What’s the Buzz?


One recent early morning I unexpectedly saw an old mentor of mine as I walked to work. Notice I restrained myself from saying, “ran into an old mentor” or “bumped into an old friend”. Some words/phrases need to be replaced while some need to be retired entirely. When have you ever truly “run into someone”?

This particular person has been a helpful source of advice and perspective early in my career. I still refer back to notes I would take when meeting with him for advice. As true with many of my mentors, I admired how effective he was in building relationships with people, particularly institutional investors.

Early in my career I was concerned about my credibility given my age and lack of experience. I would reach out to several more tenured peers hoping to find ways to prove myself and be more like them when interacting with senior people in the industry. I was young and sometimes intimidated by the knowledge and experience of Chief Investment Officers and Pension Trustees that were more seasoned.

This specific mentor was articulate, confident, and had some of the longest and most trusted relationships. One specification recollection at a client event many years ago stands out. As I was introducing myself to a client and shaking his hand, this mentor came into the room walked over to my new friend and they practically hugged. This client later explained to me, “He’s not our advisor, he’s much more than that, he’s like family to me.” How powerful.

When I met with mentors like him, I typically prepared 3 or 4 questions, hoping they’d be impressed with my thoughtfulness. On one particular meeting with this colleague, I noticed he was taking quite a few notes. At first I was proud of my preparation, “he must really like what I am saying!”

After ten minutes, he shared with me some of the best advice. Like a doctor diagnosing a disease, he identified my particular flaw as being a “buzzword” guy. He went on to provide the cause of the “disease”, my lack of confidence in my position and my knowledge. He was right. I was so eager to let the world know that I knew something, I wanted to sound smart. Without even thinking about it, I threw out every key word of the moment, hoping to impress more tenured investors of my knowledge, skill, and trying to earn their respect.

This mentor never used buzzwords; I couldn’t think of one during our conversation, he had written down over 15 in our conversation (that explained his note taking). If you listen closely to true experts, those that stand out from the “self-proclaimed experts”, you will be amazed at the lack of buzzwords. This is true in any industry.

How often did Steve Jobs confuse his audience with technical words or phrases? He didn’t have to complicate his message; he connected because the product connected with true customer needs.

True relationship builders know the information regarding a product or service so clearly, that their explanations of the information are much more familiar, comforting, and confident. This was a key lesson in my development, one I think about particularly in new situations.
The cure for this ailment was simple, be yourself. Don’t hide behind complexity. Don’t ever try to be someone else, it never works.

Although I realize many of these words and phrases have an important use in our ability to communicate key concepts, I thought (for fun) that I would list some buzzwords/phrases that I think should be replaced from the industry today. Mainly from overuse:

– “Housekeeping items” (so overused at conferences and in meetings)

– “Let’s review the agenda” (ditto above)

– “Decoupling”

– “Participating in the upside and limiting the downside volatility.”

– “Uncorrelated sources of alpha”(over used)

– “Our edge is…”

– “Macro”(sounds so sophisticated and sleek)

– “Stock pickers”

– “Smart beta” (opposed to dumb beta)






The Most Dangerous Risk of All

I wanted to share my book notes from my recent reading of,  “The Monk and the Riddle (book notes), Randy Komisar

Great summer read, good reminder to all about the objective of our efforts and the fragility of our lives.

Really liked the following quote….

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”

Let me know what you think….

“Fear tells us what we have to do”, Steven Pressfield

Please see my “BOOK NOTES” for the latest notes from Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”.

Inspiring call to action. I am impressed on how simple the overlying message is: Do the work, ignore the resistance, and don’t expect perfect conditions.

My favorite quote:  Fear tells us what we have to do.

I also liked the message about not focusing on what you think a specific market wants, but delivering the message you personally need to share.

Good thought book for the summer reading schedule…

The War of Art (book notes)

Think Big…

One of my favorite authors/life gurus is the charismatic football commentator/ex-University of Notre Dame Head Coach (1988 National Championship), Lou Holtz. I was reminded this morning of a book Coach Holtz often refers to in his own writings and speeches. (Side note, one of the things I like about Holtz is that he is a dreamer but also a “doer”, he walks the walk.)

The book he credits to his goal setting ways was written in the 1950s by Dr. David Schwartz, “The Magic of Thinking Big”. This is a “must read” for anyone goal setting or looking for their path in life, young, middle-aged, or old. 
Here are some of my favorite take-aways:
– Beware of “Exusitis”. (Don’t make excuses)
– Creative thinking – not just for artists.
Believe it can be; Don’t believe anything is impossible (Positioning). Eliminate “impossible” from your vocabulary.
– Average is “worst of the best” and “best of the worst”.
– Become and “experimental person” – try new things (I think this is really important and easy to implement with little things, i.e, new route to work)
– Get up an hour early and do some daily planning.
– If you want something done, give it to a busy person. 
– Listening – leader does more listening.
– Encourage others to talk, “What do you do?” (Takes practice and focus)
– Confidence – no one is born with confidence. (Help those around you understand this.)
– Action cures fear (One of my favorites and so true!)
– Don’t wait for things to be “just right”. 
– Do what you fear doing.
– Deposit only positive thoughts in memory bank, don’t dwell on negative situations.
– Change attitudes by changing your daily actions.
– Be a “front-seater“.
– Practice speaking up.
– Be the first to speak, be the icebreaker.
– When you speak slowly, you come across more confident.
– Smile big – great medicine for confidence deficiency, great to do when most fearful
– Appearance matters – look like the person you want to be
Always give people more than they expect to get.
There are many more, just a sampling. 
In the spirit of Lou Holtz and Dr. Schwartz, I am going to “action” 3 ideas from these today:
1) Write down one creative way we can be more helpful to our clients.
2) On phone call today, going to practice my listening skills by encouraging others to speak. 
3) Overcome “excusitis”- going to run outside despite the snowstorm. No excuses!

Take the stairs…

I have noticed that most mornings, there is a line of people to take the escalator out of the train station to the street. People are waiting for the electronic stairs to lift them up to ground level.

Think about that for a moment, actually waiting to have someone do something that their bodies were built to do and are generally capable of doing.

The traditional “stairs”, right next to the escalator,  are WIDE open. It amazes me that people would rather wait in line to take the escalator than walk up the stairs.

For me the opportunity to take the stairs is free exercise. People pay amazing amounts of money on diets, gym memberships, and all the latest fitness gear. When offered the free opportunity to get their heart racing just a bit, they’d rather take the ride offered, also free.

I’m not talking about the person who for physical reasons cannot take the stairs. Sometimes even abled people need a break. However, taking the stairs vs. taking the escalator also offers an additional benefit; particularly at the beginning of the day…the opportunity to get your mind and body moving forward with a positive force.

Positive thinking can often be aided by a physical force. The act of boldly climbing the stairs can make you feel empowered, in control, and ready to take on the daily grind. Small acts of this type will train the mind of the possibilities ahead for numerous obstacles.

It also serves as a reminder that we are in control of our actions and where we are going and where we want to go. Don’t let society give you a ride, take the stairs, take control.

If the only option is to take the escalator, then walk up the left side. You can still exert some exercise and control even when you have to play by society’s rules.

Those we serve…3 ideas…

Everyone has “clients”, “customers”; those we serve. Some of us don’t even realize that we have “clients”. Those we serve are everywhere, not just in business, but throughout our lives.

Everyone serves someone or something.

In my experience, there are 3 keys to serving them well….

1) Know the client

Do you know your customers’ business, their culture? Do you know why they exist? If you want to differentiate your service, truly strive to know who you serve better than anyone.

Humans love to tell others about themselves. We sometimes spend too much time making sure those we serve know us well. Know them and they will want to know you.

Read their press releases, visit their websites, collect information and insights on those you serve. Be genuine.

2) Ask great questions

I used to ask clients, “How are we doing? Are you getting everything you need from us?”

As you may guess, I was typically getting answers like, “Everything is good, thanks.” Clients don’t want to be put on the spot and would rather not have to call you out in person. Sometimes, but not usually.

Instead, ask questions like, “How are you going to achieve your goals for the year? What do you care most about doing for your company/your organizaiton/your volunteer group? Who do you rely on for timely information you care about?”

Great questions lead to a greater understanding of the client.

3) Share information

Don’t hoard good insights, ideas, knowledge. Some of the most useful information I have shared with customers has nothing to do with my direct service or product. Once you truly know those you serve, you will have a better focus on what you can share.

This will lead to the sharing by those you serve, they will serve you as well.



Investing Dark Matter…

Investing discoveries are well documented through time and have led to many fundamental rules of investing. This include, although not limited to models that maximize return for a level of risk, the best asset classes to invest in, and what quantitative factors drive long-term success. Many principles have proven to work and can truly be touted as fundamental principles of investing. They can be understood much like a scientist who can observe specific biological principles in order to understand and improve life.

But have we found the all the fundamental ways to successfully invest? Are there undiscovered asset classes, new ways to diversify, or unseen risks yet to be found?

Nathan Wolfe presented a TED talk entitled, “What’s Left to Explore?”. He described the portion of biological matter (“20% of the genetic information in your nose doesn’t match anything that we’ve ever seen before”) that cannot be identified. The lesson being that we haven’t uncovered all the critical secrets or laws of biology. There remains so much to discover and those discoveries could unlock new ways to fend off viruses or other ways to improve human life. The same is sometimes inferred in investing, we get complacent with the principles we know, the formulas that have worked, and the risks that have played out.

I believe we haven’t finished discovering the best ways to invest in ways to build wealth, create jobs, provide income, and provide for the various institutional missions that exist. Although we can sometimes apply too much scientific rigor to investing and ignore the behavioral elements of human beings that make it difficult to predict, the “dark matter of investing” is critical to explore in order to achieve true long-term success.

Where to find opportunity…

Opportunity doesn’t knock. It doesn’t follow. It doesn’t even care.
Small habits create bigger habits. Bigger habits create better habits. Better habits create feeling of accomplishment which create confidence.  Confidence feeds courage, courage can’t resist hunting opportunity.