The Credo of John D. Rockefeller Jr.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Credo is displayed in bronze letters on the wall in the main lobby of the Rockefeller Library in Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth.

I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

Can Economic Theory Explain Everything?

Economics has limited application because its explanatory model cannot account for all the social and behavioral idiosyncrasies of the community or the individual. From Richard Bookstaber’s The End of Theory:

It is a deeply held conviction within economics that our world can be reduced to models that are founded on the solid ground of axioms, plumbed by deductive logic into rigorous, universal mathematical structures. Economists think they have things figured out, but our economic behavior is so complex, our interactions are so profound that there is no mathematical shortcut for determining how they will evolve. The only way to know what the result of these interactions will be is to trace out their path over time: we essentially must live our lives to see where they will go. There is no formula that allows us to fast-forward to find out what the result will be. The world cannot be solved; it has to be lived.

Intuition Demands Nurturing

Writing about the outstanding brilliance and peculiarity of his subject, historian extraordinaire Walter Isaacson discusses intuition in his biography of Leonardo da Vinci,

When Leonardo was painting The Last Supper, spectators would visit and sit quietly just so they could watch him work. The creation of art, like the discussion of science, had become at times a public event. According to the account of a priest, Leonardo would “come here in the early hours of the morning and mount the scaffolding,” and then “remain there brush in hand from sunrise to sunset, forgetting to eat or drink, painting continually.” On other days, however, nothing would be painted. “He would remain in front of it for one or two hours and contemplate it in solitude, examining and criticizing to himself the figures he had created.” Then there were dramatic days that combined his obsessiveness and his penchant for procrastination. As if caught by whim or passion, he would arrive suddenly in the middle of the day, “climb the scaffolding, seize a brush, apply a brush stroke or two to one of the figures, and suddenly depart.”

Leonardo’s quirky work habits may have fascinated the public, but they eventually began to worry Ludovico Sforza. Upon the death of his nephew, he had become the official Duke of Milan in early 1494, and he set about enhancing his stature in a time-honored way, through art patronage and public commissions. He also wanted to create a holy mausoleum for himself and his family, choosing a small but elegant church and monastery in the heart of Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie, which he had Leonardo’s friend Donato Bramante reconstruct. For the north wall of the new dining hall, or refectory, he had commissioned Leonardo to paint a Last Supper, one of the most popular scenes in religious art.

At first Leonardo’s procrastination led to amusing tales, such as the time the church prior became frustrated and complained to Ludovico. “He wanted him never to lay down his brush, as if he were a laborer hoeing the Prior’s garden,” Vasari wrote. When Leonardo was summoned by the duke, they ended up having a discussion of how creativity occurs. Sometimes it requires going slowly, pausing, even procrastinating. That allows ideas to marinate, Leonardo explained. Intuition needs nurturing. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” he told the duke, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form.

Isaacson’s previous biographical subjects include Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Ada Lovelace, and Steve Jobs—all blue-sky thinkers, with insatiable, lifelong appetite for knowledge and the ability “to make connections across the disciplines” and “to marry observation and imagination.”

Atheism is an Admission of the Obvious

Sam Harris writes in his bestselling Letter to a Christian Nation,

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, ‘atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

Jeff Bezos on “Multi-tasking Serially”

Research shows that what folks are really doing when they think they are multitasking is “serial tasking”—shifting gears between the tasks and losing some ground every time they shift. Here’s Jeff Bezos on phone addiction and multi-tasking:

Mark says his brother Jeff is surprisingly present, and rarely distracted by his phone. Jeff explains that “When I have dinner with friends or family, I like to be doing whatever I’m doing. I don’t like to multi-task. If I’m reading my email I want to be reading my email” with his full attention and energy. Jeff exhibited this resistance to multi-tasking early in life. At Montessori school, he’d refuse to move on to the next task as the day progressed, so the teacher would literally pick up him and his chair and move him to the next project. Instead of constantly switching back and forth, Jeff says he sequentially focuses. “I multi-task serially.”

One Last Chance to Reclaim a Valued Employee

Leigh Branham writes in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave,

There are times during an exit interview when it may become obvious that an employee who has decided to leave is really heartbroken at the prospect of leaving, but feels there is no alternative. For example, an employee may love the job, the work environment, and the colleagues, but has decided to leave because the boss would not grant flexible hours. In these situations, an alert and proactive exit interviewer may be able to intervene to help change the boss’s mind or report the situation to higher ups who may be able to assign the individual to a different manager.

In her book, HR from the Heart, Libby Sartain, senior vice president of human resources at Yahoo! Inc., recommends always asking departing employees, “Is there anything we could have done to keep you here?” You may discover that there may still be a sliver of a chance to keep valued talent and save the company money in avoided turnover costs.

Sartain also recommends trying to connect with departing employees on a deeper, more human level by asking such questions as:

  • If you had the last three months to live over again, what do you think you would do differently?
  • What have you learned that you can take with you to your next job?
  • What are you proud of from your time here?
  • What goals did you meet?
  • What accomplishments will you be able to take with you?

Selfless Gratitude

Phillip Moffitt writes in his essay Selfless Gratitude,

Gratitude is the sweetest of all the practices for daily life and the most easily cultivated, requiring the least sacrifice for what is gained in return. It is a very powerful form of mindfulness practice, particularly for those who have depressive or self-defeating feelings, and those with a reactive personality who habitually notice everything that’s wrong in a situation…

…Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development.

Patience is a Virtue for Investors

From Apollo Asia Fund’s manager’s report for second quarter 2017:

We are patient with companies which are having short-term difficulties—perhaps to a fault, but when managers respond to each setback with sensible steps, the results are usually good in the end, and we sometimes learn more about the business characteristics during such periods. When our confidence dwindles, however, we pay more and more attention, and may trim; if it is lost, we try to exit completely, rather than trying to be too clever about the price.

Learn, Learn, Learn

Charlie Munger at the Berkshire Hathaway 2017 Annual Shareholders Meeting (47:48–48:35 of this Yahoo! Livestream🙂

I think that a life properly lived is just learn, learn, learn all the time. And I think Berkshire’s gained enormously from these investment decisions by learning, through a long, long period. Every time you appoint a new person that’s never had big capital allocation experience, it’s like rolling the dice. We’re way better off having done it for so long. But the decisions blend; and the one feature that comes through is the continuous learning. If we had not kept learning, you wouldn’t even be here. You’d be alive probably, but not here.

Aeschylus Transformed Tragedy to the Great Heights of Poetry and Theatrical Power

English literary scholar Maurice Bowra writes about the ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, “the father of tragedy,” in Landmarks in Greek Literature,

Aeschylus may have found some of his starting-points in contemporary events but he looked far beyond them to the lasting principles which they illustrated and which could best be presented in a mythical form without any distracting local or ephemeral details. If Pindar illuminates the events of his own time by myths, Aeschylus goes further and makes myths illustrate matters which pass far beyond the present and are often everlasting principles behind the changing scene.