What You Do Know as Ain’t So

I came across a great quote last night for investors:

“It ain’t what a man don’t know as makes him a fool, but what he does know as ain’t so.”
~Josh Billings

Josh Billings was the pen name for this humor writer of the mid 1800s. The guy’s real name was Henry Wheeler Shaw. I like that name better. I named my third son Henry after his uncle, his Grandfather, his Great Grandfather and, well, this guy too.

It’s appropriate for me to use his quote partly because another one he’s famous for is also very real for me:

“About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.” If ever any one looks back on my life and calls me a writer, this would be true of me.

And if anyone would look back on my life and call me a good investor and a good investor coach, then this too would have been because I stole with good judgment and helped others do the same.

That’s where this post and my point today is headed – thinking the thoughts of others (and even stealing them) with good judgment. Good judgment about whose thoughts we steal. Good judgment about the scope of the thoughts we steal. And mostly, good judgment about the conclusions we draw from the thoughts we have stolen.

When it comes to investing well, we all stand on the shoulders of men and women who, with great pain, showed us a way far simpler and more dependable than the methods dreamed up by the Wall Street marketing machine.

It’s not so much what we learn that’s new as will give us success in our investing endeavors, but what we hold onto that is still true and always will be. And then it’s our ability to reject the new and exciting and unproven trails of the euphoric (or fearful) crowd in our decision making.

Those who come to me full of answers, predictions and reasons (there is little I can do for one in this arrogant state) must forget far more than I have ever learned before they can succeed as investors.

What you “know” that is not true is what makes you a fool, not what you don’t know. That’s me, stealing from Josh Billings. And to give him the credit he deserves, let me let him have last word. It’s another good one for investors:

“I have finally come to the conclusion that a good set of bowels is worth more to a man than any quantity of brains.”

Okay, just one more. This guy is good:

“Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.”

Stolen words to invest by.

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