On September 6, 1997 Princess Di’s funeral service was shown around the world. The outpouring of grief was overwhelming. Then, the very next day Mother Theresa, an icon of selflessness and love also died. Two greatly loved and admired people had passed away.
Three days later I was heading up a steep hill in the Drakensburg mountains with my team, so that we could hold a planning session in a majestic location. The top of the hill gave us a 360 view and I thought it might be a good place for a spirited conversation. So as an experiment I asked the group to give me three things that were “bad” about Princess Di.
People were hesitant at first, but gradually they offered up observations like, “She was unfaithful”, “she was bulimic” and “she had a big ego”. Pretty soon the perceptions of Princess Di were changing. Then I did the same thing for Mother Teresa. One person said they had heard that she ”always wanted her own way”, and another thought she “loved the publicity”. It was very easy to find criticisms and dull the lustre of these highly respected people.
After switching the conversation to the positives, just as many were mentioned.
At the time I was more interested in the effective functioning of a team and was making the point that it’s just as easy to criticise someone as it is to praise them – depends on what you’re looking for.
There’s a lesson in this for investors. As easy as it is to find fault in even the finest of lives, we can also find fault with virtually every investment option. There are risks and imperfections everywhere and none are appropriate for every circumstance. There are always good reasons to be found for not making a decision, and sometimes caution is the best response. But the danger is that a focus on the negatives can cruel even the best laid plans, and investment opportunities that really are quite good, can be made to seem quite bad. And to make it worse, sometimes armchair investors with limited detail often come up with throw away lines aimed to make them appear knowledgeable.
The point is to keep an open mind, be balanced and find what’s most appropriate and in the apparently tough times, be able to differentiate between real problems and acceptable imperfections. Almost any investment will have good days and bad days because no investment is perfect, just like Princess Di and Mother Theresa.