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Blog - Curtis Faith on the Azimuth Project

This is a blog article in progress, written by Curtis Faith. For the final polished version, go to the Azimuth Blog.

Curtis Faith on the Azimuth Project

Hi, I’m Curtis Faith. I’m very excited to be helping with the Azimuth Project.

A few weeks ago, I read John’s exhortation for blog readers to join in the discussion on the Azimuth Forum so I decided to check it out. I was surprised at the amount of work that has been done in the last six months. I was inspired by the project’s goals and decided to commit to helping.

Since we need help, and hope that other blog readers might pitch in to help too, John and I thought it would be a good idea for me to explain a little about myself, why I think the Azimuth Project is so important, and how I think I can help.

I just turned 47 on Sunday. I am a first-time father with a 9-month old daughter. She is amazing. I don’t want her to grow up and wonder why our generation let things get so bad and I didn’t do anything to help make the world better.

I’m a real optimist by nature. But ignoring the very clear trends of the last 30 to 40 years is no longer an option. Our generation must stand up and do something about this.

A few years back I thought that politics might be the answer. I spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of politics. My wife and I even followed the 2008 U.S. election and filmed the campaigns of Obama and Ron Paul in the process of learning. It is clear to me—having seen the way the last few years have unfolded—that political solutions will not avert the coming crisis.

In the last few years, my wife and I have lived in southeast Asia for 4 months, and in South America for a few years. I wanted to get to understand the world from outside the U.S. perspective. To get to know people in other countries as individuals, as humans. This has made it even more clear what the major problems are, and that the solutions won’t be implemented until a major crisis strikes.

So I’ve been working on learning relevant technology and science for the last few years as a backup plan. Trying to see where I might be able to help out in the most effective way possible. I have also spent a lot of time investigating the various other efforts working on the major global problems. None of them appear to me to be facing reality. In contrast, the Azimuth Project fits what I’ve seen with my own eyes.

But most of all, the reason that I’m excited about the Azimuth Project is that it has the loftiest of goals and the Earth needs saving. We’ve screwed it up and we’re running out of time.

A bit about me

I’m best known for something that started 27 years ago, in the fall of 1983, when I was just 19 years old.

I dropped out of college because I was bored and joined a small group of traders who later became famous in the trading world because of our subsequent success and how we learned to trade. Some of the lessons I learned in that group about managing risk and uncertainty are very relevant to the Azimuth Project goals for saving the world.

A famous chicago Trader, Richard Dennis, took out large ads in the New York Times, Barrons, and the Wall Street Journal announcing trainee positions. After only two weeks of training we were given money to trade and at the end of the first month of practice with a small account, I was given a $2 million account to trade. Over the next 4 plus years, I turned that $2 million into more than $33 million, more than doubling the money each year. Most of the other trainees were also successful and this story became legend in trading circles as the group made more than $100 million for Richard during the life of the program. Our group was known as the Turtles and I wrote a book about this experience, Way of the Turtle, that became a bestseller in finance a few years back.

After Rich disbanded the Turtles, I got bored with trading. I was more interested in software and wanted to do something to make the world a better place. I started a few companies, built innovative software, tried to solve challenging problems and eventually found my way to Silicon Valley at the latter half of the Internet Boom.

Chaos, and risk and uncertainty

The sheer complexity of the issues and the scope of the problems that endanger the planet and life on it ensure that there will never be enough information to make a “correct” analysis. Except in the very broadest terms, we can’t know what the future will bring so we need to build plans that acknowledge that very real limitation.

We could pretend that we know more than is possible to know, or we can embrace the uncertainty and adapt to it. If we do this, we can concentrate on building flexibility and responsiveness along with an ability to assimilate and acquire an understanding of reality as it unfolds.

I know a bit about managing risk and uncertainty and how to develop flexible plans that will work when you can’t predict the future. I even wrote a book about it.

But first, some background. While in Silicon Valley, I met a couple of guys who were forming a new hedge fund in the Virgin Islands, Simon Olsen and Bruce Tizes. In early 2001, it was obvious to most people that the Internet party was over in Silicon Valley. Pink slips were flying everywhere. So I thought it might be a good time to do something new for a few years.

I had often thought about getting back into trading so I could build up enough money to fund my own projects. I didn’t like the way that all the funding in software was focused on money. Most investors didn’t care about building cool software, and certainly not about doing positive things for the world. If those things came, they were secondary to profits. So for a while I thought it best to go make my own money. So I wouldn’t be restricted to only those strategies which optimized profits for investors.

So I decided to join Bruce and Simon in their hedge fund venture, and Bruce and I subsequently became good friends. Bruce had a very interesting background. He is one of the rare true polymaths that I’ve run into. He is incredibly bright, with a very flexible mind. He graduated high school at 15 years of age, college at 16, and medical school at 20. He later made a lot of money investing in real estate and trading stocks.

For most of the time since he had become a doctor, Bruce had been practicing emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. Mount Sinai is the inspiration for the television series E.R. that also takes place in Chicago and is a major destination for accident and gunshot victims in the downtown Chicago area.

So in various discussions over lunch or dinner over the few years we worked together, I came to learn a bit about the life of an emergency room doctor. Over time, Bruce showed me that there were similarities in how ER doctors and traders approached risk and uncertainty.

From my experience with software entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, I knew that they too handle risks and uncertainty in similar ways. It seemed like everyone who was forced to deal with uncertainty in the normal course of business followed similar general principles, and that these principles would be very useful even for those who didn’t learn them on the job.

Since my first book sold very well, the publisher was interested in getting me to write another book. I agreed to write one. But this time I wanted to write a book about these important principles for managing risk and uncertainty rather than a trading book.

This became my second book, Inside the Mind of the Turtles. Unfortunately, against my wishes and better judgment, it was marketed as a trading book. The truth is that it is a much more general book written for times of chaos and uncertainty, even for the emergency room doctors for a planet in peril. It contains ideas that are very relevant to the Azimuth Project.

In my next post here, I’ll outline the 7 Rules for Risk I develop in the book and show how they are relevant for the Azimuth Project because of the tremendous uncertainty inherent in environmental and sustainability issues.

In the meantime, I urge you to join in and help with the Azimuth Project. Read some articles on the Azimuth Project Wiki and join the discussions on the related Azimuth Forum.

The Azimuth Project is multidisciplinary so there are opportunities for all different kinds of people to help out. For example, I have been interested in low-energy transportation alternatives. So I plan on doing more research, adding to the Azimuth library of articles for advanced transportation, and finding some of the best experts to see if they will help on the Azimuth Project itself. I am also good at simplifying and explaining complicated problems. So I plan to take some of the more complicated sustainability issues and summarize them for non-experts. This will make it easier for people of diverse talents to grasp the full scope of the problems Azimuth is tackling.

I’ve spent much of the last 10 years trying to figure out how I can best help make the world a better place.

For me, the Azimuth Project is that answer. Come check it out.

category: blog