Man in the Arena

Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in 1910 called, “The Citizenship in a Republic” or is more commonly known as “The Man in the Arena.”

This speech is helpful for anyone that has been criticized in life for pursuing something– entrepreneurs, athletes, entertainers, artists, comedians, the list goes on.

The social media world of today transmits social interactions faster than any period in the past. Therefore, there will be more of it. Anytime friction is reduced, an act will occur more often.

Before the internet became ubiquitous, communication was done via postal mail. There was criticism, of course, 100 years ago, 200 years ago and thousands of years ago; however, before the internet, there was more time and effort required to communicate one’s thoughts.

It is necessary for a society to have feedback, criticism, that is how we iterate, improve, reduce weaknesses, friction, inefficiencies, however, ad hominem (personal attacks) are usually more of frustrations emanating from persons that are undergoing some frustrations in their lives and they are redirecting it to others to help themselves feel better. In the field of psychology, this would be referred to as projection.

When criticism is directed toward you, first, think about the nature of the criticism. Is it related, in some way, to helping you improve some product or something specific to yourself? Or, is it more of a personal attack that is due to personal reasons from the person putting forth the criticism? If it is the former, then we should be thankful for the input, as this will allow us to improve something we are working or help us to become a better person. If it is the latter, it might be helpful to think (or read) of Roosevelt’s speech in 1910:

            “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Social Conformity

In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment, whereby how an individual would yield to the majority. In this experiment, eight male (yes, the experiment lacked different age groups, genders, cultures, etc, but the results are still interesting) college students participated in a “perceptual task.” Unbeknownst to the single participant, the other seven male college students are actually confederates, or actors, meaning they are instructed to select an incorrect answer, for this experiment, the college students are given three lines to choose from that is closest in length to the one shown to them.

In over 99% of the experiments, the participant answered accurately, that is, he chose the correct line; however, when that participant was in the presence of the seven confederates, or actors, the participant, on average of a number of experiments, answered incorrectly 32.8% of the time. In a number of trials, at least once, a participant would answer incorrectly 75%, if in a room with actors giving the wrong answer.

There are many problems with this experiment. As I indicated earlier, there were only college males selected, however, this is still an interesting study to show the pressure of conformity.

There are instances in life whereby not going with the group in particular professional settings, academic settings and social settings, a risk versus reward calculus is employed and it may not be prudent based on each situation, but in a lot of situations, there isn’t a risk versus reward calculation, conversely, there are a large number of individuals that will unreflectively go along with the majority.

This can lead to very dire outcomes for individuals, professional, academic and athletic groups as well as societies, cultures, and governments.

Market Position

I generally avoid any political coverage as there are a number of other places one can obtain this type of information. Seeking Worldly Wisdom was designed to impart knowledge that isn’t being covered in many areas of media today.

As I was running errands today, I had the congressional testimony of Mr. Bezos and other CEO’s of large technology companies playing on my phone as I was running errands. The vast majority of the content was a question that had a strong opinion contained therein. Usually a question is posed to obtain information that one does not currently have; however, as any movie or novel that has a legal case covered in detail, questions are also asked when the person posing the question has a strong probability it will elicit a certain type of answer to advantage an agenda of the person posing the question.

I had to pause my phone as I heard a question posed to Mr. Bezos from an email that was obtained when Amazon was buying the Ring company, Bezos, reportedly wrote, per the email, “we are buying market position not technology and that market position and momentum is very valuable.” The congressman then asked Mr. Bezos  a question after that quote and this is how Mr. Bezos replied, “Market position is as valuable as in any business. And one of the primary things we would look at in an acquisition. There are multiple reasons we might buy a company. It might be to buy some technology or some IP, or talent, but the most common case is market position. The company has traction with customers. They have built a service or they were the first mover. It could be any number of reasons why they have that market position. But that is a very common reason to acquire a company.”

If we bracket out the political questions of if Amazon should be broken up into smaller companies and focus on the content from Mr. Bezos, if one wants to improve their investing process or if one is intellectually curious why some businesses succeed and others do not, there are many variables of course involved, but everything else being equal, some leaders of a company make better decisions than others. Given Mr. Bezos track record in business, it would be logical to pay special attention to how he approaches acquisitions,

If one were to start a company and one of their objectives is to sell it in the future, it would be valuable to think about what Mr. Bezos said. I had to wade through hours of extraneous content to find something valuable, but it shouldn’t be surprising as that applies to many things in life.