Ben Asks: What is the Pareto Principle?

Life can be completely chaotic. Understanding where our time, energy and resources go and use this information to our own benefit ourselves, could be the key to taking back control. Understanding the 80/20 law is a wonderful way to explain life in better detail.


Vilfredo Pareto is a hero of mine. He is a person that looked at the world and applied numbers to it. He found logic and rules in the chaos. He was an engineer. 

His most famous piece of work was his analysis of the distribution of wealth in Italy. He found that 20% of the people owned 80% of the land and therefore he could say the remaining 80% of the people owned only 20%. 

Now-a-days, the ‘80-20 rule’ is applied everywhere from finance, to engineering, to horticulture. It is well-known 80% of the sales will come from 20% of the clients, 80% of the defects in a production plant will occur on 20% of the products, 80% of the harvest will come from 20% of the land.

How does this help us in a chaotic life?  Well, how do we analyse ‘life’? A good starting point is to use this simple tool to show us how to be more savvy about the tasks we take on.


80/20 Energy Distribution

As a generalisation, we can say 80% of a given project will take 20% of the effort, therefore when we understand this, and when we reach the last 20% and we start to struggle. We can understand that it is completely normal. 

The higher effort required to finish a project is the reason why so many jobs end up half completed or the final detail work comes out at a lower quality standard than the rest. The energy to finish, as a generalisation, is so much greater – 60% higher in fact (80-20%), than the ‘normal’ energy required to start and roll through 80% of the project itself.  Knowing it will be a struggle, we can ensure we apply the correct strategy to cope. 

We act rather than react. 

Imagine you take a long drive with your partner to a new city for a weekend away. If we apply the Pareto Principle, we know that 80% of the journey will be easy. Requiring only 20% of the effort, the miles will flow under the vehicle as you waft along without a care in the world. That is, until you reach the final 20% of the journey. Strap in and hold on as this shit’s going to go down. 80% of the effort is going to be needed to get you through that city centre. The unfamiliar road signs, the crazy local drivers and the bonkers one way system is going to be taxing to deal with. 

However, knowing this in advance we can find a strategy to cope. We could plot the distance and find an appropriate place to take a break around 80% of the total journey. A good coffee break to sit down and accurately plan the final route to the destination. 

The interesting (albeit super nerdy)  thing about the principle is the extrapolation that comes with it. 

As 80% of the effort is on the last 20% of the project, in this last 20% of the activity, the first 80% of it will take 20% of the effort, then the final 20% of the final 20% will take 80% of the 80% of the effort. Confused?! Take a look at the graph for a more visual explanation.

Exponentially increasing, the closer you get to 100%, the more and more effort you need to finish. Finding the entrance to a city centre hotel car park is always the worst, right?


Overloaded at Work?

Have you ever sat down and thought “why is work so hard now-a-days?”. In the past it seemed like you could give your full attention to a project, the stress was lower and the end result was better. But now, it feels like you are just pounding out project after project? I know I do.

Maybe the Pareto Principle can help us understand this. Imagine all of the projects you ever completed at work were taken in series. One after the other after the other. Start a project, see it through until the end, finish and then start the next. The graph of effort against time would look like this. 

Periods of low effort and periods of high effort. After each high effort, a chance to relax and recuperate due to a period of low effort from the next project. A manageable system that works, right?

But if you are a manager of a company and you looked at this chart, would it not be so unreasonable to say that the workforce is only running at 20% of their effort for 80% of their time? Therefore, running projects in parallel should be completed. A reasonable assumption one might say for the overall productivity of the company.

That’s great until projects get delayed, high level periods start to overlap and of course the average overall maintained effort increases. 

With the prolonged increase in effort, comes the stress and fatigue that if not properly managed, can cause failure. 

In this instance, failure may mean not completing a project or turning the project in at a substandard level. While objectively, any rational human would judge you compassionately for having attempted to juggle multiple projects, in your mind, neither failure nor a lack of quality, is going to make you feel good.

Understanding this, could help realise why you are feeling exhausted, or why you need to sit down with your boss and ask for a time out. Without this understanding, without knowing your limits, you could be exposing yourself to the harm of a stressful environment for too long a period of time.


Managing your Time, Money and Resources

In production facilities, we use Pareto charts to look at defects. We need to know where the biggest problems are to fix, objectively, rather than with subjective opinions. Imagine we were in a car factory and every day a car came down the line with a smashed windscreen. In addition, 20 cars came down the line with a passenger door that didn’t open and 100 cars came down with a scratch in the paint work. Which is the problem to solve first?

Many people would think the windscreen first – it’s a terrible thing, right? Then the doors, followed by the paint as that’s an easy fix. That was my assumption when starting as a graduate engineer, but how wrong I was. First we would tackle the paint. 100 customers would complain of the scratch in the paintwork Vs. the one person with a smashed windscreen. Therefore to satisfy more people, we take the highest amount first.  

We need to assess the amount of potential complaints by the number of incidents. The way we can do this is with a ‘Pareto Chart’. The below chart shows an example for defects in a titanium facility. A classic Pareto Principle distribution showing a clearer picture of where to focus our attention. 

File:Pareto chart of titanium investment casting defects.svg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pareto_chart_of_titanium_investment_casting_defects.svg

Pareto charts are something I consider essential to my daily life. I use them everywhere. At work, at home and when trying to figure out a ‘why’.  Have you ever inputted your budget into a chart like this to see where your money goes? 

The same pattern will emerge. The highest is probably the mortgage, followed by the bills, then clothing, food, entertaining etc. How does this help you though? Well just like an engineer in a production plant trying to reduce defects to bring the total level down. When plotting your monthly budget into a Pareto Chart, it is easy to identify areas to save money. You look at the highest bar first and work your way down the chart to the bottom. 

To take another example, have you ever measured what you do during the day and plotted the times on a Pareto Chart? 

A typical day could be, wake up at 6am, lay in bed until 6:15. Get up, shower, have some breakfast and leave for work. Commute to work and slave away all day before returning home. Go for a run, prepare the evening meal, take a shower. Sit down to eat food, turn on the TV. At the end, brush your teeth and go to bed. Read for half an hour and sleep.

The data in a table format would be as follows.

ActivityTime
Sleep8
Wake up0.25 (quarter of an hour) 
Showering (morning and evening)0.5 (half an hour)
Breakfast0.25
Commuting (to and from)2
Work8
Running1
Evening Meal Prep1
TV2.25
Brushing teeth and going to bed0.25
Reading0.5
TOTAL24

And this data plotted as a bar chart.

What if we now move the chart to a Pareto style? We simply re-order the blocks to show the biggest on the left and the smallest on the right.

Now the results become quite interesting. If we were to look for things to reduce to allow us to have more free time, it becomes quite easy to see where our time is being wasted. 

How many people put ‘watching TV’ as a hobby on their CV do you think? The 3rd biggest usage of time in our days! Statisica.com reports for people aged 25-44, the average TV time per day was 2.75 hours, (just in case you thought my numbers were above average).

When I completed this task on myself to try and make my day more productive, it was a shock to realize where my time went – and I am pretty abnormal. I make sure I have eight hours in bed each night, most people only manage six to seven. If I wanted more time, to create more freedom, I knew where I could find it. Turning off the TV and investing some of that time to better myself… 

80% of the time above goes to working, commuting and sleeping activities. Therefore you only have 20% left for you. What would you like to do with it?

The Pareto Principle can be applied to almost anything to understand where your energy, time, money, resources etc are going. It can help you understand why you are burnt out. It can be a tool to show your manager that you need to cool it down a bit. It can be a guide to knowing when to take a break before you do that final push. 

Think about an area in your life you would like to understand and see how Pareto can help you. 

Let me know how you get on! 

Ben Stalsberg


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle

https://www.statista.com/statistics/276748/average-daily-tv-viewing-time-per-person-in-selected-countries/

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Explains: Lesson learned from a ‘5 Year Plan’

Trying to find a little ‘peace of mind’ can sometimes be the well-needed stress relief in a chaotic, high-speed world. Thinking in the long term could be a method to help you find that aid. Let’s discuss my experience with a ‘5 Year Plan’ and see if it can help you too.


The student bar at Oxford Brookes University was unusually busy on a Thursday night. The sporty people were spread over an area in the corner, the music types were hanging near the pool tables and the ‘in crowd’ were sitting at the bar chatting with the bar staff. Intermingled in all these groups were ‘everyone in between’ sitting, standing, chatting, laughing and having a pretty good time.  

Sean, my good friend, was talking to us about his plans for the future. Sean and I met during the engineering program introduction day and hit it off immediately. A little bit older than me, he became a big brother-type figure in my life.  We shared common interests and made each other laugh, though it was notable how often I was the butt of his jokes. He would sometimes play pranks on me and tell stories to strangers of my mishaps, but we were good mates. I kind of felt a bit of respect for him with the lessons and guidance he showed me along the way. If Sean slipped up on anything though, I was always there to pounce. 

On that night in the bar, Sean was discussing his ‘5 Year Plan’. My former, 20 year year old younger self had never heard of anything so grown up coming out from such a hoodie-clad-person. Sean detailed his career plan, his goals to save for an apartment and his intentions for him and his girlfriend’s future. He seemed to have it all figured out.

It is only reflecting back now, that I can appreciate how wise Sean’s words were. We all should have listened and made notes as if we were in a lecture from a proper professor. Solid advice, most likely handed down from his father to him, which Sean was gracious enough to share with his motley crew.  Regrettably, instead of seeing this advice for the value it carried, it was simply an opportunity for ridicule for my immature self. His advice was not ‘normal’ at our age, and with anything not normal, it was open for mockery. I pasted him that night for his fancy ‘5 Year Plan’ and little was said about it ever again.. 

In those subsequent years after graduation, I followed my dad’s way of thinking. Solve one problem, then wonder what is next, or react to the next thing coming your way. I was in completely ‘reactive’ state of mind, as opposed to  the logically laid out ‘active’ one Sean had. I had an idea where I wanted to go; I wanted to work in Formula 1. However, I didn’t have many plans or ideas for anything else. 

The years passed as I lived a life of instant gratification. My ‘buy now pay later’ mentality fuelled by a life of living in the moment and not really caring about the future. It was only when I moved to Norway, some 15 years later, I sat down and thought, “Shit I really need to sort this out”. I had racked up a mountain of debt and was becoming fed up with the restrictions that came with it. I reflected that perhaps Sean had been onto something after all.

I sat down and calculated my budget and worked out how many months it would be to pay off everything. The credit cards, car loan, loans from family members and so on. “Life is so much more than just money, but what else did I want though? If this is the direction I am heading, what would I like to see along the way?” I pondered. 

As I expanded my thinking from finiances into other areas – fitness, housing, vehicles etc. I found myself l visualising Ben, five years in the future. Where was he? What was he doing? How did he look? What did he wear? What were his priorities?

As I worked out the answers to these questions, like inputting a GPS coordinate into a sat nav system, I saw a new path to follow. A guided route stretched way ahead in front of me to a vision of my new better life. 

But the time frame seemed so long, 

“Five years of my life? Would it be worth it? But how long really is five years?”  I considered the reality of five years. “If our generation will live until we are 80-90, and I’m 35, I still have 45-55 years to go. If I sacrifice five years now to pay off the 15 years of fun I’ve just had and make the next 45-55 years of life better, it doesn’t seem so bad of a trade off after all?”. This was the motivation I needed.  

I made a spreadsheet for every part of my life. Finances, career plan, housing, vehicle options, savings, vacation plans, a short, medium and long term wish list. I set in as much detail as I could and planned everything I could think of. Much like a mountaineer setting off to climb a difficult path, I had a map of where to go, what obstacles to look out for and what milestones to celebrate along the way. 

As I write this post I’m coming to the end of the 5 year period and here is what I have learned on my journey. 


At Peace

I found in my past I was always rushing to get to where I wanted to go. Now, I understand with careful planning it’s going to take it’s own time to get there. Like running a marathon, I can sit back, relax and settle into a good pace. Life is less stressful when you are not sprinting from one thing to the next. 

Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” discusses how successful entrepreneurs look back on the times starting out, hustling their way to achieve year upon year as the best times in the company. When they have made it and start to follow their ‘What’, rather than their ‘Why’, the focus is lost and the enjoyment decreases too. 

Therefore, why not relax and enjoy those early days longer? When you chase a dream the story is over when you accomplish it, right? 


Delayed Gratification

I had/have a financial plan in place enabling me to live an extraordinary life in the future. For example, I don’t have a fancy car now, on a loan, I have a regular VW Golf and I’m saving money each month for my ‘dream car’ later. The temptation of instant gratification now, is overcome by the thought or dream of what will come later. But it is not easy. Swimming against the flow of a society pushing you down river into debt is hard. What I found to ease my mind was actually the improvement to me, my character.

The ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment’ by W Mischel, E B Ebbesen, A R Zeiss, studied how children reacted to a simple challenge. A single marshmallow now, or two later. The study, in which some modern day versions have some very amusing YouTube videos, showed some very interesting results—albeit with some counter arguments and studies weakening the original theory such as the work completed by Watts, Duncan and Quen

The team in the original study, followed the children for the next 40 years of their lives.  The results showed the children who had waited and had the ‘delayed gratification’ of two marshmallows were more successful, achieved higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, less divorce, lower obesity levels etc. 
Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D, wrote in Psychology today, “Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster….People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health, and finances”


Motivation

The final thing I noticed when I planned ahead in my life was the increased motivation to get things done. Much like Edwin Locke’s ‘Goal-Setting Theory’. A technique used by management companies all over the world, encouraging specific, challenging, and time defined goals as a key for success. By planning, I became super-productive and super-motivated.

But a word of caution. It is easy to write almost anything down on a ‘5 Year Plan’ and ‘hope’ it just happens. One could write ‘to be a millionaire’, but this may lead to more stress and depression if you are simply not able to or not lucky enough to achieve it. 

My advice, taken from the book ‘Start with Why’, is to begin with defining your ‘Why’ first. Why do you want to be in that position? Why do you want to move there? Why do you want that vehicle?

Having a clear understanding of ‘why’ is one of the most powerful tools in the armoury. When times go bad or temptation comes along to veer off your path, remembering your ‘why’ helps you steer a true course forwards. 

I was fed up with being trapped by the restrictions of being in debt. My ‘why’ is freedom.


This ‘5 Year Plan’ for your life concept isn’t new. This isn’t an original thought from me. There are even ‘wikihow’ pages on how to do it. People will advise you on Youtube how to use a picture board to show the things you desire. Whereas others will say write everything down and place it in a special jar. I made a spreadsheet. 

How do you create the plan? Well, it’s up to you. But you’ve already taken the first step, so good luck!

“Slow and steady wins the race”, right? The benefits of a 5 year plan have shown me you can gain more control of your life, reduce the chaos and improve your own character in doing so. 

So why not try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

Ben Stalsberg


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Five-Year-Plan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_gratification#:~:text=Delayed%20gratification%2C%20or%20deferred%20gratification,preference%20for%20a%20later%20reward.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jun/01/famed-impulse-control-marshmallow-test-fails-in-new-research

Ben Asks: How do you manage fear?

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Fear can be a positive or negative influence in your life. Manage it well and it can guide you to safety. Manage it badly and it can paralyse you and hold you back from achieving your wildest dreams. Overcoming fear usually means staring it right in the face without blinking. It’s not an easy skill to learn, but it’s something you can master….with a little bit of courage.


Jim’s body was limp. The wave had knocked him unconscious after tossing his body like a ragdoll into a piece of deck equipment. The Doctor was at the helm, unable to leave his position, battling with the furious storm. I had to take charge. I was dazed, confused and soaking wet from the 20ft wave that had just crashed over the side of the yacht. Ten days earlier, fear would have prevented me helping my friend. Now though, I had the mental strength to overcome my fear.


I had been chasing a career since a young age. I had a dream and I worked damn hard until I finally made it as a professional test driver. The relentless work ethic had paid off, however I was in need of a break. When a friend of mine invited me to see a start of a yacht race he was competing in, something inside of me said this would be a good weekend away. Little did I know, it would be a life-changing event.

The Solent is a sailing mecca in the south of England. It was also home to the start of the 2011-12 Clipper Round-the-World Yacht Race. A pay-to-play set up where people from all walks of life can become offshore sailors. Racing 12 identical yachts east around the world on a 42,000 mile journey, it’s quite the adventure.

Teams take on Mother Nature in some of the world’s most extreme environments—those even professional sailors find hairy. Working in revolving watches, sailing is a non-stop battle 24 hours a day. The crews of amateurs must come together to form a tightly knit team to survive.

Fast forward two and a bit years to Cape Town, South Africa, this was exactly what I was about to do. The weekend in the Solent had had such an impact on me that I went home that night and immediately signed up for the race. I hadn’t had the money to compete at first. But I had sold my apartment, lived in the cheapest B&Bs I could find and drove an old banger for a year to be able to get my place onboard. 

Now, all those sacrifices had been worth it. We were on the 3rd leg of the journey bound for Albany, Australia. A local priest blessed the boats, as I gave each of my team a hug and wishes for the upcoming journey. I was the watch leader, a seasoned sailor by now and despite bagging four race starts, this one felt completely different. The atmosphere was tense, compounded by the silence of the crew.  A lot of cigarettes were being smoked, even by the non-smokers. To ease my tension I went below deck for one last check of my equipment. My thermal underwear was packed away, my sleeping bag was prepped at the end of my bunk and my foulies were hung in the locker. Foulies, the affectionate name for the wet weather gear we used to protect us from foul weather we experienced at sea.

The challenge that lay ahead was the Southern Ocean. Home to monsterous waves, without land mass to break up the energy, the swells of the Southern Ocean can grow to the size of houses. If there’s enough distance between your vessel and the rest of the fleet, the closest humans are the astronauts in the space station. if you get into trouble, helicopters can’t save you. Out here, there is no help. 

With no real knowledge or experience of such isolation, the anecdotes peppering the pre-race training sessions sounded mythically exciting. The reality would turn out to be truly petrifying. After some experience in the open ocean, I knew it was down to me and my crew to look after one another. My crew was everything to me. 

Under the protective gaze of Table Mountain, Guardian of the Southern Seas—so legend has it — we departed. Always dramatic, the race start saw the boats racing exceptionally close to one another. Although the winds initially were manageable, they started to escalate quickly. As our afternoon watch ended, we knew we had to get some quality rest for the battle we would undoubtedly face that evening.

I awoke to the sound of a menacing wind. It felt like a screaming banshee, outside the hatch and coming to get me. I was wide awake, with the growing fear of impending doom coursing through my body. I took a deep breath and pushed my anxious thoughts aside. I managed to wrestle myself out of my bunk and into my foulies. I took a seat in the galley and awaited my call to duty. 

 “Port Watch, ready!” shouted a crew member from above.

The wind punched me in the face as I came up onto the deck. The icy cold spray of the salty ocean water piercing my face like a thousand needles. It was gusting to over 100 knots now. The sky was dark and brutal; no moon, no stars, just a bleak, horrid darkness smothering us all and making the visibility nightmarish. Then I saw it, high, way high behind the back of the boat, a strange white whisper. It was completely out of place from any normal realm of physics or reality. I couldn’t really figure out what it was until the boat hit the bottom of the wave, juddered. This monster wave picked us up — our little craft, a mere matchstick between the thumb and finger of a giant. The helmer hollered “hold on!”, as we all scrambled to find cover from the ocean wash that drenched the boat from the sky.

I sat in the shallow dug out where usually our feet would be, panic setting in. Shit had suddenly gotten very real. I had to calm my anxiety.

Cowering, eyes wide open, I surveyed the crew around me. They didn’t seem at all fearful, as they faced this futile challenge. My friend nodded an ‘Are you ok?’ gesture, meeting my gaze, his eyes filled with concern. No. No. I was not ok. I scrambled back down the hatch to the relative safety inside. 

Not being able to see the mortal terror on deck felt irrationally comforting. Yet, this brief reprieve gave way to another tsunami of emotion. Flooded with shame, I pulled my hood over my head. Hot tears streamed down my face as my body tried to exorcise the stress. 

The crew’s shift finished. I barely slept during the off-watch. A gulf separated me from the cosy feeling of belonging I had shared with my crew mere hours earlier. Feelings of complete failure set in, as I teetered on the ridge of my mental limitations. My mind was out-of-control, catatrophising all the ways in which the boat could keel over and take us all out—500 miles from any other signs of life. How the hell would I get out of here? I thought back to the lessons learned from my days as a professional test driver – to drive fast, first you start slow.

This is what I had to do, I had to build up slowly. The storm wasn’t going anywhere and we couldn’t just get off the boat. The situation in front of me was one that I had to deal with. By having a new baseline, a new normal, I could start to ACT rather than REACT to the situation. Acting can be considered as a more thoughtful approach to a situation whereas reacting, brings forwards your fight and flight responses.



I went up and faced my fear. I took my position on the helm and lasted about 10 minutes. Jolts of fear racing through my body every time the boat lurched on a wave or I mistimed a correction. I called another crew member, he would take over, I would go down below, reset and find a new normal again . “OK, you can do 10 minutes, just do 15 minutes more” I would say to myself.

Slowly but surely I built up my time behind the wheel increasing my confidence. Confidence in myself being able to complete the task but also the confidence in the boat being able to handle the extreme situations. 

Watch after watch, day after day, my confidence increased. I faced my fear and won.


Another storm entered in the wake of the last. One minute, Jim and I sat singing and joking. The next, I opened my eyes to see that I was face down on the ground. A rogue monster wave had hit the boat broadside from behind and caught the helmer completely off guard. Dazed, I looked up and saw my friend crumpled in a corner. I had to help him. “The boat is fine, as long as the boat is fine, then we can carry on” I thought. My new-found resilience was kicking in.

Turning on autopilot, I looked down at Jim,now turning blue. I rolled him over, checked for breathing, thumped his chest and called for help. Crew members came to help me as he regained consciousness, but we still needed to move him down below. Together as a team, a family now, we worked together to help our friend. We lifted him up, down the companion way to the galley and propped him up on the seating space. An old seadog by now, with a cup of warm coco in his belly and some bed rest prescribed by the skipper, Jim was fine. Albeit, a bit battered and bruised.

Jim survived, just as we all did. Those who have sailed the oceans know that it changes you. For me, by having those experiences,  life on land became a lot easier to deal with. Lessons learned in challenging environments are lessons not easily forgotten. 


Fear and anxiety are part of every day life. Facing fear or avoiding it is natural, but if your fear or anxiety interferes with your enjoyment of life on a chronic basis, I advise you seek professional help or talk to a trusted friend. We all need a little guidance sometimes and someone qualified to pinpoint the causes of your distress, can help you find a resolution far more quickly.

 “He who has truly overcome his fears is completely free” – Aristotle

Ben Stalsberg


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved

Ben Asks: How do you manage failure?

Failure is one of the most normal things in business, science and engineering. Yet in life, it brings us down, tears us apart and makes us negative towards others. Why?


Failing sucks, right? I’ve been fired from a job, crashed a car and flunked numerous exams. 

If I listed all my failures, you would probably wonder why you are reading a blog from such a pathetic person.  However, I would guess the same would be true when looking at some of the most successful people in the world. 

If you looked at the shots Michael Jordan missed, the number of races Lewis Hamilton hasn’t won or even the number of times Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets crashed, you would probably think they were losers too. But in most cases failure is good – Why? Because nothing teaches you more about how something works than when something fails.

If a vehicle manufacturer wants to know how far a car can drive, they put it through a durability cycle and literally drive it until things break. When they break, then they are logged and the engineers can correlate whether their calculations were correct or not. They learn only in the moment of failure.


When something fails in engineering, we look at it, analyse it and ask the question, why did it fail?

In answering that question, then we make sure it doesn’t happen again and the product gets better. 

You look at what is not good, constantly, and work on those things to make it work. The PDCA cycle is a great example of this.

The difficulty arises when you become so focussed and so conditioned on looking at the failures or the negatives, that you don’t have time to stand back and look at the successes.  

As a ‘detail-driven’ person, it took me well over two years living in the house I built to stop looking at the small mistakes, the pieces of wood I didn’t cut right or the slight error in production of some things. To stand back and see the house as a whole end result and form a different opinion. 

This conditioning of always looking at the negatives and seeing failures more than successes was really a contributing factor to my struggle in life. At work, projects have defined timelines and new ones are always coming along to keep you distracted from the one that has just gone by. If you messed up on a project three years ago, chances are you’ve already chalked it off and moved on to the next. The longer timeline helps you in these cases.

But in life, it seems to be harder. Sometimes, like me, we will look back on things that happened three years ago and still feel pain, regret or sadness. 

When we focus on the failures, we tend to miss what else is going on. Just like a plot of the FTSE 100 where the failures like the 2008 financial crisis are just blips in the road to a constantly increasing chart.

Credit:  https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2020/03/coronavirus-stock-market-crash.html/


In 2017 my wife and I thought about starting a house build project. We found a company to deliver the materials and we knew a builder who would be the project manager and oversee the construction. He was a long-term friend of my wifes brother and his family lived only 100m away from the building plot.  If you were going to trust anyone in a foreign country with your hard-earned cash, he was up there high on the list. 

Our assumption though, could not have been any worse as in 2018, this very same person had walked off with £130,000 of our money and left us with only a bare strip of ground. 

Trusting this guy and just paying him money without checking, questioning or vetting was by far the biggest failure in my life. It put me back years in my plan with regards to integrating to Norway, my career and my finances and was a huge contributing factor to my breakdown. 

That failure though, looking back from a far, was actually quite a good thing to happen to me. If that guy had not done what he did to us, things would not be as good as they are now. 

You might ask, how can someone come into your life, rip it to parts, drink champagne each weekend in the local bar on your money and that has possibly been a good thing that happened to you?

Well, in engineering, failure has three beneficial results and the same three things we should all learn from for life too. 

  1. Teaches you a lesson / you learn something
  2. Stops you heading down a wrong path
  3. Provides you or others with information

Teaches you a lesson / you learn something

I grew up in the North of England. Raised to be polite and respectful, especially to ‘elders’, I trusted everyone. Looking back now, perhaps a bit too much. I thought that no one would do bad things to intentionally hurt you. Unsurprisingly after being conned, guess what? I learnt that wasn’t the case. Perhaps I’d been a bit naive, but it’s only natural to judge others by your own standards and I don’t consider honesty a character flaw. 

We’ll never know if this chap was a bad egg or a good person or simply in a desperate situation making a very poor decision. Yet, learning and accepting that good and bad people can do bad things, that no matter how nice, how friendly, how much they belong to  a group of friends, if the opportunity or circumstance presents itself, you can leave yourself open to being taken advantage of.

As I move more into a more entrepreneurial role— with my side hustle and this blog—dealing with contracts and paperwork has become quite a common thing. I need to be quite savvy when it comes to removing the person and looking at the facts, figures and the risks. After that guy made me curl up in my bed and cry my eyes out each night for well over a half a year, I check and recheck every line of paperwork and conduct background checks on the people themselves.  

These lessons, learnt the hard way, have helped me in two other cases since our misfortune. I could have lost a lot of money if I hadn’t gone through this horrible experience. I have evolved into a new version of me, only through the pain of failure. 

Stops you heading down a wrong path

An idea is a brilliant thing right? It’s something that comes into your mind and then blossoms into something beautiful. However not all ideas turn out great. The use of hydrogen in airships was thought to be quite good, until of course that disastrous day resulting in the loss of life with the LZ 129 Hindenburg. 

When the con man came and went, at that point in my career, I had lost sight of engineering. I had been seduced by the world of sales and thought this would be a good new start for me. I had moved to Norway and maybe a different role in a different country was what I was supposed to be doing. I worked with the con man creating house build projects that we could build and sell. One week, I had believed in everything this man had to say that I was ready to quit my job and go and work on this marvelous future venture with him. In that very same week, we found out from another builder that everything he had been telling us was complete lies and we really ought to go and get a lawyer. I retracted my thought of resignation and luckily the two events happened in the right order.

Ultimately the whole ordeal led me to go back to engineering and kept it firmly in place as my head focus in life. This blog would not be being written if I had headed down the path of being a full time salesperson. That path was closed by failure. Looking back, it was the right decision.

Provides you or others with information

When a new thing comes to market, there is a distribution curve on who will buy this fancy new product. It’s a well-documented idea and can be implemented on who will buy a product, who will pick up and idea, or who will even wear a radically new design of dress. This theory is called the ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ by Everett Rogers. 

Upon release, individuals called the ‘Innovators’ will be the first to pick it up. They take the risk, experience the new fancy thing first—whether it works or not. Then the ‘early adopters’ then come the ‘early majority’. By now,some of the risk has been removed by the ‘innovators’. Finally the ‘late majority’ and the ‘laggards’ who have watched everyone else test this new product and proved its success, will pick it up and buy it. 

Rogers Everett – Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA.

By my wife and I failing, our whole community found out that this guy was a con man. People that would have used him to complete jobs now understood him as a crook and did not. We saved them from potential pain and upset. We were the (unfortunate) ‘innovators’ that gave the information to the rest of the people. 

The friend circle that this guy was in, thought he was an OK guy. Our big failure opened the box which exposed this guy to the world. People who had been caught up in his lies and cheats suddenly realised he was pulling the rug from underneath them. They managed to jump before themselves would fall. 

Much like watching a component failing on a competitor’s product and that giving you information to be better yourselves. Our failure helped our community cast off a bad apple and ensured no one was hurt like this again.


My regret looking back on this whole thing was how I reacted at the time. In our group of friends, I would moan, send messages and probably bring peoples spirits down with the negativity of ‘why me?’. 

People’s views on me changed through this process and they saw me moaning and complaining about what this horrible man did to us. I could see the once smiling people welcoming me to a party or an event, would soon scurry away, not wanting to have their energy reduced by our tales of woe.

But from the outside looking in, the situation was one that I didn’t check, therefore it’s kinda my fault, right? 

I wish I only knew about life’s failure and the benefits to them beforehand. In those times I didn’t have anyone to guide me, to be a mentor, or to stand by my side and teach me the things that I’m sharing with you now. I wish I took each day as it came and had a clear enough mind to say ‘hey, this has happened, ok there will be positives in the future, just keep moving forwards’. 

When you fail, or if you are looking back on a failure, I would suggest you maybe look at these 3 points and see how actually that failure helped or is helping you. You may not see it directly in the moment of failure, but a little down the road then it may become clearer. 

  1. Teaches you a lesson / you learn something
  2. Stops you heading down a wrong path
  3. Provides you or others with information

A quote I heard recently, about the story of Brian Banks. The football player was wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. His mentor, Jerome Johnson said. . .

“All you can control in life is how you respond to life [itself].” 

Failure is normal and sure enough it will happen. Just like a plot of the FSTE 100, you will still keep moving forwards and eventually the chart will be higher than before. You just need to react the best you can when failure happens.

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


Try sitting down and look back on your life at your biggest ‘failure’. Then try to understand why it happened and how now you are a better person for it. Send me a mail if you find this to be a positive experience.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Asks: Do you need to get debt free?

Money, it makes the world go round, but for the vast majority of us, we learn how to handle finances through trial and error—mistakes that can be super costly and affect our mental attitudes, relationships and future life plans.


By far the biggest change in my life has been my attitude towards money. I wasn’t given any real money advice by my parents. Neither was it on the curriculum in school or at university. Like most people, I had to figure it all out by myself. 

I distinctly remember the time it all went wrong. Aged 18, a friend in Canada and the words “just get a credit card, book the flights and pay it off later . . .”

I hadn’t been taught how to control my money, so I didn’t really stand a chance of becoming financially savvy when my parents, the banks, the car people, the house people etc. all wanted me to buy stuff now and pay for it all later. It was as standard and normal as an A4 piece of paper. 

The hardest realisation though, was the company I worked for, the people who paid me, dressed me and put food on the table each night actively, wanted me to have less, so that they could actually make more. 

When I realised that, I wanted, for want of a better expression, to stop the corporate bus and get off. In that singular moment, I knew the system was wrong. “Welcome to the real world, son” might be the reality, but that wasn’t a world I could live inside without some level of control, even if that is just something I’m telling myself.


What is the root cause of the problem?

Ask yourself the question – If you lost your job today, how many days can you live before you NEED money? 

Gobankingrates.com, a website dedicated to financial topics, estimated in 2019 around 69% of Americans had less than $1000 saved away in a bank account.

The BBC reported that in the UK, “A survey by the Money Advice Service has found that four in 10 adults…do not have £500 or more in savings. Another by ING bank suggests 28% of UK adults have nothing at all in the bank.”

And the Independent states that “More than quarter of UK households have no emergency savings…”

How did we end up in a situation where it’s common for all of us to live on the edge of financial disaster?

I have come to understand the game we are playing. It’s a game where we live in a world where everybody wants to make money. Simple, right? But this becomes quite tricky when we start to look at the companies and financial institutions closest to us. 

At work, unions have been demolished, equal pay is a touchy subject and satisfying the shareholder is now a priority subject for every CEO.

It is clear, the less we earn, the more we seem to borrow and the more the banks will make. Is this the darker side of capitalism?

The documentary ‘Saving Capitalism’ featuring Robert B. Reich, the former Secretary of Labor to then Clinton administration, paints a very vivid picture of the situation. “The simultaneous rise of both the working poor and non-working rich offers further evidence that earnings no longer correlate with effort.”

Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few

It is recommended from articles such as ‘marketwatch.com’ amongst others, that by the time you are 35, you should have twice your salary saved away. 35!? I ask: why the topic of personal finances was not firmly placed between Maths and PE on a Tuesday morning with Mrs Smith? 

As you can see, the harsh reality is that nobody is out there fighting for you to look after or  make more money – therefore you really have to do this stuff yourself.


When booking those flights to Canada, I didn’t realise then, how that one decision I was about to make, would be so disastrous for the next fifteen years of my life. 

Young and on reflection, not so clever, I got the credit card and had a wild time for two weeks; skiing, driving around in a Mk1 Golf convertible, playing board games and drinking a few too many lemonades.  

Upon my return, I was greeted by the mountain of debt I’d racked up… Of course I had neither the money, nor the discipline to pay the credit card off at once. I set it to pay off the minimum monthly balance, high on memories of my Great Canadian Adventure. The years passed by, loans and credit cards were a staple of my financial diet and the initial £1500 holiday cost closer to £2,900 once compound interest was taken into account.  It didn’t stop there. Over the years, thousands of pounds of hard-earned money, washing away in a blur of social situations, material possessions and long-forgotten drunken memories. It’s harder when there’s nothing to show for it all, eh?  

Fast forward ten years to Ben, aged 28 and I found myself sitting in a room with a group of people being trained to sail around the world. There was a girl around my age; cute, blonde, Norwegian, who looked at me in a way that buckled my knees forever. Another guy, also around my age, was as smart as they come with a niceness factor through the roof. At that time I could only afford to pay to sail halfway around the world. But  these two people, around the same age as me were doing the WHOLE thing. I thought if they are doing it all, why can’t I? 

I sat in the back of the class, I opened up my bank’s website and I applied for a £30,000 loan for the balance of the rest of the journey. Within an hour it was approved and within a day I had the funds sitting in my account. It was that easy. It was so easy in fact it was scary.

Returning to land a year later from the race, with around £30,000 loan, around £7000 in credit cards and £3000 loan from my parents. No job, no assets, no nothing. I knew it was time to make a change. A sickening feeling arose, I was now a slave to that debt. Shackles are something very few of us would choose to wear. Yet this is what we do mentally when we are indebted. We are shackled to the whims of an economy that is not designed to work in our favour. Freedom felt a long way off. 


The interesting thing about the people I met on the race was how savvy everyone seemed to be with money. They all ‘knew’ the money game and they all thought I was completely crazy in my approach to life on credit—I think ‘delinquent’ is the official phrase. Upon asking my close friends for advice to get out of this situation, one friend, Ryan, said he could help me. Looking back, he changed my life in a way bigger than I ever thought was possible,  recommending a book which altered my view on the financial world forever. 

The book was Dave Ramsey’s ‘Total Money Makeover’.

The book discusses a foolproof plan to become debt-free. You first save a small emergency fund, so that you can cut up all your credit cards and not worry about needing them. Then you pay off all your debts, excluding the mortgage. Boost your emergency fund to 3-6 months, then start to do things for the future. 

I was so passionate about doing this that I jumped in head first and dragged my wife along with me. I distinctly remember sitting in a hotel in Stavanger reading the page on cutting up credit cards and I went for it. I asked the receptionist to borrow a pair of scissors and cut up my credit cards there and then. It was terrifying and freeing all at the same time. Like jumping out of a plane, I didn’t really know where I was heading and how this was going to turn out, but I knew it was exciting! I carried one piece of credit card in my wallet until recently as a constant reminder of the days gone by. 

Becoming debt-free and being like the people on the boat was my whole focus in life. I wanted to be as carefree as they were. If they lost their jobs, it wasn’t stressful. Some of them were there just taking a year off anyway, just for fun. Most could live for months on the same lifestyle without needing to go to the banks for a loan. They were making money each day by just having money stashed away in various accounts, funds and portfolios. “What was this wizardry?” I thought.  

Well the truth is, it’s no more magic than driving a car, riding a bike or making a delicious chocolate cake. It’s just learning what to do and having the discipline to do it right.  

You set up a Plan, Do, Check, Action Process, as we talked about in a previous blog here. And you just get to work. 

It took me over three years to become debt-free and five years to be in the position that I’m in now. I have no debts apart from the mortgage, I have a 6 month emergency fund saved away and when I get my paycheck, 15% of it goes straight towards my retirement. If everything stayed the same, although I’m working to shorten the time of course…I should be a millionaire by the time I retire.

I’m not going to sit here and say it was, and is, easy though. You have to actively turn your back on a “normal” life and walk your own road. It takes months to pay off credit cards and years to pay off the cars. In all this time, you have to say “no” to anything fancy or fun. There are times when you stare at yourself in the mirror, wearing the same T-shirt you’ve owned for 8 years and think, what am I doing? I’m in the prime of my life, living on less money than when I was a student. ‘Buy now, pay later’ indeed.

You see all your mates, in fancy cars, having fun and going on holiday and you are sat, inside, watching the TV again. Of course, you wonder if they’ve been more money-savvy or if that enjoyment comes at a price they’ll pay later.

Debt repayment is  a long, hard, boring game and one in which you know will only take as long as the discipline you put in. One night out, means £50 less to pay off the car, which may push you into another month of debt-free mission living. There was a reason our grandparents called it ‘The never-never’. 

But it’s not forever. And it isn’t ALL doom-and-gloom. Funnily enough, this road looks more like the roads our grandparents would walk. Valuing shared neighbourly socials where everyone brings a bit, rather than flamboyant stag dos in random European cities. We’re all living well beyond our means, encouraged by colourful marketing campaigns. This new path shuns much of that stuff, seeing it for what it really is. 

Sometimes getting out of debt is a case of finding another tribe. One where symbols of status and wealth are not the priority. But just like the water principle, you have to input energy to dramatically change your ways. Then, after the transformation happens, you can walk a new path to a much better future than before.


To end, I want to leave you with a final thought, who is richer?

Person A and Person B earn the same money. Person A, has no savings, drives a Porsche on a loan, has a vacation home on a mortgage, dresses in designer clothes, eats out regularly and takes nice vacations all on credit cards. The disposable income after all the expenses and interest payments is around £30 each month.

Person B, saves £300 each month, drives a Volkswagen Golf, rents a vacation home for a week at a time, pays cash, dresses sensibly, eats out rarely but still takes nice vacations. All paid on cash not credit. The disposable income of this person is around £1000 each month. 

If both people lost their jobs, had their houses flooded, or had an accident in the family which needed large hospital bills. Who is the wealthier person and how much chaos would each person have in their lives if something went wrong?

You should never judge a book by its cover and no situation is more true than that with money. 

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


Find Dave Ramsey’s book here! https://www.daveramsey.com/store/product/the-total-money-makeover-book-by-dave-ramsey


https://www.statista.com/chart/20323/americans-lack-savings/

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35801951#:~:text=It%20recommends%20keeping%20between%20one,%C2%A36%2C000%20and%20%C2%A39%2C000.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-households-no-emergency-savings-pensions-insurance-policies-accounts-a8199201.html

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/yes-save-twice-your-salary-by-the-time-youre-35-and-7-other-things-you-should-do-2018-05-23


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Asks: Why is it so difficult to change? Explaining the ‘Water Principle’.

You’re stuck in a rut, struggling to move forwards and you just don’t understand why? Well let me help you understand it better with a theory about water.


To make a change, we input energy to divert away from our current normal, to create a new normal. Some changes are immediate and significant, such as moving house — where we use a short sharp burst of intense energy for a sustainable period of time. 

Other changes though, are more incremental. You start with a project and you have a dedicated goal in mind, however that finish line may be way ahead in the future. It’s easy to start the change as the amount of energy required is lower than the level of excitement you may have. Gradually though, that constant continued effort over months and months without any perceivable results can end up being absolutely draining if not managed correctly. 

Most humans have experienced the vast valley of demotivation that so often comes with a long term project, and I’m sure we are all guilty of looking for the easy way out when faced with a dark and miserable climb. 

But with any long term project, the more you can ‘normalise’ the situation you are in, the more you can understand the ‘why’ and with this understanding comes a better chance of success.

Any seasoned marathon runner will tell you it’s going to hurt like hell at mile 18-20, therefore any beginner experiencing ‘the wall’ will understand it to be normal and it makes it easier for them to carry on.

Taking a more general goal of ‘Fitness’ – unless you’re shredding calories and limiting calorie intake unhealthily, you’ll not see the incremental changes that the increased exercise brings; until you try on an old pair of trousers that have been too snug for far too long.

In engineering, it’s quite common for inspiration to come from nature. Biomimicry is all around us —not least on our roads, where ‘Cat’s eyes’ reflect headlights to guide the route ahead. When we have problems in our lives, we can look to nature to provide a better understanding and this is why I want to talk about water. 


——

There is no easy way to explain this theory without a small section of dry science. So please hang in there and I’ll see you on the other side. 

——

Water, to change itself from a solid state, into a gaseous state, must first melt from ice into water and then evaporate from water into steam. 

You may remember from science class, we conduct an experiment where we take a lump of ice, heat in a pan with a bunsen burner, then measure the temperature over a given period of time. Typically that time limit is when the water is boiling like mad and the teacher gets a bit worried about over-eager kids wanting to stick their fingers in! 

The chart we drew up after the experiment would look something like this.

The temperature rises steadily, until the ice changes to water or the water changes to steam and in these transitions something strange happens.

During these transformation phases, the observed temperature on the chart shows only a flat, steady line. We can’t see that any change is happening from the outside. However, we know at an atomic level, energy is applied in the form of heat and the molecule’s natural vibration increases.

The inward heat energy is being converted into kinetic energy. 

And remember that the fundamental rule of science: energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms. 

The water molecules continue to vibrate until finally they have enough energy to break free from their bonds and end up in a new, more fluid condition. Then, and only then, the observed temperature will increase again.

The same occurs when cooling. When we cool steam, to water and finally to ice, the temperature will also flatline in the transition phases. This is due to the molecules receiving less heat energy and forming restrictive bonds again.  

These plateaus of change are proportional with time and energy. Therefore if change is a constant, to decrease the time, we need to add or remove more energy. 

OK we made it. . . good job.

Considering our life progression and everything in our lives – projects, relationships, health, fitness, confidence etc. water is a handy analogy. 

When we change, and we want to move paths, from our current normal to a new normal, we need to input energy.

When we are in that transitional phase, we need to keep inputting energy — even if we see no results — until finally our bonds are broken with our old path, and we can move onto the next one.  

The energy we are inputting is not being wasted. It is being used somewhere. If we are not seeing an obvious result on the outside, it is likely the energy is being used on the inside.

When we fail to maintain consistency in long-term changes, our energy towards our mission reduces. Just like water, then we can slip back along the plateau and form bonds again to lower elements—AKA our original bad habits.


When times have been tough in my life, the one constant that has kept me motivated is the belief that the more energy I put into the system, the better the result.

I stumbled onto the ‘water principle’ idea when talking with a friend who was struggling to find his feet with his business. 

It was clear he was demotivated and a bit down in the dumps. It was only natural to try and think of a way to help his situation. We all say to our friends, “don’t give up” in times like these. However, without some context behind it, I felt it was a bit of an empty statement. Just like telling your mate who has split up with their partner, “It’ll get better soon”, you know that’s not the full story.. It’s going to be hell for 90 days as they ride the emotional rollercoaster of missing messages, bittersweet memories, tunes and smells that spark sadness—all the fun that comes with heartbreak.

I had watched a YouTube video on professional CrossFit athletes and was fascinated with the coaches explanation of ‘plateaus’. He described it as swimming under ice. At some point you won’t be able to get up for air. The only way to break through the ice is with technique. He would coach his athletes to actively stop chasing big weights, or top scores on the board (a habit formed from childhood) and focus only on the way they were moving.


The parallels between my friend, the athletes and the way water reacts just seem to fit together quite nicely. 

I started to think about all the times that I had found it hard and no matter how much energy I was putting in, nothing seemed like it was moving forwards.

Projects at work, becoming debt free, moving to a foreign country. All these projects which took so much energy and were completely demotivating in the heat of the battle. They all started to move when I had freed myself from bad habits, poor discipline or finally just accepted the situation I was in. 

It was only when I had used energy to break free from the bonds from the past, that I was set free for the future. 

“Don’t give up” with more background no longer seems as empty. 

We all know the expression ‘no pain, no gain’. If the only ‘pain’ you’re experiencing is the discomfort of not being able to visibly see results, perhaps you need to ask yourself how much you want the change?


But be careful. As I will discuss next week, if you are going to use your precious energy on change, it should be completed as efficiently as possible. The Plan, Do, Check, Action, method, can help you laser focus that energy to great success.  

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


Try to think of a time where you were struggling to change. What can you learn from that?


Heating Curve for Water

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_energy


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved