Saturday, July 29, 2023

There's value in doing nothing


Beyond the books by Haruki Murakami, Japan has a lot to offer to personal finance readers because translated works are so rare and often untainted by Western sensitivities. I think this latest read of mine entitled Rental Person Who Does Nothing by Shoji Morimoto should find itself on every FIRE aspirant's bookshelf, I rank it at the level as books like Die with Zero which I have reviewed here.

Shoji Morimoto, a married man with kids, became an instant celebrity when he offered himself for rental. He charges nothing but whoever rents him needs to pay for his transport and food. Everything was done over Twitter, so he gets to choose which assignments to pick up. I picked a few interesting insights from this book :

a) You never really do 'nothing' when you rent yourself out for your time

This is the most upbeat message from this book. Something is always being done when someone gets rented out to do nothing. I realise that a special kind of relationship can happen where someone becomes someone who is neither a stranger nor a friend. In Japanese society, a rented person performs roles like listening to another person's writing ambitions or accompanying someone who is filing for divorce. I think Shoji, in starting this service, really landed on something like what Starbucks is. Starbucks is a third place between work and home. Shoji is a person between a stranger and a friend. 

b) You will always be compensated even if your services are free

Something interesting happens when you do not charge for your time beyond a meal and transport allowance. People actually make an effort to make the experience positive for you. It could be the sheer weirdness of the engagement, or it could be in the form of Amazon gift cards. If you offer a boring engagement, Shoji will just pick someone else. 

I have grave doubts that a service like this will not be abused in Singapore as Japan is just a more civilised society that shows concern for others. Also, over time, Shoji was able to get corporate sponsors as he became a viral sensation.  

c) This book plugs the gap when it comes to post-FIRE issues folks grapple with

What I find amazing is that throughout the book, Shoji claims that his lifestyle is unsustainable because he's living on his savings. This is not a weakness for someone who attained FIRE. What is also amazing is that someone who attained FIRE can credibly do this kind of work for fun. 

After reading this book, I can't really help being drawn to this really revolutionary approach for my own life. But for me, it's actually dangerous to hire myself out for free as I need to make disclaimers that I am not giving out financial or legal advice. My ENTJ character is also quite impatient and I might find it hard to contain my urge to solve problems or judge people as they arrive, hardly the essence of someone who does nothing. 

Finally, I already do this - for my 600+ strong ERM community, I do have lunches with some of them whenever they want to discuss something, but it's up to them to make it worth my time. I've actually gone book shopping with their kids to pick books on economics, I've also accompanied a squad of multi-millionaires to attend investment presentations where I just sit there and ask embarrassing questions. Like Shoji, sometimes this work can be tiring, I don't like rich people who get an investment trainer out just to validate their own investment ideas.  

I think there is a successful business idea out there that can come from this book. It has to be localised to the Singaporean context, and to prevent abuse, it might not be free at all. 

So I may approach a few interested readers who might be looking for something to do. 

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