On this week's Rule Breakers podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner takes something of a break from his usual topics and generally upbeat outlook to dig into some things that just get him irked. in this case, he's looking at phrases that he thinks we'd all be better off retiring from our vocabularies, because they're linked to ideas we'd be better off dumping, too. You may agree or disagree with him on any particular peeve, but hear him out: He's our wise Fool, after all. First, though, he's got a story for you: The Tale of Two Scrooges.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Nov. 15, 2017.
David Gardner: And welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing.
Last week was awfully fun, wasn't it? Well, I had a great time having Matt Argersinger on playing the Market Cap Game Show. I could probably play that game or a game every single week on this podcast, but that might be a little too self-indulgent. I'm not sure everybody loves that game quite as much as I do. But if you even half love it as much as I do, I hope you enjoyed Matt's return appearance and played along, and I hope you hashtagged #IBeatMatt. Now you may not have. I think few people do, but it's always something to aspire to. Fortunately, I don't have to compete against the guy. I just get to be the MC.
Well, speaking of self-indulgent, this could be the crowning podcast of self-indulgence for Rule Breaker Investing in 2017 because once a year -- this is the third time I've done it -- I rant a little bit. It's time for my pet peeves. This, "My Pet Peeves, Vol. II." And a word or two of explanation here.
First of all, I think we all have pet peeves. I mean, if you're a living, breathing, observing child or adult, I'm sure there are some things that are done, or said, that when they happen once, that was unfortunate. But if it keeps happening, over and over, it becomes a pet peeve.
Now, at the age of 51, I think I've probably racked up a fair share of them. You might be older or younger than I am, and you might have your own list. I keep all of my lists in life, by the way, in Evernote. I really love that app and that online site. I store a ton there, and one of my thousands of notes on Evernote is just My Pet Peeves. And occasionally I'll just add something to it. It might only pop up once or twice a year, but I've collected a fair number of these over time, and it's been my pleasure to share my pet peeves with you once a year.
Looking back at the past, the first time I did it was Feb. 3, 2016, and that was The Language of Investing podcast. It wasn't explicitly a pet peeve podcast, but if you go back and listen to it...
And by the way, if you want to find it on iTunes, it's about to drop below the fold, so Feb. 3, 2016. If you want to hear it -- hear The Language of Investing and some questions I have about some of the words we use around the language of our discipline -- then please enjoy that before it drops away.
I remember talking on that one, for example, about the word "names," and how people put names in place of stocks. They'll say, "Yeah. I bought three good names last week." And my rant, there, is just that in my experience people who refer to corporations or stocks... really businesses employing sometimes thousands of people with lots of stakeholders and for them it's just a "name"... to me that sounds like trader talk. Like just a name that you'll briefly get to know before you flip it for some other name. I don't like the encroachment of the concept or word of "names" when it comes down to CNBC or other financial broadcasting. I remember saying that, there.
I also remember one of my other favorite rants. I'm in danger of continuing past that piece when we're going to introduce some new ones this week, but I should just briefly mention when people say usually in a business context, and maybe about a CEO, that they "hire people smarter than they are. That's what we do in our company. That's what I'm trying to do."
That's also a pet peeve of mine. Because I've heard so many people say it interviewing CEOs over the course of time that's it's just threadbare, and at a certain point I start going, "Is it really that easy to find people who are that smarter than you are? Maybe they should be the CEO of this company if we're all always hiring people smarter than we are." Maybe we should try to be the smartest person, not just in our company but how about in our industry? I'd rather invest in Reed Hastings who's not the smartest guy in his company, although he might be. I think he's the smartest guy in the room of entertainment today. So, I like smarts. I wouldn't play it down too much, people.
My second, my first official pet peeve podcast, if you're interested in this, you can go back to July 20, 2016. I said one a year, but this kind of averages out over our three years or so to be once a year. But July 20 explicitly called "Pet Peeves and Other Cool Stuff," which I won't rant about here.
But I will say on that one, I remember mentioning how the phrase "I'll be honest with you," is definitely a pet peeve of mine. Maybe for you, too. Maybe I turned you on to this if you were listening, July two years ago. Because whenever somebody says, "I'll be honest with you," it immediately calls into question, for me, their own integrity and everything else that they've been saying, because if now they're highlighting that they're being honest with you or me, it makes me wonder are you always being...? Should I be talking...? Are you not always being honest with me?
So frankly -- honestly -- let me be honest with you. Definitely a pet peeve. But that's all in the past. We're going to push that all aside, because I've got eight new ones for you. Again, arguably the most self-indulgent but possibly, for some, maybe the most foolish podcast I could do in any given year, my pet peeves podcast, and we're about to get started.
But before we do, I want briefly to tell the Tale of Two Scrooges.
I was having coffee with a younger friend earlier today, and this person did not know A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Now, my working assumption is that most people, especially in the Western world, know Dickens's classic. Ebenezer Scrooge, over the course of meeting three ghosts from the past, the present, and the future goes from a miserly, angry old man into the most generous person in his town. No spoilers, but that's kind of how A Christmas Carol ends. It's a beautiful story.
Very often these days, let's say here in Washington D.C., it will be onstage. You can go see it somewhere. My assumption is that everybody knows this, but it turns out not everybody knows A Christmas Carol, so if you don't know it, I would highly encourage you at least to read the CliffsNotes or go to Wikipedia and just familiarize yourself with it.
But I want to tell briefly a A Tale of Two Scrooges, which is itself, elusive, because Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, so I'm having a little fun, there. But it's A Tale of Two Scrooges.
I think most people know Ebenezer Scrooge and, in a sense, that's who I'm transforming into for this podcast once a year. I'm bringing my Ebenezer out. But the other Scrooge, the much lesser-known Scrooge, and probably my favorite Scrooge of all, is another Scrooge, and that's who I try to be the other 51 weeks of the year, and I hope you will, too. He's underplayed -- he's a hidden gem in the literary world -- Fred Scrooge.
Now, if that name didn't right away signal something for you.. if it sounded like I was in The Graduate and I was saying, "Come on, come on. Here's the future. It's all in one word. Plastics!" And that kind of struck Dustin Hoffman in that movie as odd... if I just surprised you with Fred Scrooge, let me unsurprise you by unpacking that briefly.
First of all, Fred Scrooge is not actually a Scrooge. Fred Scrooge is Ebenezer's nephew through Ebenezer's sister. It's his sister's -- his departed sister's son. Briefly to summarize -- using a Wiki to briefly summarize Fred for you -- you should know that he is also a gentleman of some means. He is Scrooge's nephew. His only living relative.
But unlike his miserly uncle -- and I'm quoting, here, from the Christmas Specials wiki -- "but unlike his miserly uncle, he is kindhearted, generous, cheerful, and an optimistic man who loves Christmas. Fred believes that there is good to be found in everyone, even his misanthropic Uncle Scrooge, whom he invites to Christmas dinner every year despite constant rejection. Fred believes that the good in Scrooge can be brought to the surface." Fred believes.
In my recollection, I think -- I haven't gone back to the book in some years, but I'm pretty sure when the Ghost of Christmas Present comes on, that large, oversized, jolly, giant of a ghost, they stand outside. He whisks Scrooge outside a frosty window and they're standing in the cold looking inside at Fred's Christmas party.
And Fred is being tweaked by the other guests for always inviting his Uncle Ebenezer. They're saying he's a misanthropic old man. "Why do you even bother with that old rag?" And there's Fred saying, "No. He's a good man." And he's explaining why he always invites and always will invite Ebenezer. And I think, especially in this day and age, you and I can be Fred to the people around us.
What I'm frequently saying, and then we'll get back to the actual point of this podcast, is I'm seeing a lot of baiting of people on the other side. Whatever your political party is. Or you don't like our president or whatever. And always a lot of you are looking at the negatives. You are not being Fred.
I think the more that you look for the good in others... Roy Spence on this podcast, two weeks ago, said... This was a great line. I hope you heard it. He said, "I'm a for person. I'm a for person, which means I'm for things and for people." Fred is a for person. This is the one week a year that I'm not a for person, but I think that you really will benefit not just others by looking for the good in them because, after all, when we find good in others and we let them know that, they tend to do more of that.
If, instead, we find constantly bad things in other people, two things, both bad, happen. First of all, you just make them mad and you make them dig their heels in, and you make them worse by saying that they're bad. And second, and more subtly, you debase yourself. You become a smaller thing when you spend your time not being a for person. And Fred -- this is a great time of year to think about it -- is our hero, again, 51 weeks out of the year. That's The Tale of Two Scrooges, but now let me put on my Ebenezer and let's get started.
Pet Peeve No. 1: All right. Pet Peeve No. 1 this year. It's not just this year. It's just I happen to be presenting it this year. This has been true of many years. And it happens around this time of year, doesn't it? It's this phrase seen in so much holiday marketing in some form like this. "Give yourself a gift."
Give yourself a gift? I mean, I know we're each needy and we're deserving, but isn't this the one time of the year that we enter a season of gratitude and we think about gifts for others? Now, I'm the first to say that when I'm shopping, which I try to do very little of, often I find myself buying something for myself when I get something for my brother. I understand that.
But to actively market toward that -- to say "give yourself a gift" -- if you see that anytime this holiday season, I'm going to ask you to call that out in an Ebenezer Scrooge-like way. I want you to call that out. Because this is the one month or two months of the year where we're all about thinking -- right? -- about others.
So, how about give someone else a gift? In fact, using Google as the search engine, to give us insights not just about what Web page to find but really our own hearts, looking at Google I decided to google the phrase "give yourself a gift" in quotes. You can try this, too. I got 557,000 results for "give yourself a gift." Then I typed in "give someone a gift" and that gets 433,000 results. In other words, it gets about 100,000 fewer results -- "give someone a gift" than "give yourself a gift."
You might think, "Well, Dave, is that the right phrase? I mean, that's kind of awkward. Give someone a gift." I tried "give someone else a gift." That gets only 25,000 search results. Maybe if you agree with me on this point we can start turning the tide of the Google search engine together and work toward this better world. How about give someone -- someone else -- a gift this season?
Pet Peeve No. 2: This one comes pretty much straight from the investment world. It's the basic sentiment, "Well, you haven't lost until you sell." You haven't actually lost money, the thinking goes, until you sell that stock and, thereby, through transaction, admitting that you have sold below your cost basis that you have lost money.
And I pretty much always thought that that's wrong, and I'm definitely going to go right here with Pet Peeve No. 2 and say, "I think that you should think that that's wrong as well." I was reading a fun discussion board post from one of my favorite longtime Fools in our Fool community, Jim Huibregtse, and Jim basically said it this way. He was reacting to somebody who said, "Hey, a reminder. I haven't actually lost any money on this stock unless I sell. That price on my scorecard only tells me what I would lose if I sold today. It is not real."
And Jim certainly, at least pandering probably unknowingly to me, responds with, "Oh, it's real. Perhaps it's not realized, but the loss is real." I'll continue quoting him. "So, when I go to apply for that new mortgage, I'll be sure to tell the broker that I actually haven't lost a thing in that position because I haven't sold yet, so you should allow me to make that collateral for my mortgage to buy my new -- that should work just fine. Well, unfortunately, the market fails to agree."
To close out this post from Jim, he was talking about InvenSense, which was unfortunately a losing stock pick of mine in Motley Fool Rule Breakers. He said -- this was written a couple of years ago -- "InvenSense is worth X dollars a share today. No more. No less. And no one cares what your cost basis is. If your cost basis is higher, you've lost money. If it's lower, then you've made money. It's just that simple. I see this point made again and again on these boards, and it's just not true." He closes out with, "Good luck."
Good luck to us all. God bless us, every one. Wherever the stock market is trading today for any one of your stocks, I'm suggesting you realize that's how you should be marking how you're doing as an investor with that stock and overall. You have lost [or gained, by the way] money based on today's present prices.
Pet Peeve No. 3: I'm assuming this has happened to you dozens of times. It certainly has to me. And the first couple of dozen I kind of accepted at face value and tried to react to it. And then the next dozen or so it happened. I started questioning it and now I've come down in a new place. It's when somebody, usually in an argument, tells you, in some form, "Quit being defensive. You're being defensive. Quit being defensive."
Now what's hilarious about that line, to me, is that that is an attack itself. That is an assertion. That is immediately going on the offense whenever you call somebody out as defensive. In fact, probably the person who's saying, "quit being defensive" is the more defensive of the two people.
And as I've thought more about this, I think the best way that you or I can react [whenever we're accused of being defensive by somebody who is pursuing an offensive strategy] is say something like, "You're darn right I'm being defensive. If I were attacking you like you're attacking me, wouldn't you get defensive?"
I would suggest a higher ground is never to call somebody defensive in any context, especially in arguments because (a) if they are anyway, that doesn't help and (b) it's kind of hypocritical to put somebody rocking back on their heels by calling them defensive and put them in a catch-22 situation. Admittedly it might be a good strategy in a debate, but I don't think it's a great way to win arguments in real life. Enough with the whole being defensive thing.
Pet Peeve No. 4: Pet peeve No. 4. Now this one gets in a little bit thorny territory for some people, maybe especially Americans, because we like to think of ourselves, often, and I think it's part of our heritage, as kind of a classless society. After all, a lot of us fled other societies, especially Old World societies, where things were very stratified and regimented.
And part of the truth of the American dream, it's just as true today, is that you can come from nothing and really be running everything. And that's often very clear to investors, people like you and me, who see amazing people come from nothing and end up creating some of the great companies of our time. It's always going to be true. Think about Steve Jobs and look at his background if you're ever skeptical. I love that about our country.
But what I don't love is when we get into some of the class talk. Briefly I'm going to share, and probably through some foreign eyes, because sometimes the best way to see ourselves is to look through someone else's eyes who's not in your own country.
I was having a conversation with an Australian Fool last summer and I was saying, "I don't like it when people invoke the phrase "middle class" because often, if it's in public conversations, it's going to be making a political point. We're going to be talking about the middle class."
And the funny thing I said to this Australian Fool friend of mine is that I would love to see that actually defined. As much as we talk about the middle class, who is in the middle class? And one of the first things you can do is just ask somebody to define what they consider to be the middle class. "How do I know? What are the numerical parameters? How are we having this conversation right now? I realize whatever point you're making might be a political point, but who exactly are you talking about?"
So I said that to my Aussie friend and he said, "It's actually interesting." And I won't attempt my bad Aussie accent here. But my friend Claude, said, "You know what's really interesting? As much as we hear you all talk" -- this is more kind of last year, election time -- "as much as we hear you all talk about the middle class, if you're going to have a middle class, and talk about a middle class, you should also be talking about the other classes, too."
And Claude said, "I never really hear you talking about the lower class. I don't really hear much talk about the upper class. And if you're going to talk about the middle class so much in your country, you probably should acknowledge the existence of others and talk about them, too. They also matter."
I thought that was a pretty good point addressing one of my pet peeves, and maybe that speaks to you, as well. Thanks, Claude.
Pet Peeve No. 5: Now this is one I think I've foreshadowed and I think I've echoed this once or twice before on the podcast. It's that phrase, "change the world." You know what? We're going to change the world. A lot of people make jokes about the good show Silicon Valley these days about how every entrepreneurial start-up -- the message, the PowerPoints -- is always about how we're going to change the world. You'll see late-night infomercials talking about a product that's going to "change your life."
The pet peeve, here, is that everything changes life and world at all times. The very fact that I'm saying this right now is changing the world. The very fact that you take the time to listen to Rule Breaker Investing -- this week or any week -- I hope that changes you a little bit, and you'll go on to change the world.
I'm changing your life right now. You're changing my life right -- change is the only constant. Change says nothing, really, because is it change for better or is it change for worse? I think what most of the Silicon Valley start-ups and all the late-night infomercials really mean is improve your life.
And I think the next time you find somebody using the phrase change or you find yourself using it, pause for a sec and consider that if they're talking about changing life, might that be worse? Because that's also another form of change. Is it really for the better? But if it is for the better, let's not use the tired phrase "change your life" or "change the world." Let's talk about improve, better, because that's, I think, what they mean and what most of us are trying for. Enough with the whole "change the world, change your life" thing.
Again, I promised that there would be some Ebenezer Scrooge, so I hope some of that is coming through here today, and I will shortly resume my Fred self, next week, but thank you for indulging me.
This one is a pretty quick one. This is the throwaway. It's arguably not fair, like almost all of these. By the way, anybody's pet peeve is somebody else's favorite thing. I was going to go off on a rant against my least favorite Dr. Seuss book. Kind of a pet peeve for me that so many people love this book, and I know, I bet you do, too.
Because this Dr. Seuss book, which is not even Pet Peeve No. 6 but a digression, this Dr. Seuss book is very frequently, probably the No. 1 most given book of the Seuss books to new graduates. High school, college, etc. It's Oh, the Places You'll Go! and I know there's a lot of love for Oh, the Places You'll Go!
But when I read the book, it just comes across as kind of empty. Meandering. There's no real plot. There's not a lot of wit. It just surmises about all the places you'll go. And it's whimsical, and I appreciate that, and I love Dr. Seuss. I've shared Dr. Seuss on this podcast before. But for me, anyway, Oh, the Places You'll Go!, low ranking on the Dr. Seuss oeuvre.
Pet Peeve No. 6: Point No. 6 is kind of similarly superficial and therefore pretty quick to do, but do you feel this way? I don't really like it when I'm talking to people and they're talking about the vacation that they went on. And they went from let's say Paris to Amsterdam to London. Or maybe they're a skier and they're talking about last year where they skied Sugarloaf. Sugarbush. Steamboat. Sugar Mountain.
But they say it like this, and this is kind of what gets me. And I realize this is a very small, small part of me that's about to say this. They say, "I did this."
"How was Europe?"
"Yeah, we did Paris. We did Amsterdam. We did London. We did Sugar Mountain. We did Sugarloaf, Sugarbush." Doing thing. Doing places? Is that what we do? We do London? And we do Paris? I mean, we definitely visit. I hope we enjoy. Maybe we learn. Study. Eat. Fraternize? But do, and just to do places over the course of your life or your summer vacation? The Ebenezer Scrooge in me thinks we can take it one notch higher. I think we're not just out there to do places and do people. I think we're there to study, learn, enjoy, experience. Love. Hate. Not do. All right, the last two coming up. Actually, I'm going to throw in a bonus there, as well.
Pet Peeve No. 7: And I'm pretty sure you might have disagreed with some of my others, and again, I was trying to say earlier we're each individuals. My pet peeve might be your favorite thing, so I'm never here to suggest that you should adopt any of these. If you like them or if I'm helping you articulate something that you have thought about; then great. I'm not asking you to agree with any of these, except for maybe, well, this one and the next one. I think we should all be agreeing on No. 7 and No. 8.
No. 7 I'm just going to call "bailing." Bailing. It's kind of a modern word. Maybe a little bit more of a modern phenomenon. This is when people cancel on you. They bail. Now I think canceling something once -- something comes up, let's say, once a year with a friend or something -- that's human. That's understandable.
However, repeat cancelling -- otherwise known to me, anyway, as "bailing" -- usually done at the last moment, by the way. Now that is a pet peeve. Maybe it's not so much the act of bailing. In my experience -- and I'm sorry if you're one of these people, and I hope you're not -- I think it tends to come from certain people more than others, so what I really mean by this pet peeve is maybe not "bailing," but "bailers." You might have somebody in your family or a friend of yours, and more often than not or more than should happen, things get canceled, once again, at the last minute.
Now for me, I'm a fairly regimented person. I try to lock down my calendar. I use iCal. I'm a Mac guy. And I have about 23 calendars that just make up my calendar, and it's so I can have different colors. I have this amazing rainbow-looking thing that I can look back for 10 years. Ever since I first adopted the Mac in the spring of 2008 I can look back and see all the beautiful colors of my life. And it matters to me. And it makes me sad when I have to hit "delete" because I didn't get to have coffee with my pal, Sal, because Sal bailed. It makes me sad. But not that sad if it just happens, you know, once with Sal.
But -- and I have a cousin, who will not be named, who tends to do this -- when you thought you were going to have cocktails and them over, or you're going to come by, or we're going to go to the game together; and you find out within 24 hours, sometimes more like within one hour, that oh, it turns out that beautiful color thing on my iCal I'm going to have to hit Delete again, because blank is a bailer. That -- that -- I think we can all agree is a universal pet peeve. No. 7, bailers.
Pet Peeve No. 8: Which brings us to No. 8. There is absolutely no doubt that this pet peeve is well placed and we're all going to agree on this one together. Let's put our hands together in the middle and on three we're going to go o-h-w-a-a because we all agree. That never ever when you check the weather, your favorite app may be Dark Sky. Yes, I'm one of those suckers who paid three bucks or whatever for a weather app. I realized you could get Yahoo! Weather for free. I still love my Dark Sky. Maybe you do too. Whatever your regular weather go-to site is never, ever should it read "chance of precipitation 0%." Never!
There is never a 0% chance. Maybe in certain climates, in certain areas of the world -- deserts! -- maybe there is literally a 0% chance of precipitation there, but I live in the Washington, D.C. area. We're kind of East Coast-Mid Atlantic. We all live in different places. How many times have I seen a 0% chance of precipitation and it starts to rain? Even just the lightest drizzle. It always should say 1%. At least 1%. There's no reason that you should ever suggest 0%.
Imagine a 0% chance of the market dropping tomorrow. A 0% chance of this or that person winning this election or football game. Never. There's almost never, ever a 0% chance; but especially for most of us, in the many different places we live, a 0% chance of precipitation?
All right. Coming up next week. It's going to be one of those fun weeks where we have a new five-stock sampler. Now I've not thought, yet, of what my theme will be, but next week I will be picking five stocks thinking about whether it's one, three, or five years going forward what's going to beat the market. We'll definitely be focused there. Just haven't thought of it, yet.
But as we go to close, I guess I should mention briefly I said there might be a bonus pet peeve. I'm going to throw this one at the end. I think I did this last time, as well, in July of 2016. I think it's the only real way to close out the Ebenezer Scrooge in all of us. And that is simply to say that my last pet peeve are people who have really long pet peeves lists. Like maybe yours truly.
So, there you have it. If you listened all the way here to minute 30-something, I'm delighted. Thank you for being with me in this time as in all others.
You know, The Tale of Two Scrooges is really kind of a yin and a yang. By the way, there's another pet peeve. People who say ying and yang. It's yin! It's really kind of a yin and yang thing. I think there's an Ebenezer and a Fred in all of us. As a foreperson, I want you to bring out your Fred all the time, but in some ways you can't be a real person, a real Scrooge, unless you've got a little bit of both. As people say sometimes, "Without pain, there is no pleasure." Without Ebenezer, there is no Fred.
Thanks for listening. Fool on!
As always, people on this program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at RBI.Fool.com.