Retirement, Financial Independence, and How Savings Work

A ton of personal finance information awaits anyone with an interest, but we need a frame of reference to even begin understanding all of that information in the first place. Let’s take 10 minutes to talk about what “retirement” really means, and how that applies to financial independence and savings.

Retirement is simply the point where our resources can cover our financial needs for the rest of our lives, without us working any more. That’s it. There’s no special age, there’s no magic number, and there’s no “one right way” to calculate when people should retire if they want to. While a lot of factors contribute to figuring out retirement (such as how long we’ll live and how much we need), retirement is simply the point where we decide that we can afford to quit working, if we want to.

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What Starcraft Can Teach Us about Personal Finance

Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games like Starcraft require deftly managing income, output, and attention. These three resources change priority throughout the game. Personal finance works the same way, requiring us to manage income, spending, and attention, to attain financial success.

More specifically, our chances of success in Starcraft depend on our harvesting rate, conversion of resources to units, and optimal application of those units to defense and expansion. Note that I said “chances for success”, not just “success”. We can do everything right, and still lose. We can do everything wrong, and still win. Knowledgeable and persistent optimization of our opportunities helps us make the most of what chance offers us. Here, then, are five personal financial management lessons to garner from Starcraft.

1. Time Scales Linearly; Resources Scale Exponentially.

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Navigating Blind Spots (in Others and Ourselves)

A lot of discourse and argument foment around people’s blind spots, and interaction often fails when we try to fight blind spots. Nobody wants to keep a blind spot — we either want to resolve it, or send it back beyond the purview of our consciousness. Understanding how blind spots work can help us navigate them when we encounter them.

Disregarding intention for a moment, let’s borrow the four levels of knowledge/proficiency/whatever-it’s-called:

1. We don’t know that we don’t know.
2. We know that we don’t know.
3. We don’t know that we know.
4. We know that we know.

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Passwords are Not for Security

Picture a kindergarten classroom. Every kid has a space to hang up their coat, their bag, and maybe to store their lunch. While it’s technically possible that one kid may steal another kid’s lunch, more likely a kid will take home the wrong bag by accident. Organizing a bunch of on-the-run kindergartners is an exercise in identity management. Whose coat is this? Where did you last see your bag?

Contrast that with lockers at the local gym. While it’s also unlikely that anyone will steal anything, you get a lock and key. You carry the key. If you forget your stuff or if you lose the key, the staff can open the locker for you (or get rid of your stuff after you leave it there, forgotten, for several months). If you do lose your key, the staff will probably ask you to identify what’s in the locker before they open it. Some places won’t be so nice, and stand by a “use at your own risk” policy. Managing gym locker contents is an exercise in security. Who has access? Who needs help getting into a locker?

The two seem pretty similar, but they actually serve very different purposes, and understanding the differences can provide critical insight into how an IT department can help (or hinder) the people whom it serves.

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Systems Are Not as Intuitive as We Think

We easily take for granted the systems we learn, especially after we leverage those skills for a long time. In turn, we may become intolerant of people who either have not learned or even refuse to learn the systems we take for granted. Why won’t they just figure it out, like we did? Why would they want to continue to struggle with working at such a low level? As much as we may want to dismiss some people as lazy or dumb, the truth is that systems are not as intuitive as we think.

There’s nothing intuitive about desktop computers. People forget about that, once they pick up basic computer literacy. I mean, for crying out loud, we use a mouse to provide 2D horizontal input that proportionally but NOT commensurately maps to 2D vertical movement on a screen? The only thing worse than that is a control pad for a game console, where navigation input is neither proportional nor commensurate.

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Broadening the Search for Your Calling

How often do we hear about “how to find your calling”, “do what you love”, and “you only have one life to live, so follow your heart”? We may read about or even know some people who found their calling, how they live their passion. For the majority of us, the idea of a calling brings one of two frustrations: either we don’t know how to follow our calling in any practical sense, or much more often, we don’t know if we even have a calling.

Let’s challenge the second of these frustrations. Based on the people I met in my life who did find callings, we need to reframe and expand our conception of a calling, before asking if we have one.

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How to Spot the Next Big Thing

(Or, How Information Technology Became a Utility)

Information Technology, as a profession and as a field of study, has reached maturation. To understand how and why requires three concepts: the growth pattern of a resource, the four stages of technology, and the difference between complex and complicated problems.

The Growth Pattern of a Resource

A resource is a technological means to an end, serving as the foundation for other technologies. The growth pattern of a resource follows four geographic stages: central, distributed, standard distribution, and supplanted. When a resource first appears in a location, people go to that location to use the resource or get more of that resource. The first printed books, the first cars, and the first internet websites all required going to a place, worldly or virtual, to obtain the resource you wanted. Continue reading