My father and I have been great partners for over 30 years. Together we’ve developed and operated several businesses, and I couldn’t ask for a better father, mentor, and partner. But years ago I made a horrible mistake in one of our businesses. After rocking along for a little more than a decade, for some reason I decided I wanted something different. Looking back I don’t know exactly why I did. Maybe I was bored. Or burnt out. Or lazy. Let’s just call it mid-life crisis and save the sessions on the couch. I moved offices, changed my wardrobe, and quit going to my favorite breakfast diner every morning. I stopped spending as much time with my managers, and quit making as much effort to check and evaluate their work. I delegated my training program, and quit mentoring all together. I let others host our monthly and quarterly meetings, and I took a back seat to some important decisions. I quit investing some of the earnings back into the business, and neglected the repairs and maintenance.
It took about six months until I noticed the morale dropped, service suffered, and our sales began to decline. So I did what every good executive would do when faced with lower revenue and went on a cost cutting spree. I put a moratorium on pay raises, cut our 401-K, and lowered the bonus structure. Pure genius. About that time I began to experience some internal theft and vandalism problems that I had never experienced before. Then to put the icing on the cake, I watched several good people leave the company without working to keep them.
I didn’t enjoy going to the business, and felt like I was an alien in my own country when I was there. I found employees to be distant and aloof. I became frustrated and irritable. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t making money any longer.
But here’s the kicker.
Though I had abandoned the formula that had worked quite well for so many years, I still wanted to keep cashing the checks. I became perturbed and frustrated because even though I had changed the entire culture of the company in less than a year, I still expected the same results.
After watching our earnings dry up for a couple of more months, I finally had enough and launched a complete investigation into the problems the company faced and what needed to be done about it. I pointed fingers every direction possible until the light finally came on. Every time I pointed my finger that stupid thumb pointed right back at me.
I was the problem with our company.
I had made the same mistake that I’ve watched others make hundreds and hundreds of times. I stopped doing what had been working for years and years. I cast aside our formula of success and changed our entire culture in less than a year. In other words, I quit dancing with the one that brought me.
You’ve heard of the Einstein quote that says the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and still expecting the same results”. He’s right. We’ve all witnessed time and time again good people needing to make changes but trapped in doing the same things over and over again.
Well, I have a second definition of insanity that may be just as important, and it goes something like this:
Insanity is doing something different than what’s working, yet still expecting the same result.
Please don’t judge me too harshly. In going off the reservation, I’m in pretty good company. This madness has plagued mankind throughout history.
King David was on top of the world. A mighty warrior, an accomplished poet, musician and finally an anointed king. His kingdom was one of the most feared in the entire world when he ruled over Israel around 1,000 BC. He had it all. But after years of leading his armies into battle, one spring David decided to stay home and relax while Joab took the army to fight the Ammonites holed up in Rabbah. While restlessly walking around the roof of his palace in the middle of the night, David saw Bathsheba bathing, and the rest is history. For the remainder of his life, the man after God’s own heart would never enjoy the same peace and prosperity he had known before, and his family would become a big, royal mess, haunting him to his grave. My guess is that David often regretted not strapping on his armament and heading off to battle that spring.
Allow me to give you a few more current examples.
One of the greatest college basketball teams of all time was the University of Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama” of 1983. Made up of such stars as Akeem “The Dream” Aajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, the team played an up-tempo, almost frenetic, playground style of basketball that would remind you of an NBA All Star Game. The team will forever go down in history as probably the greatest collegiate team to never win an NCAA Championship. Riding a 26 game win streak into the Finals, Houston appeared to have the game under control midway through the second half against a feisty, over-achieving North Carolina State team under Coach Jim Valvano. But suddenly, with just over five minutes left, Cougar Coach Guy Lewis tried to protect his lead by instructing his team to do something they had never done before, and quite honestly, didn’t know how to do. He told them to stop running and gunning, to slow the game down, and hold the basketball. He might as well of put a gun to their heads. The normally loosey-goosey bunch of kids froze, allowing NC State to slowly cut into the lead, and set up the famous tip in finish that gave the Wolfpack one of the most bizarre upsets in NCAA tournament history. In the post-game interview Coach Lewis admitted he made a terrible mistake in asking his team to do something that was foreign to them. They should have kept dancing with the run and gun style that brought them to the dance.
Apple enjoyed great success when Steve Jobs ran the show. Like him or not, the man turned a company launched out of his parents’ garage into a billion dollar company in just eight short years. The company was at the leading edge of the technology revolution in computers and music. But in 1985 the Board had enough of Jobs’ tough demands and strong personality and forced him out. Over the next twelve years Jobs went on to establish several startups like Pixel and NeXT. At the same time Apple completely lost its way and was contemplating bankruptcy when they bought NeXT from Jobs and asked him to run the company he founded once again. Under his direction Apple returned to the cutting edge and moved Silicon Valley through the phone, computer, and watch revolutions. By 2009 Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil as the largest company in the world.
Apple had the winning formula, but for some reason (probably the deadly duo of arrogance and politics) decided to go a different direction, and it cost the company ten years and billions of dollars. It wasn’t until they dropped their pride, walked across the dance floor, and asked the one that brought them if they would care to dance again.
From 1989 to 1999 Garth Brooks (an Okie and Oklahoma State alum) won the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Award seven times, and Artist of the Decade in 1999. But that same year Brooks suddenly changed from country to rock and roll, and became “Chris Gaines” the rocker. It didn’t work, and by 2005 it appeared Brooks’ music career was washed up. It wasn’t until 2011 when Garth decided to go back to his roots in country music that his fortunes turned for him once more. Just last year Brooks was named CMA Entertainer of the Year for the first time in eighteen years. He is selling out large venues all over the country once again. He just needed to get back to dancing the two-step with the one that brought him.
For years Tiger Woods was the top golfer in the world, and it wasn’t even close. From 1999 to 2010 he ranked as World Number One a record 545 weeks. He was awarded the PGA Player of the Year a record eleven times. But somewhere around 2008, just after his father passed away from prostate cancer, Tiger decided to fire his coach, change his swing, start a harem, and drive his SUV into a tree. His game fell apart and his world ranking with it. Since then he has tried desperately to return to the good old days, but age has caught up to him and left him little window to ever get back to the stardom he once enjoyed. If only he would have kept on dancing.
Just eight years ago the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress, along with the White House. Their success came from their century long efforts in reaching out to hard working, blue collar America. The formula worked. But for some reason around the time the mid-term elections of 2010 rolled around the Dems seemed to curiously abandon organized labor and the men and women that make America work. Democrats can come up with all kinds of excuses as to why they were soundly beaten last November, but the fact is that a large majority of union workers who historically voted straight Democrat switched to Donald Trump. I’m not a politician, but I believe it’s quite obvious the main reason they lost the election is simply because the Democratic Party stopped dancing with the one that brought them. They decided to do something different than the tried and true formula that had made them the most powerful organization on planet earth for much of the 20th century. I don’t know if they will ever get back their seat of power, but if they do, it will be because they go back to dancing with the blue collar men and women who brought them.
But let’s not forget the greatest example of all when Bud and Sissy met on the dance floor at Gilley’s and Sissy asked him if he was a real cowboy, and then they danced because John Travolta wasn’t much of an actor but he sure could dance, and then they got married right out on the Gilley’s dance floor, and then they had the perfect marriage until one night when Sissy rode the mechanical bull against Bud’s wishes, and then they got in that argument and Bud hit Sissy and kicked her out of the double wide, and then Bud met that rich girl with way too much makeup, and went back to her penthouse and spent the night while that great Boz Scaggs song “Love, Look What You’ve Done To Me” played, and then Sissy lost her mind and ended up with the no good greasy haired thief fresh out of Huntsville and she lived in that run-down trailer in back of Gilley’s with him for reasons none of us could understand. Until finally, after we were forced to sit through another tortuous hour of watching B actors butcher country accents, Sissy finally came to her senses and drove back to Bud’s trailer and wrote him that love note, but more importantly, cleaned the trailer up because it looked worse than a frat house, and then just when it looked like Sissy had given up hope and that no good thief desperately in need of a bath took a whack at her, that Bud also came to his senses and left the bull riding contest and met Sissy in the parking lot and told her he still loved her, and then he saw the bruise on her face, and then he stormed off and found the villain still in need of a bar of soap right at the Gilley’s entrance, which Mickey Gilley had to pay Paramount $250,000 for, and they started brawling with Sissy screaming at both of them to stop, but deep down she really loved seeing two men fighting over her, or she was glad the two dudes who had hit her were both getting beat up, we don’t know which, but then the no good convict dropped his gun and some of the money he had just stolen out of the office, and then Bud really went to town on him until the Gilley’s bouncers jumped in, because Gilley’s wanted everyone to know they were a gun free zone, and then Bud and Sissy embraced and kissed, even though it was kind of a sweaty kiss and they both had horrible beer breath, and then I wish they would have gone back into Gilley’s and had a makeup dance together because it would make my point so much easier, but instead they got in Bud’s pickup, and Bud put up their illegal Texas license plate that said “Bud and Sissy”, and they went back home to a more sanitary trailer where they lived happily ever after because they …. everybody now….
danced with the one that brought ‘em.
Okay, I’ll stop now.
But not until I tell you the end of my story. I finally had the epiphany, pulled my head out, and too my company back. I pull out my old clothes out of my closet, and started going back to my breakfast place. I hired my oldest son to work with me, I took over the leadership training again, invested money back into the company, repaired everything, sat in on important interviews, hosted the monthly meetings, raised salaries and wages much higher than they were before, brought back benefits and added more, elevated the bonus structure, and started mentoring some of the young talent. Within three years sales doubled and we were back to being a strong, viable business by a group of eight highly talented and motivated young men. I started dancing once more with the one that brought me.
I’m afraid this type of insanity happens in all walks of life. A mystery writer decides she should write a sitcom. A talented engineer tries to run the company. A husband abandons his wife for someone half his age and less than half her IQ, character, and beauty. A rancher gets bored and moves into the city. A magnificent teacher moves to the administration building. The board member of the fantastic charity she founded and kept afloat suddenly resigns because she believes she is getting too old to be of much use just because she has lost a step or two. A real estate investor who makes a fortune flipping houses decides he should open an upscale clothing store.
Now don’t get me wrong. Many times change is good. I moved into the financial industry at the age of 50, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve watched attorneys become developers, accountants become oil tycoons, and business executives become motivational speakers. We’ve witnessed tech developers become professional sports owners, surgeons become missionaries, and real estate moguls become reality television celebrities, and then President of the United States.
Change can be good, especially if it makes you and your family’s lives better. Just understand the risks dramatic change can carry, that things will be different, and some of the stuff you were accustomed to or counted on may no longer be there.
So let’s bring this home to you and your investments.
As an Investment Advisor I have the honor of meeting with a couple of dozen people a year who ask for advice regarding their portfolio and investment strategies. Everyone comes from unique circumstances and experiences, but I keep things simple and can generally place investors in two very basic categories- those who are doing the right things to protect and grow their money in the stock market, and those who aren’t.
I believe I can help investors who aren’t making or protecting their money. I can give them some guidance on what they need to do differently in order to get on the right side of the market. I tell them that a different result will require them to do something different. Telling them is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to actually do something different. Most people are bound inside a straightjacket, doing the same thing over and over, yet hoping against all hope for a different result. In my experience it isn’t until they suffer a major loss of capital that they finally embrace change. But we haven’t seen that type of stock market in over nine years now, and memories tend to fade.
But just as often as I meet with those investors who need to take a different path, I also meet with astute investors who are actually doing the right things investment wise. Never exactly the same things mind you, because there are lots of ways to skin the Wall Street cat, but the right things just the same. And yet for some reason they come to our meeting anxious, or frustrated, or bored with their current strategy, afraid they are missing opportunities, worried they aren’t doing enough, or making enough. They are thinking about sacking their investment strategy for something new and different. In other words, their eyes are wandering past their beautiful partner standing right in front of them and across the dance floor to the blond bomb shell cutting a rug to the George Straight tune playing on the juke box.
During every initial consultation I do with investors I always ask seven very important questions:
- Do you have a good understand of investing and trading?
- Are you, or someone you trust, implementing a proven investment strategy on your behalf?
- Are you comfortable and satisfied with your strategy?
- Does your strategy have a plan to limit exposure and losses during market downturns?
- Do you have the time and energy to devote to implementing your strategy successfully?
- Are you realistically on the path to financial independence once you reach retirement?
- Can you sleep well at night regarding your investments?
If the answer is “no” to any of these seven questions, then I tell them they need to do something different, and fast.
They are most likely one serious market crash from parting from a large portion of their money. I try to gently let them know that doing the same things over and over again with their money, yet expecting a different result is a clear path to the stock market loony bin.
But though it doesn’t gain me a new client, if the investor can answer “yes” to all seven of those questions, my advice to them is to keep doing exactly what they are doing, and not change one single thing. You see friends, the trick of the trade in the investment world is to find an investment strategy, or find someone that has an investment strategy, that works for you. One that fits your personality and lifestyle, helps you avoid much of the inevitable downturns, and allows you to sleep at night. And once you’ve found that strategy, to stick with it.
When it comes to Wall Street, there are lots of professionals who would love to manage your money. But just because they may have the titles, or the pedigree, or the nice offices doesn’t mean they can do any better at investing than what you are doing right now, and that includes me. If what you are doing is working, why change a thing? Because once you’ve found your partner, and the band is playing your song, my humble advice is to just keep on dancing with the one that brought you.