Very interesting insights from the UBS Forum 2017

Yesterday Giles and Magda invited me to attend the annual UBS Forum at the beautiful Rosewood Hotel, one of those hotels in a renovated palace in the heart of London, with a resident dog.

Held in major financial cities across Europe, the UBS Forum is presented under the banner “sharper opinions – smarter decisions”, where UBS specialists and external experts provide insights on key topics. This years’ speakers and topics were:

  • Jamie Broderick, CEO, UBS Wealth Management UK; and David Rowe, Managing Director, UBS Wealth Management: “Global and UK economic outlook for 2017 and beyond”
  • Paul Donovan, Chief Global Economist, UBS Wealth Management; and Caroline Simmons, Deputy-head, Investment Office, UK, UBS Wealth Management: “where the investment opportunities lie in 2017 and beyond”
  • Paul Craven, former Goldman turned behavioral economist: “the Status Quo bias and why people default to doing nothing and/or not changing” and “the loser’s game”
  • Tim Kent-Robinson, Head of Client Investment Specialists, UBS Wealth Management: “Implementing the House View”

There was also a Panel discussion and Audience Q&A, facilitated by a “clicker” with which the audience voted on several issues. Surprisingly enough the majority of the audience was in agreement with Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, even though they said it would damage the UK’s interests. Talk about Status Quo bias!! Definitely, the UK is the land of unquestioned Status Quo.

Here are some of the most interesting takeaway points and quotes I wrote down:

  • UBS has a cool simulator: “The end game? You have just been appointed as all-commanding leader of a major country. You have control over the monetary, fiscal, and foreign policy of your country.”

  • The “Risks” (last) slide in the presentations was choke full of tiny print and was displayed for 3 seconds

  • A Mexican car exported to the USA has crossed the border over 20 times before ever reaching the end-consumer

  • The 2008 financial crisis took away credit -> Without credit income inequality rises and consumption drops -> creating a shift from “economics of aspiration” to “economics of envy” (“your neighbor buys a car, you buy a car… it does not matter if your neighbor paid cash and you took a loan”, but what if you can’t get a loan?) -> leading to resentment which leads to populism

  • Domestic investors understand local politics better, therefore reacting more calmly to political uncertainty

  • “If you give money to an American, they will spend it”

  • “China will grow 6.25% to 6.5%. Why? Because President Jinping wants that”

  • The FTSE return last year was 17%, BUT if you take out the best performing 5 days, then it was only 1%

  • “Nationalism, prejudice and discrimination leads to inefficient markets and the waste of perfectly good human capital which leads to less growth and economic damage” (SIC, but wake up: that’s how they see you)

  • The Loser’s Game is an old research paper, but completely worth reading it

  • Prospect Theory: Potential gains encourage risk aversion, potential losses encourage DOUBLE risk taking

  • An amazing Status Quo bias example is the reason behind Europe’s “two levels” of organ donations

  • An amazing example of the Decoy Effect or Anchoring Effect is The Economist subscriptions options (number 6 in this list)

  • If you think you are in control (the “driver of the elephant”), check out the Jastrow Illusion

This Revolution needs a Revolution

Yesterday I went with my wife and son to visit the Victoria & Albert’s Museum exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. The aim of the exhibition was quite clear:

How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today and think about the future?

I was very much looking forward to visiting the exhibition. It is SO timely, and SO needed, I thought.

After visiting it, I left enraged. Why? After all, it was very well “put together”, full of artifacts and information, with a fancy sound system, and beautifully arranged and orchestrated.

ORGANIZED

More importantly, it was not a nostalgic attempt at regurgitating old revolutionary slogans.

What enraged me is how co-opted the whole collection felt. How all those efforts and sacrifices, how all that energy and suffering from past revolutionaries, has been assimilated by the system.

From the ® Registered slogans to the “no photographs” signs at the entrance (to which I, OF COURSE, paid no attention to whatsoever):

® slogan!

To the texts denouncing powerful corporations and states controlling Western media making it difficult to broadcast alternative opinions. You don’t say??!! How about adding “even museums”?

You don't say??!!

Of course, the whole thing had a watered down flavor, “ready for the masses to consume it” (at over£17 or over $20 per ticket). Not just because of the large dedicated-store (“Exit through the gift store” as Banksy brilliantly highlighted), where many appealing objects were for sale for nostalgics and revolutionary wannabes.

Interesting mash up poster

But also for the paternalistic tone of the whole exhibition, surgically isolating issues (identity, sexuality, peace, music, fashion…), even (correctly) including the new contemporary totemic theological substitute: technology.

Origins of Personal Computers

I was very happy and proud to tell my son that his grandmother was in Paris throwing cobblestones to the police in the student revolts of 1969; that his grandfather took me, when I was a little kid, to see a forbidden theater play during Spain’s democratic transition, fearing the secret police repression; that I participated as a kid in discussions with adults about anarchism and communism, when both were outlawed in Spain; and that I have participated in some of the revolutions and protests that came in the decades after that.

I’m not angry because they took “my” revolutions and repackaged them for easy digestion by accommodating masses. That was foreseeable, and an obvious result of the reigning empire of consumerist capitalism.

I’m not even nostalgically refusing to accept that times have changed.

What really annoyed me and made me angry was the lack of reference to a combative present, to the continuation of the struggle.

The fact that they showed, at the end of the exhibition “How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today” but completely left out “and think about the future” is what enraged me. Particularly as Trump is president in the USA, May PM in GB, the PP rule Spain, the far right advances in France…

We need to remember that the fight is not over, that fascism is not only back, but stronger and more powerful than ever. We, all of us, and the institutions that serve us, including museums, have a duty to promote thoughtful debate around ethics and values, and fiercely protest and fight through self-organisation, unity, and collaboration. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to those who fought for us in the past, we owe it to those who will come after us.

If the urban bourgeoisie wants to be the first to fall under the boot of the oppressors again, so be it. If proto and pseudo-intellectuals endlessly self-delude themselves into thinking that our democracies and institutions will save us from authoritarian demagogues, fascist megalomaniacs, and our own blind pursuit of endless consumerism, so be it. In the meantime, I will be teaching my children about the struggle and participating in the smartest and most effective way I can.

When your son falls into a frozen lake

A few days ago I took a stroll through Wimbledon Commons with my son, as my wife was traveling.It was a typical London day: 3 seasons in a day. When we decided to leave the apartment it was sunny and felt kind of warm. When we arrived at the forest, it was gloomy and chilly. And by the time we made it back home, it was already night time and really cold. The whole ordeal took just one hour, but it felt much much longer.

It was a typical London day: 3 seasons in a day. When we decided to leave the apartment it was sunny and felt kind of warm. When we arrived at the forest, it was gloomy and chilly. And by the time e made it back home, it was already night time and really cold. The whole ordeal took just one hour, but it felt much much longer.

Unlike in our usual (although a lot less frequent than I would like) routine, instead of walking into the forest, we accessed the Commons through the main entrance, and went straight to the small lake where swan, geese and ducks were really happy to see us and our bag of oats. I guess in the cold weather a lot less people come by to feed them.

We love to talk to them, and admire their beauty. Not just the amazing Mandarin ducks, but all of them. We try to distribute the oats as much as possible so ‘bullies’ don’t get away with their aggressive behavior. And there is always something else that we enjoy, wether it is a dog diving into the water, a flower in an unexpected place, or trying a new “plant recognizing app”.

This time my son was fascinated with the layers of ice forming all over the lake. So he approached the edge, with a stick, standing on a small piece of wood, to test how thick they were. Then he started picking them up and playing with them: using them as photo props against a tree bark, stacking them, and breaking them on my head as if it was an action movie and I had just gone through a window head first (which brought me some bad childhood memories, that all of a sudden were not as bad because I was with my son).

Throughout his ‘ice fishing’ activity, I remained firmly grounded on shore, holding onto his jacket making sure he would not loose his balance and fall.

At one point he seemed to lose interest, and it was getting really cold, so I asked him to stop, and I started walking away. A few steps later I heard a loud splash. Before I could even process the sound, I was by the edge of the lake, ready to kick my shoes and jacket off and jump into the ice to rescue him.

Fortunately he did not sink and I saw him standing in the water. The bottom of the lake is quite irregular, and was able to step onto a platform, and from that jump back to the shore.

He was smiling, I guess a nervous reaction to an extreme unexpected event. Or perhaps because a dog, seeing him plunge, decided to join him and jumped in too (although not to rescue him, since he jumped off into a patch of unfrozen water, chasing ducks)!

I was not angry or panicked, but rather I reacted as I always do in those circumstances, as I was told by my mother: like a machine. I assessed the situation and proceeded with executive efficiency to minimize damage. First I asked him if anything was broken, if anything hurt. Then I checked his garments: all soaking wet except his waterproof jacket, which for some lucky angle in the fall had remained dry. So the first thing we did was to squeeze all the water our of his socks and pants (I even considered giving him my clothes, but his clothes don’t fit me, and his jacket was very warm and dry).

Then I quickly calculated how long it would take to get home, and if that was the best option (as the temperatures were below zero), or if it was better to head in other direction (seek the closest home or business, call a cab, etc). We decided to head home fast, but not running, to avoid slipping and falling, or getting exhausted and having to stop to catch breath.

But, funny enough, all that cold-headed reaction can’t prevent the confusion the shock causes, and I started rushing us through the wrong path. Luckily he noticed soon enough and we corrected course.

Once we made it home he went straight into a warm long shower that felt like forever. When he came out, I made sure there were no purple tissues, specially lips, toes, fingers… he was fine and as we later found out, even his phone, which was inside the jacket pocket, survived the frozen waters!

Lessons learned:

  • Life happens
  • He now knows better the dangers of standing on a small piece of wood by a frozen lake, and that should make him assess general risks better, but hopefully not to the point of total risk aversion
  • Even if you want to be there all the time to protect them at all times, sometimes you will not be there. And some day you will not be at all
  • In an emergency, keep your cool… but be aware that you are more likely to make stupid mistakes
  • Always remember that frustration and anger come from fear. Focus on love instead
  • All is good that ends good. Now he has a cool anecdote to tell his friends. Life leaves scars and marks, avoid them, but wear them with pride, son.

Invited to the UK-China Hi! Technology event in London

For reasons beyond the scope of this post I was invited to participate in the UK-China Hi! Technology event in London.

The event was well attended by a large number of entrepreneurs, funds and investors from the UK and China.

The highlight of the event, for me, other than a couple of really interesting contacts, was to see all these suited-up people lining up to try the VR sets (HTC, Oculus, Hololens, etc). The clear winner was Robot Recall for the Oculus platform.

Visiting the London Design Museum

Yesterday I visited the Design Museum (“The world’s leading museum devoted to contemporary design in every form from architecture and fashion to graphics, product and industrial design”) in its spectacular new location on High Street Kensington (London), with my son.

The #newdesignmuseum opened its doors in its new location only 5 days ago. The building and renovation are great, and in a nice location: on the edge of Holland Park, with the added bonus of being near the Kyoto Garden, Muji, and not far from the Serpentine Gallery.

I was expecting more from the shop(s) and I felt the exhibitions lacked a more daring curating, and more compelling communication. Although the loose “Designer, Maker, User” theme was not bad, they could have definitely dug more into the concept.

Additionally, it felt the collection was not comprehensive enough, with an overwhelming majority of consumer electronic devices, and not enough from other disciplines like fashion, architecture, or even manufacturing.

All in all, a nice evening in a nice museum, but plenty of room for improvement.

Invited to speak at GIANT Health event in London

Right after I returned from Germany, and before departing for Paraguay, I was invited to speak at the GIANT Health event (the “global innovation and new technology health event), health in The Coronet, London.

The event run for 3 days, November 16-18, with 3 parallel tracks, and it included over 200 speakers. I spoke November 18, in the main auditorium.

There was an exhibition area, with several companies and organizations showing their innovations and technologies.

The venue was quite “grunge”, and it made you feel more like you were performing in a rock concert, rather than speaking at a healthcare event. All in all a massive, interesting, and fun event (except for the poor kamikaze organizers 😉 ).

Invited to participate in PA Consulting event

A few days ago I was invited to participate in a Healthcare Innovation workshop at PA Consulting in London.

Beyond the cute venue, and spectacular list of attendees from the healthcare, industry, and political spaces (“Don’t waste time talking to someone with ‘Lord’ in his title, they are not there to really work”, one of my colleagues advises me), what impressed me was the extremely well organized, choreographed, and disciplined approach to innovation they had. Quite a learning experience!

Invited by the Duque of York to have dinner at Windsor Castle November 3

The other day I received a letter from Buckingham Palace, inviting me to have dinner with the Duke of York (Prince Andrew) on Thursday at Windsor Castle.

I was curious to see the castle from the inside: it is a medieval style fortress, filled with military memorabilia (guns, swords, lances, armors…), banners and crests. It was more Game of Thrones than Harry Potter.

The reception was held at the Grand Reception Room. Then the delicious dinner was impeccably served at Waterloo Chamber. One thing I noticed is that all serving staff was a member of a minority, yet none of the guests except two, were.

After dinner, tea (and delicious bonbons) was served at St. George’s Hall, where I had a chance to chat with the Duke.

Honestly, I was surprised. I guess many of us have seen his picture, when married to Sarah Ferguson. They seemed like quite a lively and smily couple. He seemed so human and fun. Yet the man I spoke to the other day was a stern, strict, strong man. One that transmitted “statesmanship”. Is it because Brexit? Because the Queen is 90? Talking about the Queen, he mentioned an amusing anecdote about this very particular woman: just the day before she wanted to try a new water nebulizer for the toilet bathroom, so she headed to the first one (nevermind it was the gents’) with her entourage. As she was wearing gloves, instead of removing her gloves, she asked her staff to wash their hands using the new nebulizer, and to tell her what they thought 0_0

When I pointed out the anachronism of the monarchy in XXI century Europe, the duque talked, in no uncertain terms, about leadership. He said (if I remember the quote correctly):

“No. 10 [UK’s Prime Minister Cabinet] is good at following. We [Did he mean the UK Royal Family? Did he mean him and me? Did he mean his guests?] are good at leading. That’s what we have to do”.

I will not comment on that quote, as I am not absolutely sure I interpreted it correctly, and I do not even want to start a “royal-political-especulation” post, particularly in post-Brexit UK.

One thing I will comment, though, is that it was a true pleasure to be able to meet and chat with the rest of the technology-focused guests:

  • Tim Berners-Lee, Director, World Wide Web Consortium
  • Andrew Eland, Engineering Director, Google Deep Mind
  • Christopher Bishop, Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge
  • Corinna Zarek, Deputy US Chief Technology Office, The White House
  • Natalie Black, Deputy Director No. 10 Policy Unit, UK Prime Minister’s Office
  • David Cleevely, Chairman, Raspberry Pi Foundation
  • Liam Maxwell, National Technology Adviser, Her Majesty’s Government
  • John Simmons, Minister Counselor, US Embassy

Then again, this kind of concentration of power and behind-the-door petit-comitee gathering is something I have often decried as a toxic byproduct of a system (be it representative democracy, monarchy, or consumerist capitalism) that we desperately need to change.

My company has been named “Top Scaleup in the UK”

For second consecutive year, my company has been named “Top Scaleup in the UK”. This means that we are growing fast, and also that I get invited to cool events. One of those events was a reception and a ‘Ten Years From Now’ series of keynotes at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, another one a mentoring session at London’s City Hall, and another one a series of talks at Google Campus. Some of the people I met at those events were:

  • Brian Forda, Crypto Currency Professor, MIT
  • Maria Contreras-Sweet, Director, USA Small Business Administration
  • Megan Smith, US Chief Technology Officer, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Obi Felten, Director, Google X

Halloween in Wimbledon

Halloween has arrived in Wimbledon. The multicolored leaves paint their annual natural mosaic, one of the many subjective manifestations where we can observe our mind at work, interpreting events. Do you get taken away by the beauty of the color range? Does it make you wonder why everybody finds beautiful a cyclical natural event that occurs because tree leaves die, fall and rot? Do you associate it with annoyingly unpredictable weather and uncomfortably falling temperatures? Or you picture warm drinks, being able to take long walks at noon, and extended baking sessions?

However you interpret (or not) this season, one cultural tradition in some Western countries is the carving of a pumpkin to turn it into a jack-o-lantern. This year was the first time my son did it, and it was and enjoyable moment (except for the jack-o-lantern, who ended up vomiting its own seeds). The resulting picture turned out good, with our ghostly castle as a perfect background.