First, heads up, Fools! Starting today, we've got a new publication schedule for the portfolio columns, and we hope it makes it easier for you to follow your favorite strategies.
Meanwhile, back at the Rule Breaker ranch....
It's human nature to look for heroes, whether in politics, religion, or investing. We grow up depending on respected figures for guidance. As we transition to adulthood, the hardest thing we face is to look into our hearts and minds, make our own decisions, and live with them. Who wouldn't want help? But when we go too far, we turn others into gurus.
Guru-ization is a natural part of the human condition, a cycle something like this: See, admire, get to know, find human, then either reject as clay-footed ("I'm not hanging around anyone who's not perfect. Next!") or develop a more meaningful relationship, acknowledging each other's humanity. One example: It's often said that after the first six months in any relationship love -- and the hard work -- really begin.
When it comes to wanting someone to come along and make life easier, hey, I'm first in line. Every few years I collapse on the couch when an old friend visits and just let it all out: I wish someone else would make some decisions for me. But like winning the lottery or waking up as Rob Lowe, it never happens, leaving me to see that life is about learning from your own mistakes -- and that people can't protect you from making them.
Some raise money managers to godlike status. Those who manage their own money may idolize Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK.A) Warren Buffett or Charles Munger, hanging on every word of Berkshire's (admittedly amazing) annual letters to shareholders. To question Buffett in many circles, including The Motley Fool, is akin to questioning scripture in Afghanistan. There are others put on pedestals too: Tech guru (and mangler of the English language) George Gilder, market strategist Michael Maubisson, or -- horrors! -- even The Motley Fool and Tom and David Gardner.
If Foolishness is founded on the idea that it can be fun to manage our own money, and that no one can do it better than you, why do people try to make the Gardners or even -- gulp -- some Foolish writers into gurus?
A few arrive at Fool.com expecting what they've seen or heard from CNBC or other sites -- stocks as sport, with wins and losses racked up and compared, moment by moment, and no time for reflection and learning. What was that? Oh, just move on to the next thing. Until they shed their short-term skins (which we hope won't take a relationship's magic six months), they skip over the background, strategies, and alerts that we're a different place, and they make us into who they think we are. That is human nature. A layperson might call this projection.
How do you know if you have investing gurus? You advise others to follow their advice like scripture and dismiss any people who disagree or ideas that don't fit. You paste their maxims on the bathroom mirror. And when things go badly, you blame them, not yourself.
Have I ever done this? Yup.
We also exalt revered corporate managers. If we think Amazon's (Nasdaq: AMZN) Jeff Bezos, Celera Genomics' (NYSE: CRA) Craig Venter, or eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY) Meg Whitman are Rule Breaker-quality management, why not hand the money over and fuggedaboutit?
Don't do it. Just because Bezos, Venter, or Whitman is in charge doesn't mean we cede our responsibility to study hard before we invest and then review quarterly and annual reports afterwards. I once wrote that the Rule Breaker Portfolio picked a strong horse in Venter and now we want to let him run. But we still watch what he's eating, check for injuries, and monitor his training.
Dead giveaway you're in trouble on this score? You call Warren Buffett "Warren," or Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM) Irwin Jacobs "Irwin." (I call him Irwin to make sure everyone knows I'm not talking about a family member, but I have an excuse.)
Don't hand over the cash and go to sleep.
The Motley Fool disclosure
And if this all were not bad enough, some even come to Motley Fool writers for buy/sell advice. We often receive emails from people asking about this or that stock, and they have increased with our spiffy disclosure policy (aka "Get your laundry here, clean and dirty!") and our online listing of stocks owned.
Our employment guidelines require that -- beyond routine comments about stuff we've written in this article or that -- we only discuss individual stocks in a public forum. So we refer writers to the discussion boards and continue our conversations there. If anyone asks me investment advice about a stock, I invariably post something gentle like, "Danger, Will Robinson!" and direct the eager Fool to Motley Fool resources for investors.
I've also provided a list, thanks to Selena Maranjian, to offer some reasons why a Fool writer's disclosure should not be a guide for stocks. People, including full-time Fools, may have a zillion reasons for owning stock. Our situations may include any of the following:
1. Our investment club owns 'em, and we disagreed but lost on the vote.
2. Our partners/spouses own them, and we must disclose our beneficial interest.
3. We're too dumb to sell.
4. Our loving partners/spouses are too dumb to sell.
5. We're too NUMB to sell.
6. We only own a share or two or a few.
7. Our cat/dog/goldfish told us to buy.
Fisher on the way
Best thing to do? Take a little here and a little there from the sources you respect, and before you know it you've got an investment philosophy. Philip A. Fisher, author of Common Stocks, Uncommon Profits sums up:
"No investment philosophy, unless it is just a carbon copy of someone else's approach, develops in its complete form in any one day or year. In my own case, it grew over a considerable period of time, partly as a result of... logical reasoning, and partly from observing the successes and failures of others, but much of it through the more painful method of learning from my own mistakes."
P.S. Something tells me that Ian, Hannah and Jacob Lamont are not going to have guru problems.
Tom Jacobs (TMF Tom9) has exalted his share of gurus and learned some lessons the hard way. At press time, he owned shares in Qualcomm. To see his other stock holdings, view his profile, and check out The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.