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As I sit down to craft the latest reading list, I reflect on the change of pace we continue to see in the world with each passing day. Digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at both the personal and corporate level during the pandemic and we are starting to see what that means for society overall. As one article discusses, getting our attention has always been an important currency, but as we’ve begun to live our lives increasingly online, it’s now THE currency.

In our previous reading list, one article touched on the risks of vaccine nationalism and we are now seeing this play out around the world. This is a contributing factor to Canada only having 3% of the population vaccinated as of February 2021. The COVID variants remain the wildcard factor in the ongoing pandemic. While early data suggest the vaccines will hold up against the variants, only time will tell.

The Trump presidency brought some tense final weeks in the US, with the storming of the Capitol and the ensuing drama which followed. The normality of the Biden presidency is refreshing and, regardless of your political leanings, brings a modicum of dignity back to the position. With a $1.9 trillion stimulus package nearly across the finish line, new Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen thinks the US could return to full employment by 2022.

The mania around GameStop and other “meme stocks” has shown us that parts of the market are not currently concerned with fundamentals. We have witnessed this irrational behavior before and, if history is any guide, it doesn’t last. We are in a unique position today with so many new retail traders stuck at home, with excess cash and time on their hands to gamble in the stock market. The GameStop saga continues to unravel, but we have to wonder what this means more broadly. As frequent Northwood reading list author Morgan Housel reminds us: Napoleon defined a military genius as: “the man who can do the average thing when everyone else around him is losing his mind.”

We continue to see irrationality in the financial markets, and the valuations in certain areas of the market have approached bubble territory (multiples exceeding the dot-com era). However, the question is always “when will the bubble pop?” and that’s anyone’s guess.

With plenty of time to read these days, we’ve curated our first reading list of 2021 including several articles and three book recommendations. I hope you enjoy the below selection of content and that you’re vaccinated by the time you read our next reading list.

Book Recommendations

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World – Anand Giridharadas
This was a landmark book for me. It helped me see the risk of relying on philanthropy from the wealthy vs. doing the “grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world”. I heard him speak a year or so ago, and I thought the book was a more balanced presentation of the issues.

The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
This book was an eye-opener for me in a different way. It helped me see how I am connected to beautiful living beings around me (trees) who care for each other, have social networks, and act beyond their own self-interest. My love of trees was further inspired by a talk from an environmentalist who challenged us to get to know “who we share our neighborhoods with.”

No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality – Michael J. Fox
In Michael J. Fox’s new memoir, he shares personal stories about illness and health, aging, the strength of family and friends. This thoughtful piece is packed with some dad jokes but provides a vehicle for reflection about our lives, loves and losses, much needed during the pandemic. This book was highly recommended by my partner, Scott Hayman.

Scott Dickenson 2020 Top Book List
For some additional great books, see Northwood’s Scott Dickenson’s 2020 reading list which includes some historical fiction, behavioural finance, and travel escapism (which we desperately need these days).

Article Recommendations

New York Times: I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age
Michael Goldhaber – who coined the term “attention economy” – opines as to whether the attention economy and democracy can coexist. He touches on how so many of the polarizing factors in today’s society are attentional and that we have failed to acknowledge we live in an attention economy. This is a fascinating, must read.

Harvard Business Review: What Great Listeners Actually Do
Recent research has provided a new perspective on listening. It challenges several traditional assumptions, including “don’t talk while others are speaking” and suggests that the best listeners are actually those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. This article made me realize I can improve my listening. Listening is like driving – we all think we are above average!

New York Times: The Rich Kids Who Want to Tear Down Capitalism
The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers will gift their heirs up to $30 trillion by 2030, and up to $75 trillion by 2060. Instead of using their money on a stable of sports cars, some heirs plan to use their wealth to build the ‘solidarity economy’, which aims to prioritize social profitability instead of purely financial profits.

Globe and Mail: Biden is taking the U.S. on its sharpest left turn in 90 years
Biden’s ambitious agenda includes a massive stimulus program, sweeping climate measures, tax hikes, $15/hr minimum wage, expanded medical coverage, sweeping immigration overhaul and a Canada-inspired child benefit. As the article opines, given Biden’s age and his potential one-term presidency, he may “go for broke, like Mr. Obama did not.”

Wired: The Secret, Essential Geography of the Office
This short read reminds me why we enjoy the office. Here’s a clip. “Digital work has a lousy clock. Hours blur. Meetings all look the same. My map of our company’s office is filled with pathways, memories, art, people who came and went. (And it’s a small, single-floor, open office!). It’s got a history.”

Pinkcast 3.09. This is how to boost your intellectual humility
I am reprising this post from a previous reading list. Daniel Pink reminds us that intellectual humility is in short supply today and a leading cause of the current societal polarization. This 2-minute video (!) offers four questions to test your intellectual humility. I particularly love question 4.

The Atlantic: Stop Keeping Score | She who dies with the most checked boxes wins, right? Wrong.
This brief, thought-provoking article examines what motivates us, and how those same things may be undermining us in the long run. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as the author presents alternative paradigms for looking at ourselves and the world. A much-needed re-focus in our crazed social media world.

TV/Film Recommendations

A new addition to the reading list, here’s a list of streaming content for those long lockdown evenings.
Bloodline
Borgen
Bosch
Broadchurch
Lupin
Okkupert (Occupied)
Rebellion
Shetland
Ted Lasso
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Man in the High Castle
The Queen’s Gambit
The Spy
The Wire
Unorthodox
When They See Us

As a lifelong learner, I am always interested in reading material that broadens my horizons, challenges my thinking, and provides all-important context for the decisions we make. This is true for the entire Northwood team.

We’d also be interested in hearing what you’ve been reading lately. If you’ve come across any particularly insightful articles or books, please feel free to send them to me at tm@northwoodfamilyoffice.com. Thanks to the many people who have already shared their ideas.

All the best,
Tom

Northwood Family Office

Tom McCullough

Tom McCullough is Chairman and CEO of Northwood Family Office, which looks after the investments and integrated financial affairs of wealthy families with $10 million or more. He teaches ‘The Management of Private Wealth’ in the MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and is also co-author of the books, Family Wealth Management and Wealth of Wisdom: The Top 50 Questions Wealthy Families Ask.

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