The Globe and Mail

  To everything there is a season


Friday, April 27, 2007

To obtain their inventory, diamond companies use a very capital-intensive process that involves mining, crushing and separating a very large amount of ore before a precious few sparklers reveal themselves in their raw form.

Similarly, one spends countless hours in school, grinding through information, reading, writing, listening, ultimately extracting a few valuable nuggets of wisdom that form one's personal perspective on life itself.

For the contrarian, such a gem was unearthed in a university class on — get ready for it — management. Yes, the arid study of how people control and direct the affairs of a business or institution. Yet the light bulb didn't go on in the contrarian's head directly from anything garnered in the curriculum; it happened late one afternoon when the lecturer decided to break away from his notes and relate a personal, but pertinent, anecdote to his students.

The lecturer was not an academic, per se. No tweed, corduroy or ponytails for him. He was, in fact, one of the university's top administrators and looked every bit the part. He had years of experience running companies in the "real world" and he wanted to inform this group of greenhorns of how he saw things.

The story centred on an important task that he had had to address immediately upon accepting the position of administrator. Someone very qualified was needed to run the institution's entire system of computers. The administrator asked others for their input as to who might be a good candidate and, surprisingly, one name kept coming up.

The decision seemed an easy one: hire that man.

The administrator felt confident as the computer expert sat down for his interview. With the question of credentials out of the way, other items could be discussed.

But before going any further, the computer expert wanted to express one thought. He had a philosophy that he firmly adhered to: one-third of his life was reserved for work, one-third for rest and one-third for pleasure, albeit not necessarily in that order.

After a short pause, the administrator countered with his philosophy: two-thirds of one's life should be reserved for work and the other third for rest, play, or more work.

Needless to say, it was a short interview.

Presented with this tale of a glaring clash of cultures, the contrarian cemented a perspective on life from that day forward. Clearly, the techie was trying to achieve a more fulfilling life. For that, we salute him. For us, rest and play have great value — and indeed, have actually made our work time more productive and satisfying.

Still, we acknowledge that the macho work ethic is alive and well, and leisure has become even more precious. Those futurists who foretold a day when North Americans would be working three days a week were full of garbanzo beans.

As summer approaches, we note that statistics have shown how listless the market can be as many participants bow out and use their vacation time. We have learned after spending time in the past calling CEOs and CFOs who were not available as they enjoyed their sojourns, there is a time to go with the flow — in this case, on a slow canoe floating down a lazy river, our toes gently dipped in the water.

Perhaps what makes us contrarian is that, while many market players only take a week here or a week there as employment allows, we seize a more European approach to getting our ROI, pursuing leisure for a fatter chunk of the summer. We believe that people, families and unemployment rates would be in better shape if longer vacations were mandated in North America, with three weeks being the minimum, preferably four.

But what we do we know? We didn't always learn what was taught in school.