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Hopefully we all aspire to be the former, but even so, we all need a little rant once in a while. So whether it's obsessing over errors, giving short shrift to services, or #VanityPlateHate, let's get it all out now and enjoy the rest of the year on a positive note!
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Jan. 9, 2019.
David Gardner: Happy New Year! A few moments ago, I asked my friend here at The Fool, John Keeling, whether it was still cool to say that on January 8th or 9th. He assured me I had another week before I would leave the cool zone. So, Happy New Year!
What better way to start off our new year -- I can't think of a better way, really -- than to do my annual-ish pet peeves podcast. That's right, I haven't said goodbye to Happy New Year yet, and I also haven't said goodbye to Ebenezer Scrooge yet. In fact, he's welcomed in. I'm putting on my Scrooge for you only on this week's Rule Breaker Investing podcast.
Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing! As bad as the stock market ended 2018, I'm happy to say, for those of us who stayed invested all the way through, and I'm only looking back over one week now or so, but it's been an awfully nice start to 2019. In my experience, just getting on that log flume ride and riding that log flume, but in contrast to the log flumes that I've ridden in my life, it doesn't end by going down. No, no, it's the opposite. It's the reverse gravity log flume of the stock market. Stay on that log flume ride, and I think you're going to be happy by the end.
The date was November 1st, 2017. I had my friend Roy Spence on this podcast. Roy said something, one of those lines that sticks with me. I hope it'll stick with you. I love it! He said, "I'm a 'for' person." In other words, he's for things. In a world where often, people seem to want to define themselves by what they're against, he's a "for" person. I'm a "for" person. I hope you're a "for" person, too. Now, it makes sense to have some "against" in all of us. I like to think we're well integrated, balanced adults, or even, because I know some of us are kids listening to Rule Breaker Investing, regardless of your age, I think it's good to have some balance there. But in a world where there's too much "against" a lot of the time, I'm a "for" person.
That's all a disclaimer because this week, I'm an "against" person. We do this about once a year on this podcast. In fact, I was checking back, it wasn't two weeks after Roy was on this podcast, it was November 15th, 2017, that's the last time I got to air out some of my pet peeves. I guess I was inspired by Roy to flip it and go with some "against." This is something that I've done about once a year on our podcasts. We're in our fourth year of this podcast, and in fact, this is the fourth time I will have done my pet peeves.
Every single time, I'm bringing you maybe six, seven, or eight of them, and they're always new. You might be wondering, how long is this guy's pet peeves list? Is that mentally healthy? I like to think that it's far longer than what I'm even sharing with you. I'm just giving you the best of my pet peeves list. In fact, I'm going to ask you right now for our mailbag at the end of this month, if you have a really good pet peeve, I'd love to hear it. Maybe you could make one of your pet peeves one of mine, too. You can make me more petulant to start the year 2019. Here's already a call for action on our Rule Breaker Investing mailbag at the end of this month.
Now, obviously, I'm having fun. Pet peeves, let's briefly look at the phrase. The "pet" part of it means that it's probably unique to you. It's special to you. This is a rather self-indulgent 30 minutes or so we're going to spend together. Self-indulgent on my part because these are my pet peeves. I know you have your pet peeves. I've even asked you for your best one for this month's mailbag. But I want to make it clear that if anything I say here influences you, I would hope to make the world better, to stand against something that we should be fighting against together. That's why I'm doing this podcast. But I'm also the first to say, these are my pet peeves. You might have better ones, nobler ones, ones I can learn from. I do realize there's a little bit of self-indulgence here.
Then, the "peeve" part of the phrase. To me, you have to experience it a number of times before it becomes a peeve. You're not allowed to react negatively to one thing that you've seen once. No. The true pet peeve is something that you've experienced many times, so it builds itself up into making it on your pet peeve list.
I have talked about where I keep my lists in life. I use Evernote. I'm sure there are a lot of other good note-taking, note-saving apps out there on the internet, but I've used Evernote for years. And, yes, one of my thousands of Evernotes that I keep is simply entitled My Pet Peeves. I'll just pin something up on it here, there, over the course of a year. And once I have enough good ones, I figure, let's do a Rule Breaker Investing pet peeves podcast. This is Pet Peeves: Volume III, but you should know that the very first one we ever did, we didn't realize it would be a volume set yet. We're going to do a little history before we get into my six pet peeves to share with you here at the start of 2019. We're going to do a little history. The very first pet peeve podcast was February 3rd, 2016. It was called The Language of Investing. For each of these, I'll just give you a little snippet, a little taste of what we've covered. I do think these are some of our more evergreen podcasts. Maybe I was talking about a stock three years ago on this podcast where I don't feel the same way today, but these pet peeves that I was talking about three years ago, I probably do still feel the same way today.
One I was sharing with you on that podcast, I remember talking about the word "names" and how people put "names" in place of stocks. They'll say, "Yeah, I bought three good names last week." My rant there is, in my experience, people who refer to corporations or stocks, businesses, employing sometimes thousands of people with lots of stakeholders doing great things for this world, and for this person, it's just a name? To me, that sounds like trader talk. Just a name that you'll briefly get to know before you flip it for some other name. I don't like the concept of names, when it comes down to CNBC or other financial broadcasting. I remember saying that on that podcast.
Fast-forward to Pet Peeves: Volume I, when we finally made this a series for Rule Breaker Investing. On that one, July 20th, 2016, perhaps for some of my longtime listeners, maybe I said this memorably for you back then, so when I bring it back up right now, maybe you'll be nodding your head knowingly, still there with me. It's when people use a phrase like this. "I'll be honest with you." "Let me be honest with you." "Honestly." "Frankly." Any time I hear a word or phrase that says something like, "Let me be honest with you," it makes me wonder, weren't you always being honest with me? You need to highlight that you're about to say something to me that's honest? Was our relationship not on firmer turf?
Yes, obviously, I'm having a little fun here. I'm sure I've said it occasionally. In 2018, maybe I said to somebody, "Let me be honest with you" to somebody. But if I did, then, as is the case for some of the other things I do on this podcast, I put the dead arm rule in place. If you ever hear me say "honestly" or "frankly" or "let me be honest with you," and not in jest but seriously, and you're near me geographically, physically, please walk up and give me a dead arm. I'm more than happy to accept the dead arm rule around the phrase "let me be honest with you." In the meantime, let's all try to do that less. Let's just be honest and not have to signal that we're actually going to be honest with somebody.
That was a snippet from Pet Peeves: Volume I. Then, the most recent one was Pet Peeves: Volume II. I'm sad to note, it was November 15th of 2017, as I mentioned, just a couple of weeks after Roy Spence was on our podcast. That means I didn't even do a pet peeves podcast in the whole year of 2018. I was building up some material for this one, I suppose.
On that one, I'll pull two snippets. One is bailers, people who bail. You've traded a few emails, you've gone back and forth on Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) for two weeks. You're going to have coffee this morning. And then, 10 minutes before you take the Metro or the cab or you walk to the coffee spot, your friend bails. It's OK to do that once. We're all human. No, bailing and bailers are when people do that again and again. That is definitely a pet peeve of mine.
Another pet peeve, this is probably not as important as not bailing, 0% precipitation. Any weather app, unless you're in the Mojave Desert or some extreme climate somewhere around the Earth where it literally always or never rains -- in this case, we're talking about never -- do not go with 0% precipitation. I see it regularly here in Washington, D.C., an area that is volatile, to say the least. And one of those, "I should selfie myself with the rain behind me" moments, and it happens a few times a year, is when it says 0% precipitation on my Dark Sky App, and behind me as I take a selfie, it's raining. That should just never happen. So, meteorologists and people running apps behind them, never go with 0%. Just go with 1%. You never know what's going to happen! There are black swans out there! 1%. 0% sends the wrong message.
OK, now you can see how important some of these pet peeves are to really solve the problems of the world, to heal our species. That's what I'm going to try to do with my six here to kick off 2019.
Alright, pet peeve No. 1. This one's for all the development officers out there. A lot of you are running campaigns. You're hoping to get money from the rest of us and you're working for some very worthy causes. I acknowledge that. In fact, having written a fair number of checks last month -- and I bet I'm not the only one on this podcast who wrote some charitable checks in December -- I'm aware of just how many people see how many needs to fulfill on this earth. And yet, I feel like some time in the last three to five years, we all read the same book, development officers, or we started singing from the same song sheet. I'll provide a quick example before I let you know the pet peeve part of this.
I'm sorry to expose my own college alma mater in this case. I do dearly admire and like Chancellor Carol Folt. But I received last year this email from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill:
Join Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Carolina's extraordinary scholarship recipients for the launch of the Carolina Edge, a bold strategic initiative that will provide a billion dollars to bring the best and brightest students to our campus. For a celebration of scholarship supports impact across campus. Meet the students, learn about their work, see how the generosity of Carolina donors like you gives these students the edge in the classroom and beyond. The Carolina Edge is a part of "For All Kind, the campaign for Carolina," an ambitious fundraising effort to raise $4.25 billion dollars by 2022. We hope you can join us.
Discerning listeners may have already begun to suspect what has become a pet peeve of mine in the last year. That is the constant reliance on the phrases "bold" or "ambitious" for any campaign that anybody seems to be launching. Now, I acknowledge that sometimes, it is bold. And indeed, when you feel like you're asking more money than you're going to get, when you're asking the rest of us to reach even deeper into our wallets or pocketbooks, yes, that is bold of you. But if everybody in your field is being bold and ambitious, there's a lot of generosity out there, but it starts to drain the rest of us.
I deeply admire the American military. I've done a few podcasts in the past. I feel like there's a lot of boldness and courage among the U.S. Armed Forces, and not just U.S. Armed Forces, but really the armed forces that are helping keep the whole world safe all around the world. That's courageous. But based on what I'm seeing out there, there's actually far more boldness, not in our armed forces, but among our development officers and the campaigns that they're running.
To lay it bare, I would find it refreshing for any charitable campaign to say it's not bold, it's not ambitious. You know that game where you sit around with other people, and you think ahead of time, "We're going to hear from the CEO of this company again, and she always says these phrases," and people are playing Bingo? And somebody jumps up and says bingo because they heard the catchphrases or regularly used words from that person of influence? You're playing bingo with them? I think we could play bingo with most campaigns today if you filled the whole grid, five by five, with the words "bold" and "ambitious." That's an easy win. Alright, that's pet peeve No. 1.
Pet peeve No. 2: We're going to talk about vanity plates. I realize a lot of people don't like vanity plates. You might think that I'm about to say that a pet peeve of mine are vanity plates. We're going to head the opposite direction. Before we do, I should make sure I'm defining my terms. This is a colloquial term that we use here in the United States of America. I know we have a lot of international listeners. You might use this phrase, too. You might recognize it. But if you don't, I want you to know that we have a choice here in the United States of America -- you could either take the license plate for your new car that's given to you by your state government that will have a random group of numbers or letters, an alphanumeric randomness. This is definitely universal. I just spent some of my break in London, and sure enough, in London, there are a lot of six-letter license plates darting around the city. It's very clearly been randomized. That's what all of us get default issued. But, some people, for whatever reason, seem willing to pay above that -- it might be $40, it might be $100 -- to actually have a word on the license plate of their car.
As you might suspect, I am, in fact, one of those people. I'm hoping not to be defensive with this particular point. I want to say that pet peeve No. 2, I'm going to call it vanity plate hate. I think there are a few reasons that we should not hate the people who pay money to say something on their license plate. Here's the reason No. 1, and this is the most important reason -- they're giving free money to the state. They are voluntarily paying a tax. They're adding money to your coffers. They're making services more affordable by paying above their standard government-issued license plate to say something on their car. They're helping. This is a good thing. So, to use a phrase like vanity plate, which has a negative connotation, at least in my experience, a very clear negative connotation, I don't think we should be doing that. I don't think we should be discouraging people being willing to add money to the state coffers. In fact, I don't have the right phrase, but let's just go with personality plate.
That leads me to reason No. 2 that I don't think we should have this universal vanity plate hate. Reason No. 2 is: It's a more fun world out there. Do you really want to drive around and sit there at a stoplight and look at a random alphanumeric sequence? Old school online people, do you remember CompuServe back in the day? Maybe you once subscribed to CompuServe. I didn't. In part, this is why. The email address or the online handle that you got for CompuServe -- which, by the way, was a dial-up, privately run service, pre-worldwide-web. It competed with America Online and Prodigy back in the day. The email address or the online handle you got from CompuServe would be something like this: email@example.com.
Along came America Online. I did sign up for that service. When I was issued the chance to brand myself, to select my handle or identity, I was able to actually type a word. In fact, I typed motley, and then I typed fool. And for years, I was firstname.lastname@example.org. AOL won the early online wars for many reasons, but one of them, I think, is that they were more fun. It was a world with more personality. It wasn't driving around, seeing random alphanumeric sequences everywhere as a way of identifying. No. Instead, it was an opportunity to say something, to have some fun, to make people laugh, to say something about yourself.
I will now let you know, I've said this occasionally on the show in the past, but if you're ever in the Washington, D.C. area, and you see a car driving around with the license plate, FUTURE, that's me! You'll see me somewhere around Washington, D.C. in my car. It happens to be a Tesla. That seems appropriate, since the license plate is FUTURE spelled properly. No leetspeak on this particular license plate. Apparently, nobody else in Washington, D.C. was thinking about our future, so I just went ahead and grabbed that license plate. I'm having fun there. I can't remember what I paid. But I think I make things a little bit more fun for people.
I encourage you, wherever you are, even if you don't want to get a so-called vanity plate, I would encourage you not to indulge in the universal and oh-so-easy vanity plate hate. In fact, #vanityplatehate as a consequence of this week's podcast may start trending on Twitter. If it does, another great hashtag would be #motleyplates. That's what I think. That one comes from my producer and friend, Rick Engdahl. He suggested, "Hey, it's a more motley world out there." So, yeah, pet peeve No. 2, I think we've pounded this one into the ground, but enough with the vanity plate hate! Don't hate!
Alight, pet peeve No. 3. This one's pretty simple: when people call services products. I was attending an Economic Club of Washington event. I even noted the date here, it was June 7th of 2018. This is a luncheon where visiting CEOs come in, and some of us get to go in and hear them get interviewed, maybe ask a question. I really enjoyed him, the United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. Seems like he's doing a good job. I respect Oscar. But, unfortunately, he didn't know that he was tripping into the bear trap of one of my pet peeves when he said this about Delta, which is one of United Airlines' competitors. He said, "They have a great product, too."
I don't know about you, but when I sit down in a seat on Jet Blue or Lufthansa, whatever my plane brand is, I don't sit down, look around, and go, "This is a good product." Not only does that sound like corporate biz talk to me, but it sounds like backward-looking-three-decades-ago ways of talking about the world biz talk to me. Services, which is really what you're getting when you're sitting down in an airplane, you're being served, it's a service. Almost all of transportation, for example, is a service. What The Motley Fool offers online, those are services. Sometimes we may even call them products. If we do so in our marketing, they're doing that against my wishes, not that anybody needs to listen to me at The Motley Fool.
But, services are an increasingly important part of our economy worldwide, and rightly so. As Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired and a wonderful podcast interview here on this podcast a year or so ago, as Kevin Kelly's pointed out, dematerialization is one of the more important trends of our times. Things that used to be physical are disappearing. You no longer need a GPS device now that you have a phone. You also don't necessarily need an alarm clock next to your pillow anymore when you have a phone. Things that used to be physical are disappearing. Products are becoming less relevant and services are becoming more relevant. And Delta is not a product. I don't think United Airlines, Mr. Munoz, is either. I think you do yourself and your competitors a disservice when you use the word product. He didn't do this, but I always like to say "product" with a little bit of a Midwestern twang there. When services are called products, that's a pet peeve, pet peeve No. 3.
Alright, pet peeve No. 4. Let's talk a little bit about the stock market, here. I feel like I've been talking about things that are arguably not as important as the stock market. Vanity plate hate, I mean, how important, really, is that?
Pet peeve No. 4 reflects a little bit on who should be getting credited or blamed when it comes to stock market movements. My pet peeve here is, I don't believe that any president, regardless of whether I'm talking about the present one or any past one, should spend much time taking credit or blame for what happens with the stock market during his, or, one day, her, term. In my experience, most presidents don't spend a lot of time blaming or taking credit for stock market moves. But the pet peeve here is, I have never regarded the stock market's movements as reflective of any presiding president. And I wouldn't suggest you do so, either, or listen to anyone in the media or politics who suggests otherwise. The market moves up or down based on conditions that were set in place well before any given administration. Then, on the other hand, the market is always looking ahead. Its prices are being set in part on expectations lasting beyond the current administration. So, to read the market as if it reflects well or poorly on a president, I think, is to misunderstand our economy and our markets, which are far more deeply rooted in the private sector, which -- I think, anyways -- is itself far more deeply rooted than the public sector or whatever is our current administration.
It's always funny when new administrations kick off. People speculate about which stocks will do well over the next three or four years. But again, so much of what the stock market is doing is reacting to what's already happened. If we've had a big run-up, sometimes the market will just sell off, and that doesn't reflect on an administration. Again, since the market's always looking ahead, this idea that you and I can use the stock market's performance as a proxy for what's happening in Washington, even though I was born in Washington and live in Washington, D.C. today, I strongly disagree with.
So, pet peeve No. 4, pretty clear here, let's not spend a lot of time blaming anybody or crediting anybody, specifically in the executive office, with the movement of the stock market. It's a much bigger thing than whatever the present administration is. It runs, as I say, to the very roots of America, long-standing businesses that have been around for decades, entrepreneurs that are getting started garages even now. They're really powering the world around us, the products and services we buy every day. Their employees stay for decades, sometimes. Most administrations last four or eight years. So, I think it's a real mistake to spend much time at all thinking a lot about how the stock market's movements are crediting or blaming what's happening in Washington. Obviously, they're a little bit tied together, but not nearly enough as most people think, at least in my experience.
Alright, pet peeve No. 5. I don't think it would be a pet peeve podcast of mine If I didn't look at language just a little bit. I just have a couple. I majored in English literature at the University of North Carolina, but I really do fashion myself a pendant. It's a word that I think has a noble background. It's a noble calling for those of us who want to look at language carefully. For me, it's been very helpful. This is on a slightly more serious note, usually I'm half-joking when I do my pet peeve podcast. But I think it can be really instructive to listen to what terms or words people use as they're describing the stock market, finance, their own relationship with savings and investing, just listening to the language that we use. The more that you or I become acute observers of not just the language used by others, but the language that we ourselves are using, the smarter we can be. Some of our insights at The Motley Fool that help us beat the market are specifically by noticing the conventional wisdom that's out there along various dynamics of the stock market or business, seeing what people are saying and then going the opposite direction. We often create extra value when we do that. So, language snafus.
I've got two regionalisms I'm going to go with. One is the American South and the other is Great Britain. The American South, I want to simplify how we talk briefly. In my experience -- and this is not just true of the South. I love the South, I want to make that really clear. But when people say, "where we're at," we're using an unnecessary word there. Mr. Carrick, my 11th grade composition teacher, struck out so many words from the papers that I wrote. And at the time, I was so distraught by the red lines that went through every fourth or fifth word if my compositions. But then, in retrospect, decades later, I'm so grateful for that. I see an opportunity to put a red line through things. We don't need to ever say "at" there. It's just "where we are," not "where we're at." It's just as quick to say, "where we're at." And it might sound fun, but it's really just "where we are," not "where we are at." I'm just trying to help, here.
Then, let's go across the pond, having just spent a little time in London. There's an unnecessary syllable being added to an otherwise lovely word. It'll pop up if you're looking at a map, and you're standing there with your British friend and you need to turn the map around because the person who has the map has flipped it the wrong way around, and you're trying to orient yourself. Your British friend, in my experience, will say, "Let's orientate the map." It's about orientating the map. There's no need for the -tate part. It's just orient. "Let's orient the map." And because British English is the highest form of English -- after all, English started in Great Britain -- it's somewhat ironic, perhaps, for me to be throwing this back across the pond. But, my British friends, we never, ever need to say orientate. It's unnecessary. Orient is a lovely word.
If that were the end of this podcast, I would describe that as a very dull ending. It's kind of a small point. We'd be going out with a whimper, not a bang. I'm not sure that No. 6 is going to give us the bang that we want. I hope that you've already heard a bang or two in this podcast, enough to share with a friend or throw it out there on social media, and to send me your best pet peeve for this month's mailbag. But I'm going to close out with something from my favorite sport, and that's baseball.
If you're a baseball fan, indulge me. If you're not, feel free to listen to your next favorite podcast and skip this last couple of minutes. There's something we're doing in baseball that, once I started reading more from Bill James, the great mind behind Billy Beane and Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book turned into a movie, a better of numbers and sports, there's something that baseball continues to do today. And the Fool in me that likes to challenge conventional wisdom wants to call it out right here. It's not even baseball season. I just have to do it. And that is the word and the concept of errors.
In baseball, for those who are not clear on this, if there's a ground ball, that means the batter bats the ball and it starts going toward you. You're in the infield, let's say you're playing shortstop between second and third base. The ball's coming right toward you. Now, what you need to do is bend over, grab the ball in your mitt, pull it out of your mitt with one hand, throw it to first base, and get it there before the batter gets to first base. If that's the case, he's out. But if that ball, as you're charging it, if it goes between your legs into the outfield, and the batter gets on base, and he shouldn't have otherwise, you're going to be assessed with an error. In fact, it's such an important concept in baseball that it's there in the line score -- runs, hits, and errors is how we traditionally express, at the end of a game, what happened in that game. How many runs were there, that's the final score; how many hits; and, oh, how many errors?
Not only that, but pitchers get forgiven. In the example I just gave you, where you were playing shortstop and made an error, if that runner who got on base because you made a mistake, otherwise he would not have been on base, if he comes around to score, the pitcher on your team will not be penalized. That will be called an unearned run. You made the error, not the pitcher, so the pitcher won't be blamed for your snafu. We call those unearned runs. So, we even have divided runs at the end of a season. How many should have happened? How many were unearned and not the pitcher's fault?
And yet, whenever a player makes a great play, nobody's counting that. And whenever a fielder makes a great catch, a diving catch, or grabs one over the fence that would have been a home run, the pitcher, who, without that outstanding play, would have given up a home run or a run, the pitcher apparently just benefits from that. No problem there. We're not even going to count that.
Somewhere a century or so go, somebody decided that as we watch baseball, we should just be looking, kind of like I am in this week's podcast, for negatives. Not being a "for" person, but looking for where mistakes are being made, and let's count those up. And yet, I think not only in baseball every day, but in life, far more great plays are occurring that are unnoticed relative to the many mistakes that are being pointed out by people like me on a podcast like this -- or, in this context, in Major League Baseball, or even in Little League Baseball. If you love baseball, I would encourage you to break the rules yourself as a fellow Rule Breaker and start counting great plays, plays that shouldn't have been made. I'm not sure that this will ever change baseball as we know it, but I would love to see baseball of the future start counting these. And if we're going to say it all comes down to the pitcher, then just as there are unearned runs that pitchers give up, there are unearned benefits that pitches are getting every day.
In conclusion, I think more time spent counting great things happening and less time spent on the bad ones. Certainly, on this podcast, I've tried to drill this one home for you, my regular listener. I think we should be learning more lessons from our successes than from our failures. Indeed, a great stock pick will make you far more money than your worst stock pick will ever lose you, simple math. I see the same thing in baseball. I realize, if you're not a baseball fan, maybe I did close out this week's podcast with a whimper, not a bang. But if you're a baseball fan, or even just somebody who aspires toward a better world, I hope there's a little bit of bang in this final point, pet peeve No. 6. Let's just get rid of errors. And/or, let's replace them by starting to count the great unexpected things that happen in baseball, in your portfolio, or in life.
Alright, next week's podcast, it's ironic for me to point this out, but this is something else we do once a year. It'll be Volume IV of David's Biggest Losers. Even though I just finished by saying "let's count the great stuff," I also like to hold myself accountable, as I hope you hold yourself accountable, by looking at, in this case, the worst stock picks I made, my worst decisions over the last few years. Yep, it's my annual look at the blooper reel of my worst stock-market picks, David's Biggest Losers: Volume IV, next week. In the meantime, Fool on!