I hope you are catching on to this drill. The Business Press Maven, the nation's No. 1 business journalism critic, got steamed under the collar because newspapers, in their dotage, started to cut back on book reviews. Stepping into the void, I now review business books, slapping a "Help" label on ones that will prove useful to investors and a "Hindrance" label on ones that will do the reverse.
Readers and authors are welcome to
. Same goes for you famously lethargic publishing house public relations folks, if you can wake up from that desk nap long enough to type me an email.
Topic A this week is the fine art of the quit, which is perhaps the most undeveloped in business and life. As someone who quit both college (for a time) and later Wall Street, I have been a lifelong practitioner. And I'm a better man for it. But from a larger perspective, becoming a master in the art of the quit is essential to good financial performance. In other words: Making a decision to buy something, or take a job, is not too tricky or complicated. It is easier than you think to find a decent stock, gig or parcel of real estate.
But knowing when to sell, when to take the loss -- in other words, when to quit -- is the heavy lifting. The ability to quit well is what separates successful investors and people from the rest.
That's why I grabbed with such anticipation a slight little book,
the dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)
. The use of lowercase letters in the title is purposeful, perhaps as some sort of statement I can't divine or maybe because uppercase letters would overwhelm the stature of this book, which is really nothing more than a pamphlet in hardcover. Portfolio published it, and Seth Godin, the author of
, wrote it.
The Business Press Maven is always suspicious of these dressed-up pamphlets that business publishers foist upon us for the price of a book. But for attacking such important subject matter, even in partial form, the book earns a resounding "Help" tag.
Perseverance, the article posits right on the first page in advice every stock trader should take to heart, is overrated. All those Vince Lombardi-style aphorisms such as "Quitters never win and winners never quit"? Total bunk. "Most people quit," writes Godin. "They just don't quit successfully."
Quit early and quit often, he advises. Though good quitting, he makes clear, is subtler than just throwing your arms up in surrender, enticing as that sometimes is.
Though Godin was speaking to a pro quitter in the Business Press Maven, his approach to "strategic quitting" advanced my understanding. His perspective, as is the case with many business books, is as a giver of career advice. Fair enough. But his advice can be applied, without making too much of a reach, to any aspect of business, including investing.
To quit or not to quit? That is always the question.
The essential factor, Godin says, is to define the lull you are facing, the indentation in life that is urging you to take the Q train. We all face dips, which can be a long slog between starting and mastery in our jobs or part of the natural course of action in the fields of, say, manufacturing and sales. If it can be defined as part of a natural learning curve or a cycle, then it's ultimately transitory and can be defined as a dip.
Don't quit dips, Godin says.
Though his advice is a little too pat here, Godin says to "lean into the dip" or "whittle" away at it. A translation to the stock trader would be to double down.
Which is exactly what you don't want to do, in stocks or life, if your lull can be defined as a "cul-de-sac" or "cliff"; specifically, a dead end. Noncyclical. A rough patch that has solidified. Not part of a cycle or natural curve.
The biggest obstacle to success, says Godin, is not quitting cul-de-sacs or cliffs soon enough. Applied directly to the stock market, this means that if you can't, under any circumstance, see the stock you are in rising, say, twice as high as it is now over time, take the best course of action: Quit it. You won't regret it.
Behavioral psychology can be a better guide to money management than more common lines of thought in the financial field. That is why, with caveats, I am going to grant
Why Smart People Do Stupid Things With Money: Overcoming Financial Dysfunction
(Sterling) by Bert Whitehead a "Help" label.
You will have to ignore (or quit) part of the book. Think of it like
, where you just skip over those how-to-go-whaling chapters.
For starters, Dr. Andrew Weil, the modern/natural medicine dude, draws a strained parallel between integrated medicine and, I guess, integrated money management. In his foreword, there are unfortunate references to "major life changes," "reassurance" and "validation." I'm generally up to here with validation and other new-age holistic notions, but please forge on regardless.
One more thing to quit: Any of the many references Whitehead makes, in advertisement form, to fee-only money management complete with everything from accounting to investing under one roof.
He writes that you don't want to have a salesperson masquerading as a financial advisor, which is true. But in an ideal world, I'd always want the guy who is advising me to be making a proportion of my profits. Even if it means a commission on the backside of something that is bloated with profits thanks to his advice. That seems to put his psychology and mine in cahoots.
And when every bit of financial advice is given under one roof, depth of knowledge can run a mile wide and an inch deep.
So skip Dr. Weil and any advertisements Whitehead gives for himself. Get right to his talk about financial dysfunction, complete with symptoms. This is like a medical book in the business section.
Many people grow up with money as taboo a subject as sex. When they reach adulthood, they're educated by smarmy salespeople and an underperforming, overbearing business media. So our money-related disorders fester.
Whether you are looking for your symptoms as they affect monthly budgeting or trading for your hedge fund, you'll probably recognize yourself.
Even if you don't and are practically perfect in terms of your financial psychology, any slight reminder to look within on an ongoing basis for how we redirect old feelings and patterns toward a new object (our portfolio) -- psychologists call the tendency "transference" -- can help any investor at any level.
So read this one; just watch your latent hostility about the endless plugs for fee-only financial advisors.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.
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