"Why would I take investment guidance from someone who calls herself a Fool?"
Such was the question posed to me by an experienced investor who recently discovered The Motley Fool.
I answered that The Motley Fool isn't your average, garden-variety fool. We're talking Shakespearean Fools. The inspiration for our name comes from Act II, Scene vii of As You Like It. In Elizabethan times, court jesters and fools were wise, perhaps the only ones who could speak freely to the king without having their heads handed to their next of kin. They satirized royal blunders and clothed unpleasantries in riddles and jests, knowing full well that a spoonful of laughter helps the truth go down. (For a dose of the hilarity, enter our Foolball Super Bowl contest.)
Still, the question nagged me.
A few days later, at a most festive gathering, the host brought out a deck of Rider-Waite Tarot cards. As I handled the colorful cards, deciding whether to divine the fate of my 2001 portfolio, the "Fool" card fell out of the deck.
What could this signify?
One thing is certain about the origin of Tarot cards: It's shrouded in uncertainty. Some say gypsies carried decks of cards with them, which had existed for ages. Others say that they first appeared in the 14th century. The Rider-Waite deck was first published in 1910. Arthur Edward Waite, the designer, is said to have created the cards to communicate esoteric principles through symbols. (No, not stock symbols.) By interpreting the various pictures, and how the different cards relate to each other, an intuitive reader would be able to divine answers to pressing questions -- even without knowing today's unemployment figures.
I therefore set out to understand the meaning of being a "Fool" based on the imagery in the card.
The Fool, as pictured by Waite, is nonchalantly walking to the edge of a cliff, with a flower in one hand, a bundle in the other, and a little dog yapping at his feet. (Somebody has to protect this blithe spirit.) His arms are flung wide, ready to embrace the challenges of life, and his head is held high, fearing nothing, not even the cliff he's about to fall off.
In his book, I Had It All The Time, teacher and author Alan Cohen says of the Fool card, "At face value, the man looks like an idiot, so oblivious to danger that he is about to plunge to death."
Similar things have been said about Rule Breaking Fools, especially since our holdings lost big-time to the market averages in 2000. But, that was merely one year in the lifespan of the companies we plan to hold for decades. Since we invest in high-risk companies -- sometimes with no earnings -- we open ourselves up to criticism for being oblivious to investing dangers.
We aren't oblivious. We're fully aware of the risks we take. This portfolio serves as a teaching model for one particular style of investing. A Foolish investor, however, will allocate only a portion of his or her funds to Rule Breaking companies. Committing all your funds to Rule Breakers is probably too high a risk, even for a very young investor.
Cohen goes on to say, "On the other hand, the Fool could represent one who is stepping out on faith. Perhaps he is not an idiot, but a sage."
Now, that sounds better.
He continues, "When we launch out on an adventure, we step off familiar solid ground into uncharted territory. While there may be danger in such a move, there is also the opportunity for discovery and attainment."
Exactly! If the stock market isn't an adventure to you, you've been under a rock the past 10 years. Rule Breaking Fools acknowledge the high risk that comes along with adventures into unknown territories. We're fully aware of the possible dangers -- like being down 50% in one year. What drives us forward is our faith in the opportunity for discovery and attainment in the future.
What's the essence of Foolishness I read in the card?
The Fool in the Tarot is not an idiot. He's a simple person with an innocent faith that a journey into the unknown will ultimately be worth all the hazards and possible pain. His little bundle represents the knowledge and experiences necessary for his journey, the education he has accumulated thus far and leans on to make his investment decisions. Most importantly, the Fool isn't encumbered by the mountains and valleys that present possible dangers. He has his tools, his little dog, and the confidence to know that he will survive.
We Fools are investing adventurers. We choose to live life to its fullest and recognize that the turf around us is constantly changing. One moment the market's up; next one it's down. Our mission is to adapt to the challenges, hold firm to our commitments, and resist the temptations of momentum selling. Our eyes are focused straight ahead on our goal of investing success over the long term. There'll always be obstacles on our path, but by keeping our heads up and staying focused on our mission, we'll overcome them.
Why would anyone take investing guidance from a Fool? A better question would be, why not?
If you've been looking for an opportunity to begin learning how to invest like a Fool, the time is now! Enroll in our upcoming Beginning Investing seminar, which starts Feb. 7. You can even test drive the first lesson to see if it's for you.