I’m a subscriber to SiriusXM radio and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the new U2 channel went live recently. Once I started listening to it I found it hard to turn off. I was first introduced to the band during my sophomore year at UCLA. One of my roommates was raving about them and since I hadn’t really heard their music as I was a slightly out of touch classic rock fan and Deadhead Midwesterner, I figured I would give it a listen based on his enthusiasm. They released The Unforgettable Fire right as I got to school that year in 1984 and after listening to it I could understand why the buzz about the band was so positive. The cult of U2 was already building because of the incredible experience that so many raved about after seeing them live, which is something I wouldn’t get to do for a few more years. I did watch them perform at Live Aid on television in 1985, however, and finally got to see why they had such a devoted and growing following.
Produce Prolific Content
I have a mini-obsession and envy for artists, investors, and businesses that produce prolific content of great quality that can be relevant for decades to come. I have very little doubt that The Beatles will be listened to two centuries from now and beyond. The quality of their music is too good and the quantity too voluminous for their catalog to drift into obscurity (assuming society is still around then). Not many artists have such a body of work but those who do have created something extraordinary that is a gift to the world that will keep on giving and something that has produced huge financial rewards for those artists as well and will continue to do so for many years to come. The value of evergreen content isn’t just restricted to the arts as, for example, I also believe that the annual shareholder letters written by Warren Buffett will be read a century from now.
Content is not just a feel-good thing for ego gratification. It can also make great business sense. Netflix is a perfect example of this as it will be hard to dislodge it as the market leader in streaming because the quantity and quality of its content have catalyzed the creation of a huge customer base that provides an enormous amount of recurring revenue to allow them to keep investing in more content to retain and grow their customer base. Disney, Amazon, and HBO are other content creators and owners that can match up but not many others. The barriers to entry are enormous and it’s all because of compelling content (and access to cheap capital) that can keep large numbers of eyeballs glued to their offerings whether it be on television, phone, or computer.
This envy of prolific artists has led me to want to leave a legacy of content to be able to look back at my life and have a chronicle of what I was doing, thinking, wrestling with, enjoying, and experiencing so that I could do my part to make each week count. Knowing that I have made a commitment to write a weekly blog and to keep the 5+ year streak alive can be a little burdensome at times but it also forces me to live my life more intentionally and thoughtfully because I never know what experience or insight might inspire a blog topic. Yes, I often see my life through the prism of whether what I’m experiencing will make good content or how I can conjure some up that I can write about. It’s not for everybody but somehow it works for me. And as I reflect back on my writing history it goes back much further than when I started the blog.
In addition to the blog, I have been writing a quarterly article for our investors for over 20 years. The combined writings from these articles could probably result in three books being published. I also contribute to our annual investor report as well as to hundreds of letters that we have written to our investors informing them about sales, refinances, and any other special updates. I also achieved one of my bucket list items by writing a book that was published in 2015.
I don’t write just to write but to learn more about myself and to help me process various external and subconscious inputs to enable me to make better decisions, bring greater joy to my life, and to avoid external landmines and those planted by myself. One thing I always try to avoid is hindsight bias as I have very little interest in the application of 20/20 hindsight. I like to write about what’s going on now and how it may impact the future and I have very little use for looking back other than to review my decision-making process to see how it could have improved and what worked out well.The real world is quite messy and requires making decisions in the moment with imperfect information. One of the questions I often ask myself and sometimes others is, 'So what are you going to do?'Click To Tweet
The real world is quite messy and requires making decisions in the moment with imperfect information. One of the questions I often ask myself and sometimes others is, “So what are you going to do?” The quality of outcomes is a byproduct of our decision-making processes and we never have perfect information or clarity. We have to get educated, ask the right questions, be cognizant of our intuition, instincts, experience, as well as our biases and blind spots. We then have to place our bets and take action. Writing can help one formulate one’s thoughts and creates a record in the moment of what decisions were made and hopefully the reasons for having made them. Some of the great investors are terrific writers and this is no coincidence. People like Warren Buffett, George Soros, and Seth Klarman come to mind for me. Jamie Dimon and Jeff Bezos write extraordinary shareholder letters that give insights into their thought processes and why they are directing the company in the directions that they are. I have no doubt that these extraordinarily successful people are also excellent writers because to be a great writer in the world of investing and business requires clarity of thought and to think deeply about issues, especially about what could go wrong.
CWS: Rich Library of Content
From a CWS perspective, we have an incredibly rich library of content that I honestly believe could be highly valuable for business students and investors from which to learn. I’m sure we have well over 2,000 pages of investor correspondence that we have written in my 33 years at the company and this doesn’t include what was communicated in the 17 years before I got there. It has covered economic issues, financing decisions, successful investments, property under-performance and the need to raise additional capital, interest rates, lender negotiations, physical challenges at properties, economic downturns and upturns, sale decisions, tax discussions, 1031 exchanges, building properties, organizational design and structure, and a number of other topics.
Leaving Your Baggage Behind
I was originally going to transition this to talk about one of my favorite U2 songs which is Walk On. I was going to focus on the importance of leaving one’s baggage behind as Bono sings:
And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage that you can bring
And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind
But that will be a topic for another post: The importance of leaving our baggage behind. Instead, as I started writing this and began to focus on building up a body of work and compelling content over one’s life or for one’s business, I started homing in on another part of the song which is:
You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom
Walk on, walk-on
What you’ve got they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it, or buy it
Walk on, walk-on
Stay safe tonight
We are all on our own journey and if you would want to get the most out of life you have to carve out a path that is uniquely yours that is consistent with your values, aligns with your purpose, feeds your soul, generates excitement and optimism, while also giving you the strength and courage to take risks and to recover from mistakes and setbacks and to remove barriers.
If you’re able to find your calling then you will be able to paint your masterpiece over the course of your life and leave behind valuable wisdom, knowledge, and a body of work that can benefit others as much as yourself. You have to Walk on and carve out your own path.
And finally, as Bono says,
Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind
And while I believe his message here is that you have to leave behind your baggage, while writing this I added another angle to the message.
You’ve got to leave behind all you can of your life via a body of work and set of experiences and insights to leave the world a little better than you found it.