Wednesday, March 24, 1999

The Dancing Chicken Fribble

by Selena Maranjian

"One can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
-- Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking Glass

Many years ago, when I was strolling through Chinatown in New York City, I stumbled across a little storefront that advertised a dancing chicken. If I recall correctly, when my friends and I entered, we learned that it was the dancing chicken's day off. He or she wasn't performing that day.

This was a bummer, but we quickly cheered up when we turned around and found ourselves face to face with a chicken that played tic-tac-toe. (And no, I'm not making this up.) One of my companions dared to play the chicken. He put his "X" here, the chicken pecked its "O" there. And before long, the machine that kept track of the game lit up, announcing, "Bird Wins!"

The point of this Fribble is to encourage anyone out there who is doubting his or her ability to ever become a successful investor. You might think that the chicken story teaches the opposite message, though. It might seem to suggest that if my Ivy-league-educated friend could not beat a chicken at a game, then there is no hope for humanity. That perhaps chickens are destined to take over the world one of these days. Perhaps they've just been toying with us, permitting us to rule for a few thousand years before unveiling their diabolical master plan.

I think not, though. I think the real message of the story is that almost anything is possible. Because after all, even chickens can learn to play tic-tac-toe (and to dance, apparently, although I didn't witness that).

If you wish you were a savvy investor but despair at ever understanding all there is to learn, take heart. You can do it. As the Brothers Gardner titled their intro-to-investing book, "You Have More Than You Think." Investing isn't brain surgery. Most of the math you'll need to use you've learned already, in grade school. A nine-year-old was able to figure out and use the Dow investing approach. We tested that. We've also heard from many people from all around the country (and world), who express their surprise that they were able to take control of their finances and begin investing successfully -- on their own.

Of course, with the Fool, you're never really alone. We've been called "the world's largest investment club" for a good reason. There are hundreds of thousands of us roaming around the vast virtual space that is Fooldom, each learning from and teaching the other. If you haven't spent much time on our message boards, you're really doing yourself a disservice.

You can also learn with others by forming your own investment club. We've got a support area for that, full of information on how to go about forming a club. The National Association of Investors Corp. (the NAIC) also has a very useful site.

It's true that to learn all there is to know about investing probably takes more than a lifetime. But you don't have to know all that in order to beat most mutual funds and many professional investors. Learning just a little might be enough to secure an early retirement for yourself or to put your kids through college painlessly. Read through our 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly and you'll see that there are simple, small, beginning steps that you can take. Take them just one at a time. Don't think you have to rush into everything at once.

It used to be that investing was a mysterious business, not taught in many places. The Wise of Wall Street liked it that way, as people thought their only option was to put their heard-earned money in the hands of professionals who didn't have their best interests at heart. In these dark days, there probably weren't any chickens who could dance or play tic-tac-toe.

But the world is different today. Today many chickens have careers. These careers improve their quality of life, keeping them out of reach of Colonel Sanders. And our quality of life can improve, too, if we take advantage of all the information on investing available online and elsewhere.

You owe it to yourself to learn this stuff (I can't emphasize that enough). You owe it to your children and grandchildren and friends to get them learning about it, too. Learn from reputable sources, like your friends at the Fool and at the NAIC. (Bypass anyone who promises you vast riches in 30 minutes.) Read and pass along some of the books penned by David and Tom Gardner or Peter Lynch.

If we could put men on the moon in 1969, if the ancient Egyptians could build the amazing pyramids back in the 26th century B.C., if a chubby little boy from a broken and unwealthy home can grow up to become President, and if chickens can learn to dance and play tic-tac-toe, don't you think you can learn how to identify wonderful businesses like Wal-Mart, General Electric, and Coca-Cola?

"We've removed the ceiling above our dreams. There are no more impossible dreams."
-- Jesse Jackson

[This has been another installment of Selena's Fribbles. If you're a glutton for the absurd, check out her archive.]

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