In this special episode of MarketFoolery, Chris Hill interviews entrepreneur Zia Zaman. Among other things, Zaman's published multiple papers on the pulling-the-goalie problem. Tune in to hear him explain what pulling the goalie means in hockey games, why coaches do it -- and why they sometimes don't -- how statisticians have addressed this in the past, what Zaman's added to the body of pulling-the-goalie knowledge, and how it all relates to investing and risk management. Plus, some travel tips, reflections on getting used to cold weather, some examples of high-level math in practical use, and much more.
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This video was recorded on Dec. 26, 2019.
Chris Hill: It's Thursday, Dec. 26. Welcome to MarketFoolery! I'm Chris Hill. Happy Boxing Day. Hope you had a nice Christmas. Something a little different on today's show. I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Zia Zaman. He is an entrepreneur. He's a fellow at the Aspen Institute. And I got connected to him by my colleague, Brian Richards. Brian had met him on a business trip to Singapore. And he's a smart, interesting guy who is curious about the world. I read a little bit about him, and Zia's one of those people whose current success is not surprising to me, and any future success that he has is not going to be surprising, either. In the same way that we look at businesses and think to ourselves, "I want to keep my eyes on that and see where it goes," having sat down with Zia, that's how I feel about him. I'm interested to see where this guy's career goes, because I know it's going to be somewhere very interesting and potentially game-changing in the world of business.
It turns out that he and I were in Boston at the same time during our college years. He was at MIT. Anyway, I really enjoyed sitting down with him. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Zia Zaman.
How'd you like Boston?
Zia Zaman: Loved it. I mean, you know what it was like, coming from Maine. Everyone thought it was a strange, cold city, people all over. And you're like, all right, this is nothing.
Zaman: Exactly, right?
Hill: Yeah, if you're from Montreal, it's like, "No, we're fine. We're fine here."
Zaman: First day it snowed, I had some friends from all over the world, right. Africa, Asia. I said, "Just approved that you will not die, I am going to go out in my shorts and show you that it's OK." I put on a big, thick jacket and some running shorts. I didn't die. Five minutes later, I went back in and changed. But they just thought, "OK, this isn't so bad."
Hill: I wonder if that's even the case anymore. I wonder if, in this age of information, if students going to a different place, with a different climate, if they are at all surprised by it. I understand it a little bit back in the 1980s. I had a couple of friends first year at BC who were from California, and they appeared to be astonished that it was cold in Boston.
Zaman: I think that it still happens.
Hill: [laughs] Really?
Zaman: Let me tell you why. It's just, the information about the cold is all academic. The information that your nerves tell you about the cold is viscerally real when you first get there. And I don't think there is a feeling of cold now that I live in 86 degree heat every single day that you can replicate. You just can't. So, when I bring my daughter to skiing in Japan, she feels it, the cold, and says, "It's something that I like, but I've never felt it before." Never. So, I do think it's a reality check for everyone. There's bracing for it, and then it happens.
Hill: It's a little bit analogous to -- I've had conversations with people over the past year or two about technology. And I find that, particularly when it comes to consumer technology, the people who are involved in creating the technology are very excited, and rightfully so if they're the ones building it. They're very excited about the specs and all of the technical aspects. And they are tempted to tell you all this, using all this jargon. And I have to, as gently as possible, tell them, "You realize the technology you're talking about doesn't hit people on the level you're talking about. It hits them, in some ways, on an emotional level, or just on a gut level." Like, Wi-Fi. I was talking to a guy about this new system, and how exciting, and he was using all of these technical phrases that I frankly did not understand at all. And I said, "You know, most people think about Wi-Fi in very binary ways. If it works, they love it and they're happy. If it's slow or doesn't work, they get frustrated." And I think you're right, the cold is one of those things where, yeah, you can all you want about the cold, but until you've been in that bone-chilling, you walk outside, and it hits you instantly --
Zaman: You and I were born into it. And around tech, I think more engineers I've met recently use design thinking, and they think about the customer in terms of what they're doing. But back to Wi-Fi, that's a great one. A T-shirt I once saw in Thailand said, and I quote, "Life is what happens between Wi-Fi signals."
Hill: [laughs] I like that.
Zaman: And when you're traveling, backpacking around Southeast Asia, and there's spotty Wi-Fi, fundamentally, you're just spending a lot of time on your phone and not enjoying whatever, wherever you are. And so, life is what happens when you're not looking at your phone.
Hill: So, before we get to what you're doing now, take me back to MIT. You're at MIT. You're studying engineering.
Zaman: I was studying this. I was studying math in many ways. I was in the electrical engineering computer science department. But the professor that I was spending a lot of time with, a Bostonian guy named Dick Larson, he introduced me to probability theory, and the idea that there are operations research problems or probability problems in an urban setting. And he called that course Urban OR. And what we were really good at is basically applying mathematics. And from the sophomore year onwards, I started to tinker with, "What does this problem look like in terms of math?" And obviously, during the breaks, we talked a little bit about baseball, because it was all the rage. It's a very easy-to-analyze sport, with the confrontations and with the aspect of how you can capture data.
So, I remember one January when we were going to seminars, somebody actually claimed that a triple was more valuable to a team than a home run. And everyone laughed. And we looked at his math, and he claimed that a triple keeps the rally going, and therefore you basically have more runs as a result of a triple than a home run. So little things like that were the beginnings of, of course, Moneyball and all the other things that have come since then -- sabermetrics, etc.
I spent time in thinking about the airline industry. I love to travel. And the airline industry is just a classic optimization problem. You've got these expensive planes, you've got passengers, you have to try to maximize how much you're going to charge for them. And I even spent a summer figuring out how to do that in Montreal for one of the airlines. All kinds of cool problems were what I was thinking about outside of the coursework.
Hill: What did you think you were going to do? Did you have an idea of a dream job at that point?
Zaman: I really didn't. In fact, I don't have regrets, but I just didn't have the exposure to all the different ways in which probability affected life. I think sports management and thinking about the movies were things that I always come back to. Is there a way to analyze what film or script will end up being successful? Same goes with scouting players. But I don't think I thought that that would be a career. But I knew it had to do something around this.
Hill: So, the guy who had the theory about the triple -- obviously, it's a mathematical theory, but was part of his theory, did it have anything to do with emotion? Or just the pressure that would be put on the pitcher, because, "Well, I still have a runner on base," that sort of thing? I'm thinking about the paper that you worked on recently about hockey and when you pull the goalie. It seems like you can analyze data, but I'm assuming it's harder to factor in emotional state of mind of the people who are engaged in the game itself.
Zaman: Back in those days, no one thought about. There was no such thing as behavioral economics, I think. I think we really looked at the data, because that's all we had to analyze. And what had to be true, if you really think about it, is that a triple was worth more than one run. Because otherwise, the home run always works out to be more valuable. I think the data probably showed -- at least, the data he had -- that the coach was less likely to pull the pitcher off the mound, and indeed, having somebody in your line of sight if you're a right-handed pitcher can be very distracting. And it changes the dynamic of the game. And most times, if you get a triple, you're going to come in, if it's less than two outs, of course. So I think there's some reason to believe that the data yielded that, but I don't think that particular researcher really got into the analysis of what's on the brain. More what we did is, we looked for human explanations after the data told us something. And that's an interesting way to look at even this problem around pulling the goalie.
Hill: So, Brian sends me this link. He's like, "I read this paper and it was fantastic. You have to ask him about it." So, what's origin story of the pulling the goalie academic paper that you wrote?
Zaman: Sure. I've written two. I'm going to talk a little bit about both of them, Chris. I grew up, of course, in Montreal, watching hockey.
Hill: It's a law, I think.
Zaman: It certainly is. The first few memories I have are literally of trading hockey cards, watching Hockey Night in Canada on a black and white TV, and four Stanley Cups in the '70s. Pretty lucky, but, in fact, in many ways unlucky. I was a little young to appreciate them. And, while watching hockey, I thought I had a reasonable understanding of the flow of the game. You tend to think if you're from Montreal that it's sort of the capital of hockey.
So, when I went to MIT, I started thinking about baseball. And at some point, I started reading about this problem that was when you pull the goalie at the end of the game. And because I was rooted in, "You pull it one minute before," because that's what coaches do, I was surprised that somebody in the '70s, a guy named Erkut had said, "No, you've got to pull it earlier, five minutes earlier." And I remember reading the paper when I'd had enough math in me, and said, "You know, that can't be right," because the way they estimated the arrival of a goal in a hockey game was like the arrival of a bus at the bus stop. That's famously what they call a poisson distribution. The puck could go into the net at any time independent of when it last went into the net. That's why you get buses bunched up together. And so, what he did, was basically used really smart data to say, "All right, you could get a goal at any time. Let's figure out what happens when you have an empty net goal versus a goal with even strength."
And just to set it up for people who don't understand hockey, this is the problem. You're losing by one goal at the end of an NHL game, and you're going to lose anyway, as the time is running out. So, the coach might say, "I'm going to pull the goalie out in favor of an extra attacker." What that does is, it puts a little bit more pressure on the opposing team's goal. It increases the probability of you scoring by about three times, but it also increases the probability of them scoring by about seven or eight times. But at some point, if you don't try, you're going to end up losing the game anyway.
Hill: And it doesn't matter if you lose by one goal or two.
Zaman: Right. And the crowd gets a little bit more excitement, too. So, what I think we were trying to do is to say, look, play it safe, maybe 30 seconds before the end of the game, let's pull the goalie and see what happens. And this started, apparently, in the '30s. But basically, it's been going on for some time.
Famously, the Russians never did this. Tikhonov, who was the famous coach, said, "I'm never going to pull the goalie. That's ridiculous."
Hill: And they had, like, a 20-year winning streak. They can back that up.
Zaman: They certainly did. But not against the best Canadians, but that's a different story. So, what we looked at was, all right, is there a way to figure out what is the optimal time, meaning, when is it equivalent for you to pull the goalie toward the end of the game versus not pull the goalie? That score, that crossover point? And Erkut figured this out using the poisson model. And I looked at it and I said, "You know what? This doesn't take into account the flow of a hockey game," because indeed, the puck could go into the net at any time. But, I like to think of the flow of a hockey game as something that goes back and forth with the puck. So, there are various states to the game. And so, when you turn on the TV, and you're kind of late, the first thing you look for is, of course, the puck. Where is it? If it's in the neutral zone, you don't think twice about it. But if it's in the offensive zone, you lean forward. If it's in the defensive zone, you get a little nervous. And the reason is, you can't score if you're not in the offensive zone. And the old expression in hockey is, you can't score if you don't shoot.
So what I said was, "Look, there are seven states to the game," and that's what we call a Markov chain. It's a birth and death chain. And I estimated the probabilities of going from the neutral zone to the offensive zone, to the point where you get a shot, to the point where you actually score, and then back and forth to the other side. And what that does is, it basically helps you estimate what would be the optimal time to pull the goalie if you're in the neutral zone; but also, what happens when you're in the offensive zone and when you're in the defensive zone.
So, I wrote up this paper after I graduated. It took a little while. It was 2001. And the magazine was called Chance. And I want to shout out to all the people at Chance for basically following up. Chance is the one that's been publishing this paper for other authors for quite some time. So, I forgot about it. That was 2001, Chris.
Hill: And then? Was there a rebuttal, and you had to go back?
Zaman: Yes and no, interestingly. I moved to Asia. I didn't watch as much NHL as I'd like. The Habs didn't do as well, as well. But I ended up getting a call from one of my friends who went to MIT with me. And he was really angry. I said, "Why are you so angry?" And he said, "I was just listening to the Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist History podcast, and he says that one of his rules for life is pull the goalie, and he didn't give you credit, Zia." I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Look, this guy, I know, Cliff Asness, wrote a paper in 2016. And Malcolm did an entire episode on it. You have to listen to it, but I'm furious." I didn't think much of it. I said, "Dan, whatever, it's been many years." So, I finally get to my favorite podcast app and download Malcolm and start listening to it. And it's a brilliant podcast, because it takes the problem and goes a lot further than what us math geeks would do. And it talks about two people -- Cliff Asness and Aaron Brown. And Cliff runs a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund, which is a quant fund. And he and Aaron are apparently disagreeable people, according to Malcolm. And that's kind of the core to this problem, the pull the goalie problem. The Asness-Brown model, which I call the AB model, basically uses some new techniques and some new data, dynamic programming to calculate the optimal time to pull the goalie. And what they find is basically the same thing that I found in 2001 -- that it should be about six minutes before the end of the game.
What's also interesting is that in the paper, they cite my paper twice in a very favorable way. They said, "You should look at the Zaman paper to figure out the state, and it would be great to be able to see how our data cooperates, because we almost got the exact same result." And when I really thought about it, they were using the same assumption that is a state nonspecific. They didn't really care where the puck was in calculating their model. And it's a brilliant model, and it works really well, and the rules have changed a little bit. They optimize for points because there's an overtime loss now. But, for all intents and purposes, they just refreshed the model and got a lot of airplay with Malcolm -- which is, of course, something that's really interesting.
So I looked at it, and I said, "Well, what am I going to do, Dan?" And I looked at it some more. And I realized there's something, of course, I could do. I could update the AB model using the same Markov idea. I love the fact that Markov is a wonderful hockey name, right?
Hill: It is.
Zaman: I mean, he used to be a defenseman for the Penguins, and obviously for the Russian national team. So, Markov fits very well for hockey and for math. So, I basically do what Asness-Brown suggest, which is, it would be nice to see what happens if you made those state dependent. But I realized one thing, and I admit it, which is, my math was rusty.
Hill: You'd taken a little time off?
Zaman: The interesting thing was, maybe my math wasn't rusty, but the best way to do this was coding it in Python. And I needed a thought partner. So I went to the National University of Singapore. And this guy named Hongming loves doing sports stuff. And I went to MIT with one of his professors. And we got together. And we coded. And he was their lead programmer, and I was thinking about the math. And effectively, what we were able to do is to modify that Asness-Brown model to fit with the idea that the puck can flow from the offensive state to the defensive state.
Hill: Have you reached out to Gladwell with the new paper?
Zaman: So, partly, this is an attempt to say, let's talk about this.
So, effectively, what we found -- the first thing you do is to replicate the Asness-Brown model, which we did. And then we said, let's start to do two things. First is, of course, figure out how it changes if the puck is in the offensive zone and the defensive zone. And then the second thing I started to think about was, the coach himself, or herself. Their mentality changes because of the crowd, and because of the fact that this isn't just something where you can press a button and the goalie gets pulled. Have you ever seen an ice hockey goalie try to skate 40 meters to the bench? It's kind of painful.
Hill: Yeah, it's a little awkward.
Zaman: It's a little awkward. So, effectively, what we figured out is, even if you pull the goalie because you have an offensive zone faceoff, you can reverse that decision. And the way you reverse that decision is that you take that goalie and you put him back into the goal, perhaps if you lose possession of the puck in the offensive zone. Makes sense, right? Someone from Maine?
Zaman: So, the problem is, you can't just do that when the puck is in play. You have to wait for the next faceoff. So, what we did was we figured out just how frequently the faceoffs occur? And luckily, it was very, very consistent. It's every 60 seconds. So, this idea of a penalty, or timing. The coach has to live with his or her decision.
So, the two bits of information that we found is that, first of all, little bits of insight are incredibly valuable. And the reason is, it derisks a risky situation, because what is pull the goalie? It's a situation where you're making a desperate move that increases the volatility of the whole situation. And for the investment people out there, I think you've heard it described as follows. If you could increase the volatility of a call option, as it nears the end of its term, because you're so far out of the money, it's a good idea, because the chances are higher that it will go in the money. That's exactly the pull the goalie problem. So effectively, what we're learning is, if you have a little bit of information about how risky the situation is, it gives the coach a little bit of air cover to say, "Hey, the puck is in the offensive zone. It makes sense to the crowd that I can pull the goalie because it increases the chances of scoring against that goalie. And if we lose control of the puck, the puck goes over the boards, I'll put the goalie back in. The crowd can accept that." So, the first adage that we came up with was that we can derisk risky situations with particular bits of information. And that makes sense intuitively.
The second point is that the puck transfers between these zones very, very quickly. It will stay in the offensive zone for about 10 seconds, and therefore, this little bit of insight is fleeting. You really don't know after 10 seconds what zone the puck will be in. And you've got to live with your decision for 60 seconds. So that balances things out. So, when the coach can justify that because he has that advantage, he has permission to be bolder, but he has to basically live with this decision. Pull a goalie to me is about courage. I think the question that Malcolm puts forward, which is really insightful, Chris, is, what happens if you have a violent robber in your home with you and your family? What do you do? Because it's socially unacceptable for you to run to get help, because your kids might get hurt. So, what I'm basically saying is, if you can lock your kids in a panic room for some period of time and keep them safe, it gives you the air cover to go out and get help.
I'll give you a couple of other examples. Pretend like you're a studio exec at a pretty small label, and you need to improve your results or else you're going to get fired. You have one last shot. So, you take a risk to do an indie movie with a first-time screenwriter/director, and you think, "This is the only chance I have left to actually have a low-budget, a high-box-office-yield movie." And what you're basically doing is you're pulling the goal. You're saying, "I'm going to throw caution to the wind." If I could tell you that I could derisk the situation by saying Meryl Streep's going to play the lead, well, it makes it a lot more palatable to say I'm going to take that risk. And then the studio execs will say, "OK, if you have Meryl, that's fine."
Same goes with an investment manager. Towards the end of, let's say, the year, you're not having a great year, and you know that either you're not going to get a good bonus, or you're going to get fired. You might want to increase the volatility of the basket of assets that you hold because effectively, you're going to lose your job anyway. And therefore, you might as well take a disagreeable position because it's the right thing to do. It's the same idea as the coach. You're going to lose anyway. The last thing would be a CEO if, from a management perspective, either near the end of his tenure, or she feels like she needs something blockbuster to pull her out of the doldrums with the analysts, will do something incredibly risky, like acquire a peer, etc.
I think that that basically repeats itself over and over again. And I just like the way that the pull the goalie problem, for all intents and purposes, says, sometimes you need courage, but maybe more importantly, if you can find little ways that your courage can be justified, that's a good thing. It's better than basically just making a blind bet. Does that make sense?
Hill: Absolutely. And it goes to a couple of things. One is the old adage from the mutual fund industry. This example doesn't really hold much water, certainly, over the last five years or so, but for a good couple of decades, it was absolutely true, the old adage that no mutual fund manager ever got fired for buying shares of IBM, because it was the stable blue chip tech business. And no one's going to knock you for buying IBM, even if that stock doesn't do well.
The other thing you just reminded me of is an article I read recently about the economics of the film industry. And in particular, the economics of horror. And how part of the reason there are so many horror movies made, one is, the economics of horror movies are fantastic. They're low-budget, they don't require large scripts, they don't require stars. It's also a way for first-time directors to cut their teeth, because they get the freedom to sort of do whatever they want, in a way. But really, a big part of it is just the economics are just so good, because horror translates into every language.
Zaman: Yeah, that's exactly the point, back to the coach, which is, it is easy for them to say, "I pulled the goalie with a minute left. The puck didn't bounce our way." And everyone's going to give him a pass, right? He'll say, "Oh, we gave it 110%. We just didn't get the shot that we needed at the end of the game." You're basically buying IBM over and over again. What Asness-Brown found was that over the course of one season -- it's not just that one game -- it would accrue four more points in the standings, which is material. And therefore, if you look at any individual decision, it's easy in the press to basically say, "All right, I'm judging someone by that individual decision," but over a long period of time, it matters whether you make the playoffs or finish first. It requires courage to do what's unpopular on the days that it doesn't make sense.
I play bridge, too. This doesn't happen in bridge. You basically take a finesse and you win 55% of time. When you don't win, the queen's on the wrong side, no one gives you a hard time. There's no media, there's no press. But you always take the thing that, over the long run, is going to yield a better result. But coaches are different. It's a media business, hockey.
I love the idea that, if you think about the switching costs -- and one of the most interesting parts, I think, of the paper is the fact that that goalie can't go back into the net quickly. For those who like to watch soccer, or the original football, the way soccer works is, of course, goals come at a significantly lower rate. But, you may have seen at the end of a cup game, the goalie will then rush to the opposing penalty box for a corner kick, because the goalies are typically pretty tall. And the logic is exactly the same. But the difference between the goalie in hockey and the goalie in soccer is pretty clear. Anything you could think about?
Hill: It's a lot further for the goalie to get back to the goal in soccer games. Even though they're not weighed down with all the equipment.
Zaman: But I think the fact is that, as true as that is, the soccer ball doesn't travel nearly as fast and as accurately as a hockey puck does. The keeper can run back reasonably quickly, and doesn't have to do anything in terms of equipment to be able to save the shot back in his own penalty box. So, the switching cost for a soccer goalie is really, really small. And so, if we changed the switching cost for our hockey problem, what it effectively means is that you would pull the goalie even earlier, and then put the goalie back when you could, because there's really no penalty associated with it. So, if you find yourself in a risky situation, where you have the ability to use an insight, even though it's fleeting, but the switching costs are relatively low, then you should be a tinkerer.
But I think in reality, there are switching costs. When you try to get back into the house, the robber might get you. Management might ask why you keep doing the same horror movie. Therefore, I think you have to balance both. The insights are fleeting, but if your switching costs can be managed, then you want to tinker. If the switching costs are high, then it's going to look a whole lot more like a situation where it doesn't really matter.
Hill: I've got one eye on the clock, so let me move off of the paper for a second. What do you do when you're not writing papers about hockey probabilities? What's your day job?
Zaman: I love traveling. Right now, I'm in the D.C. area because I'm a fellow at the Aspen Institute, thinking about social change in a broader context. We think about not just shareholder value for the companies that we're a part of, but also stakeholder value. And me and my peers are thinking about issues of sustainability, circular economy, and for me, in particular, it's inclusion. And inclusion in the industry that I'm in, in financial services, is about how do you serve the next 2 billion people? It kind of combines a few of the things I like to do. The tech side is things like blockchain and other tech, help lower the cost and reduce the friction for people to get access to tech, just like we were talking about before. The people side is, I spent a lot of time in Asia and in developing markets. I know people don't want complicated products. They want to buy over their mobile phone, and they want the product to be simple and easy to understand. And from a sustainability point of view, it always helps to have more people involved. I like to combine the travel, the business, and the technology in both my day job as well as in some of my outside pursuits. But I do love to think about these kinds of problems.
Hill: Where do you see financial services going in the next three to five years? And you can take that in any direction because obviously, you take a phrase like financial services, it can apply to insurance, it can apply to investing, buying a home, buying a car, any aspect of it. Where do you think we're going, and what's the part that most interests you?
Zaman: I think we're already in that trend where it's getting democratized. I think we see that in the United States. But that trend hasn't completely happened all around the world. The future is already here, it just hasn't been evenly distributed yet, William Gibson famously said.
The second point I think I'd make is that I think financial services in some ways is going to get embedded into other journeys. So, while you're doing something else, there will be a moment of risk or there'll be an opportunity to make a payment. And that little bit, that micro service, that micro journey in financial services, will become a little less friction-full, because it's part of another, greater journey. And I think we're already seeing that. The smart financial services companies are embedding themselves into our lives, making it easy to get in and get out, as opposed to thinking, "We're going to build this big cathedral and say, 'You have to come in and put in your money.'" We're deconstructing the banking insurance industry and saying, "When you need it, we'll be there for you, and we'll make it as simple as possible." So, I think that's a big trend.
And, of course, inclusion. I think that there are literally billions of people who have not used financial services because it's too complex, or it is that cathedral mentality. And yet every single person on the planet has used a mobile phone, for example, at some point. In fact, the United Nations said that it's a basic human right in 2020 to have access to a smartphone, more than running water and more than, of course, financial services. So I think financial services will get embedded, it becomes simpler, and it will do good for more people.
Hill: It has been interesting to watch over the last 25 years just in the investing world the disruption that starts with, go back 25, 30 years and Charles Schwab saying, "You know what? We actually think people shouldn't be paying hundreds of dollars for a single trade of a stock. We're going to make that $50." Of course, there were naysayers. And then you have even further disruption with the E*Trades and TD Ameritrades of the world coming along. And it does seem like, to your point about distribution and democratization, that disruption can be exciting or terrifying depending on your point of view. If you're an entrenched, large, successful company, then disruption is not necessarily something that you're interested in. And I think you're right about the opportunities in terms of all the different transactions that go on. But it will be interesting to watch how some of the bigger players behave because for some of them, they like the current model.
Zaman: I love companies that want to innovate over and over again. And the reason is, even though you might be an incumbent or a large stakeholder or a beneficiary of the existing model, if you take the point of view of, "I need to serve my customer, to let them do the famous job-to-be-done," then, for example, in insurance, when you really ask people, "What do you want life insurance for?" They will say, "I want to live a longer, happier, thicker, fuller life." And in many ways, the more innovative company is the one that thinks about that customer, and reinvents products and services and experiences with the brand that they currently have, to make life easier and allow people to reach their goals. And so I think that it could come from small companies, but great, large companies could disrupt themselves.
Hill: Without getting overly personal, how do you invest your money?
Zaman: I usually use passive index funds. My wife works for a bank, so we also work with them as a PBE and it works out well to be able to do a little bit of both. I think that I've been burned by the promise of EM, emerging markets, more times than not.
Hill: It's been a rough few years for emerging markets.
Zaman: It certainly has. I think I recognize why, when there's clear path to growth in non-emerging markets. But just being out there, you see just how much potential there is. But I like the idea of having both the active and the passive.
Hill: Given the amount of travel that you do, what is something that everyone who goes to Singapore should do or see? And, if you could share, because I don't do a ton of travel, one or two travel tips. It could be anything. It could be your strategy for dealing with jet lag. Anything. I'm always looking for any kind of tip I can get.
Zaman: I love Singapore. I think it's been a fantastic home for me for nine years. And yet, one of the things that people say about Singapore is that one of the best parts is how close it is to other places. And that's not an insult, because it is in a really interesting part of the world. In fact, going back to math, if you were to draw the smallest radius circle on the planet that covers half the population, that circle would have as its center a place in Myanmar, which isn't very far from Singapore. That radius would be about a four-hour flight.
Hill: Half the planet?
Zaman: Half the population of the planet is within a four-hour flight of Singapore. So, you can see everything. So, the tip I would give is, think about a place that you've never thought of before and talk to your iconoclastic friends who do interesting things. And there are some wonderful books and photographic exhibits -- basically, this is what got me interested in Bhutan, Chris -- that took a photograph of people in their homes with everything in their home taken out so that you could see what they owned. And I remember looking at a variety of different countries. And this Swiss cottage in Bhutan with the Asian-faced people, with incredibly colorful clothes, and different sets of things in their house, fascinated me. And so, in 2000, I went to this country, Bhutan, before it had even really opened up. And then that piqued my curiosity of other places, like Uzbekistan, which is a really interesting place that gets two lines in our history books. And then other places, as well. I've been to Easter Island recently.
I guess one of the interesting parts about traveling and basing yourself in Singapore is that you can do a number of different things. How to pick that thing is not just what your regular friends tell you, but what your most iconoclastic friend tells you, that's a place that you should go.
Hill: I was hoping for a jet lag tip as well.
Zaman: Sorry. Melatonin, that does work.
Hill: Does it work?
Zaman: It does work. It resets your clock.
Hill: This has been great. I would love to talk for another hour, but I know we've got to get you into D.C. But this has been great.
Zaman: Thank you very much! I'll have to write a third paper.
Hill: Yeah, exactly. And the fellowship at the Aspen Institute, is there a set time for that? When did that start, and when do you end?
Zaman: It convenes three times over the course of a year. We got together in Aspen, we're getting together in Wye, Maryland, and next is going to be somewhere in Long Island, in May. But, look, it's minus three Celsius tonight, so I don't think they expect November to be this cold. But, again, I'm from Montreal. You're from Maine.
Hill: Yeah, you'll be fine. Well, this has been great. I really appreciate your time.
Zaman: Thanks so much, Chris!