Earning an income is a fundamental incentive to work. It starts with just earning enough for the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. From there, it grows to a desire for a greater lifestyle, the “nicer things” of life, and perhaps even the opportunity to accumulate enough to not need to work in the future (i.e., to retire), which in turn incentivizes trying to further grow income and advance a career.
Yet the reality is that the incentives of this “game” change over time; taking a high-stakes risky “stock-like” approach to career is great in the early years, when the upside is great and the downside is limited, but becomes less appealing as the years go by. Wealth is accumulated, goals are achieved, lifestyle is increased, and at some point the game of life changes to be less about getting more and instead is more about enjoying (or at least, not losing) what you’ve got. Accordingly, good career management shifts from treating the career less like a risky stock to something more like a conservative bond.
These dynamics of how the career management game is played, though, impacts career incentives as well, and in the context of investment management can result in a material change in career/performance incentives. This may be particularly true in the world of investment management, as the desire to build a great fund or firm gives way to a new desire to ensure it's not (quickly) lost. And as the incentives to excel potentially decline for many as success comes, the risk rises that even the best managers will lose the willpower and desire to continue to be the best… which ironically means that perhaps the best investment managers most likely to persist are the ones we often lambast - those who are the most money-obsessed, who keep driving for more and more and more despite the fact they probably could have checked out of the game long ago, and who never wane in their desire (or lose their incentive) to keep playing the game to be persistently great.