“Fright of Astyanax” by Benjamin West (1797). Source: Getty Museum. This drawing was owned by Thomas Jefferson and exhibited in his parlor at Monticello.
That’s the secret to the success of many major products. Coca-Cola was created when someone accidentally added carbonation to medicinal syrup. Play-Doh was supposed to be a wallpaper cleaner. Toothpaste started as a homemade powder made from salt and burnt bread until someone noticed Parisian painters squeezing their pigments out of lead tubes and applied the lesson.
Steve Jobs told about how he created proportionally-spaced fonts for the original Macintosh. He had dropped out of college, but continued to audit courses that looked interesting. One of these was calligraphy. He was captivated by the beautiful, subtle way that great typography can subtly convey meaning and mood to a text. 10 years later he designed the Mac to have lovely typefaces.
It’s important to diversify not just our portfolios, but our lives, and not just to improve our returns. Being able to appreciate a beautiful sunrise or a passage from Shakespeare improves our outlook on everything. Thomas Jefferson had paintings and illustrations throughout his home; he was also an accomplished violinist. There’s no proof, but I believe that music and art helped him to be a better writer and more able administrator. They certainly aided his pursuit of happiness.
We can’t connect the dots in our lives looking forward; we can only see the pattern looking backwards. We have to balance our work, family, health, and spiritual pursuits. We may never get a lucky break. But if our lives are rich enough, we won’t need luck.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer