An Ode to Sound Investing Advice from the Intelligent Investor – Part 1

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I recently started my investing journey and I have been trying to educate myself on the various nuts and bolts that go into building a solid investment. It has been an interesting educational experience so far. I am treating this blog as my note-taking app of sorts, to write down helpful and insightful points from the books I have read.

I recently finished The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, the person considered Warren Buffett’s investment muse.

Here are some key investment takeaways from Benjamin’s book. This is the first of 3 parts. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I did, curating and compiling it.

No matter how careful you are, the one risk no investor can ever eliminate is the risk of being wrong. Only by insisting on what Graham called the “margin of safety”—never overpaying, no matter how exciting an investment seems to be—can you minimize your odds of error.

By developing your discipline and courage, you can refuse to let other people’s mood swings govern your financial destiny. In the end, how your investments behave is much less important than how you behave.

The famous warning of Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

What exactly does Graham mean by an “intelligent” investor? Back in the first edition of this book, Graham defines the term—and he makes it clear that this kind of intelligence has nothing to do with IQ or SAT scores. It simply means being patient, disciplined, and eager to learn; you must also be able to harness your emotions and think for yourself. This kind of intelligence, explains Graham, “is a trait more of the character than of the brain.”

As Graham puts it, “while enthusiasm may be necessary for great accomplishments elsewhere, on Wall Street it almost invariably leads to disaster.”

Most painfully of all, by losing their self-control just when they needed it the most, these people proved Graham’s assertion that “the investor’s chief problem—and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself.”

Obvious prospects for physical growth in a business do not translate into obvious profits for investors.

Why do you suppose the brokers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange always cheer at the sound of the closing bell—no matter what the market did that day? Because whenever you trade, they make money—whether you did or not. By speculating instead of investing, you lower your own odds of building wealth and raise someone else’s.

Graham’s definition of investing could not be clearer: “An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return.”

Graham urges you to invest only if you would be comfortable owning a stock even if you had no way of knowing its daily share price.

People who invest make money for themselves; people who speculate make money for their brokers. And that, in turn, is why Wall Street perennially downplays the durable virtues of investing and hypes the gaudy appeal of speculation.

As Graham never stops reminding us, stocks do well or poorly in the future because the businesses behind them do well or poorly—nothing more, and nothing less.

On the other hand, if the formula actually did work in the past (like the January effect), then by publicizing it, market pundits always erode—and usually eliminate—its ability to do so in the future.

Americans are getting stronger. Twenty years ago, it took two people to carry ten dollars’ worth of groceries. Today, a five year-old can do it.

Henny Youngman

While mild inflation allows companies to pass the increased costs of their own raw materials on to customers, high inflation wreaks havoc—forcing customers to slash their purchases and depressing activity throughout the economy. There is a fine passage near the beginning of Aristotle’s Ethics that goes: “It is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness which the nature of the particular subject admits. It is equally unreasonable to accept merely probable conclusions from a mathematician and to demand strict demonstration from an orator.” The work of a financial analyst falls somewhere in the middle between that of a mathematician and of an orator.

Part 2 of Intelligent Investor Quotes

An Ode to the Kind Stranger at the Café

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A bitter argument.

A door slam.

An empty apartment. A heavy heart.

Tears. Surplus tears.

Misery spanning the entire morning and half of afternoon.

No breakfast, no lunch; hunger killed by words as sharp as a knife.

Hunger killed by somatic brashness.

Soul crushing, sky falling, world burning.

It feels like death – this beginning of the end.

Death of a person still very much alive.

Death of a marriage.

Death of love.

I push myself up. Wiping away tears.

I head outdoors.

I walk aimlessly, like a lost soul.

I see a small café.

Self-care beckons.

I should eat something.

An order placed with gloom. Face full of despair.

Eyes down. Gaze lowered. No strength to face anyone.

No strength to smile.

A cup of coffee and a sandwich.

The order arrives.

I lift my gaze. It makes me smile.

The coffee has something drawn on top.

A heart.

A beautiful little heart.

Intrigued, I look at other cups around me.

No, this one is just for me.

In a sea of deep, numbing pain, it felt like a wave of comfort.

A compassionate message.

A comforting hug.

I look around for the waiter.

I spot him. At a corner.

Working but eyes fixed on me.

He smiles compassionately.

I smile back.

Warmth.

A sign that the world is not so bad after all.

A sign that I’ll be okay – even if it’s the beginning of the end.

Context: The magic of kindness. A stranger I’ve never met before provided me hope on the most hopeless of days. I never met him after that. The incident happened years ago, but I still think of it fondly. I feel a cocktail of emotions whenever I flashback to that moment in the café. It still makes me teary-eyed. It still makes me smile.

An Ode to the Sandwich Feedback Method and Why You Should Use It

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The Sandwich Feedback Method is a kind of feedback model that allows leaders to formulate any kind of feedback to their subordinates positively. This kind of method ensures the employees do not feel demotivated or left with negative feelings after a performance review. You might have seen this technique being used in Shark Tank.

It is arguably the best way to provide feedback to someone, but not many use it. I have never seen it happen. But it is one of those dreamy feedback mechanisms that I hope would be the norm someday.

There are three layers to the sandwich method:

  1. Start with a positive message: Tell your employee what you admire the most in their work. If they are disciplined, hard-working, innovative, and eager to learn new things – you can start by saying that. If they had done something noteworthy in the last couple of months, point that out. Often, employers skip mentioning the positives at the time of feedback. When you say positive things first, you make the employee more comfortable and open to what’s coming up next – constructive criticism. This does not mean you have to lie. Look deeper into how the person works or interacts; you will always find something worth complimenting. If you can’t find anything, chances are you’re facing a mental block that is stopping you from seeing the positives. Try harder!
  2. Constructive Feedback: The second layer is the meat. This is where you provide the feedback that could have been construed negatively by the subordinate if it were to be given first. Keeping it second in line gives the employee enough time to develop a positive mindset about what’s to come. Constructive feedback, even if it’s the second layer of the sandwich method, should be handled with care. Do not appear brash and rude in the name of honesty. Repeat the sentences back to yourself and ask, “Would these words hurt me if I’d heard them from my boss?” If yes, reframe the feedback. Avoid an accusatory tone, and provide solutions on how they can implement the feedback you have given.
  3. The Final Slice of Happiness: Now that you have given your feedback, finish the session with a positive message again. Something to the tune of, “We know you can do what is expected. You are capable.” A final motivational note can inspire any employee to kickstart what is required of them.

The Sandwich Feedback is a method that I wish my employer used often.

When an employee leaves a performance review or feedback session feeling more motivated than dejected, you know you are a good leader. Feeling discouraged can rob a person from doing their best possible work out of anxiety. Fear-mongering is not the characteristic of an efficient leader and should be avoided at all costs.

The Sandwich Feedback Method can also be used in your personal life to provide feedback to your friends and family members.

Give the Sandwich Method a trial run and see what happens. You have nothing to lose anyway. It’s a win-win situation for all.

An Ode to Supportive Strangers

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As a kid, you’re told not to talk to strangers. But with experience, I have come to the realization that talking to strangers is not such a bad thing after all. In fact, I would say, out with the old “don’t talk to strangers” and in with the new “reach out to more strangers.”

It all started with my first blog. I received the most support from strangers.

Then came my business (now defunct). Again, I received incredible support from strangers.

At each phase of my life, I was indebted to the fact that strangers have always been more kind to me than the ones I personally know. With some observation, I realized this is the story for a lot of people. Strangers often tend to support more.

Is this because strangers are more kind? Or because more strangers than friends/relatives are on the lookout for what you have to offer? Maybe distance makes the heart go fonder, and up-close we are full of blunder? Or perhaps, it’s because strangers know how it is to feel unseen, to be treated like a stranger.

The world is vast, and people are boundless with distinct personalities and mental models. If our content does not cater to the needs of a small group of friends/relatives, instead of sticking to the archaic scripture of not talking to strangers, we should, maybe just maybe, reach out to more. The ones who would eventually become your tribe. The ones who understand your thought process and techniques.

I often feel intensely grateful to the strangers who have taken the time out to support me, often juxtaposed with an uncomfortable question, “Why are the people I know less supportive?

Some of these kind strangers have moved on, but in that short span of time, they have offered me more love and encouragement than any person I know. I am armed with the knowledge that strangers can be beautiful, and probably this is why I am more open to newcomers joining any close-knit community that I am in, whereas others appear to be wary or hostile.

I am convinced that this is why the universe sends us strangers—to play an important but short role in our life. So we don’t lose hope in our core beliefs, the ones we would love to passionately share with the world.