What makes a quote great? Is it timeless wisdom? Is it eloquence? Sure! But for a quote to be both great and Foolish, add an air of contrariety, a wink of irreverence, and a spotlight on things that matter.
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This video was recorded on May 18, 2022.
David Gardner: This podcast has been built on recurring episodic series. I’ve always loved that about Saturday Night Live, that they introduce characters or bits like The Church Lady, back in the day, or Black Jeopardy more recently, that you get to know, and with familiarity, you get to look forward to whenever they come back. Well, that’s how I hope you feel about Authors in August when we hit it each August. Or Stock Stories; Old, New, Borrowed, Blue; Pet Peeves; Review-a-Paloozas. Many of these recur multiple times a year, but some, well, just once a year, like my annual Games, Games, Games at the holidays — that podcast for gift-giving opportunities, the best tabletop board games each year to put under someone’s tree.
So, yeah, we have ones that happen four times a year, like the Market Cap Game Show. Once that happened once a year. What You’ve Learned From Me, for my birthday — once a year. Oh my gosh — that’s what we did last week. Then there are the granddaddies, the ones that have been around the longest and keep coming back. Mailbags, anyone? Yup, at the end of every month, so dozens of them for years and years now. Or Company Culture Tips, for businesses and your workplace. Or what we now turn again to this week: Great Quotes. We’ve done Buffett editions, a Housel edition, a Conscious Capitalism edition, though, more often than not, it’s unthemed, a grab bag — always five quotes at a time to make you smarter, happier, and richer. Which is exactly what we’re doing this time: Volume 14, only on this week’s Rule Breaker Investing.
It’s the Rule Breaker Investing podcast with Motley Fool Co-Founder, David Gardner.
David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing, and thank you again for my birthday gift last week, a podcast I had a lot of fun doing. And here we are now with great quotations, “Great Quotes, Volume 14.” As I mentioned at the top, this is kind of a grab bag, although now looking through these quotes, I realize a bunch of them are from contemporary thinkers, and these are often applying not to investing or business, necessarily, but to life. But really all three. Maybe there’s a theme somewhere there, Rick Engdahl.
Without further ado, though, let’s get started with Great Quote No. 1.
Now, this one I first saw as a tweet. I believe it simply issued as a tweet on March 29 of this year. I didn’t know the author, whose name is Dan Koe — maybe you know his work. I checked out his homepage, dankoe.com. It says, “Work less, earn more, enjoy life.” He is one of those Tim Ferriss types. He says, “I dive deep into human potential, lifestyle design, and one-person businesses to give you a unique digestible way of improving your life.” Again, “Work less, earn more, enjoy life” sounds good to me, Dan. I really like this quote though, so let’s get to it. Here it is:
“If you are lost, the answer is education. If you are educated, the answer is action. And if you are acting, the answer is consistency.”
As I mentioned earlier, this could be an investing quote. This also can apply to business, and certainly to life. But since this is, at its heart, an investing podcast, I thought, let’s take the investment angle for this great quote.
The first part of the three parts of this quote is, “If you are lost, the answer is education.” Now, under the assumption most of us start lost. We start as mewling and puking infants that can’t care for ourselves from the earliest days, and we try to figure it out from there. We hope to have one or more parents who can help us. Maybe some older siblings, as long as they don’t beat us up too much. They all help us become what we are. But over the course of our youth, there are a lot of things we need to learn as quickly as we can. Things like how to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, etc.
Then there are really important things that we need to learn that often we don’t. In our experience at the Fool, we have encountered so many people who were never really taught about money. They weren’t taught about personal finance. They weren’t given financial literacy by their school or their background. They don’t understand what the stock market is, or how it works. They can sometimes be easy prey for charlatans who have get-rich-quick schemes that will always be on offer. So I think a lot of us start lost in many areas of our lives as young people, but even some of us as adults still find ourselves lost on the subject of money. What’s the answer? Well, Dan Koe has it: “The answer is education.” Love it.
From the first day when we launched The Motley Fool on AOL, as keyword fool, August 4, 1994, it said “To educate, amuse, and enrich” on the front page of our AOL site, and certainly “Smarter, happier, richer” — what we’re trying to do today — is simply an upgraded version of “educate, amuse, and enrich.” So smarter — education, yeah, that’s what we lead with. I hope this podcast, other Motley Fool podcasts and resources, help you if you’re lost. And if you’re no longer lost — which we’ll talk about in a sec — bet you have a friend who is pretty lost somewhere on the subject of money. I agree with Dan Koe. The answer is education. It can be found in many places. Be discerning. Try to find the best teachers you can. But if you’re lost, the answer is education.
The second part of the quote, though, is, “If you are educated, the answer is action.” And maybe that’s where you, dear listener, are right now. You feel like you know what to do. You’ve done your best to acquire a proper mindset, but in the face of such a brutal stock market with dramatic sell-offs in recent weeks and months, maybe you find yourself unable or unwilling to do the next thing, which is to take action beyond just your education. The answer is action. And I hope this podcast and my voice from one week to the next can inspire you, in fact, to take action. Because market times like these are the very periods that we look back on years later and go, “Man, am I glad I was buying then! I can’t believe I bought ‘fill in your favorite ticker symbol’ at that price, but yes, that’s what was on offer the summer of 2022.” If you are educated, the answer is action.
Finally, the third part: “If you are acting, the answer is consistency.” And since this is an investing answer to this quotation, an investing approach on offer here, I want to remind you of one of my favorite phrases in the world of financial literacy, and that’s “dollar-cost averaging.” Which, in so many words, means that you save every two weeks or whatever your regular period is, consistently, and you add those savings consistently to your chosen savings vehicles. It might be an index fund at your 401(k). It might be the next stock we’re recommending at Motley Fool Stock Advisor. It might be both, or a third thing. Each of us has to decide what’s the appropriate savings vehicle, where we are in life, how much we have to save, for you. But the key is, keep saving and keep investing consistently. Head down, just keep swimming. Have I said that too much this month? Just keep swimming. Because along with Dan Koe, I think the answer is consistency. And I think your future self will be thanking you very much, present self, if as an actor, you exhibit consistency in good times and bad. “If you are lost, the answer is education. If you’re educated, the answer is action. If you’re acting, the answer is consistency.” Thank you Dan Koe.
Great Quote No. 2 this week: This one first came to me by a friend, and I attributed it to her. I was like, “That’s such a great line — thank you, Nancy.” And she said, “That’s not actually my line, I heard that from my friend Michelle.” So I started to credit Michelle.
I thought, “Thank you Michelle, that’s a great line that I learned from Nancy.” But then I learned that it’s not Michelle’s line. It’s actually the title of a popular, often-referred-to article on the Internet, and in part, a TED Talk and the work, as it turns out of Derek Sivers. I bet a lot of you already knew this. I just kind of muddle through and figure out things as I go. Here’s the quote though. “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah,’ it’s a ‘hell no.'” “If it’s not a ‘heck, yeah,’ it’s a ‘no.'”
Pick your poison in terms of which version of this popular sentiment you favor. I just think it’s a great quote. It’s a reminder, especially when you have a proliferation of choices, too many things in your closet, too many things in the closet of your mind. It’s a great reminder of where you should focus. “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah,’ it’s a ‘hell no.'”
That’s been really helpful for me over the last year. It was a year ago this month that I announced to everybody who’s a Motley Fool fan that I was transitioning away from picking stocks. No regrets at all a year later. I continue of course, to be co-chairman of the company. I’m a Fool for life. But the daily grind, for me, of 29 years of picking stocks, which if you think the word grind has a negative connotation, that’s not the case for me. It’s kind of like coffee grinds for me. It’s good. The daily grind of thinking “What’s my next stock going to be?” and actually making 13 different picks, month in and month out for a couple of decades — a brand new Stock Advisor stock, two brand new Rule Breakers picks, five best buys now for Stock Advisor, five best buys now for Rule Breakers. Thirteen accountable decisions a month.
I decided I want to spend the next chapter of my life doing something else, something maybe related, but something different. And what words have run through my head any number of times over the last 12 months, each time helpfully? “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah,’ it’s a ‘hell no.'” There are lots of choices, not just that I have in this year of my life, but that you had yesterday or will have next month. We’re all, as adults, making so many different choices.
I’ve always been more of a free-will person than a fatalist. I don’t think we’re all going through motions that we’re forwarding from the beginning of time. I feel very actively that the choice you’re about to make matters, and will deeply determine what happens next in your life. Maybe not right away, but you’ll look back and say, “Wow! That choice really mattered.” I think we’re free agents and actors. That’s how I’ve always approached life. Which means with so many potential choices and so many decisions to make, “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah!’ it’s a ‘hell no.'” These are not words I’ve lived by. These are not my watchwords and won’t be on my gravestone. It’s more an approach that I admire.
I think people who beat me at strategy board games — and they’re out there, people who consistently beat me of games that I taught them; I’m the one who buys the game, I teach them the game, and then they beat me at the game — I think it’s because they’re more disciplined strategists. They’re more comfortable saying no to a bunch of options, when I’m the abundance guy, trying to be a kid in a candy store and getting a little bit of everything. And that can work in some areas of life. I don’t think it’s great for strategy board games.
We’re all different, but wherever this quote meets you, when it met me, it helped me and gave me a better filter. I think of some of our five-stock samplers. In particular, I think of “5 Stocks That Spark Joy.” I picked those on Jan. 22, 2020, and who was my inspiration for that group of five stocks that have more than doubled and crushed the market averages? Of course it would be Marie Kondo, the cleanliness and efficiency author, who encourages you as you approach a closet with too much stuff in it, to pick up the things in the closet, each one, one at a time, thoughtfully look at it, hold it there for a minute, and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? And if the answer is no, Marie suggests you should give it away. If the answer is yes, lovely. Keep it in your closet.
It’s a filter, an “if it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a hell no” mentality, and I respect that. I like this quote a lot. It helps me make choices on a daily basis. If you hadn’t heard it before or forgot that it was Derek Sivers who 10 or 12 years ago, using the Internet as his vehicle, did a great job, the founder of CD Baby, did a great job conveying this, and has done so any number of times since, along with a lot of other wisdom from him, still a fairly young man.
If you didn’t know it was Derek Sivers, it was. “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah’, it’s a no.” Quote No 2.
Well, this is the 14th episode of Great Quotes. That means there are 13 others. If you like this one, you can go back. I’ve never repeated any quote from one to the next, so it’s always new material. Occasionally, maybe three or four of those times, I’ve quoted myself and I always do so, I hope, with humility. I mean, it’s my show, so I guess I can make of it whatever I want. But most of the quotes come from people like, I don’t know, William Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, or Jeff Bezos, not me, but occasionally I think I have something I want to share, and that’s where I find myself this week.
So Quote No. 3, this one’s from me: “Celebrate the suboptimal, because therein lies your growth.”
Just to break that simple sentiment down into a couple of constituent parts and speak to them briefly, I like that I lead with the word “celebrate,” because it’s pretty contrary.
Usually, when you encounter things that are suboptimal, you’re not thinking of celebrating, you’re thinking of denigrating. Might be a mistake somebody else made that’s easy to blame. It might be something you, yourself, are ashamed of. It would be easy to try to hide it, but if instead, you do what a Fool does — you challenge the conventional wisdom, you go a different direction than the majority might go — you might find yourself contrarily celebrating that situation.
The next word I see in this quote I want to speak to is the word “suboptimal.” It’s a little bit of a mouthful and a little bit awkward. But it’s a word I really like because it’s basically a much more positive framing of the word “horrible,” or something that sucks or is bad. “Celebrate the suboptimal.” What suboptimal suggests is that something is below — sub — the optimum, but it can get there. So if you’re celebrating the suboptimal, you’re already looking at the world around you, seeing: That’s not quite where it could be, but you’re celebrating that it’s not, because — to close — therein lies your growth.
I have seen that any number of times in our own business. Rather than point the finger to something we’re not doing very well and tell everybody how bad it is, I recognize — that’s where our growth comes from. Stock I never picked, still wish I did, fits a lot of the things I look for, but sometimes you can’t have them all: Domino’s. How many years have I been a happy customer of Domino’s and I realize at different points, the pizza was better, or worse.
And some people will never like Starbucks coffee and say it’s the worst coffee. Others go to Starbucks every day because they like Starbucks coffee. And people feel the same subjective feelings about pizza. But Patrick Doyle showed up and basically said, “our pizza’s not that great right now.” He confessed it to the world and Domino’s made an effort to improve its pizza and also improve a lot else in the 2010s — its delivery mechanisms, etc. It became a wonderful winner. But it started with somebody, I think, who looked at what he was leading and said, we’ve got something suboptimal here; let’s — in so many words — celebrate that, because therein lies our growth. I also like that the line ends with one of my favorite words in the English language, and that would be the word “growth.”
Quote No. 3: “Celebrate the suboptimal, because therein lies your growth.” By the way, that works just as well for yourself as for your business.
And before I proceed on to Quote No. 4 — sometimes, quotes we include in one of these remind me of quotes we did in past episodes. I’m thinking specifically of “Volume 9.” Some years ago, there’s a Reed Hastings quote. Reed Hastings, of course, the founder and CEO of Netflix. There’s a Reed Hastings quote that I spoke to in that podcast, which connects in with “Celebrate the suboptimal, because therein lies your growth.” Reed’s line is a little bit longer, but let me share it again. He said … again, this is the founder and CEO of Netflix. This is some years ago. He might be feeling the same way these days. Quoting him back then, though: “I see all the imperfections in Netflix. I see all the things that aren’t working. At the office,” Reed says, “I’m the one that says ‘We suck. Don’t get me wrong, we’re better than everyone else, but we suck compared to what we’re going to be.'” He continues, “Of course, in general, I’m constraining myself from saying these things, because they are too easy to take out of context, but as an entrepreneur, that’s how you have to look at your product. Compare yourself to what you want to be, what you will be in five years, and that should be so much better than what you have today.”
On to Great Quote No. 4. This one from the only non-contemporary thinker, author, actor, but in this case, somebody who was alive during my lifetime, perhaps yours, too. Orson Welles, died around the age of 70 in the year 1985. Here’s the quote.
Welles once said, “Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible.”
Earlier this year on this podcast, we did “The Year the Market Skyrocketed,” which had, I hope, some important and timeless lessons. It was twinned to an earlier podcast I did with Chris Hill a couple of years ago called “The Day the Market Crashed,” and in that podcast, we were self-consciously mimicking what Orson Welles did back in the day with HG Welles’ book “The War of the Worlds.” Famously, on the radio, Welles performed it, and a fair number of people listening actually thought the United States was under attack from extraterrestrials.
I see that history sometimes overstates the number of people who may have thought that. Sometimes you hear that people compromised themselves, may have committed suicide believing that that was real. I’m not sure how much that actually happened, but what I can tell you for sure is that decades and decades later, people remember Orson Welles having performed “War of the Worlds” as if it was happening, on the radio at the time. Orson Welles was 23 years old when he did that. It catapulted him to American awareness. Of course, he’s one of the great film directors of all time. I was reading his Wikipedia page — didn’t know he was a lifelong magician as well. But “Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible.”
Does that explain Elon Musk? I think that explains a lot of Elon Musk, at least to me. You can never take a single quote and say that explains everything of something, but part of what I think is amazing about Elon Musk — and I have a fairly balanced view of him, but generally, I’m a fan and I’m very grateful for his presence on the Earth today — I think Elon Musk has a history of not giving us what we thought we wanted, but what we never thought was possible. I think a lot of the people who admire him most love that he’s thinking ahead of where we all are to the technologies that can greatly improve our lives or the world around us. As a consequence, he’s certainly already done that with electric cars, he had a hand in PayPal before that in e-commerce. He is trying it across a number of different fronts going forward. I’m not even including Twitter, which I think is a little bit of an overblown story that I don’t care that much about. I don’t know about your feelings.
But anyway, I think Elon Musk is a pretty great example of giving us what we never thought was possible. Forget about Elon now — I just think about my first computer, the TRS-80. It was from Radio Shack TRS, The Radio Shack. People call it the Trash-80 now, looking back. But what I could never have imagined when I played my first computer games on our family’s TRS-80, I could never have imagined, at that time, the Internet. I couldn’t have possibly understood that a computer like mine could connect in — initially through phone lines — to other computers and create this vast network of knowledge and commerce and social connection and so much else that we take for granted, for better and for ill, today. I could never have known about the Internet as a boy playing on my TRS-80.
And even something like Wi-Fi, which we pretty much take for granted today. Those of us who grew up with AOL and that sound (which I won’t reproduce, as I’ve sometimes tried to do on this podcast) that sound we can all hear in our ears as our computer dialed in through a telephone line to other computers. Wi-Fi — silent, invisible everywhere — wasn’t any part of my mentality back then, perhaps yours too.
We’ve lived through a time, we are living through a time, where entrepreneurs and technology are giving us what we never thought was possible, and part of what I love about investing in the future is we really can’t imagine right now some of the things that we will take for granted that improve our lives 20 years from now. I’m pretty sure Orson Welles was talking about art and theater and giving us what we wanted. But as an investor, as a fellow Fool, somebody who thinks about investing, business and life, how can I not map his great line to the lives that were leading today?
I realize I’m presenting this as a positive. I’m also aware that there are things that we would never have imagined that are bad, that are happening in our world today or will in future. As humans, we have to take it all in all. You can see the positives or negatives here as you wish, or both. Orson Welles: “Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible.”
I’m thinking back to one other quote, I’ll reference from a past Great Quotes from Rule Breaker Investing. That was a couple of years ago, it was Arthur Schopenhauer. I led off “Volume 12” with one of my favorite lines, which reminds me to focus on the true Rule Breakers as I pick stocks or think about what I want to be invested in. Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” And so that Schopenhauer line, you can see how that connects back into this Welles line of giving us what we never thought was possible.
Many of the things — and there aren’t that many things that do this from one decade to the next — but many of the things that do will be the world-shaping technologies that you and I want to be invested in early and keep holding all the way through toward great prosperity. And by the way, you don’t have to own them all. You just figure out the Internet or Wi-Fi or electric cars ahead of most of the rest, you don’t even have to be the visionary entrepreneur. You can just be the investor in those things. It doesn’t take many of them to beat the pants off the stock market averages.
That leads us to Great Quotation No. 5 this week. This one comes from Dwight Lyman Moody. I didn’t really recognize the name D.L. Moody when I first saw it. Now, if you are from the state of Massachusetts, you might have heard of Northfield Mount Herman School. He founded Northfield School and Mount Herman School back in the day. He founded the Moody Church, Moody Bible Institute, and Moody Publishers. He was a big Chicago presence in the 19th century.
Anyway, D.L. Moody, I guess it’s another one of those quotes that doesn’t quite fit contemporary thinkers, but this feels still timeless to me and therefore, I guess, in some sense contemporary.
Here’s the quote, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”
Why did that quote jump out to me this month? Well, first of all, I always loved capital F, Foolish quotes, and really, all of my Great Quotes episodes in this series often take on conventional wisdom in some way, shape, or form, or hit at things from a different angle than you were expecting. That’s the first thing that jumped out to me about this quote, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure,” Moody said, “but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” Fools who fight conventional wisdom, Foolish things that go against our expectations often catch my awareness, and I want to share them out, which is why I’m doing this right now. But it also has this thinking more deeply, I think, about where we are in life.
As I share that quote with you, where you are, right now, wherever you are, and you’re all over the place, and we’re all different ages in different places. We may be united by some key things like an appreciation of Foolishness, a love of investing and/or of business, and I hope of life. But that quote has to have you thinking right now more deeply about where you are, and, in this one life to live, where life’s short ,and what you’re doing. I think ultimately what that leads to is — and we can never have too much of this in this world — greater self-awareness. “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter” has us right away asking: What does it really matter? But more importantly, am I working toward something that doesn’t really matter? Even just asking that question increases your own self awareness, your awareness of your own circumstances, and your ability to look at others and size them up as best you can.
So I love the Moody quote, because it does that for me, I hope it does it for you. And to conclude, it has us striving to do things that matter. Now, I want to be clear. There are a lot of things that matter, and something that might matter to me might not matter to you, and I’m good with that. For example, I arguably, if you’re not a gamer, talk too much about board games from one month to the next on what is ostensibly an investing podcast. But some of you write me notes saying you perk up whenever I talk about games on this podcast. They matter to me. Maybe they matter to you. But just because they matter to me doesn’t necessarily mean that capital M, they matter or should matter to many hearing me right now. It’s for you and for me, each of us, to decide what matters.
But what Moody has us doing is striving to do things that do matter, and maybe going up the ladder to try to do things that matter more and more as we advance our way through life. It was my delight last week on my birthday present episode to share with you that final theme that you’ve heard through this podcast over the years. Now, the final theme was “toward a greater purpose.” I said last week: Just keep swimming driven by positivity, optimism, a belief that swimming will be worth it, and as you succeed, point No. 3 was you will lead a more interesting life. But merely leading a more interesting life or merely earning more dollars through the stock market isn’t worth nearly as much if it’s not toward some greater purpose. It’s still very satisfying to achieve financial freedom for anybody, whoever does it, but it’s even more satisfying if you make it matter, not just for you, but for others.
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” It reminds us: Sometimes success begets success, but it can just keep you in a rut. It just keeps you in a rhythm. In some ways, I felt that picking stocks — I’ve done it successfully, with lots of losses too, but overall very successfully for years and years and years. But I thought (and we will see how things play out in future) maybe I could do something that matters even more. So, whether or not you get it right or not, just the self awareness that it’s worth trying for, and then efforts over the course of your life to make what you do matter more and more, to more and more people — that feels like the most valuable life that we can be leading.
I think I’d like to summarize those five quotes one last time to share them back with you, but before I do, let me just mention that next week — yeah, the final week of the month — is the Rule Breaker Investing mailbag.
Have you had any reactions to the material that we’ve covered this month? Any new thoughts to improve this podcast or my thinking? All are welcome. A poem? A story? All are welcome. [email protected] is our email address. You can also tweet us @RBIpodcast. Drop us your question, your reflection, or your best thoughts or stories, [email protected].
Well, let’s take these five one more time with no extra editorials, in order. No. 1: “If you are lost, the answer is education. If you are educated, the answer is action. And if you are acting, the answer is consistency.” No. 2: “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah,’ it’s a ‘hell no.'” No. 3: “Celebrate the suboptimal, because therein lies your growth.” No. 4, “Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible.” And finally, No. 5: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”
As always, people on this program may have interests in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don’t buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at rbi.fool.com.