Retirement Advice: Don’t Even Think About It

April 19, 2014

Time to Retire - ClockIf you can watch more than 30 minutes of television without hearing the word “retirement,” you are better than me.

(Actually, if you can watch more than 30 minutes of TV at any time, you are different from me.)

The number of advertisements for people willing to charge you a fee for doing what you could be doing for yourself is amazing. You can even sell your home without really selling it (called a reverse mortgage), so you can “enjoy your retirement – and the best part is you still own your home.”

If you believe that line, give me a call; I have a bridge I want to sell you. Actually, if you look closely, there is an asterisk that leads to about two inches of fine print that is so small nobody can read it on the screen, and they only show it for a second.

The other phony line is where they want to sell you death insurance. I call it that because that is what you are insuring. “You cannot be turned down, your benefits will never go down, and your rate will never go up due to age.”

(Of course your rate probably will go up because the insurance company is going broke, but why should they tell you that when they are trying to sell you the death insurance?) It is total hogwash.

Another frustration is “Long Term Care Insurance.” I purchased policies for myself and my wife over 15 years ago because our financial advisor told us that “You want to get in when you are young and the rates are low because you can lock in that rate for life.”

So, after paying the premium for over 15 years, last year they jacked up my rate by something like 13%. What? I was told the rates would never go up!

I just received the bill for this year, and my rate has now been doubled. Whoops, I call this “Long Term Screw Insurance” because I am already invested and cannot get out of it without sacrificing what I have already put in.

Basically they are saying “Tough luck you banana. We promised something we cannot deliver so you pay, or you do have the option to drop your coverage.” Time to call a lawyer.

When I left my day job at the large company where I had worked for 31 years, I was not sure what I wanted to do with myself, except I was sure “retirement” was not going to be it.

The statistics for how long people live after officially retiring are pretty scary, but I think there are a lot of old wives tales in the figures you hear.

The last time I Googled the word “retirement,” there were over 96 million hits, and the majority of them were for groups telling us how not to outlive our money in retirement or trying to convince us to spend some of our money with them so our retirement will be happier.

I think the way to live a longer life is to stay alive, and I firmly believe retirement (if it means just relaxing all day) takes us one giant step toward death.

I am not advocating that everybody should work at a full time job until the day they die. Rather, I am suggesting that it is the passion for doing whatever you like in life that is the stuff of living. Some people like to travel, or paint, or play golf. Some people like to build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

Whatever your passion is, that is what should consume your time and energy. If your passion is to just do nothing but “retire,” meaning do nothing useful, then you are most likely taking a shortcut to the grave.

Some people really do enjoy their working environment and cannot wait to get to work every day. Many organizations know how to treat people well and value their contributions. People who work there are the lucky ones.

For others, work is something that is to be endured. It is no fun having to turn off the alarm clock every day and drag out of bed so you can trade your time for the dollars needed to survive.

You drag into the workplace after surviving the daily “parking lot” on the freeway, and you endure the clueless morons who run the place and your juvenile coworkers for eight hours, but not a minute more.

That existence is for the young and desperate, and those people are even better off than the throngs of people who would like to work but cannot find a job.

Instead, I think the ideal life is to wake up when your body wants, full of energy knowing that this day you get to do whatever you wish in life, and that wish is to do something useful. To wake up with nothing constructive to do rings as hollow to me as an empty silo.

I hope never to retire. I will keep working at my craft as long as my body holds out and as long as someone will benefit from my effort. If I make some money as I help others, that is fine, but that is not my purpose for living and working.

When people fixate on the joys of relaxing in retirement, they might as well be wishing their lives away.

The promise is false; I like the bumper sticker: “Golden Years My Ass.”

I think the world would be so much better if we all replaced the notion of retirement with the concept of “my next passion in life.” Find out how to contribute in a way that makes you feel fulfilled. Pour yourself into activities that keep you young instead of encourage you to get old before your time.

Why focus on marching toward the grave when the alternative is to march constantly toward greater satisfaction in life.

Strategic Fossils

June 10, 2012

In current courses on “Competitive Advantage” in business schools, many of the texts used are more than a decade old. For example the “Father” of competitive theory is Michael Porter, who was a professor at Harvard University back in the 1980s. His book, Competitive Advantage came out in 1985. It is from that work that most of the theories students study today were derived. I have a copy of his original book in my library, and I even read quite a bit of it before falling asleep.

One thing that struck me in going through the MBA reading list was that the world changes so quickly that in just a few years theories can become obsolete. The world of today is a vastly different place than the early 2000s when many business texts were written. Many of the companies analyzed in the examples are now extinct – the result of failed strategic choices or mergers.

For example, The Strategy Process by Mintzberg came out in 2003. It gives examples of personal computer makers as AT&T, IBM, Apple, and Compaq. In intervening years, as the market changed, as technology changed, as the decisions got more complicated, only the strong survived.

AT&T has gotten out of the computer business completely, choosing to focus on the growing cellular market.

Apple has made a name for itself selling iPads, and iPhones, changing the landscape of computing. Their mobile media device sales dwarf their computer sales.

While you can still buy something called a “Think Pad” which looks like an IBM product, it is made and sold by a company called Lenovo. How many of us heard of Lenovo ten years ago? Although IBM still sells refurbished computers, their main products are networking and information management now: servers, cloud computing, network security, and custom client solutions.

Compaq was bought out by HP and still limps along – at least for the moment – but it is far from the powerhouse it used to be. Each company coped with change in its own way and came up with vastly different strategies and results.

Today the world is far more fluid and “flat,” meaning that many of the strategies that proved successful in the early 2000s would now fail. So, the number one rule of strategic thinking is to be current. That means getting out in the world to understand how it really operates today.

Far too many strategic planners become fossilized by parochial thinking and models that have existed in ancient history – like anything more than 2 years old is good for historical purposes but not for generating brilliant winning strategies today. You cannot survive simply by studying the theories of the past. You must be thinking ahead of the power curve so you at least have an accurate view of the environment in which you are trying to survive.

So, what is the benefit of reading books that outline great details about models for strategic planning? The benefit is that the process of strategic thinking and the mental steps you take are fixed and really do apply even in vastly different environments.

Let me illustrate with an example. There is a concept called “Segmentation Strategy.” This is where an organization slices and dices the market into chunks that can be addressed with slightly different tactics depending on the characteristics of each chunk. This segmentation idea could be applied whether you were making and selling wood stoves in 1900 or some kind of personal vapor heating body envelope concept in the year 2040. Even though the world is vastly different over time, the fundamental thinking process in trying to laser-focus marketing efforts on the precise segment you are trying to reach is a good one.

As you read and think about the various strategic tools, try to not get caught up on the specific examples the authors use, because the logic in examples is illustrative of the time when they occurred. Rather, think about the overarching principles involved in the techniques. These will not change much regardless of the current world and technological conditions.

The artistic part of strategic thinking is that you get the chance to paint a new picture every day. The canvas is there for you, and you can select not only the brush and colors to use, but also the subject you wish to paint. The only stipulation is that you need to produce a viable idea out of your effort. It reminds me of the story of the coal miner. Someone asked him if he got bored down in the mine. He said, “Bored? No way! I enjoy being down in the mine. I like the lack of restrictions. I have absolute freedom to do anything I want down in the mine, provided I get hold of two tons of coal every day.”