Shortly before the first of the year, a colleague forwarded to me a thoughtful essay titled "Solitude and Leadership." Astonishingly, the message was tagged as spam and quarantined by my email service, so I couldn't immediately read the essay.
In the end, I did manage to ascertain the title from the subject line of the email, and I download the essay directly from the source, The American Scholar. The essay was a cogent piece by William Deresiewicz, and there was nothing in the essay which should have resulted in it being flagged as spam.
The lengths I had to go to gain access to this insightful essay stand in stark contrast to the abundance of worthless email messages I receive every day.
In the same week that I received the leadership essay, I received a fraudulent email from someone claiming to be an acquaintance who had been mugged while traveling and was in desperate need of money to return home. I received an email with unintelligible characters in the subject line, which often means the message was originally written in Chinese characters and converted for a mass spam mailing with a defective conversion program. I received of dozens email messages from online retailers offering goods and services I had no interest in buying.
I also received more than a few banal jokes, digitally manipulated images and YouTube videos from co-workers, friends and relatives. Admittedly, I forwarded one or two of these messages to others.
The juxtaposition of the Deresiewicz essay being tagged as spam versus the volume of actual spam that finds its way into my email led to my first resolution for the new year. I intend to be more discerning about the material I recommend to others via email.
So what have I been forwarding in 2011?
Most recently, I have been forwarding a clip by Melinda French Gates which explores an interesting paradox. In many developing countries, both governments and non-governmental organizations often find it inconceivably difficult to deliver food, clothing and medical supplies to those living in poverty. In contrast, Coca Cola somehow manages to deliver Coke to almost every corner of the world, including many regions that lack the daily necessities of life.
Gates asks if a company can make Coca Cola ubiquitous, why can't non-profit groups bring nutrition, sanitation, and vaccinations to developing countries? Gates feels the answer contains some important lessons for those working in less developed countries.
I have also been forwarding an image that isn't a photo. It is a graph based upon research by Ed Easterling, who is an investment manager. The graph is a beautiful display of quantitative information which places some of the maxims of investing in a new light. For example, it is widely accepted that over the long-term, investments in common stocks will out perform investments in less risky assets. The graph confirms this fact, but it also illustrates that the "long term" may exceed two decades. Investors with shorter time horizons might want to reconsider the conventional wisdom concerning common stocks.
Finally, I have recently sent a number of people an essay titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" by Amy Chua. The essay is an unmerciful analysis of Western parenting versus Eastern parenting. Many will disagree with Chua, and some of those who read the essay will feel that she is guilty of child abuse. Still, her argument is worth pondering. In a survey of American mothers and Chinese immigrant mothers, 70 percent of the American mothers felt that "stressing academic success" is not good for children. None of the Chinese immigrant mothers expressed that viewpoint. Another study found that Chinese parents spend 10 times as long every day helping their children with homework.
Chua feels that Western preoccupation with self esteem has caused a total disregard for achievement. The essay provides some interesting and controversial insights into why students in the United States are outranked by dozens of countries in their performance in reading, math and science.
So far, I have not forwarded any videos of dancing babies or a cat playing the piano. Still, the year is young.
If you would like me to provide you with the links to any of the information mentioned above, send me an email message. Otherwise, I won't clutter your in-box.