Thursday, July 23, 2009

Talent: Not Everyone Has It...

...And those who do have it often don't seem to realize that. That thought came to mind twice recently, first when skimming a recent post on GuruFocus about Joel Greenblatt's book about special situations investing, You Can Be a Stock Market Genius. Clicking on the Amazon link, I found this comment by a reviewer from Orange County, CA named Mike Ferry:

Look before you LEAP

I get up in the morning and walk my dog on the walking path just off the beach (Pacific Ocean adjacent). On my walk I always say hello to Mrs. Rothchild who is reading the Investor's Business Daily while sitting on her polished teakwood patio set. I jibe her that she should switch to the Wall Street Journal and get a real job investing like I do. After a quick but nutritious breakfast, I settle down to my state of the art computer where I E-trade my way to this lavish lifestyle I currently enjoy (takes no more than an hour!). After my "investing", I'll cruise PCH in my new convertible BMW and work on that driving tan. Thanks Joel Greenblatt!

What the heck? Oh drat, the alarm went off. I was having that dream again; now I must get ready for the drive to Pomona in my '98 Daewoo. So kick me, I am not yet a stock market genius. Can I be if I apply the lessons of this book? Maybe... but I have neither the time nor the money. For the person with both it might still be a great idea to have a stock market genius walk them through the paces for a few months.

On the merits of readability, Greenblatt dishes out the drudgery in a well presented and entertaining style. You get case studies, nifty chapter summaries, advice not to run through dynamite factories with lit matches, and a Gilligan's Island hit in the glossary (not bad for fourteen Yankee Dollars).

P.S. All you reviewers and review readers out there, have any of you struck pay dirt following the advice in this book?

I didn't read all the other comments, but, in the ones I did read, I don't recall anyone mentioning that he had struck it big implementing Greenblatt's advice. Has Joel Greenblatt considered that maybe we can't all be him? Maybe he has, and that's why he came up with the Magic Formula, so retail investors could lose invest their money in an automated fashion.

The second time the thought in the title of this post came to mind was a few minutes ago, when I read this post by the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Taking Myself Way Too Seriously". From his post:

I went to the Met yesterday, the boy likes to draw, so we've put him in a class there. I've been several times before, indeed we have a family membership. And yet somehow, I'm never prepared for the raw power of the place. Samori [Ta-Nehisi's son] went up with the kids to sketch in the modern art gallery.


I found my way down to the sculpture garden and circled The Burghers Of Calais a few times. It's funny to know something is beautiful, and not know why.


I sat for a minute, insecure, because everyone else sitting was sketching and I can't draw a lick, and for some reason, I think I should be able to.


I stopped in front of a color pencil drawing of two women smiling over a small cake. According to the description, the women were strangers. Some guy stopped next to me and took me for an artist. I think it was my gutter style--hoodie and Air Force ones, but perhaps not, since he introduced himself as an artist too. He was wearing a three-piece suit. I told him I did not have the gift, and he shook his head. "Just get some pencils and put some stuff down man."

This struck me.

It's exactly what I tell people when they say things like, "I wish I could write." or "I wish I had the gift to write." In my mind there is no gift--there is a considerable amount of labor, but I don't have much interest in talking about talent. There are a lot of talented niggers on the corner, in jail, under early tombstones. That's what my mother used to say.

I probably disagree with what Ta-Nehisi writes more often than not, and as an autodidact, he'll make a grammar mistake occasionally (as he readily admits), but the man can write. He's got talent, but, like many talented people, he doesn't seem to realize that not everyone does. That doesn't make what his mother used to tell him wrong: there are plenty of talented people who never achieve much -- that's true. But that's not the same as saying that everyone has talent. It just means that some measure of talent is often a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for success.

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