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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

Do you wait until the iron is hot to strike it or do you heat it by striking it?

Today is September 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “do you wait until the iron is hot to strike it or do you heat it by striking it?” People who navigate the chaos seldom wait for the iron to get hot. They go about making the iron hot by continually striking it.

In a 1782 letter from the famous statesman Benjamin Franklin to Reverend Richard Price about using the press to spread ideas, Franklin wrote “The facility with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights in newspapers which are everywhere read, gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find that it is not only right to strike while the iron is hot, but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking.”

Another way of asking today’s question is “how does your perception impact your ability to navigate the chaos?” According to research published in a March 1, 2018, Wall Street Journal article your perception plays a significant role in your ability to navigate the chaos. “Researchers who study attention and perception distinguish between narrow focus (seeing specifics) and open focus (observing the wider scene). The most important talent anyone who seems lucky possesses is the ability to pay attention on many levels and to notice opportunities.”

The psychiatrist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Jarecki made his first fortune in the late 1960s when 25% of the currency in circulation in the U.S. was still backed by silver. The bills said right on them: “Silver payable to the bearer on demand.” Dr. Jarecki realized that the silver could be worth more than the dollars—so he collected millions of certificates by paying people $1.10 or more for their $1 bills. Converting them to silver and then selling them as silver futures was a complicated, multistep process, but once he got bank financing behind him, he made more than $100 million from the exchanges.

In 1967, Jarecki became involved with the London bullion house, Mocatta & Goldsmid, Ltd. In 1969, he established the American counterpart to Mocatta & Goldsmid, known as Mocatta Metals Corporation. In partnership initially with Hambros Bank and subsequently with Standard Chartered Bank, Jarecki managed the Mocatta Group until he sold his shares in the late 1980s. Reflecting upon his transition from medical doctor to financier Jarecki said “My father thought I was crazy, abandoning a medical practice and teaching job at Yale Medical School in 1970 and moving into a New York World Trade Center fifth-floor office to plunge full-time into the bullion business.”

Jarecki’s story highlights one critical aspect to understanding. Many people had silver backed dollars in their pockets but only a few learned how to make millions from them. As Jarecki said “I can’t figure out why I was one of the very few who figured out a method for transforming the certificates into real silver since we all had the same bills in our pockets.” Therein lies the lesson. Many people have the same opportunity, yet they fail to perceive the possibilities available to them. Instead of waiting for the iron to get hot, Jarecki chose to strike the iron to heat it. He created his opportunity by paying attention on many levels and focused on what researchers defined as both the narrow focus (specifics) and open focus (general).

Today’s lesson calls to mind a scene in the best-selling 1988 book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In the scene there is a young shepherd boy who is sent to a wise man to understand the secret of happiness. The wise man instructed the boy to wander around holding a teaspoon with two drops of oil. After two hours of wandering around the wise man’s house the boy returned. Below is the excerpt of the remaining part of the scene:


“‘Well,’ asked the wise man, ‘did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?’

“The boy was embarrassed and confessed he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil the wise man had entrusted to him.

“‘Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,’ said the wise man. ‘You cannot trust a man if you don’t know his house.’

“Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“‘But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?’ asked the wise man. “Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.”

“‘Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you,’ said the wisest of wise men. ‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.’”

Jarecki understood the value of paying attention to the specific and to the general. Doing so allowed him to heat the iron of opportunity and create possibilities. Jarecki did not wait for the iron to get hot. The young boy, on the other hand, learned this lesson the hard way. He needed to be taught to pay attention to the specific and the general.

  • Do you wait until the iron is hot to strike it or do you heat it by striking it?

  • If you are waiting to strike the iron why is that?

  • What part does fear play in you not striking the iron?

  • If you are waiting for the iron to get hot, how long will you do so?

  • Who do you think is going to strike the iron for you? And do you really want to place your fate in the hands of someone who may or may not strike the iron?

  • Are you paying attention to both the general and the specific?

  • How often do you reflect upon the belief that the most important talent anyone who seems lucky possesses is the ability to pay attention on many levels and to notice opportunities?

  • How often are you paying attention on many level in order to notice opportunities?


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