Practical analysis for investment professionals
03 August 2018

Weekend Reads: A Mind-Boggling Number and the Power of Positive People

Posted In: Weekend Reads

I love nothing more than good “cocktail nuggets” — those fascinating facts and figures that make for great conversation starters at cocktail parties. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about: little gems of information that get people chatting, gasping, or exclaiming, “Wow!”

Nicholas Colas of DataTrek Resarch is a treasure trove of these nuggets. He recently spoke at the 63rd Annual Financial Analysts Seminar and, as was to be expected, shared some great ones in his presentation, “Market Narratives, Long-Term Disruptors, and Data Trends Investors Should Consider.” One of my favorites was the old rice-grains-on-the-chessboard story:

“There’s a famous legend about the origin of chess that goes like this. When the inventor of the game showed it to the emperor of India, the emperor was so impressed by the new game, that he said to the man

“‘Name your reward!’

“The man responded,

“‘Oh emperor, my wishes are simple. I only wish for this. Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.’

“The emperor agreed, amazed that the man had asked for such a small reward — or so he thought. After a week, his treasurer came back and informed him that the reward would add up to an astronomical sum, far greater than all the rice that could conceivably be produced in many many centuries!”

Any guesses on the total grains of rice the emperor would owe when all was said and done? 18,446,744,073,709,551,615.

That’s 18 quintillion, 446 quadrillion, 744 trillion, 73 billion, 709 million, 551 thousand, 615. (Confession: I had to plug the number in to a pronunciation calculator.)

Phew! That mind-boggling number shows the power of exponential growth.

Now onto some interesting reads. This week I’m trying a different format inspired by the Collaborative Fund’s pithy approach to sharing what staff have been reading, and Shane Parrish’s “Here’s a Quote I’m Thinking About” section in the Brain Food newsletter:

Artificial Intelligence

“Algorithms are opinions embedded in code.” — “The Quantified Heart,” Aeon


Most workers view the prospect of a two-hour meeting with the same enthusiasm as Prometheus awaited the daily arrival of the eagle, sent by the gods to peck at his liver. — “Tortured by Meetings,The Economist

People as Puzzles

You are a jigsaw puzzle piece of a certain shape. You could change your shape to fit an existing hole in the world. That was the traditional plan. But there’s another way that can often be better for you and for the world: to grow a new puzzle around you. — “Grow the Puzzle around You,” Jessica Livingston

Social Networks

“Life is too short to be around negative people.” — “The Power of Positive People,” The New York Times


And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations — by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences — is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is — the work of fallible humans. — “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic


Absentee leaders are often silent organization killers. — “The Most Common Type of Incompetent Leader,” Harvard Business Review

Process over Outcomes

When it comes to almost every decision you make in life, you should completely ignore the outcomes as long as your process is logical and evidence-based. — “The Right Place, the Right Time,” Of Dollars and Data


When you follow a playbook, when you mimic others, you are de-risking. You are handing off your risk to someone else. I get that we cannot help but look to others for answers. It is human nature. But when you own your own risk and figure things out for yourself, you commit to progress without a playbook, and great things start happening. — Patrick O’Shaughnessy, CFA

In Hindsight . . .

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/Maren Winter

About the Author(s)
Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster was a content director on the professional learning team at CFA Institute and host of the Take 15 Podcast. She is the former managing editor of Enterprising Investor and co-lead of CFA Institute’s Women in Investment Management initiative. Lauren spent nearly a decade on staff at the Financial Times as a reporter and editor based in the New York bureau, followed by freelance writing for Barron’s and the FT. Lauren holds a BA in political science from the University of Cape Town, and an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

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