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There Are No Shortcuts

There Are No Shortcuts

January 30, 2023

If you’ve read some of my other posts or watched some of our videos, then you might be familiar with my commentary around shortcuts. To summarize, I always argue that there is no such thing as a shortcut, or that shortcuts don’t address real problems.

Everyone is probably familiar with the simple fact that a race, whether a 5k, half marathon, marathon, or any other race defined by distance, involves one course that every participant must follow. Everyone also probably understands that if you deviate from the course, you are typically disqualified—this is especially true if the course you choose results in you having an advantage. Much like a lot of other things in life, though, I don’t think this is something that too many people think about sufficiently to truly understand its implications for other aspects of life.


With any race, the problem at hand is the race, itself. In other words, the solution that you must provide is to traverse the distance between where you start and where you are supposed to finish. If you don’t traverse that distance, every bit of what has been mapped out, then you have not provided a solution to the problem you have been given. What you have done is provided a solution to a completely different problem—you’ve run a completely different race. The fact that you aren’t solving the same problem as everyone else is precisely why cheating will get you disqualified.


The point, here, is that you should absolutely be wary of solutions backed by a lack of substance, or pitched as easy, and maybe even being all but completely void of time and effort. A solution lacking in substance is most likely not aimed at the real problem at hand. As we discussed earlier, true solutions solve problems, but only if those problems have been accurately defined. So, to the extent that solutions don’t solve problems, it’s most likely because the problem has not been defined sufficiently.


To be perfectly clear, it’s not that I don’t understand the appeal or pursuit of shortcuts—we all lead busy lives. Further, getting to the other side of the finishing line, and enjoying what waits for us there, is what we’re all after. So, it’s really not hard to understand why we would want to shorten the journey for the sake of enjoying the destination. If you’re going on vacation, though, you still have to make that drive or take that flight. Otherwise, you’ll never get there.


Problem Manufacturing


We live in an interesting time where two people from opposite sides of the globe can connect in a virtually instantaneous manner. Technology is obviously responsible for our ability to connect so easily. While such connections are driven by the demand and desire to connect, and being able to connect is a good thing, technology, just like anything else, comes with both good and bad aspects.


In a previous blog, we discussed the roles of “advocates” and how social hierarchies can play a part in our actions as investors. One of the bad aspects that is pertinent, here, is the ability of “advocates” to reach us, often without us asking. These “advocates” don’t just want to chat, though—they want to climb our hierarchies, just like anyone else.


There might be no better evidence of this than what we find on social media. Whether it be the people we know, people we don’t, or private and public entities, everyone seems to have an angle—e.g., advice, often in the form of goods and services, to sell, which also means they have something to gain. The funny thing about selling solutions, though, is that they actually have to solve something. In other words, you can’t sell a solution to nothing.


A point that should spark curiosity: if you didn’t go to someone else with a problem and request help with a solution, then why, or how, could one possibly be offered to you? To make sure that we have beaten our dead horse beyond recognition, a solution must have a problem. But you didn’t provide a problem, so who did and how? This is really kind of an easy one: the “advocate” did by manufacturing a problem.


You know that TV that you bought a few years back with a pristine 1080p picture that has served you and your family well, and continues to do so? Sorry, but 4k is now the definition of pristine, so that TV is not serving you nearly as well as you think. In fact, it’s doing you a disservice by depriving you of the kind of visual experience that you could be enjoying—it’s exacting an opportunity cost.


Any delay, even seconds, is too long to wait to replace it. Don’t have the money? No problem. 0% financing with no payments for 12 months is available. Seriously, what are you waiting on?! The time to act is now! We’ve removed every possible barrier, do you not see?! That’s it—we’re calling your friends over to make fun of your crappy TV! Maybe then you’ll smarten up.


Alarm Fatigue


You don’t have to be a social media junky to know that solutions to manufactured problems are all around us. Billboards, commercials, emails, online pop-ups, phone calls, app notifications, and even friends, among many other sources, are all there to tell us just how much our lives could stand some improvement. To be clear, this message is not always delivered in explicit form.


An advertisement for food must be for the purpose of letting people know that there’s food available, right? They need to know this, because they’re hungry, right? I mean, that’s why we eat, isn’t it? Or is it?


You should come eat our fried chicken, because you’re hungry. It’s not your job to tell us if you’re hungry. Heck, it’s not even your job to be hungry. #tastebudlivesmatter


What all of this amounts to is constantly being bombarded with messages that essentially involve an alarm being sounded. The alarms, thankfully, are there to tell us that our lives should be improved because we’re obviously too oblivious to realize it. Further, the urgency in the messages only serves to compound their alarming nature. I mean, you must act now or not at all, right?


There are two things that I believe are worth mentioning here that are the direct result of alarms constantly bombarding us.

  • First, just like a parent who runs a red light, because his/her child is sounding an alarm in the back seat, we run the risk of important signals getting lost in the noise around us.
  • Second, just like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, we run the risk of cynically dismissing alarms, because of a loss of faith—this is alarm fatigue. Though the specific reasons differ, the net effect of both of those points is the same: we do not heed the legitimate warnings around us.


Alarm fatigue, in particular, has an interesting impact. If it is true that we are bombarded with as many messages as it seems concerning things that we need to change, then it would only seem natural to not only begin ignoring many of the alarms around us, but also to seek easier and easier ways to get problems off of our plates—i.e., seek more shortcuts. The only problem is that if we are in the position we are in, because we have mistaken shortcuts as solutions, and we then look for more shortcuts, then we have created a positive feedback loop that will only compound the detriment with which we are already dealing.


In addition, it was proven that the boy from The Boy Who Cried Wolf eventually had a real point he was trying to make. In other words, for all of the times that his warnings were false, only one true alarm was needed to prove that you can’t completely dismiss every single warning, ever, from any source. For this reason, the problem is not necessarily as simple as conditioning others to not sound false alarms—after all, other people are outside of our control. The real problem might be best defined as having allowed the wrong person ascend an important hierarchy, which is more complicated, but completely within our control.


This is all certainly true of the financial realm.


Online pop-up: You don’t have enough life insurance


TV commercial: You’re not earning enough on your money.


Friend: I’m incredibly successful at investing. The implication of my statement is that you aren’t. No, I don’t need to ask you whether you are—it’s my job to tell you whether you are. Oh, and I’m also not going to tell you about all of the times that I lost money. Don’t even dare to ask to see my statements to verify that what I am saying is true.


All of this sets us up for a very real problem: we allow the wrong folks to ascend our hierarchies and we don’t allow them to be replaced when they should. Sometimes, depending on how persuasive an alarm is, we allow folks to ascend our hierarchies pretty quickly. If someone new now sits atop our hierarchy, then this means he/she has replaced whoever was previously at the top.


What if the person being replaced didn’t need or deserve to be replaced? Have they been replaced because the new person is truly superior or deserving? Have we even taken the time to evaluate things as we should?


So, what we have done, here, is identified a problem: we follow the advice of some folks that we shouldn’t. Like anything else, I won’t ever present a problem without a corresponding solution. The solution to this problem is a simple one, at least in concept: the other person must understand you and your situation. In order to do this, they must obviously ask questions. If they don’t, then it’s probably a good sign that they do not deserve to ascend your hierarchy.


Confirmation of what he/she understands comes when he/she is able to accurately describe the situation at hand and what your thoughts and concerns are about it. This is the minimum standard that should be established to evaluate the prospects of any new advocate. Be sure to take your best interests seriously and hold a prospective advocate to account. If you don’t, how do you know they will?