August 12, 2010
The last couple of days have been among the most rewarding of my entire life. Since Sunday morning, I had the honor of hosting 50 Eastern European university students at a small, boutique resort that I rented just outside of Trakai, Lithuania.
Most of these students grew up in nations that were struggling to emerge from Communism in the 1990s; they’ve experienced quite a bit of economic adversity in their young lives– massive inflation, debt default, political instability, etc.
Having already lived through these events, they know for certain that they want to protect themselves from being vulnerable. All of the students want to work hard, create wealth, and plant multiple flags to achieve more freedom and happiness in their lives.
With the generous help of a couple of Atlas 400 members, we sponsored this event to teach them about entrepreneurship, investing, liberty, and planting multiple flags… all in an environment where they can practice vital English-language skills.
I invited along some of my most successful friends who excel at lifestyle design, starting businesses with little capital, or generating huge investment returns. Then we set up formal lectures, interactive workshops, and small-group sessions, including twice-daily workouts to reinforce the mind/body connection.
The week’s discussions varied from the finer points of Austrian economics, to finding and operationalizing business opportunities, to analyzing investment deals, to planting multiple flags. There were, however, two central themes that we reiterated all week.
First, I wanted everyone to focus on adding as much value as possible in their prospective businesses or careers. This is what’s ultimately best for everyone in the marketplace– the more value that is created, the better off the consumers will be, and the more profitable the business will become.
We also talked about various countries where the culture is one of value destruction– people who try to cheat their way to wealth through theft, fraud, or coercion. I also find this to be the nature of governments, which inefficiently redistribute capital and establish bureaucratic impediments.
In my opinion, value is like the karma of business. If you create value, positive things will happen to the business (i.e. loyal customers, more sales). If you destroy value, negative things will happen to the business (i.e. angry customers, high refunds and chargebacks, brand destruction, lawsuits, etc.)
I wanted to impress this upon the students because, fundamentally, everyone is capable of creating value. We’re all good at something, usually many things, and can solve problems for others. The bigger the problem, or the greater the number of people whose problems we solve, the more value we create in the marketplace.
The second major theme we discussed was attitude. We all know people in our lives who are smart and capable– they talk a lot about the business that they want to start, or the management position at work that they would be good at, or the no-brainer deal that they could get involved with.
Yet, for whatever reason, few people follow through and actually take action… usually this is due to fear of the unknown. I think that human nature would have us remain in a bad situation where we at least know what to expect, rather than take a small step into a potentially great, yet uncertain situation.
The advantage that the students have is that, despite being short on capital and experience, they are young, energetic, and have very little to lose when making radical decisions in their lives. Conversely, they have so much to gain.
Age and family considerations often play heavily into people’s decision-making process; they say things like, “If I were younger, I would…” or “If I didn’t have my spouse and children, I would…”
I respect that there are certain obligations and limitations in nature; these are definitely important. I think we can recognize, however, that they older we get, the easier it becomes to make up excuses for not taking action to improve our lives.
Often the catalyst that can generate the most positive benefit takes nothing more than a little bit of extra effort, or small baby steps towards an uncertain outcome.
Planting multiple flags fits in this category– I see instances where people would rather stay in a known bad situation rather than risk the unknown. This is why I think taking small steps can be so effective… once you take the first step and get comfortable, the next step always becomes clear.
To me, this starts with analyzing your own situation and determining where you are most vulnerable– do you have too much cash in one place? are you too dependent on your employer? are you living costs spiraling out of control relative to income? are your assets in danger from lawsuit? etc.
Once you figure this out, I think the next step will become evident… perhaps moving money offshore, buying foreign property, establishing an international business structure, seeking stable employment opportunities overseas, etc.
Anyhow, I appreciate you being patient with my silence over the last few days. Everything about the event was absolutely perfect, except that our Internet connection at the resort facility was insufficient to withstand being bombarded by so many people!