danger of assuming a zero-sum game. Why not think differently? In many situations, we default to an “either-or” assumption. Yogi suggests a “both-and” worldview is sometimes more appropriate. Often it’s these mental constraints that hold back true success. Look beyond them!

Thanks for the advice, Yogi. You’ll be missed.

The Fed Babble Bubble: What You Need To Know

0 Comments

One of the hallmarks of a speculative mania is that the bubble in question comes to dominate popular attention. If there’s one competitor to the never-ending fascination with the possibility of Trump presidency, it’s the unprecedented level of interest in the potential Federal Reserve rate hike.

Consider this chart from Google Trends, which highlights the recent exponential increase in searches for "fed rate hike" and "interest rate hike."

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 11.50.52 PM

You’re probably wondering: Why does everyone care? How can an interest rate set by the Federal Reserve affect you – and does it really matter if it rises by one quarter of one percent (0.25%)?

The blunt reality is that such a miniscule change won’t really matter. An increase of 25 basis points on a $250,000 mortgage raises the monthly payment by ~$34. For a $25,000 car loan, it’s about $3 per month--less than the cost of a lousy latte.

So what’s all the hubbub about? It can’t really be about the direct impact of rates on our lives, can it? Probably not. It’s really about the trend…because if the Fed begins to normalize the federal funds rate towards 3%, nobody will be safe from the economic ramifications.

The two biggest stones the Fed’s actions will likely throw into the global economic pond are higher credit costs and a stronger dollar. So what ripples will these produce? And how will they affect us?

First, if the Fed were to raise rates multiple times, the minor impact of higher credit costs I described earlier would not be so trivial. In addition to higher rates for credit cards and student loans, a 3% increase in the cost of a $250,000 mortgage would raise monthly payments by over $415 – about $20 per working day. Bye bye latte!

The ripples of the higher rate would also affect your investments. Do you have any bonds as part of your retirement savings? Well, when rates rise, bond prices fall. Equities may have already factored in the rate changes, but emerging markets may still be vulnerable. Your disappearing latte may also telegraph lower home prices. Bigger monthly payments means renting will be relatively cheaper, and there will be fewer buyers at given price levels.

Meaningfully higher credit costs also dampen economic activity. One estimate predicted a reduction of .15% in economic growth, and slower growth would mean around 30,000 fewer jobs created per month. Forget the raise you were hoping for…it’s probably not happening. Business investment spending would also fall. If you’d like to convince your boss you need an iPad Pro, hurry!

Second, the American dollar will likely appreciate against other currencies. So what? An appreciating dollar will dampen our export competitiveness, hurting industries from aerospace to pharmaceuticals.   It also means US music and movies will be more expensive for foreigners to license.


 Don’t expect to hear Katy Perry in the background of the latest Indian TV commercial.


But rising rates are not all bad news. Sure, the American economy will sour. Your portfolio may take some hits. You career prospects may suffer. And your industry may shrink in the face of serious headwinds. But as you drown any rate rise sorrows with retail therapy, you’ll be pleased to learn that imports from Chinese-made clothing to the Japanese-built Toyota Highlander will effectively be on sale. An appreciating dollar will also make overseas travel less expensive, so go ahead and plan that holiday escape to Sao Paulo or Paris.

 

 

Monarch as Manager: Career Lessons from Queen Elizabeth

0 Comments

On September 9, after more than 23,200 days on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II overtook Queen Victoria to become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. More than 63 years after she succeeded her father—who, to millennials, was George VI of The King’s Speech fame—she remains celebrated as a “a rock of stability in a world of constant change,” as noted by Prime Minister David Cameron.

B7FF49F6-06CC-452C-BEA9-1386DFB0A944_w640_r1_s

She has reigned over 12 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to David Cameron, through decolonization and the diversification of British society. And she has managed a number of hardships within the royal family itself, from the wave of divorces and family strife in 1992, to the traumatic death of Diana. Through ups and downs, she has persisted.

So what do we have to learn from her? Perhaps because I’m an American, or perhaps because I’m trained as a business academic, or maybe it’s quite simply that my parents grew up in British India, I see the Queen as a manager. In addition to its many symbolic roles, it’s a job like any other—and an incredibly tough one at that. And anyone that’s survived in a challenging job as long as Liz can teach us a thing or two.

Here are 5 lessons we can learn from the Queen:

Prep for the top job…you could end up Queen. It’s not the craziest thing in the world that Elizabeth ended up the monarch of England, but it also wasn’t entirely expected. When she was born, she was third in line for the throne. But less than a year after her uncle Edward VIII succeeded King George, he unexpectedly abdicated the throne in pursuit of love. So when her father succeeded his brother as King in 1936, she was next in line. Few in top positions predicted years earlier where they’d end up. Always prep for a job above you — someone important might fall in love and you could find yourself in charge.


You never know when you’re going to be thrust into a position of responsibility, so get ready for the top job.


Second, embrace technology. Even at the very beginning of her career, Elizabeth was cutting edge and incorporated new media into the spectacle of her accession. For her 1953 coronation, she insisted—against the advice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill—to have the ceremony televised. It was a huge hit.  She also embraced email, becoming one of the first heads of state to send an electronic message…in 1976! In a role steeped in tradition, Elizabeth defied conservative forces and was open-minded enough to experiment. As luck would have it, media would go on to enhance, rather than diminish, the importance of the monarchy.

Third, reach out in person. Communication at a distance isn’t the only way for one to stay in touch. Early in her career, Elizabeth gained popularity by actually visiting Australia. She was the first sitting queen or king to do so, and has made more than a dozen subsequent visits. Not surprisingly, this personal touch has helped assure support despite popular opposition to the monarchy. Lesson for us: sometimes an email or phone call isn’t enough. Actually go see people. The sacrifice of travel is often seen as a gesture of respect.

image.blogpost

Fourth, keep calm and carry on. Since Liz got the top job at the age of 26, Britain has become a diverse, multicultural society, and the nation’s role in the world has shrunk as it decolonized. Rather than rail against such changes (as other monarchs have), she presided over them with dignity and grace. The record of Britain under Elizabeth reminds us to be thrilled by change rather than fearing it. Elizabeth also remained calm throughout a series of violent encounters, including the 1960s riots by Quebec separatists, getting shot at in the early 1980s, and braving a bedroom intruder around the same time. Cultivating poise in the face of chaos is crucial for those in positions of responsibility and leadership.

Fifth, stay above the fray. It’s the duty of British monarchs not to express political opinions but rather to encourage, warn, and provide counsel. Elizabeth has been so good at balancing this role of advising without an opinion that when news broke of her candid opinion of the Scottish referendum, it generated lots of attention. The lesson for us seems clear: not every matter merits our attention. And further, sometimes it’s important to keep our opinion to ourselves, despite what our egos tell us.

 

 

Maybe Majors Matter…but Mindsets Matter More!

0 Comments

As I was driving to a dinner meeting earlier this week in Cambridge, MA, I came upon what any reasonable person might have assumed was a real-time live filming of a U-Haul commercial. The streets were literally filled with moving boxes, trucks, trailers, and of course, aspiring young scholars and accompanying parents. The moving was so intense that I feared the sanity of local Bed Bath & Beyond managers would be tested.

But while driving, I found myself reflecting on what these students might be thinking about. Were they worried about roommate relations? Some, for sure. Were they thinking about the anxiety of meeting new people? Possibly. What about academics? I suspected it was too early in the semester for homework to be dominating anyone’s focus. So instead of speculating further, I stopped and asked.

Assignment No.: 8063

After explaining that I taught undergrads and was genuinely curious about their “biggest stresses as of right now,” I got three responses from three students in about three minutes. One student mentioned she was only thinking about pleasing her parents until they left. Another, having signed numerous loan documents earlier that afternoon, indicated she was worried about money and the necessity to get a job ASAP. Lastly, a young man clearly skeptical of my intent, answered with a cynical “pursuing my passions and finding true happiness”

So there you have it: parents, practicalities, and passions.

These three concerns weigh heavily on the minds of college students as they select a major that improves their odds of success. Many parents believe students should pursue education that secures professional opportunity: future doctors study biology; future managers, economics; future programmers, computer science.

It all makes sense, but might be wrong. Only 27% of people work in a field related to what they majored in during college. History majors who go into business make just as much as business majors who do the same. And lest you think liberal arts degrees close the doors to Silicon Valley, it’s worth noting that recent research estimated that roughly 1 in 10 liberal arts graduates went directly into the tech sector upon graduation. .

So does this mean that majors don’t matter? Not exactly. While majors may be less relevant for those graduating from top liberal arts schools, they prove more important for others. It turns out that your major is a meaningful signal of your interest and possibly your passion. And certain majors definitely pay more than other majors. As noted by The Economist, “It depends what you study, not where.” The blunt reality remains that a degree in computer science pays more than one in social work—all else being equal.

students-1

But all else is never equal. Students that pursue topics of genuine interest do better than those that lack passion for the material…and the quality of performance is perhaps the most important consideration for perspective employers. Consider that the CEO of Palantir has a PhD in Social Work, or that the CEO of Slack has an MPhil in the History of Science.

Ultimately, what will serve students well in an interconnected and dynamic global economy (regardless of the field in which they choose to pursue their career) is to gain a broad education that supports creative thought and encourages innovation. In such an education, specific content becomes only marginally relevant. What matters is developing a diversity of perspectives that can be applied to both known and unknown future possibilities.

One of the best ways to gain that diversity of perspective is to pursue a very broad major, such as those offered by various “area studies” programs. These interdisciplinary programs expose students to a variety of lenses – history, economics, anthropology, political science, sociology, literature, art, and even language – through which to view a part of the world. But why not combine that approach to an area of growing interest? At Bowdoin, for instance, students can concentrate in Arctic Studies.   Given the potential conflict brewing in the region, such a degree might prove useful beyond the lenses provided.

It’s also possible to gain diversity of perspective by pursuing an “out-there” major such as Ecogastronomy in which students learn not only how to run a business, but also about sustainability and nutrition. Perspectives move beyond P&L statements to include the systems through which food is produced and consumed. Other such odd-ball majors include astrobiology, bagpiping, comic art, farrier (horseshoe) science, nannying, puppet arts, or viticulture. While some of these majors are likely more rigorous than others, the goal of instilling a broad-mindedness in students that enables wide vision should not be lost.

All parents want their children to be happy, successful, and able to eventually be independent. But the historical approach may be broken. The time has come for parental passion for practicality to cede to parental practicality for passion.

China’s Fine! Really!?… September Fools!

0 Comments

I have been receiving a steady stream of inquiries from global investors and financial journalists asking about my views on China.  As a result of this interest, John Wiley & Sons has graciously released an electronic copy of my chapter about the investment bubble in China.  Click HERE to get a complimentary copy of "Boombustology in Action: Is China Next?"  Although the chapter was published in early 2011, the underlying logic might shed light upon current dynamics within the country.

Please also note that I continue to post a weekly comment each Wednesday on my website, LinkedIn, and most other social media platforms (Click HERE for a list of my comments this year).  I also publish a newsletter every six weeks that includes a summary of this commentary.

Finally, I encourage you to forward this email to anyone who may enjoy reading about what is happening in China today. I'd welcome any and all feedback.

 

CHAPTER 12:
"Boombustology in Action: Is China Next?"

boombustology

BUY THE BOOK

Subscribe To My Newsletter