FF Daily #418: See the world like an anthropologist

July 8, 2021: Gillian Tett on empathy and listening to others; Farmland as an asset class; Conclusion sandwich; Remembering Dilip Kumar

Founding Fuel

[Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash]

Good morning,

In her introduction to her recent book, Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life, Gillian Tett, a Financial Times editor and journalist, explains how the discipline of anthropology can give an edge during these uncertain times. The core idea is one theme that we have explored often in Founding Fuel: empathy, listening to others. 

Tett writes: 

“The first idea is that in an era of global contagion, we urgently need to cultivate a mindset of empathy for strangers and value diversity. Anthropologists are experts in this since the discipline was founded around the goal of venturing to far-flung places to study seemingly ‘exotic’ peoples. That creates a whiff of Indiana Jones. But that tag is misleading. ‘Exotic’ is in the eye of the beholder since every culture can seem strange to another and nobody can afford to ignore what seems strange in a globalized world… Flows of finance, commerce, travel, and communication connect us, creating constant contagion, involving not just germs but money, ideas, and trends. However, our understanding of others has not expanded at the same pace as our interconnections. That creates risks and tragically missed opportunities.

“The second key principle of anthropology is that listening to someone else’s view, however ‘strange,’ does not just teach empathy for others, which is badly needed today; it also makes it easier to see yourself. As the anthropologist Ralph Linton observed, a fish would be the last person to see water; it is easier to understand people in contrast to others. Or to cite an idea developed by another anthropologist, Horace Miner: ‘Anthropology alone amongst the sciences strives to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.’ The aim is to increase our understanding of both.

“Third, embracing this strange-familiar concept enables us to see blind spots in others and ourselves. Anthropologists are almost like psychiatrists, but instead of putting individuals on the couch, they place groups of people metaphorically under their lens, to see the biases, assumptions, and mental maps that people collectively inherit. Or, to use another metaphor, anthropologists use an X-ray machine to look at society, to see half-hidden patterns we are only dimly aware of. This often shows us that even if we think ‘x’ is the reason why something has happened, it might actually be ‘y.’”

In this issue

  • Farmland as an asset class (podcast)
  • Conclusion sandwich
  • Remembering Dilip Kumar

Bill Gates owns the most farmland (podcast)

Why would Bill Gates invest $690 million in farmland? This makes him America’s largest farmland owner. This move has been the subject of much debate, and on the face of it, appears to be at odds with his stated stance against climate change. How ought anyone decode this? It is a question Stig Brodersen, investor and author, asked Carter Malloy, CEO of AcreTrader.

“Food comes off of farmland, that’s one of the ways that we measure inflation. So over time, the data will show you that farmland has actually served as a similar if not better hedge to inflation than gold. The difference with farmland and gold is that farmland produces income as well. Gold does not produce income, you’re holding a commodity and hoping somebody else is willing to pay more than you did for it, with farmland as an actual productive that produces rent for the investor,” Malloy explains. 

“Importantly, while it can serve as a great inflation hedge, and again, the historical data will show you, it is a really fascinating standalone investment. So, the underlying reasons to invest in farmland are long… And you don’t see it whip around like a lot of other asset classes, including stocks.”

Having placed this in perspective, he goes on to talk about Deutsche Bank’s concerns on inflation. “Whether or not those hold true over time, we will see. But again, we’re excited about the asset class either way. And we’re discussing some of the mechanics that drive the asset, but I want to quickly mention supply and demand. It is very important to understand that as well, that we only have so much farmland and it’s shrinking… 

“Here in the US shows that we lose about three acres per minute of farmland. It’s a staggering amount that’s disappearing due to development and a number of other reasons. The supply side is shrinking on the one hand and on the other side, demand is growing. We have more people to feed. On farms, we grow food and also some fuel and some fiber. Demand for all of those things continues to increase around the world. So the supply and demand setup is pretty straightforward to understand as to why the asset class can be attractive over long periods of time.”

While that makes Gates an incredibly smart man, the forecast is quite scary as well.

Dig deeper

Conclusion sandwich

‘Hype’ is one of the words that’s associated with startups—sometimes unjustifiably. Part of it can be attributed to entrepreneurs who are by nature optimistic. But that’s the way they are. They will be salarymen and women if they don’t see light where others see darkness. This essentially means the blame for hype primarily equally rests with investors and media. They often fail to ask the right questions. But entrepreneurs also have some responsibility in being more transparent about evidence and assumptions.  

In an HBR essay, Kyle Jensen, Tom Byers, Laura Dunham, and Jon Fjeld offer an interesting solution to the problem—conclusion sandwich. 

They write: “When entrepreneurs paint a picture of what could be, that picture is not fabricated wholesale; it’s an evidence-based guess. The evidence consists of the entrepreneurs’ experiences, primary data collected through experiments, traction gained, and third-party data—in short, things they know. The guesses are things they don’t yet know but believe or hope to be true.

“Not everyone draws the same conclusions from such inputs. Entrepreneurs owe transparency and truthfulness to those being asked to commit themselves or their resources to the venture. Of course, they should present a compelling vision. But they should also present the evidence and assumptions that support that vision. The principle is similar to the instructions given by eighth-grade algebra teachers: Show your work. A good venture capitalist will question a founder’s assumptions at pitch meetings—but not all VCs do, especially if they’re courting a start-up that’s in high demand. And prospective employees, partners, and other stakeholders often aren’t given an opportunity to closely examine the evidence and assumptions and form their own conclusions about the company, team, or product they’re being asked to support…

“We propose a ‘conclusion sandwich.’ The best entrepreneurs begin and end with their conclusion—the extrapolation—and place their evidence and assumptions in the middle. A founder might say, ‘We’ll make about $X million next year in gross revenue. Let me show you the evidence we have and the assumptions that support this.’ After running through the calculations, the founder might finish by asserting, ‘Therefore, we believe $X million is a reasonable estimate.’ Listeners won’t miss the takeaway but are free to reach their own conclusions.”

Dig deeper

Remembering Dilip Kumar (11 December 1922 - 7 July 2021)

Sparks fly when two legends of Hindi cinema clash in this classic scene from Shakti, arguably one of the greatest films of its time. Directed by Ramesh Sippy and written by Salim-Javed, this 1982 film was the first and only time when Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan were cast together. Both won Filmfare nominations for Best Actor for their performances, but it was Dilip Kumar who walked away with the award for his role as an upright DGP of Police. Performances such as these led legendary director Satyajit Ray to describe Dilip Kumar as the ultimate method actor in Hindi cinema.

~ Indrajit Gupta

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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