Tag Archives: Whole Foods

In Search of New Alpha

 

For a book that is highly critical of the latest incarnation of capitalism that is financial innovation, I was surprised to see it reviewed by the website Seeking Alpha. Two million people subscribe to the site’s financial news and many more visit it to gain better understanding of financial markets.  In layman’s terms, Alpha is a measure of how well a certain stock, bond, or sector performs against expectations set for it by analysts. So when I read the title of the review “Seeking Alpha with Memenomics”, I had an inclination that the reviewer has a good grasp on the macro memetics of capitalism. Here the review in full:

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Seeking Alpha With Memenomics                                                                       By Range Chiever

Feb 11, 2014 10:06 PM

I just finished reading Said Dawlabani’s “Memenomics- The Next Generation Economic System”, and I am still buzzing. Or maybe that is my first cup of Death Wish coffee. In my investing lifetime there has been a handful of works that greatly advanced my investing intellect. Books and articles from Peter Lynch, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger come to mind. This book may top them all. You see, investing is all about seeing value where others don’t. If one sentence could articulate what seeking alpha is about, that would be it.

However, I would recommend this book to only a small subset of souls who happen to mix economics with their psychology. This is not exactly peanut butter and chocolate. To really understand the message it requires a basic understanding of the works of Clare Grave’s Spiral Dynamics or at least a decent understanding of the study of human development.

The book reframes the economic history of the United States as a process of developmental growth from the early 20th century up through the financial disaster of 2008 and then to today.

His assessment of the crash in 2008 through a cultural development lens is something that has been swirling in my head for half a decade. He integrated and articulated many key points into a beautiful story that resolved many conflicts I was struggling with. I’ve always scoffed at folks who said that the Government bailout was not the best course of action during the crisis. He has changed my mind.

So, how can an economics book about personal and cultural development possibly help your investing prowess? Well, once you understand that the US economy is evolving and developing along a path of greater development, it is easier to see the general direction of the economy and maybe more importantly, spot those companies which are poised to benefit from this development.

Said used two companies to illustrate highly evolved corporations of the future. They are Google and Whole Foods Market. Much to my delight, these were two companies that I added to my portfolio in early 2009.

It’s impossible to explain the context in the book required to understand the praise for these two companies. In his terms, it is the appreciation of People, Profit and Planet as opposed to almost all other companies where Money Only Matters. It’s like the friend who calls only when he needs something compared to the friend who calls because he genuinely likes you.

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He does differentiate between the two as well. Google is a disrupter in the evolving technology field and Whole Foods while steeped in an age old industry is finding ways to differentiate itself. He outlines characteristics, from WF’s restriction on executive pay and team based culture to Google’s democratization of knowledge and their unique venture finance arm. There is so, so much more and if this interests you at all, you must read the book.

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I have renewed vigor today in my search for alpha. It reminds me of the time I first read Peter Lynch’s One Up on Wall Street or the several hour binge session of Warren Buffet’s annual letters to shareholders. I am posting today looking for a few souls out there that might have a similar view or plowed into this untouched jungle with machete in hand.

Disclosure: I am long WFM, GOOG.

 

 

 

 

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A Brief Summary of Where Economics Meet Memetics

A Brief Summary of “Where Economics Meet Memetics.”

Below are some excerpts from an interview I gave to  the Adizes Graduate School Newsletter. Some of the slides included here were distributed by Don Beck at a recent conference on Conscious Capitalism with leading CEO’s like John Mackey of  Whole Foods and Kip Tindell of The Container Store. I’m told Mackey, who uses Spiral Dynamics in his management philosophy, was taken with my analysis of how the UNHEALTHY STRATEGIC ENTERPRISE 5th level system can make an entire economy toxic. One of the primary goals of this blog is to help businesses evolve from answering to the Stockholder who’s misguided by the Wall Street philosophy of short term profits to the stakeholder who has a long term eye on People, Profit, and Planet. That’s  the integral equation for the new frontier in sustainable  practices.

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Said E. Dawlabani on Economics

The Memetics behind the Financial Crisis

At the Spiral Dynamics seminars in Santa Barbara, Dr. Don E. Beck invites a number of guest presenters. Some of these special guests help participants view complex issues through the simplifying lens of spiral dynamics. In effect, spiral dynamics helps in understanding Why and How major global events occur. Below, Said E. Dawlabani, who presents during Level 2, provides us with the benefit of his insights and opinions regarding the financial crisis that impacts our lives and decision-making processes today:

Q: From a Spiral Dynamics perspective, what were the major causes of the financial crisis of 2008?

Spiral Dynamics is the study of cultural value systems that emerge in response to changing life conditions. I concern myself with large scale socio-economic changes and interpret the interplay between the eight known levels of human existence, or value systems, particularly in the area of economics.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, Finance, or Capitalism in general, is just one sector of the fifth level system which has a focus on ‘Strategic Enterprise’. The financial crisis was precipitated due to the changing balance between the 3rd, 4th, and 5th level value systems in the United States. In a nutshell, what caused the financial crisis was the erosion of the fourth level system, the ‘Authority Structure’ system, in two areas of regulation. This allowed third level system dynamics, the ‘Empire Driven’ dynamic, to take advantage of the lapse in controls.

The first area of regulation that was impacted was the governmental regulatory structure itself, which started to slowly disappear with the first Reagan Administration. The second was monetary policy at the Fed. From the top down, government had begun to favor laissez-faire capitalism. For almost three decades, these policies gave us the illusion of prosperity but in the long term gave rise to an unhealthy version of the Strategic Enterprise (fifth level system) practices that became very difficult to reverse. Productive output that was measured through the strength of our manufacturing sector gave way to a more service oriented output.

As the fifth level value system found itself unrestricted, it transitioned beyond a service based economy into what was considered prohibited or sacred territory – the field of ‘financial engineering’. This is where the foundation for potential systemic damage was created.

Q: You mentioned that ‘life conditions’ are an important catalyst for change in evolving value systems. How did this transition from a healthy value system to an unhealthy system manifest in real life?

Corporations and consumers alike abandoned the ethics of the fourth level structural system which made the US a great model of Capitalism – for an ethic that was engineered on Wall Street. For more than three centuries, this evolving but sustainable model for Capitalism called on consumers to build equity through hard work. The system called on corporations to pursue organic growth through product diversification and healthy competition. Instead of hard, productive work to build equity, the Wall Street model for capitalism substituted impulsive speculative borrowing – a hallmark of the ‘Empire Driven’ third level system.

Consumers shifted their focus on spending from what they earn to spending from what they could borrow. Borrowing – thanks to Wall Street – was limitless, and was no longer tied to strict formulas based on actual earnings. Corporations shifted their focus from providing shareholder value by growing their product line organically, to acquiring corporations their financial advisers lined up for them regardless of whether these acquisitions served the long term health and viability of the corporation, or their mission. Wall Street, being virtually unregulated, had no regard for the long term consequences of its actions as its brokerage houses gave out money to collect commissions and placement fees and not to promote the distribution of wealth to all corners of society.

Q: You mentioned that the area of financial engineering was sacred or prohibited. Could you elaborate more on what that means and how that created the systemic damage to our financial system?

When a value system is healthy, it supports the needs and the emergence of all other systems on the spiral. When it is unhealthy it is very destructive. Historically, money has played a very important fourth level systemic role in helping cultures emerge. Pay had a direct relationship to the number of hours worked or the level of skill attained. Financial output had a clearly defined correlation to input and there was a great sense of personal responsibility. The belief in the role of money is what built nations and what helped humanity emerge in the last eight thousand years. A healthy, innovative fifth level system arose as a result of a healthy fourth level system.

Between 2000 and 2006 all this changed. Unprecedented levels of liquidity came to Wall Street with no legitimate investment vehicles to put it in. So Wall Street created Notional or Virtual securities called ‘derivatives’ that forced the participants in the system to downshift to a betting game on how real assets will perform in the future. These models provided the illusion of legitimacy as they flooded consumers and capital markets with money. Wall Street quickly became identifiable with the unhealthy version (exploitive) of the third level value system and, like the case is always with a system that focuses on immediate rewards, it had no staying power. When it collapsed it almost took the whole world down with it.

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