I had the feeling that Steve didn’t believe me. But I had no idea he would go behind my back to try to prove me wrong.

It was the spring of 1999. Steve had recently been hired by my client to write an investment newsletter. He had the qualifications: an MBA and Ph.D. from good schools, experience both in the front and back rooms of brokerages. But he didn’t want to sell stocks. He wanted to write about them.

When I saw his first effort I was impressed. The analysis was sound. The research was deep. There was only one problem. His writing was terrible.

It wasn’t sloppy or illogical or even ungrammatical. But it was incomprehensible. It read like a treatise. It was the kind of writing that you might get away with in academia but could never pull off in the real world.

I called him into my office and told him about my secret antidote for writing like his: the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. The FK is a computerized tool that looks at the length of your sentences, how many syllables there are in each word, and other data. It then rates the entire piece in terms of reading ease. A rating of 5.0 or below is very easy to read. A rating of 10.0 or above is very difficult to read. A score between 5.0 and 10.0 is what you’ll find in most newspapers and magazines.

I explained to Steve that my goal is to keep my writing – no matter how complicated the ideas I’m trying to express – at 7.5 or below.

Then we analyzed Steve’s writing. It had an FK of 12.0. Almost off the chart.

“You won’t get a big audience with such a high FK score,” I said. “You have to work on simplifying your writing. Get your FK down to 7.5. You’ll be a better writer, have more readers, and make more money.”

He thanked me for the advice. But, as I said, I could tell he didn’t believe me. What I didn’t find out until years later was that he spent almost two months trying to disprove what I’d told him.

Read MoreK.I.S.S.

No Place is Better Than Home

No place is better than home. “East or west, home is best” — upon completing a round-the-world trip, Andrew Carnegie illustrated the universality of that sentiment with two stories: • After hearing that he came from a country where rivers froze, tapioca workers in the woods near Singapore felt pity on him and invited him to come live with them. • A Laplander, having made a fortune and traveled to all the great cities of the world, came back to his native town, Tromso, and built a two-story house — which by local standards was a mansion.

Government Waste

Great article on government waste by Dustin Siggins for Hotair.com. First off is simple abuse that is acceptable for the well-connected politician but disgraceful and/or illegal for anyone else – small change, but ultimately emblematic of the systemic corruption in the federal government. Case in point is how former Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) gets a pension and other benefits for the rest of his life, despite resigning in disgrace. President Obama, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, is almost certainly using taxpayer dollars for campaign trips – illegal, but obviously acceptable under both parties. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) was busted for solicitation, but never spent time in jail. He will get a pension and other monetary benefits, same as …

Read MoreGovernment Waste

The Economics of Customer Service

I once “fired” a client – let’s call him Jerry – who had paid me more than a million dollars and wanted to keep on paying me more than 20 grand a month. In every aspect but one our relationship was terrific. He was fun to work with. He was a natural-born salesman. And he was a quick study.

The only trouble: He didn’t believe in “customer service.”

Jerry’s business grew because of his management and marketing skills. He kept the overhead low and created compelling advertising campaigns that sold his products at deeply discounted prices.

But he had no interest in getting to know his customers or in helping them in any meaningful way. To him they were an objective means to a profitable end. In fact, he had a sort of disdain for them – as if he felt they were fools for responding to his offers.

Another thing that bothered me was that his products were inexpensively produced (they had to be because of his discounted pricing) and, thus, relatively inferior in quality.

I tried to convince him that this may have been a valid approach when he was breaking into the market – but he had to gradually improve his products if he wanted to be successful over time.

“Consumers are very aware of price,” I told him. “But most customers are looking for long-term relationships with the people they buy from. They may give your product a try because of its low price, but they won’t stay with you unless they are happy with its quality.”

He didn’t get that.

So I said, “Think about all the purchases you’ve made in your life. I’m sure you shopped price when, for example, you went looking for a new car. But I’ll bet a year or two later, though you may have remembered what you paid for the car… what really mattered to you was how well it held up. And how well the dealer treated you.”

He laughed at that. “Maybe. But I’m still always concerned about price.”

Then I reminded him of Joey, the kid he’d hired to work on his phone system. He hired Joey because he was willing to work for $20 an hour, while more experienced techies were charging three times that much. “You were happy with Joey when he started. But when it looked like it would take forever for him to get the job done, you fired him and hired someone more expensive.”

He gave me that. But I couldn’t get him to budge on the customer service issue. Meanwhile, the market he was in was getting more competitive. Product and service quality overall was improving. But not his.

I could see the writing on the wall. And that’s when I “fired” him.

Read MoreThe Economics of Customer Service

The American War Racket

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Bill Bonner earlier this week for the Daily Reckoning: War is a racket. Always has been. Major Gen. Smedley D. Butler explains: “[War] is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. When George …

Read MoreThe American War Racket

Irish Baby

An Irishman was drinking in a bar in London when he gets a call on his cell phone. He orders drinks for everybody in the bar as he announces his wife has just produced a typical Irish baby boy weighing 25 pounds. Nobody can believe that any new baby can weigh in at 25 pounds, but the man just shrugs, “That’s about average up our way, folks…like I said – my boy’s a typical County Clare baby boy…” Two weeks later the man returns to the bar. The bartender says, “Say, you’re the father of that typical Irish baby that weighed 25 pounds at birth, aren’t you? Everybody’s been making’ bets about how big he’d be in two weeks …. …

Read MoreIrish Baby

The First Child

The first child is born well and brave He must endure the ice and fire His heart a crucible of gold A cup to hold his parents’ hopes The second is born slyly smart For he cannot ever be first He learns to measure every risk And weigh his options privately The last child is born in lightness He learns to lure what he can’t fetch And feels oppressed by his elders Yet burns to be equal to them Still, the firstborn is worst born He is ahead of everything And behind nothing except his Parents’ foolish expectations

Do You Need “the Mindset of a Champion”?

Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

Do you have the mindset of a champion?

Are you able to look at your career challenges and feel certain you can overcome them? Do you feel, like Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordan must have felt, that you have greatness in your soul?

If your answer is “no,” don’t worry. I don’t have that mindset either.

I never did. I never felt like a natural-born winner. I never had the confidence that the people I admired seemed to have.

Read MoreDo You Need “the Mindset of a Champion”?

Believing Your Own Delusions

I have always been interested in martial arts but have never been taken in by stories of masters who could do superhuman things. I’ve heard stories of octogenarian black belts who could disembowel opponents or knock them over with the touch of a finger. My response was always, “How come I never see that in million-dollar mixed martial arts events?” The answer was always, “The master is too refined for that.”  These videos show what happens when such masters start believing their own BS.