Investment is a word that practically everyone has heard of, and possibly knows what it means. We always hear of people mentioning about investing in real estate (a real hot topic in several Asian countries like Hong Kong and Singapore), equities, commodities, insurance, art, wine, and even other exquisite products like bird nests (yes, Malaysia has a recent investment scheme where you can purchase multi-storey houses for swifts to build their nests to be harvested)!
But what really is investment? And what should we invest in?
Input, Mechanism and Outcome
I would like to critically look at the meaning of investment by looking at the components that make up any investment. There are three defining components – the input (resources such as money, time, effort), mechanism (product and process), and outcome (returns such as money, recognition, results). In all investments, people expect the outcome to be better or higher than the input. So when a person makes an investment in property, the input is money; the mechanism is the property itself with the transaction process; and the outcome is money, which is expected to be more than the initial input. Juxtaposing investment with gambling, we actually see an interesting similarity – gambling also has an input (money, or stakes), mechanism (the game and gaming process), and outcome (money of course!). And even more interesting is that everyone who gambles expects the outcome to be higher than the input, to the frustration of anti-gambling counselors!
No one will object when I say that the outcome of any investment is as unpredictable as the outcome of gambling. Up or down? Even or odd? These are probabilities that the currency or equity broker has to contend with as much as a roulette player. Why then is investing very much encouraged, while gambling very much frowned upon? Is there any characteristic feature between investing and gambling that we have somehow sub-consciously assumed?
In my opinion, many investments that we are familiar with are essentially gambling repackaged. I doubt the duration of investment (which is generally short- or long-term) can differentiate it from gambling (which is very short-term or immediate). Be it equities, commodities, properties, or currencies, many so-called investment schemes are essentially different forms of gambling, simply because no one can really influence the outcome or outcome. Yes! I opine that the characteristic that differentiates investing from gambling is the ability to influence the outcome.
The origin of the word invest came from the Latin word investire, which means to install, surround or clothe in. There is a connotation of purposeful effort to influence an outcome. So, when you purchase a gold investment product at a certain price, rather than praying hard for the price to rise after your purchase, a more objective approach would be to ask whether you can influence the gold price with your purchase. If you can, then it is investment; if you are not able to, then the purchase is merely a gambling hope. To really influence the share price of a company, for example, an investor would have to purchase not 10 lots of shares, but become the majority shareholder, if not 50.1% of all available shares!
If you agree with this manner of defining investment, you probably will suddenly realise that there are not many things that are truly of investment grade! The few real investments I could think of would include education, inter-personal relationships, personal well-being, and entrepreneurship. One other area which I believe really worth investing in is a person’s employability.
Investing in Your Employability
Why do I consider employability an investment? Employability refers to the ability to gain employment, retain that employment, and regain employment should one need to change career, and this cycle will need to keep revolving and evolving as long as one intends to remain employed. Embedded in this employment cycle is a process of evaluation and valuation by both the employee and employer to arrive at a mutually agreed price known as remuneration. Employability is therefore akin to the product and process component of investment. The inputs of this investment would include personal effort, commitment and finances. The outcomes would include remuneration, satisfaction, knowledge and skills. The outcomes are generally higher than the inputs. Although no one can really guarantee the outcomes of employability, the fact that one can influence the outcomes would qualify it as real investment. To influence the outcome, one can follow the CUBES principle:
- Cultivate an enterprising mindset to be innovative and resilient
- Upgrade skills to stay relevant for current and future industries
- Build competencies in advanced job-seeking skills to be marketable and well valuated
- Establish strong and extensive social networks to better manage personal circumstances
- Scan the macro-economic landscape to be prepared for global employment changes
Of course no one can guarantee that one’s employment will be a smooth and upward sailing journey despite having followed the CUBES principle. However, the fact that one can actively engage in the employability mechanism, one will be in a much better position to influence the outcomes. Those factors which are beyond the control of the individual, like a sudden global recession, are just part and parcel of any investment risks; nothing else should be left to mere chance.
Hence, the next time when you are looking for investment opportunities, consider seriously in investing in your own employability. This is a fail-safe investment.
Anderson Tan | Director, biipmi Pte Ltd
Anderson is passionate about Lifelong Learning for lifelong employability. He believes it pays to invest in gaining, retaining and regaining employment through marketing innovations. Hence biipmi. Anderson has a distinction in M.Arts in Lifelong Learning from Institute of Education, M.Eng and 1st Class Hon. Degree from NUS. He is a career coach, an adult educator, and an entrepreneur.