My first boyfriend dumped me.
Thankfully, he was a gentleman, so he didn’t disappear without offering me valuable feedback: Stop being so damn critical.
My offense: He’d prepared a lovely picnic, one involving strawberries and Cool Whip, and because I have a thing about plastic food (despite a hypocritical weakness for Doritos and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches), I suggested that real whipped cream would be preferable.
No one likes a food zealot, never mind an ungrateful wench.
And while I’ve learned since then to show appreciation and gratitude for what works and brings delight, it’s not easy being a Pollyanna — I’m hardwired to find mistakes and want to fix them (whipped cream would have totally been better).
So it wasn’t surprising that I became a money manager. My mistakes were calculated in real time and down to the penny, blinking red on my computer monitor for extra emphasis, lest I failed to notice that we were costing our clients money.
Making mistakes and fixing mistakes are not the same things
While it’s easy to tote up investment mistakes, it’s a lot harder to gauge whether a firm ever learns from its mistakes. Investment mistakes are easy to analyze and compare; what’s not so easy or obvious is the analysis required to implement improvements, thereby avoiding (or at least reducing) similar errors in the future.
To quote from one of my favorite books, George Box’s Improving Almost Anything (how could a self-improvement freak not love that title?):
Nothing is perfect, and Murphy’s Law says that the day-to-day operation of the system itself can help to tell us what’s wrong with it. The catch is that it will only tell us if we listen. If we don’t listen, then the bug that’s in the system will cause the same glitch to happen again and again. … Another way of saying this is that ‘every operating system supplies information on…