Simon Murray speaks at Judge Business School

This week our MBA class got to hear from Simon Murray. While his name may not ring a bell like some of the other speakers we’ve had this year, he was an absolute thrill to listen to.

Simon has had a fascinating career. He skipped his A-levels (similar to SATs for the Americans reading this) to join the crew of a merchant ship as it sailed around the world. Eventually he found his way to the French Foreign Legion, where he served for five years in Algeria. Passing up the option to become an officer in the Legion, he came back to the UK. Simon eventually became a hugely successful and highly regarded businessman in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Probably the most prominent of his current activities is being on the Board for Vodafone. More recently, he became the oldest man to reach the South Pole unsupported, at the age of 63. (It was a two-month trek!)

Career Advice

Simon had some really interesting insights for us as we approach our future careers. Specifically, one of his key points was that when thinking about jobs, we need to separate what we want TO BE from what we want TO DO. As long as you’re doing something you like, it really doesn’t matter who you become. (And if you’re doing something you like you tend to be really, really good at it!) What YOU DO is what YOU BECOME, so live your life to become the best at whatever you enjoy.

Another of his main points is that you have to grab opportunities as you see them. It was just a chance meeting that originally got him connected in Hong Kong, and Simon talked about how grabbing it was a seemingly small thing but an event that was a key to his future success.

Simon had two quotes that I thought were really interesting. Take them as you will:

  • “Don’t go where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail.”
  • “On bad roads you meet good people.”

Finally, he told a story about trying to get to the heart of what a potential candidate really wanted to do with his life. Simon, not getting an answer, finally asked him what he would do if he had the next day off with nothing to do. The guy (a recent university graduate) thought about it, and told him “windsurfing.” Simon at the time owned a company that made windsurfing sails. The new graduate was sent to that company and became a great success and has gone on to very significant successes since. That concept, that we decide what to do in our career based off what we would do if we had a day off, is interesting. As Simon mentioned, it may lead to unexpected places, but as long as we do what we enjoy it should be fruitful both personally and professionally.


Simon was a fantastic speaker. His mix of great stories and fascinating personality made it one of the top tier talks this year. I’m definitely going to have to buy his book and learn a bit more about his early years in the French Foreign Legion.

Today’s quote from “Meditations”

Last fall I started blogging what I hoped might become a series of posts based on reading “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. (Check it out here.)

Well, I just finished with a massive project for my MBA (thus the lack of posting recently) and am enjoying a week off before classes start again. So I thought it would be a great time to put out a quick post or two to re-start this series. Here’s another great quote from the book:

Just because you find the work too hard to do, don’t leap to the conclusion that it is humanly impossible; but if the work can and should be done by a man, then consider yourself capable of doing it.

-Meditations, Book Six, #19

Follow-up to “Approaching business problems differently”

I’ve had a number of comments to my recent post on prediction markets and how they approach forecasting differently than other mechanisms, both here and on MidasOracle. I’d like to respond to a number of these comments here.

Comments and Criticism

[Chris Masse]: “Number one, I don’t understand why information aggregation would be a “bottom-up” approach (as opposed to “top-down”). Our traders bring bits of information to the market — but these bits of information were originally produced by the traditional sources (news, political polls, political forecasters, opinion leaders, etc.). I don’t understand why this “bottom-up” metaphor would apply to the prediction markets.”

I have a few comments for this. First, I don’t know where Chris gets the idea that “bits of information were originally produced by the traditional sources.” Corporations aren’t trading on political markets where there are polls and expert opinions. They’re trading on things that matter to their company and to their industry. While what he mentions certainly applies to public prediction markets, it’s virtually irrelevant to corporate markets. Individual traders bring their judgement and the perspective from their place in the company and their personal history, which when combined with other employees in the company is very valuable indeed.

With the “bottom-up” metaphor, I was trying to show that forecasts are built from the views and opinions of individual employees… from the bottom-up. “Top-down” is how much of traditional forecasting is done: put data through a model at corporate HQ and generate a forecast which is then distributed throughout the company… from the top-down.

[Chris Masse]: “[trying to paraphrase me] EPMs are such a novelty, and the corporate forecasters such a bunch of retarded people, that it will take decades before commercial organizations get to adopt the prediction market tool.”

It’s not that corporate forecasters are retarded, just that prediction markets are completely different to anything they’ve ever encountered for forecasting. And like anything different, they’re generally going to be ignored. Note that virtually all of the corporate prediction market trials are NOT initiated by forecasters, they’re initiated by general managers who aren’t so directly tied into a specific forecasting tool world-view.

[Chris Masse]: “If enterprise prediction markets were such a revolutionary and powerful forecasting tool, it would have found a market already — just like the iPod, the iPhone, FaceBook or Twitter did.”

This goes to the heart of my post. The iPod became incredibly popular because people clearly understood what it did: it served the same purpose as a portable CD/tape player, but carried the equivalent of hundreds of CD’s instead! The iPhone is still just a smartphone; it’s just got a significantly better interface. All of these technologies became popular because they did the same things their predecessors did, but better. Prediction markets haven’t become as popular as they could have been- because they do the same thing (forecasting) differently.

[Chris Masse]: “The added accuracy of the enterprise prediction markets is marginal — and anyway does not fill the gap with omniscience (contrary to people’s expectations).”

This is where I think Chris unnecessarily limits himself to examples where there is “added accuracy.” There are a LOT of applications for prediction markets where little or no forecasting is currently done; the example I commonly use is forecasting project management milestones. I think it would be ideal if a management dashboard (RAG status) was created using only the inputs of prediction markets on the probability that a project would meet its next milestones!

Sure, in cases where prediction markets are “competing” with other forecasting mechanisms, such as for demand for products down to the individual SKU level, prediction markets may not be the best tool. The power of prediction markets really comes into play in situations that are difficult to forecast without a market.

[Chris Masse]: “In the context of a Fortune-500 company, which is of course much smaller than a country, the pool of potential active participants whose trading activity is sustained over time is quite tiny.”

I just want to point out again that in my research I found that a group as small as 16 people could generate calibrated forecasts.

[Medemi]: “In order to make good predictions one needs both approaches, bottom-up as well as top-down.”

I completely agree with this. Companies can’t live on prediction markets alone, but neither should they do all of their forecasting without prediction markets!

[Medemi]: “The problem is, this valuable information (from the experts in the field) and how the problems can be solved was not passed on the management. Why? Because they are not interested. The bottom-up approach is simply NON-EXISTENT.”

I disagree slightly. I agree that certain people in an organization are dis-interested, because they’re close enough to a problem that they think they can solve it and don’t want to hear any bad news. But I have also talked to senior managers that are very interested in using prediction markets for exactly this reason; they want to know if their project managers are telling them the truth! Unfortunately, these tend to be fairly senior people in a company, and it’s tough to get in contact with them.


I hope this clarifies my position; that prediction markets are a completely different way of approaching the problem of business forecasting, and should not be pitched or considered as a replacement technology, but as a powerful but complementary technology.