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Kass: One Shining Moment

Some elements of Valvano's life lessons can be adopted into our investing strategy.

"No matter what business you're in, you can't run in place, or someone will pass you by. It doesn't matter how many games you've won.... How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it."

-- Jim Valvano

The investment mosaic is a complicated one, and no one rule always works. How-to books may sell copies and make money for the authors, but they don't usually make the readers much money. There is no substitute for hard work in delivering superior investment returns. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, it's up to you to decide what to do with them. As I have repeatedly written, there is no secret sauce, magical elixir or special stock chart that provides clarity to our investment decisions -- rather it is a byproduct of hard-hitting research.

"Be a dreamer. If you don't know how to dream, you're dead."

-- Jim Valvano

A variant view and second-level thinking are necessary reagents to good investment returns. In The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, author Howard Marks addresses these two subjects.

In investing you must find an edge (or, as Michael Steinhardt calls it, a variant or differentiated view) by often thinking of factors/ideas that others haven't thought. Importantly, you must also avoid being too early -- especially if your investor base has a different time frame than yours.

Second-level thinking trumps first-level thinking in delivering returns. As Howard puts it, First-level thinking says, "It's a good company: let's buy the stock." Second-level thinking says, "It's a good company, but everyone thinks it's a great company and it's not. So the stock's overrated and overpriced: let's sell." First-level thinking says, "The outlook calls for low growth and rising inflation. Let's dump our stocks." Second-level thinking says, "The outlook stinks, but everyone else is selling in panic. Buy!"

"I asked a ref if he could give me a technical foul for thinking bad things about him. He said, 'Of course not.' I said, 'Well, I think you stink.' And he gave me a technical. You can't trust 'em."

-- Jim Valvano

I am often asked by investors (and others) why I don't usually listen to company executives or the guidance of their investors relations departments. To me, it is preferable to speak to people in the supply chain or to company competitors, for (to paraphrase Warren Buffett) managements often lie like Ministers of Finance on the eve of devaluation.

"My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. "

-- Jim Valvano

You gotta believe in yourself.

Lehigh's basketball team believed it could beat Duke last year, and, in this year's tournament, No. 14 seeded Harvard upset No. 3 seeded New Mexico.

You gotta know yourself, too. Wall Street is not a great place to "find yourself." (There is a reason why there is a cemetery on one side and a church on the other side of the New York Stock Exchange building.) Psychology can be important; it often trumps cause-and-effect relationships that have been in place historically. Above all, have confidence in your own analysis (as long as it is thorough), even if your view is at variance with the consensus.

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