Understanding Life is the Essence of Investing

Most of life amounts to just fleeting memories. The best ones, we hold onto. This morning while researching for a file, I came across a sad memory of eleven years ago that was deeply moving for me as I read the blog I had written a couple of years before.

https://www.billcara.com/help-you-invest/market-report-for-monday-nov-9-2009/

I will re-publish it here because it was so meaningful to me as many years later I continue my quest as COACH CARA

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Bill Cara, Sat July 7, 2007, 7:30 am

I usually sign off my blogs, “it’s a small web and I know we’re connected in some way”.

I do this because I believe time reveals destiny, and how paths cross — for those who are fortunate enough to see the links revealed. I’m not trying to tout a philosophy or “meaning of life” kind of thinking here. Rather I am just pointing to my own life’s experiences that people who travel together in time tend to do so repeatedly and that continuity strikes me as one of life’s great wonders. You have heard of some of these experiences on this blog.

For example, I was recently asked by a friend to have a photo session with “the Pope’s official photographer” and it turned out we know each other from 20 years ago. Last week, I went to the Crystallex AGM and was re-acquainted with a client I had served a lifetime ago only to have the name and memories of her husband embedded in my memory recalled instantly 28 years later, including what a restaurant wait staff had said to us as he overheard our conversation. Amazing. And the woman had no idea I would even remember her.

So why am I mentioning this when I am busy packing to move to another country? Well, it’s a segue to introduce a long-time friend, Peter Simmons, and explain to you the contribution he has made recently to the Cara Community.

Peter and I were sharing the same space before we even met one another almost 20 years ago. To understand this, there are a few things about Peter you need to know.

First, he has formal education and training in Decision Science, which happens to be the quantitative stuff that statistician types deal with. With his very “heavy” measurement, modeling, and empirical school of “stats” background, Peter is more than proficient in just about any nebulous research topic anybody could throw at him.

Although he holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, followed by an appointment to Ohio State, I’d say that to the contrary, Peter is not an academic. In the raw bars (yes bars) we frequented in places between Atlanta, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale and New Orleans (maybe another time), I have seen him offer to trade his Ph.D. for a “six-pack,” — if he could just find a way to transfer it. He claims he only uses the title “Doctor” when he “writes a prescription for someone’s statistical philosophy”. In fact, he views the high accomplishment of his being named “Salutatorian of the Lower Quarter” of his High School Class as being of far greater distinction than being a Doctor of Philosophy.

He didn’t know it of course when we first met, but I returned my two professional accounting certificates after ten years of dutifully paying fees because I didn’t think until then that I was obligated for the rest of my life to pay people for a right I had already earned.

Anyway, with Peter’s attitude to life, you might expect that teaching B-school quant methodology courses proved to be “unappealing” to him, even though, he says, his teacher ratings were a plus. He left the ivory tower, he says, because his life was being consumed by “unappealing, narrowly focused research on things like sampling distributions targeted for publication in academic journals”.

Peter gravitated toward the application of his craft, becoming an applied / field researcher, ultimately a “researcher’s researcher” which, he says, is the guy who substance-oriented analysts-investigators turn to for advice. Over his career, Peter has seen almost every kind of data, analysis, or technical problem one could imagine in almost as many industries. And, because of his exposure to real data and to the real-life business conditions he has witnessed, he even developed a specialty with which he can manufacture quantitative representations from purely qualitative data sources.

Peter’s adventures in custom business research and core skills eventually led him to a position with General Electric Corporate. Based within GE Corporate Marketing, he served as the “go-to” guy for “up-scale“ research for executive management, strategic planners, and marketing program evaluators. Because his specialties were well matched to the needs of those working with new technologies or business development issues, Peter quickly became an integral part of the teams that researched and built the business case for new initiatives. During that time, Peter says he worked closely, in a problem-solving mode, with many of the best and brightest people at GE. What distinguished those teams was that they dealt with some of the toughest strategic issues confronting the company at the time. In fact, some of the people he worked with, among them a guy named Jeff Immelt, went on to make a career at GE.

It was at this time, that our respective paths started to “co-vary”. As noted, Peter was widely involved with leading-edge technology initiatives at GE. Referred to as the Graphics Array Processor, which was a very advanced hardware product for “moving” pictures, Peter played a role in assessing the market and the product’s fit with GE lines of business. At some point, those involved in evaluating the business case felt that the opportunities for the technology were best outside GE. The developers of the product turned to the marketplace to find Venture Capital for their vision.

Now, is it “Chance or Destiny” that they turned to me. They approached me with a business plan in hand while I was starting up Canaccord in Eastern Canada, as Peter Brown’s partner. Eleven days after meeting Dr. Paul Russo, who had been General Manager of the GE Microelectronics Centre in North Carolina, I personally, along with three associates, put up almost $1 million in funding for them, and the rest is a success story. That was Genesis Microchip (AMEX: GNSS).

Yet, two years later, I had not yet met Peter. That meeting happened after, obsessed himself with leading-edge entrepreneurial opportunities, he had left GE to do what he did inside GE. One day in Toronto, I received a call from an Atlanta-based customer of a US business I was investing heavily in. The staff said Peter was looking to talk “to the person behind the thinking of the service we offered.”

I returned the call expecting a complaint because the technology was being sold while still in development, but he greeted me with the comment, “yours is the best venture opportunity I have seen for some time”. For almost 20 years since the two of us have worked on a wide variety of projects — Peter dealing with the market side issues; I with the financial. One mutual effort was our involvement with the South African Inkatha Freedom Party (the Zulu’s), which I have written about in the blog. But, even that one might not have been the most interesting (another time).

So, why all the fuss now while I am in transit to The Bahamas? Well, Peter has always been on the periphery of this blog as an observer and advisor. In fact, he took the photos on my boat that I posted on the blog on June 22, 2005. http://www.billcara.com/archives/2005/06/my_former_good.html

Over a month ago, I asked him to come in as an objective third party to give me a brief but formal assessment of what was going on with the blog. I asked him to work his magic, and I knew his report would be probing. There were a few things driving me at the time. First, I was getting ready to make a major move. There were also many changes to the blog and to two other of my websites. Clearly, I did not have time to deal with the detail that has been mounting as this blog picked up steam with a growing interest in financial commentaries. This one-man show has been swamped.

I also felt, because BillCara.com is different, there were no real “comparables” in the field that I could gain understanding or direction from. In addition, things were moving too fast to have data with web statistics in place and for me to be able to reschedule my life to deal with a traditional research protocol. Finally, I doubt that few people other than Peter could do the job I wanted to be done.

So, I gave him a call; told him I wanted a situation analysis — to know “what condition my condition was in” and, that I wanted to be left alone to only deal with the bottom line. I told him I would keep the report findings private, but that I wanted a written report.

Well, now that I have seen the results, I want you to see them too. You know that I preach transparency. So, now I want you to ponder, react, applaud or boo – whatever – Peter’s report because the results focus on the Cara Community and reader reactions, and less on the material I write in the blog.

What Peter has given me here is just what I hoped for, but it is just a start. His study, and your reactions, will help determine the direction we move this enterprise. In my view, there was no better time to do this than that occasioned by the void in my transition to life in a new country.

Below I have outlined the stages Peter laid out and reported on in the conduct of this effort. For your edification, I included word for word the text of his report as regards the Summary & Conclusions section. You will see that he raises provocative issues that I want to comment on once I am back on-line, hopefully within a week.

But, in the meantime, I will ask you to do the same. Because of the circumstances tied to my re-locating, where there is nobody to oversee the Community discourse, I have to change formats briefly and cut you off. There will be no posting of discourse/comments while I am in transit. However, I did set up an e-mail box specifically for your comment on this particular blog: [email protected].

Oh, and I should say that while I “roasted” Peter a bit here, I did so with his knowledge for verification of the claims I have made and his permission to post what was intended as a report to me. You can see he also “roasted” me as well, but you will note he does not sugarcoat. What should be clear is that I value Peter’s analytical and strategic style of thinking and that I could not agree to take this investigation to a higher level, nor would he agree to do it, if we did not have longstanding mutual professional respect.

Remember, it’s a small web and I know we’re connected in some way. Maybe Peter can help us find how.

Cara Report v2.01

Sections:

Business Issues …
Objectives …
Research Design …
Methodology…
Findings …
Summary & Conclusions

SUMMARY & CONCLUSIONS

Bill:

It strikes me that you may have asked me to “field” one of the more difficult “investigative” assignments I have encountered: if not for its emerging nature, then for the fact that important issues can change “on a dime.” Somewhat like a hockey game, eh?

What it appears to have come down to is that you asked that I distill what has emerged as the essence of your presence within the “Blogosphere”, to provide an understanding that will help guide you, and a growing list of Cara Community, in the process of your morphing into whatever you will become.

Because there are so many aspects of this engagement to address ranging from the brilliance of your commentary (my compliment) to the overwhelmingly positive reader expressions of appreciation (the data), I, like I’m sure others who may have attempted this, friend or foe, have found it difficult to find a handle to “type” what you are doing, relate it to something I know or, explain why it is considered “across the board” unique. When faced with situations like yours in which I get widely different reports of the “elephant,” I often turn to what I don’t see in the picture for insight on how the pieces fit together. In your case, this took some effort.

Your Portfolio Was In Need Of A Third Party Review

I am referring to your Information Portfolio, of course, specifically, the information set upon which you draw conclusions as to what the dynamics surrounding your blog connote and what decisions should be made as a result. For this assignment, you shared a portfolio with me I could best describe as a loose collection of survey data, reader reactions, industry reviews, and Web statistics, and maybe a “million” e-mail excerpts.

I found your portfolio wanting for what are common causes. It presented a barrier to the drawing of meaningful conclusions. I had to “restructure” it. To explain, I need to digress.

In dealing with high-level executives, I often have to dialog about the nature of the information upon which they make critical decisions. Rather than query as to source, I most commonly ask about method because methodologies open up a “path of least resistance” for assessing risk. Routinely, the first thing I am likely to hear is that there is some kind of on-going survey data involved, and that, there are known limits at which point those surveys are upgraded to “scientific” status. The reason is “textbook”. When research is intentionally designed to be generalized from, risk boundaries are assigned to aid the decision-maker in “placing his bet”, in being accountable.

In what I consider evening-news-broadcast level discussions, I then work to establish the foundation concepts of rigorous versus unsystematized “impression-like” information – without having to rely on statistical terminology. Because I know most of the decisions that have to be made at the executive level are, by necessity, made on soft information — “gut” — I further offer that there are basically two alternatives for getting an edge in decision making. One is to “ask” the customers, in the terminology of the day, to get out and talk to them; to find out what is on their mind through traditional interviews. The other is to quantify the qualitative data available to you to add statistical rigor to conclusions drawn from otherwise unattainable data and to “fill holes”.

Because in today’s world the second alternative is less commonly adopted than the first, I look to see if it is missing from the executive’s Information Portfolio “mix of methods”. The reason: even though the theory underlying the quantification of qualitative data is as fundamental as the grading of an essay exam, most people either do not feel comfortable selling it, find it is not always profitable, or, don’t know how to develop risk assessments. As a result, there are often opportunities to embellish the quality of data routinely labeled — “… all we have available…”. When I see a “portfolio” comprised of mostly traditional survey methods and almost random interviews – much like yours, I elect to “mine” qualitative data sources to “diversify” the executive’s portfolio — minimize risk.

Disclosure: the extensive data summaries from which the following findings and conclusions were “divined” did not exist prior to this study and have been seen by no one (for the record, not even Bill Cara). My confidence in the picture that has emerged is strong.

Your Commentary and Community Culture are Counter-Culture

Yes, your commentary and community culture are counter-culture — counter to the built-in conflicts of interest within the investment community, that is. You regularly point out the inherent problems in “advisors” also selling; there is, however, a worse internal dilemma that pervades communications, associations, and interpersonal relations in the field. This paradox of sorts can foster feelings of dissonance. Your readership feels them. A good portion of your Information Portfolio suggests that much of the “flack” you have experienced can be directly related to this issue.

More specifically, when we hear — the investment industry is just one big casino – that is as far as risks and the structure of bets go. Outside the casino is a “hospitality-like” industry that has always been based on the premise that to sell something, you need to routinely convince clients that you know far more than they do – otherwise, how could they judge that you are capable of making money for them? In fact, in such cases where “expertise” is sold as a commodity, there is a need to ensure that the client never feels confident enough to “enter the casino” without the “expert/tour guide” at hand.

And, as in all “expertise-based” businesses, there has to be a jargon, a language of exclusion and a right of “fraternal” passage developed that requires that an individual demonstrate being conversant in the “in crowd” use of terms “coined” for their “sell” value, like:

Correction — not in our statistical lifetimes!
Up-tick — a meaningless ordinal indicator used as a “role support”
Over-Bought — Unscrutinized, “under-thought” Jargon (C-)
Bulls & Bears — Why not Protons & Electrons?

… and be capable of weaving that jargon into something that sounds clever to be part of ‘The Club’ e.g., “Today, “investors” felt the need to “recharge” as Protons showed an up-tick in their affinity to Neutrons”.

Am I “overselling” here? The point: “spewing complexities” and “speaking in tongues” are necessary conditions for success – perhaps prominence — in the professional investment community. What makes you different among “personalities” in this area, however, is that you assume your readers are capable of understanding the intellectual aspects of the markets and that they, like you, can find them fascinating as well as entertaining. You bring the enthusiasm to the study of the markets that a pure scientist would in being the first to observe one of life’s complex phenomena – capital markets. You reference them in this frame of reference all the time. To you, markets are butterflies!

In that you are not “running for office” or “selling” something, your portrayal of the events is intellectually honest and enlightening – yet it is that of a senior statesman. And, it is, as a stream of consciousness, 180 degrees the opposite of the “sell-side”. Because your readers do not typically encounter people knowledgeable like you who try to inform rather than impress, it takes “a time” for them to “resolve the dissonance”. Once they are convinced you’re real, they proudly rally around your banner and become loyal, appreciative members of the Counter-Community which is clearly guided by the contrasting standards you represent.

It would behoove you to make a portrayal of these phenomena available to your readers.

Bill Cara … The Socrates of Wall Street?

Aside from being supportive of your readers, you do something else interpersonally, if that is possible on the Web, that is commendable and I feel, again, unique. In complex explanations of markets, analysis, and investing, you NEVER talk down to your audience. Neither do you tend to lecture without “warning”. Even when things written are “way over our heads”, your clearly discernible objective is to stimulate thinking as well as the independence of thought via your enthusiasm which is, by definition, what the Socratic Method is all about. You allow the individual you communicate with to accept or contrast your position within their own frame of reference, so as to ensure ownership of opinion.

Again, in asking myself “ … what is absent?”, I was struck that in the volumes of materials I have looked over for the last month or so, not one reader, blogger or you, made reference to the term Socratic Method. Parenthetically, the Google search terms ‘Socrates’ and ‘Wall Street’ yield little; the title is open. Educating, learning, helping, developing, etc. are referenced in various sources, but never the main attribute of the Socratic Model that is the basis for all Education today – to stimulate abstract reasoning and deductive logic skills. I say that is what you are especially good at.

You’re In The Business Of Building Literacy, Both Concept & Process.

Regardless of how you do it, you are in the business of building literacy of concept and process at various stages and times of your readership’s development – whether they be pros or beginners. Because of the way you write your perceptions and experiences, readers not only learn the “talk” in an entertaining manner but, with the richness of the descriptions you paint, they get a glimpse, like a fly on the wall, of what it might be like to be a “Top Gun Trader”. And, as a result, they have exposure to a “stream of consciousness” they might not have without many year’s experience in the industry. This is exposure to the practical side of the equation; as such, it is a unique source for a rich perspective of how the real world works in terms of concept, interpretation, and style of thinking that is rare and well seasoned.

If your readership is going to steer you anywhere business-wise, I suspect that they will invent ways to get the maximum opportunities for building literacy from you and through the Cara Community. I would find that to be a meaningful contribution.

We all gain insights by the creative framing of “characters” such as HB&B (I might add for which there are 17 pages of hits on Bill Cara.com with a Google search) or “Circus Tent,” i.e., managers whose only thoughts are on “side show” ratings.

Remaining a source for literacy though implies two things:

(1) that BillCara.com is not now nor should it ever be in a ratings race – it is an intellectual, and I might add, an entertainment initiative, and that perspective needs to be maintained and revisited.

(2) if there is ever a hint of exclusivity as a community that is ego rather than accomplishment-driven, you will have lost sight and joined the enemy. (E.g., long periods of time where the HB&B type characters in the blog go unexplained for new readers would be a lagging indicator! (I know, Jargon C-) The Blog’s Mission must remain – Investment as a Second Language.

So How Should Bill Cara Be Seen in all of This?

In fact, your readership openly admits they have trouble with this issue. Let’s see (parroting their comments), what do you call a person who devotes every day to framing his highly valued ideas so they can be shared freely with others… who does not talk down to you, shows respect for all levels of expertise (or language skills), is not afraid to voice an opinion, is intellectually honest and who does all this as a senior statesman? I’d say most would call that person a role model, but I think Coach comes closer to what you are actually doing.

Yes, ‘Coach Cara’, an Investment Coach working in several leagues, in several countries, who is flanked today by ‘Assistant’ coaches who, via their contributions and posted insights, are valued members of the Cara Community.

May I add, just the concept of you embracing the role of Coach affords many of us ‘normals’ the welcome opportunity to comprehend why you do it – you simply enjoy coaching!

I am sure you will need to reflect on the thought of being called Coach Cara, but in looking at all the attempts of your readers to describe you, thank you, and express admiration, I really cannot think of a concept that fits better. We all remember a coach, some time in our young lives, who gave us an edge, a lesson we never forgot. You coach numerous age groups today (the data) to appreciate the key market and investment issues that impact them personally.

In the purest of manner, Socrates was history’s first coach devoted to the development of abstract thinking and reasoning amongst his students. The Cara as Socrates concept seems to fit to a tee. Socrates was intellectually stimulated by Geometry; you are stimulated by markets. Moreover, as long as the securities and finance industry continues to drift without asserting the value of intellectual integrity (meaning there is not “a correction”), I think the demand for your analytical leadership will continue to grow.

THANKS, COACH!

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So impressed with Peter’s work, I asked him to write the Foreword to my book Lessons From the Trader Wizard, which I reproduce here

FORWARD
Bill Cara has become the defacto speaker for a growing audience of finance and investment professionals who are speaking out on inequities in capital markets. When he started blogging in 2004 — with perhaps 20 readers “tuning in” a day — his message for the investor was: “… what you need to know to compete against Wall Street”. He has maintained his “day one” thinking and steadily built a large blog readership base, ranked as one of the more elite and enlightened among that of any media offering. His readers work with him as a community through lively discourse and help evolve and fine-tune the focal point around which his views are anchored — capital markets and social equity. His unique ideas have now infused themselves into the commentary of broadcast, industry, and political leaders such that Lessons from the Trader Wizard offers different things to various readers. Traders will be exposed to a way of looking at markets that cannot be found in the classroom. Investors will find a clear basis for assessing the appropriateness of their portfolio with an increasingly global “trading floor”. Scholars of the dynamics of groundswell movements and social change will witness the direction cumulatively initiated by Bill Cara’s writings, which mirror his transition from that of altruistic trader-statesman to Free Markets Patriot. There are many ways to develop and envision the core thinking regarding Free Markets Patriotism and the protection of trader rights that Bill Cara uniquely advocates. Lessons from the Trader Wizard embellishes and puts into perspective the appeal of the daily journalistic correspondence on free-market dynamics that people, in growing numbers, have come to expect from the Bill Cara Blog.
Peter C. Simmons, Ph.D.
Chief Market Sciences Executive
Enterprise Support Company/ESC

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Peter Simmons RIP. I miss you


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