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The Art of Asking Good Questions

Two hunters are out in the jungle when suddenly one of them collapses. His pulse is gone and his eyes are glazed. The other guy yanks out his cell phone and calls the emergency services.

He gasps, “My friend is dead! What should I do?”

The operator says “Calm down, sir. I can help. First, let’s make sure if he’s really dead.”

After few moments of silence, the operator hears a loud gunshot. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

The hunter was dumb but given the high adrenalin and panicky situation, the operator’s question wasn’t brilliant either, was it?

There’s some truth to the saying – the quality of your questions determine the quality of solutions. Computer programmers know this very well. They call it GIGO, i.e., garbage in garbage out.

Good question begets good answer. Bad question leads to bad answer.

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How Fortunes are Made in the Stock Market

I was re-reading this book titled “100 to 1 in the Stock Market”, in which the author Thomas Phelps talks about, well, how investors can grow their wealth one hundredfold through buy-and-hold investing.

I came across this book the first time in 2015 through a recommendation, and then realized there was a frenzy around with people trying to get their hands on to a copy of the same.

Just going by this book’s title – 100 to 1 – I thought it was a dangerous first book to be read by people just getting started in the stock market (I continue to believe the same).

The title smelled of overconfidence, and survivorship bias (it still does).

Anyways, I found the book to be good in parts, especially when the author makes the case for long-term ownership of stocks and the virtues of having patience along the journey.

The book starts with a story of five poor Arabs who are woken up one night by an angel.

“Each of you can have one wish,” the angel says.

“Give me a donkey,” asks the first Arab, and he is granted his wish.

Thinking how little the first Arab asked, the second one asks for ten donkeys and gets them.

The third asks for even more – a caravan with a hundred camels, a hundred donkeys, tents, rugs, food, wine, and servants – and gets them from the angel.

The fourth Arab, who had heard the previous three’s wishes, asks for even more. “Make me a king,” he commands the angel who bestows him with a kingdom.

Now, the fifth Arab, having seen his companions ask for too little, resolves to make no such mistake.

“Make me Allah,” he orders the angel.

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How to Analyze a Business, the Sherlock Holmes Way

Peter Bevelin has written a few amazing books, like Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, A Few Lessons for Investors and Managers, and the latest All I Want To Know Is Where I’m Going To Die So I’ll Never Go There.

But one of his lesser-known books that I have on my all time favourites lists is A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes. Through this book, Bevelin has distilled Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes into bite-sized principles and key quotes. In fact, this book is much more than a collection of quotes. It is a way to learn the powers of observation, understand the limits of our mind, and counter the narrative fallacy.

Bevelin writes in the book…

What distinguishes Holmes from most mortals is that he knows where to look and what questions to ask. He pays attention to the important things and he knows where to find them.

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3 Big Investing Lessons from the World’s Greatest Stock Market Speculator

I have been reading Edwin Lefèvre Reminiscences of a Stock Operator over the past few days.

It’s a brilliant first-person account of the career of “Lawrence Livingston”, who is a slightly fictionalized version of Jesse Livermore, one of the greatest stock speculators of all times.

Livingston, just out of school, goes to work as a quotation-board boy in a stock-brokerage office. This was sometime in the 1890s, one hundred years before the advent of real-time internet stock quotes. Stock quotes were written on chalkboards.

He develops a feel for the stock market and, in time, begins to speculate. He’s not an investor — he’s a speculator. He gambles in stocks. And he does a great job at it, building a million-dollar fortune during his twenties.

Then he loses everything. In fact, Livingston builds — and loses — several million-dollar fortunes between the first twenty years of 1900s.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is an entertaining and educational book on Livingston’s career (read Livermore’s). It contains great many lessons that are also valid for investors.

Here are three such lessons straight out of the book that I believe would serve you well. The emphasis is mine.

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A Powerful Tool to Create Your Stock Watchlist

Whether you’re training for a marathon or going on an adventure trip, being ready can make a world of difference.

The same is true for the stock market. It’s important to be prepared with a watchlist of fundamentally sound stocks ready to go at right prices.

Whether the market is in rally mode or in a correction, being prepared with a watchlist is key.

Here is a video I’ve prepared to help you learn a simple yet powerful tool of creating your own stock watchlist, which is dynamic and tells you in a snap the status of stocks you are watching.

If you can’t see the video above, click here to see.

Let me know your thoughts on the video, and also share any other way(s) you maintain your own stock watchlist.

1. Sample Stock Watchlist
2. Google Spreadsheets Help Center

P.S. This post was originally published in Dec. 2013, and has been republished following a lot of reader questions on this topic.

How to Create Your Circle of Competence (Video Post)

Here is a video I created for students of my Mastermind Value Investing Course.

I thought it would be useful for you as well, so sharing it here.

If you can’t see the video above, see here.

Tom Watson [the founder of IBM] said – “I’m no genius. I’m smart in spots and I stay around those spots.”

The entire idea about the Circle of Competence concept is to help you find your spots, which is so very important to your success as an investor. And that’s exactly what the above video will help you learn.

How to Live and Invest Without Failure

Early this year, a close friend of mine, Rajiv, had his eyes set on finishing the Mumbai half-marathon (approx. 21 km) in less than 180 minutes.

So, crossing the finish line in 160 minutes was something of a major triumph for him. He was genuinely happy.

One another friend, Sameer, ran the same distance and recorded the exact same time of 160 minutes. However, this guy wanted to cover the distance in 150 minutes or less. Consequently, he was shattered.

He described his experience as a massive failure and as a result, his mind and body language were both a reflection of his belief (the belief that he had failed).

Sameer could have labelled his run many things but he chose ‘failure’.

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Cheat Sheet for Investing Your Money (Free E-Book)

“Go to college, study hard, get good marks, land up in a decent job and you’re settled.”

The world around us has changed but this advice hasn’t.

The concept of getting good grades and finding a good job is an idea whose time has passed. It is not a bad advice but we need new ideas and different kind of education.

In the long term, the old advice is not just insufficient but downright risky.

We have been taught, and taught pretty well, how to work hard to earn money. But what about making our money work hard for ourselves? Every rupee that you earn has in it the seed to multiply into thousands. You just have to know where to sow that seed and how to water it.

The only way to learn that is to start on the path of self-education. A wise man said – “School education will earn you a living but self-education will make you a fortune.”

It does not matter where you stand today. Whether you are a student, in a job, a professional or even unemployed, you have the ability to educate yourself and take control of your personal finances.

If you are reading this, my guess is that you have already spent some time looking for the answers to your financial and investment queries. Therefore, you are a seeker who has already taken the first few steps.

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