Introduction to Time ROI
Everyone should hear the parable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Banker before they die.
Here is the parable as told in Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Work Week.
An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats until eventually, you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15–20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Money is not the only thing we invest
This parable evokes a very powerful idea I would refer to as The MVL or The Minimum Viable Lifestyle. I consider this to be the most important principle in my own day-to-day life. The challenge we are presented in life is complicated by having a lot of poor ideas about our existence, about value, and about the ingredients of a good life.
A source of common confusion is the misuse of money – we often make money the object of our goals, rather than a tool to realise our goals.
Why I so love the parable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Banker is that it transcends this confusion, and relates to the more holistic and integrated view of investing I take which is referred to as The Time ROI Framework. The parable strips the Western/capitalist story of success to a state of bare-butt nudity, exposing the very circular logic of investing so much time into making money. Money is not the only thing we invest – there are a great number of important invest-able currencies that include attention, energy and, of course, TIME.
There are no shortage of stories of people who have gone broke or dangerously close to – even famous examples like Ray Dalio, Tony Hsieh and Elon Musk – only to restore or exceed their previous wealth.
But I’m yet to find a story about someone with a traumatic childhood that got a do-over.
I have never heard of anyone who wasted their 20’s working and stressing, who got to go back and get a chance to do their 20’s better.
I am also yet to hear a story about the other end of life, where, on their deathbed, a man or woman has muttered that they wish they’d made more money. No, the story we know of deathbeds is that of Charles Foster Kane, who in one of Hollywood’s most famous movies, Citizen Kane (1941) mutters “Rosebud” on his deathbed.
The great tragedy of this movie is that none of the reporters who look into Charles, a rich media tycoon, can uncover the meaning of this cryptic, dying line, “Rosebud”.
The audience only learns what “Rosebud” means at the end of the film, where the words are written across a sled buried amidst Charles’ possessions. The sled comes from his childhood, the only time Charles was happy – before his penniless parents sent him away for school, when life was spent playing with his sled in the snow.
The message of Citizen Kane is, regret. Charles spent his whole life chasing money and power, but was never as fulfilled as the time when he was poorest. By the time he realises, all his time has already been invested poorly – there is no chance of returning and starting again.
We all invest time – whether we know it or not
None of us truly knows how much time we have. We are all investing our time, whether we know it or not, and it is finite. We cannot easily control the duration of our time or negotiate more of it.
That we might not realise we are investing our time, probably means we are doing it poorly, which is concerning. There is a word for this style of blind investing – it’s called gambling. If we are gambling our time then we should be at the very least be made aware of it.
Secondly, all the financial investments we are interested in only make sense in the way they impact our time. For example, we want to earn more money so that we can live a certain way, which is to say, we want to use our time differently. There is no point making more money or even having passive income if we don’t know what we want to do with our time. I trace the origins of this idea back to Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Work Week from which I drew the parable.
There is no point having money for the sake of it.
There is no point having money if we cannot enjoy it.
And, there is no point trading too much of our time for the purpose of earning more money. As the parable teaches, we so often cut into the time we have to live and enjoy.
The thesis behind The Time ROI Framework
The thesis behind The Time ROI Framework is that as all decisions are an allocation of one resource (time), then we are investing our time when we make decisions. As such, the principles that work well for traditional financial investing should generalise to helping us to invest our time more wisely.
I am currently working towards publishing some basic principles of investing that can be applied to all important areas of life, and provide an improved system of living. From learning and relationships to our money management, my theory is that we will be able to improve multiple areas of life by mastering one set of abilities, which would be the investing principles.
I’m super excited to be launching this soon – if you’d like to be kept in the loop for developments with the Framework, just register for Conversations that Matter below!
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