What the “Shoe-Button Complex” Can Teach About Investing

“…named for the condition of a family friend who spoke in an oracular style on all subjects after becoming dominant in the shoe button business.”

As an investor, you can’t have an opinion on everything.  If you have an opinion, you may fool yourself into thinking you actually know something about the subject.  Having an opinion does not presume any particular actual knowledge of a subject (see Jenny McCarthy’s on vaccines).  Being able to say “I don’t know” separates you from a large portion of the investing world (and the entire staff and most guests on CNBC).

When someone finds out I  manage an investment fund, they typically inquire about Facebook, Google, or as is the fad this week, J.C. Penney and Blackberry.  I must sound like a broken record when I respond with repeated flashes of brilliance: “I don’t know” or “I am not quite sure about one.”  Typically, they quickly assume that I am obviously a below-average performer and move onto the weather.  Sometimes, I mix it up and talk about an incredibly interesting company I have been researching, say for example, one that makes “food processing equipment” and controls 70% of said market.  My wife is not surprised that I eat most of my lunches alone at my desk….Luckily, she is able to talk about Facebook and Google and hence we have friends.

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