Rule Breaker March Mailbag: Dying Businesses, Risky Businesses, and Doing the Right Thing

Original Source    2018-03-31 00:03

It’s the last week of the month, which means that Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner has once again sifted through his Rule Breaker Investing listeners’ questions and comments to pick subjects to dive into for your elucidation and entertainment.

It’s a varied assortment this time, from discussions about Predictable Success author Les McKeown and the life cycle of businesses, to advise on specific stocks and niches, to broad investing principles. But he closes out the show with a dive into a topic near and dear to his heart: his reading list — and how he manages to fit so many books onto it.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on March 28, 2018.

David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing! As always, it is the Rule Breaker Investing podcast mailbag variety hour.

I say “hour.” We always try to bring it in under an hour, but we always have variety. I’m going to have multiple voices. Once again, lots of motley. Your questions coming from all areas of finance. Sometimes outside finance. All areas of the world, too, and that’s always a pleasure, as well, so thanks for writing in and making it fun each month.

Yup, that’s right. The final Wednesday of every month here at Rule Breaker Investing for our new listeners we do our Rule Breaker Investing mailbag and that means you can just drop us a note at [email protected] or you can tweet us on Twitter at @RBIPodcast. Please follow this podcast on Twitter. That’s right — we’ve reenergized our social media outreach. You’re going to actually see us tweet back sometimes when you tweet us at @RBIPodcast, so get in the game.

All right. Well, I’m going to be featuring a number of people who did get in the game, because we don’t have any content. If we don’t get stuff from you, there would be no mailbag, but once again, we’re replete and I’m going to start, as I did last month, with my Hot Take section. I’m not going to number these. I’m just going to react to short tweets often reflecting on the recent weeks of the show — the shows themselves — and just share some of the feedback there.

Now, history will show we did three other podcasts this month. It was an amazing month, really. We led off with Steven Pinker. My interview with him about his book, of course, Enlightenment Now. Then week two it was time to play our game — our quarterly game show with Matt Argersinger — the Market Cap Game Show. Did you beat Matt? Did you lose to Matt? And then last week I had another author — my friend Les McKeown — in to talk about Predictable Success.

Well, Bill Housley, reacting to last week’s podcast said, “I listened to your podcast on Predictable Success no fewer than four times. Going through some major changes at work. Not only was this podcast fantastic — it was also extremely timely.”

Well, Bill, you weren’t the only one to listen to it multiple times. Martin Triggs, @Triggs1Martin on Twitter, wrote in saying, “Thank you for this week’s guest Les McKeown. I’ve listened to it a few times and have ordered his book. Learned so much. Thank you immensely, Martin.”

Well, thank you Martin, and thank you to Les McKeown for joining with me last week. I love to think that you listen to each of my podcasts. I never presumed that anybody would, but one thing I’ll never, ever presume is that anyone would listen to one of these podcasts more than once.

Clearly, Les scratched an itch for a lot of us and I think it’s because Rule Breaker Investing, on the face of it, is about investing but, as you well know, my longtime listener, we talk just as much about business because, after all, that’s what we’re investing in, and that’s what a lot of us work for. Sometimes run or have started businesses. And we also talk about life, too. But I think Les McKeown’s pattern recognition that he gives us — as we think about the life cycles of businesses that we might have started, or be involved in, or be investing in — is such a relevant and helpful framework that he gives. I’ll be speaking to that with a mailbag item coming in a little later.

Well, as always, we got a lot of notes back about our Market Cap Game Show. Did you beat Matt? Did you lose to Matt? A few of you lost to Matt very badly. At least one of you got eight out of 10, which is remarkable after you said, “lost badly the first two times.” Well, wow, eight out of 10 ain’t bad, but what that tells me is that you’re learning, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the Market Cap Game Show, is get everybody more aware of market caps. It’s really helpful. When we talk, again, about pattern recognition, it’s awfully helpful to know the rough sizing or values of these businesses that we’re investing in. I’m so glad.

We’re going to keep playing that each time throughout the year and Randy, @FixedOn66, as we continue our Hot Takes, here, gave me the ultimate scoring suggestion. Thank you, Randy! We’re going to use this one, thanks to you, going forward. Randy wrote, “@RBIPodcast, re Market Cap Game Show, Episode 3, and your talk of how to score Matt Argersinger. I think you may want to score as a batting average.”

And you’re absolutely right. I was saying par. If you get four out of 10 you’re par for the course. The problem with that is you want to go over par — that’s true — and you don’t want to do that in golf. So, I was kind of stuck, there, with Matt saying, “We can probably score this game better,” and Randy, you have it right on. We’re going to go batting average from now on. So, 400 is kind of average in our game. It makes the Hall of Fame, of course, if you’re a baseball fan, but I really love batting averages. Of course, baseball is about to start again here in the United States of America this coming month, so very timely.

Another one. I just enjoyed this one from @Christian_Belko. Christian, you wrote, “I had my first double of a stock in my portfolio with CRM is the ticker. Thanks for all the great advice with buying and holding winners. I’m loving reading through the things to look for in new investments with The Motley Fool Investment Guide.” Well, thank you, Christian! Congratulations! I always like to share it back when my fellow Rule Breakers have big moments in their careers and for a lot of us, your first double is something you’ll probably never forget. I look forward, Christian, for you with your first spiffy-pop.

It is worth noting what he said, there, because it’s not just about finding the great advice to buy. He said, “Thanks for all the great advice with buying and holding.” That’s the big word for a lot of us. That is the word that many people have difficulty with, which explains, in part, why they never have had a five-bagger or a 10-bagger when for us, I hope, it will be de rigueur.

All right, just a couple more to close our Hot Takes section. Ben Stubbens, who I spoke to in an elongated manner in last month’s mailbag, Ben, you were kind enough @benstubbens to write back, “DavidGFool, you answered my questions — all of them! — on @RBIPodcast. Awesome! Thanks for such detailed answers though you could do with working on your British accent!” Well, noted Ben. Thank you. Noted, good fellow!

And then finally Shawn, who just simply wrote in, “David I like the mailbag without the numbering.” Well, I had asked for feedback. Should I number my mailbag items or not, and I didn’t do it last time, but Shawn, I hate to tell you. I don’t always listen and take in good user feedback. In this case, we are going to go back to numbering because I think it’s helpful, when I think about it, for future episodes to go back and say, listen to No. 5 on that particular mailbag. If I don’t number them, we won’t be able to do that as specifically, but thank you for the feedback, Shawn. Fool on!

Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag No. 1: This one comes from Anthony. “Hi, David. Great show. It seems to me that every business will eventually experience the death rattle stage.” Now, what Anthony’s doing, here, is he’s reflecting on the Predictable Success framework from last week and the death rattle, which is the final of all the stages; basically, the death stage for businesses that couldn’t pull back from treadmill and get back up to predictable success, as I hope you’ll remember.

And by the way, if these terms are confusing you, that means you missed last week’s podcast. I highly recommend you go back and listen to it — at least three times.

“Much like an aging body, a business, regardless of its level of success, will decline,” says Anthony, “as the effective synergy of its visionaries, processors, and operators grows to become imbalanced. Even the New England Patriots can’t be the New England Patriots season after season. Remember Plunkett and Ethan?” That’s an old-time NFL reference. Well played, Anthony.

“The answer is to stave off the inevitable by finding that synergy to maintain success and periodically modifying this proprietary blend to stay.” I think you mean here, relevant. “Alas, just like someone doing everything possible to stay young, every business will succumb to Father Time. Thanks for always delivering the goods, Anthony. P.S.: I will try to follow up with how this episode made me reflect on my own business. Got to get back to dancing.” He signs it with “Ballroom Blitz.” It sounds like Anthony has a dance business.

So, why do you open that up? I just want to make a couple of points about that — about the death rattle. Is it inevitable? Is it inevitable that every business will one day die?

Well, first of all, we should say yes, it is. Everything will one day die. It might be thousands of years. I believe the longest-running business on Earth has been around for — I’m going to make this up and you can google it — something like 600 years. I believe it’s a Japanese company.

The point is that’s a long time. That’s more than twice the age in the United States of America, which is the world’s longest-running democracy. That is a really old business. I think there are beer businesses that date back maybe a thousand — there are some businesses that have been around a long time.

Everything’s going to die one day. Our sun is going to die one day. So, yes. But I think a big part of Les’s point, point No. 2 for me, is that there is not an inevitable near-term death, or kind of a rise and fall within a single generation of any given business. In fact, the Predictable Success framework has you focused on the two things that you need to be balancing out to stay at the top, the capstone of the arch.

Again, if you’re an emergent, earlier-stage company, you need to add some process so that people don’t get confused as you scale. In order to scale well, you’re going to have to have some process in there. But, if process takes over too much and people are filling out too many forms and wondering why they have to do this thing that they’re now doing at work that they never had to do before; if you start getting that sense that process is taking over well, darn it, you need to start reemphasizing people and that’s Les’s point.

And if you do that, I think you can go for a long time assuming you have my two other components, which are points No. 3 and No. 4 in my answer. The third point, the first component you need to blend in with process vs. people orientation is your purpose.

Sometimes you might be balancing process and people really well, but the purpose of your entity is losing relevance. Maybe there’s some upstart competitor or new technology. You might be doing everything right internally, but the world is changing externally and so you need to be evolving your purpose.

If you’re a purpose-driven company like The Motley Fool, like a lot of “conscious capitalism” companies that we’ve followed and talked about here — and like a lot of the stocks I recommend because that’s something I look for — if it’s a purpose-driven business, make sure the purpose evolves, maybe, from one era to the next, at least, so that you stay relevant and stay on top of helping the world.

After all, Roy Spence, our former guest here on Rule Breaker Investing, says most good businesses these days are, in Roy’s parlance, “they’re in the life improvement business.” You should be. Are you in the life improvement business?

And then finally the other component, and this is my point No. 4 closing point and answer to Anthony’s note, is I think you have to have capital. You’re going to need to have capital. Now, if you rack up a lot of cash on your balance sheet, you have no debt, and you haven’t evolved your purpose very well, and you might be in treadmill, good news for you. You have a lot of capital.

The more capital that you have — typically I’m thinking about financial capital right now but, of course, human capital matters a lot, too — if you’re amassing capital, that is a wonderful proof against the eroding power of Father Time.

Again, to summarize, if you are evolving your purpose and you have a good base of capital, and you have “conscious capitalism” and predictable success in your head as the CEO or the person with their hand on the tiller, the entrepreneur, I think you can go a good, long time. And darn it. I hope your business — your organization — I hope it outlives you.

Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag Item No. 2: This one comes from my friend Jason Newman. I know him as TMFJayNew, or maybe CMFJayNew. Jay is a contributor to our Motley Fool forum team and a lot to our site. He’s also a longtime Motley Fool member. A guy I first met, I think, at a book signing back in New York City somewhere in the late 1990s. So, Jay, thanks for writing in.

You said, “Hey, David. I hope this note finds you well and that 2018 has been kind to you and yours. Looking forward to seeing you at FoolFest in a few months, if not sooner. As for my question, it’s more of a favor to ask if you don’t mind.

“While you touched on this subject during the Market Cap Game Show episode with Matt, I’m hoping that you can elaborate a bit more on the misconception that many people make with respect to their judgments of risk, accessibility, price, and more. I’ll call it investability,” that’s Jason’s term, “based solely on the share price.

“You see, I have this friend,” Jason writes, “named Todd, who’s one of the smartest friends I have. His mental capacity is astonishing, with a memory that rivals anyone I’ve ever met. He has this one skill where he can repeat written or spoken words back to you backwards in the most fluent, awkwardly eloquent way you’ve ever heard. If you listen closely, it’s even phonetically correct. I’m sure you’ve had a laugh or two hearing your name spoken backwards, Rendrag Divad, but when you hear Todd read an entire sentence or paragraph backwards, while you read along to check for accuracy, his speed and precision are incredible.

But, I digress. The bottom line is that he’s smart.” Jason goes on. “In the last month it’s been especially exciting for me to learn that my close, smart friend has begun to take a more active interest in investing for his future and that of his family; only, he keeps getting hung up on the share price.

“Todd, you should invest in Markel,” I’d say after discussing his risk appetite, only to have him come back to me and say, “That company you suggested I consider? Markel? The insurance company you described as Baby Berkshire? Well, it’s over $1,000 per share. Or Amazon.” Jason goes on. Google. Priceline/Booking. “Forget it. He’s ignoring some of the best businesses of our time on share price alone.

Long story short. Even after I explain that share price is not, alone, a direct indicator of a company’s value — or investability, if you will — my smart friend, Todd, still anchors to that number. Can you please help me explain? Thanks, as always, and Fool on!”

Well, I cast about for how to answer this one. I definitely have spoken to it many times before over more than a couple of decades, now. I’m trying to help you out, Jason, and I’m going to start speaking to you, now, Todd. I’m trying to help you out, and what I realized is that I’d written an essay, a short essay about this a few years ago and I was already answering this question, so I hope you find my dramatic presentation of this effective for helping, I would say, up your mental game as high within investing as it is within the spoken word. Here we go.

Yup, I wrote this four years ago this coming month, April 2014. This was the Rule Breakers introduction that I wrote to that issue. Here we go.

“Novice investors often lock onto the price per share of the stocks they’re buying. They love low-priced stocks. Reasoning one, you can buy more shares of lower-priced stocks, and two, if it just goes from $2 to $4, I can double my money. It sounds about 10 times easier on the face of it to double your money on a $2 stock than on a $20 stock. Let’s not even talk about a $200 stock.

But as Rule Breakers, we can see through the conventional wisdom, right? Conventional wisdom equals almost always bad here at The Motley Fool. I hope you will resist the instinct to pay much attention, if any, to the price of a stock, or how many shares you own. Follow Buffett’s advice. Pretend every stock is priced at $100 per share. In other words, get away from anchoring on the price per share and the number of shares you own. Get focused, instead, on owning quality companies and giving them patience over time to prove their quality.

We last did this study four years ago, so let’s update the story,” I went on in this essay. “Let’s look at the stocks that at their time of Rule Breakers recommendation had the 10 highest costs per share, and the ones that had the 10 lowest. For instance, the single highest-price stock that we’ve ever recommended at Rule Breakers was Intuitive Surgical at $567.06 a share in January of 2013. By contrast, the lowest-priced shares we’ve ever tapped were Orthovita at $4.19 in November of 2009. Now, grouping the highest 10 and the lowest 10, here’s how they’ve done.

“The average performance of the 10 highest” — again, this was at the time that I wrote this essay — “up 64.8%. That’s 21.4% better than the S&P 500. By contrast, the average performance of the 10 lowest-priced stocks we’d ever recommended was up just 14.7%, unfortunately minus 23.4% worse than the S&P 500. You read it right. Our highest-priced shares are way ahead of the performance gains of our 10 lowest-priced stocks.

“Now, I might opine that higher-priced stocks are usually on offer from larger, safer, and stronger enterprises, but I’m going to resist the temptation to assert that because my primary message to you is this: Don’t focus on price per share either way. Focus on the amount of money you’re putting into each stock, so if you have $1,000 to invest it truly doesn’t matter whether you’re getting 20 shares of a $50 stock or 500 shares of a $2 stock. What does matter, again, are all the other things we look at here at Rule Breakers: the strength of the management team, the competitive position of the enterprise, marketing, and technological savvy, consumer love, etc.

“To conclude, the data says that if you’re going to look at price per share at all, favor the higher prices. But, overall, just tend to ignore price and splits. Here’s Foolish — cultivate a love for great businesses.”

And that was the end of that response. Todd, I hope that was persuasive. Jay, I hope I helped you out. I will remind you, Jay, that if Todd doesn’t listen to this, or you find this was ineffective, this was Plan A. Plan B is to make a bet with your friend. That’s what I do with my friends. Anytime you want to prove something, make a bet.

For example, as we’ve talked about before on this podcast, here are a few easy bets to win. One of them — say you’re holding a number behind your back, one or two. You ask your friend, when somebody is looking, to double-check you behind your back. You say a dollar if you tell me which number it is. Most of the time they’re going to say two, because one is too obvious, so probably more than two-thirds of the time people say two, so always be holding one. There’s a dollar right there.

Here’s another way to make a dollar, especially in a bar. Maybe people have been drinking alcohol, and especially if it’s guys. Run up to a guy and start playing rock-paper-scissors right away for $1. You’re like, “One dollar. Let’s go. One, two, three, shoot.” If you do it fast and hard like that with a little bit of adrenaline, he will shoot rock. You’re going to shoot paper. You will win that bet more than half the time.

And finally, the baseball bet. Right? It’s baseball time of year. This is a great fact. Jason, I know you’re a baseball fan. Todd, I hope you’re a baseball fan. One of my favorite facts — another good bar bet in baseball — the team that wins the baseball game two-thirds of the time scores more runs in a single inning of that game than the other team scores for the entirety of the game. Again, two-thirds of the time. So, there’s some easy ways to win some bets.

Another one, to close, is to bet your friend that a small portfolio of higher-priced shares will probably beat his small portfolio of penny-priced shares. Good luck, Todd and Jason.

Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag Item No. 3: And I’m joined by my friend Aaron Bush. Aaron, how are you doing?

Aaron Bush: Doing well! Thanks for having me, David!

Gardner: So, you and I have talked a lot of stocks over the years, but typically when I’m having you back, especially for a mailbag on Rule Breaker Investing, what are we going to talk?

Bush: We have to talk crypto. It’s my new typecast.

Gardner: Indeed. In fact, it’s your calling and your job, here, at The Motley Fool. You transitioned off our Rule Breakers team in order to help run our Crypto Society service.

Bush: Indeed, and it’s been a blast doing that so far.

Gardner: That’s awesome. Well, Aaron, I’m glad you’re here because I’ve got this question from Michael, but before I go there, you were just saying something to me before you came on the microphone. What was that?

Bush: A couple of weeks ago I was with a few of my friends — there are four of us — and I was like, “Guys, let me show you something really quickly. Rock-paper-scissors, shoot!” The three of them went rock and I knew to go paper. And I won.

Gardner: Boom! I love it. So, it works.

Bush: It works.

Gardner: It sure does. Thank you, Aaron. Well, let’s see if this works for you. This one’s from Micheal. Micheal writing in on Twitter. Micheal has a remarkable Twitter handle. Micheal with an “eal,” and then the numbers go 2, 9, 9, 8, 3, 9, 0, 0. It’s almost like that’s probably a coded reference of something that I’m just missing. It’s not 867-5309, for example. But anyway.

“Hi, David. I’ve been playing a little catch-up listening to your Dec. 7, 2017, podcast on blockchain.” Well, speak of the devil. Here is Aaron Bush mentioning infrastructure plays.

“I wanted to know if there were any specific listed companies that he was looking at. Now, I don’t need to tell you, Fools, that there’s a lot of hype in this space, so I’m cautiously looking for smarter ways to take advantage of the trend. Thanks, Mike. P.S.: Love all The Motley Fool podcasts and subscriptions. You’ve made investing entertaining.”

Well, we do try to educate, to amuse, and to enrich. How about some educate and some enrich, Aaron Bush?

Bush: I’ll try my best. That was a really great question. When I think about infrastructure, I guess just thinking back at pre-crypto infrastructure first, that includes things like servers, routers, operating systems, HTTP, and things like that. Web 3.0 let’s view as more crypto-based. Builds on all of that. But it also rebuilds some of it, cutting out middlemen and accruing value to people who own pieces of open protocols like Bitcoin. Like Ethereum. Like most any other crypto asset that’s out there.

Key pieces of infrastructure that I think could be rebuilt for the crypto age are things like the domain name system. E-mail. File storage. Browsers, even. But I think it will also touch on some new things, like personal data management, which will be kind of interesting seeing the Facebook news going on. Prediction markets. Money itself, even. All these things, plus more, are built into the fabric of the internet, and all of these are building blocks of infrastructure

When it comes to public companies, which you specifically noted, there actually are very few out there that have anything to do with crypto infrastructure specifically. By definition almost, is open source, native to the internet, and is often token-driven.

I think you could say something like NVIDIA, which makes chips for cryptocurrency miners has a key technical role to play. You can even look at one of the exchanges, like CBOE, as financial infrastructure because they have Bitcoin futures and they’ll probably create other futures, things like derivatives, going forward that people can then use and build on top of for their own financial purposes.

Gardner: Of course, I love hearing you mention that stock, Aaron, because that’s one of my picks in Motley Fool Stock Advisor.

Bush: There you go.

Gardner: CBOE.

Bush: I think both of those companies are great companies. I think both are great without crypto, but if crypto takes off for them, that might be a nice boost. But I don’t know if necessarily both of them pass the snap test when it comes specifically to crypto, which is something I know you are fond of.

Gardner: Yes, this is my test, Aaron, and you’re quoting it on this show. Could you please lay it out for any new listener who doesn’t know our Rule Breakers snap test?

Bush: So, snap your fingers. The company is gone. Do people really care? So, in using it specifically for crypto, here, snap your fingers. NVIDIA or CBOE is gone. Do people really care?

Gardner: Uh, yeah.

Bush: Maybe a little bit.

Gardner: Oh, just for that. I think of it being the whole company. Like if NVIDIA went or CBOE went…

Bush: Oh, for sure. Those are huge companies in their own massive domains, but just specifically for the crypto, which is a sliver of both of their businesses, I think if you snap your fingers and that part of their business was gone, people could find other chips for cryptocurrency mining.

Gardner: The CFO might not even notice. It might take the auditors to show up, come in, and go, “Hey, what happened to the whole crypto thing?”

Bush: Like other exchanges are working on Bitcoin futures, too, so that might not be a huge deal. That’s my general take on crypto infrastructure and the stock market. It doesn’t really exist. You could even say crypto stocks is an oxymoron in some ways.

That’s my general take on that. That said, I’m more interested in infrastructure that’s native to crypto, and I think that’s something not to be overlooked, even if you’re looking for something potentially more stable and less hyped.

Still good things to keep an eye on. Ethereum, which we’ve talked about, is definitely the largest example. It’s the second-largest crypto asset that’s out there. It exists so that many other platforms and applications can build on top of it. It’s like a giant supercomputer in some ways that people can tap into. There will be others trying to do similar things. If I may just give one last example that proves the point…

Gardner: Please.

Bush: 0x, ticker ZRX, crypto asset. It’s super early stage, but I think it’s worth following. It gives good guidelines for what to look for in infrastructures like cryptoplay. They are a protocol for a decentralized exchange in the Ethereum ecosystem. What that means is that instead of trading through a middleman exchange, which is most any other exchange where there’s regulatory risk, where there’s custody risk where they take your money, instead trading occurs via smart contracts.

And anyone can build a front-end relayer exchange that sits on top of their back-end decentralized exchange technology and people who trade using it must use the 0x token. Essentially, it’s the backbone layer that others can build new services and applications on top of with a token that if you’re going to use any of those services, you have to use and pay a small fee, and that accrues value to that protocol.

It has a really sharp team who shifts code really quickly. They’re thinking, I think smartly, on how things will unfold strategically in building governance. It’s not necessarily a recommendation, but I think following them will give you a good place to start when it comes to looking at how infrastructure in the crypto world can exist and do a good job.

Gardner: Awesome. There you go, Michael. That was Crypto Corner with Aaron Bush. Wait! Are we creating a mini-brand on this podcast?

Bush: Maybe we’ll need another podcast or something. I don’t know.

Gardner: Listen, Aaron, as long as you’re here, I’m going to do Mailbag Item No. 4 and I want you to weigh in here.

Bush: Looks good.

Gardner: You probably have a better opinion than I do. Here we go. This one’s coming out of the blue. You don’t know what’s coming. I do. You’ll be ready, though. It’s from Chris Gimmer.

“Hey, David. Absolutely love your podcast. It’s one of the few that I tune into each and every week.” Well, thank you, Chris!

“I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Spotify’s upcoming direct listing. As a music fan, Spotify is one of my favorite companies, and it’s a product I use on a daily basis. As a long-term investor…”

Mnm, a tautology, Chris. You need to go back to Rule Breaker Investing 101. We don’t use the phrase “long-term investor” on this podcast because by definition investing is long term. I’m having some fun, there. Don’t take it personally, but you learned a great lesson, there. We don’t say long-term investor. Maybe people use that phrase elsewhere at The Motley Fool, or even in the world at large, but not here, my friend! OK, so I’ll just patch that up.

“As an investor, I think they have the clear lead in music streaming and I believe they’ll figure out a way to make the business more profitable. However, I’m cautious about the direct listing. Not sure what to expect. I’m expecting some serious volatility during the first week or two of trading. As a Rule Breaker, what are your thoughts? Thanks, Chris.” Well, thank you Chris! Aaron, what are your thoughts?

Bush: For one, I like the idea of doing a direct listing if they don’t need to raise money from it but still want to go public and be open about their business. I think that’s actually a great thing. Probably more businesses should do that. What do you think about that, David?

Gardner: What I think about it is do I want to own the stock or not? That’s primarily where I am. We’ve had a bad experience with Pandora.

Bush: It’s been rough.

Gardner: Pandora, to me, was such a good idea at the time. It was an out-front leader in the space. But what we’ve seen with Pandora’s severe underperformance over the years as things like Apple Music showed up, and Amazon had Prime Music, and Spotify got bigger and bigger is that it’s such a competitive field out there.

Typically, when I think about any listing, if it’s going to be a new company — an IPO, an initial public offering — which is when a company is born on the public markets, you can buy that bouncing baby for the first time as a public market investor. In general, we’ve been well-rewarded for waiting and seeing how things shake out, usually three to six months later. I think studies show six months later most IPOs are below where they were when they came out as a listed company for the first time. That’s how I’m feeling about Spotify.

Bush: I think Spotify is probably running laps around Pandora to be fair. They’re growing subscriptions, growing users pretty aggressively, and that’s really impressive. The main thing to look out for with Spotify is that the music business, by itself, is really tough. When you scale a streaming business, it’s hard to scale the profitability of that business because every song you play, every new person coming in and listening to music, you have to pay for that music, and it’s tough to get over that hump.

That said, I think something that could be worth looking at is, they can get so many users compared to everybody else and they become a dominant platform, maybe they can become more competitive in negotiating some of those rates down, in which case they could have a better and more profitable business.

Gardner: You know, the dream of every Rule Breaker is, in time, if it could, if it would, it certainly should become a Rule Maker. And the real question that I think about, living backwards from 25 years from now, is will there be a Rule Maker of streaming music, or will it remain a utility feature of the big dogs like Apple and Amazon? And where will Spotify or Pandora wind up?

One thing that’s fun about this is that it’s a business we can all watch. A lot of us are using these products or services, and so it’s very consuming-facing and there’s lots of lessons to be learned, especially if you’re a new investor. Take a look at how Spotify does. Let’s watch together.

Chris, in closing, I want to congratulate you for paying attention. Seeing that Spotify is planning on coming public and thinking that that might be a stock you’d like to buy. We’re certainly fans. As long as you’re not putting a lot into it, we’re certainly fans of getting some skin in the game right away. That’s what we’ve always talked about here at The Motley Fool.

We sometimes talk about buying in thirds. Let’s say that you want $3,000 in that investment overall. You could buy $1,000 in the first week or so. After the stock settles a little bit, and you’ve just got one-third of your investment and you’re buying in thirds, then let’s say a month later, wherever the stock is, with your eyes closed you go ahead and add that second third, that second $1,000. And then maybe a month after that another $1,000. Taking that incremental approach often, for a lot of people, unleashes their willingness to buy into things when otherwise they would have been gun-shy thinking, “I either have to invest all $3,000 or not.” That feels like a much bigger leap.

All right, before you go, a little Rochambeau. Are you ready to shoot?

Bush: I’m ready.

Gardner: One, two, three, shoot! We both went scissors…

Bush: We were both thinking the same thing.

Gardner: Someone’s going to win this. Ready? One, two, three, shoot! I went scissors again…

Bush: Oh, you won!

Gardner: …and it wins!

Bush: Hm.

Gardner: All right, thanks. Get out of here!

Bush: There must be some new strategic point worth mentioning about that. I don’t know.

Gardner: All right. I’m counting maybe three more mailbag items this month. Now, my last one I’m really excited about. I often try to save my personal favorite to last. I got a lot of questions about books and reading, so I’m going to have fun talking about what we read, how much we read, what you’re reading, how to think about reading. That’s to come. But in the meantime, a lot of excitement because first of all I see David Kretzmann, my former colleague at Motley Fool Rule Breakers. Another guy who left my team…

David Kretzmann: Sorry, David!

Gardner: … but you’re already here, David, in studio, and that’s awesome, because you’re going to speak to… What’s your new role?

Kretzmann: I am an analyst with Motley Fool Canada.

Gardner: That’s right, and we’ve got a great question from a Canadian Fool, so we’ll look forward to covering that one in a sec. But David, I’m just going to do my blurb on this one. I’m going to read it, but I’d love to hear your opinion, too, right at the end, so let’s go.

Kretzmann: Sounds good.

Gardner: This is a little bit of a longer read, here. This is kind of a storytelling moment. It comes from Isaac Melin. Isaac’s a 24-year-old, first-year med student from Plymouth, Minnesota.

He said he’d like to introduce himself by telling us his investing story and how we’ve impacted it so much. He begins, “I started investing on June 4, 2015.” I always love it when people actually name the date.

Kretzmann: That’s awesome!

Gardner: Like I don’t know what day I started investing, but I’m so glad that Isaac did on June 4, 2015, through Robinhood. “I knew nothing about investing but wanted to put my money somewhere other than my savings account.” Check.

“I went about choosing companies like this. I searched online. ‘Top Five Stocks to Buy Under Five Dollars.'” This already sounds like an earlier mailbag item. He only used articles written in the last two weeks, he went on to say, and would cross reference various organizations’ recommendations, looking for companies that showed up multiple times.

And this is totally understandable. You’re using Google to try to figure out how am I going to get started investing. What am I going to do when I have no background? But you have the right instinct. We can do better than our savings account. He goes on from there.

“Most of the companies were early stage biotech or pharmaceutical companies. I bought and sold stocks on a weekly basis, trying to time the mountains and valleys. Looking back on some of those companies now, they actually beat the market over two-and-a-half years. It’s unfortunate my short-term foolish approach prevented me from enjoying those fruits. With this strategy, my portfolio was down 28% on Nov. 4, 2016, exactly one year and five months. And by the way those are, unfortunately, a pretty good 17 months of investing for the rest of us since beginning investing.

Well, things started to change in January 2017,” Isaac writes, “when I found your podcasts online. I began listening to them on my way to and from work, picking up valuable knowledge and information each day. I began changing my investing strategy. Choosing more proven companies than speculative biotechs. I opened and maxed out a Roth IRA per Robert Brokamp’s recommendation. Bought into the war on cash per Jason Moser’s recommendation, and avoided Blue Apron and Snap like the plague.” Well played, Isaac.

“Other companies I bought into include Bank of Internet, Spark Therapeutics, and Delta Airlines. When the new investment book” — The Motley Fool Investment Guide, 3rd Edition — came out I bought and read through it. Finally, in January of this year, I bought a three-year subscription to Motley Fool Stock Advisor.

“Over the past few months I’ve been selling my Vanguard ETFs in my IRA and using that money to purchase the recommendations made by David and Tom. Since hitting my lows in November of 2016 that we talked about earlier, now my portfolio is up 48%. That’s +20% from my initial investment. I know the market was incredible in 2017, but I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the ride if not for all this stellar advice. Now to the question, which is really just another story,” Isaac writes.

“In the first week of February the market” — remember this, David? — “took a bit of a hit.”

Kretzmann: Oh, yeah!

Gardner: “I read several articles, Isaac said, about why it had happened, and really couldn’t pinpoint a good reason for the dip. And it was hammering great companies, some of whom had just reported great earnings. I belief the sell-off was irrational and that it would bounce back within the next month.

“So, I made a foolish decision. I took $3,000 out on margin from Robinhood for $15 and decided to only hold for one month. Again, my thought process was that I could buy solid companies who’d reported good earnings or companies who were about to report that I believed would be good; however, I did not want to hold long because I know that taking money on margin can be dangerous.

So, I bought Visa, Square, SunPower, Spark Therapeutics, and two smaller pharma companies I’ve owned for a while. At the end of the month I sold everything from that for a total gain of just under 10%. Now, I know it’s a small amount of money, but anything helps a medical student,” Isaac goes on to say.

“This strategy seems to have worked well for me, despite making the poor decisions of using margin and holding for a very short period of time. However, I felt that the fundamentals of the companies hadn’t changed. They’d just been caught up in the tide of panic, which was largely fueled by news headlines of ‘the biggest point drop in history.’ My question was this.” And David, let’s start with you. “Was this foolish, Foolish, or somewhere in between? Thanks for taking the time to read on the air this long email. Hopefully anything in the future will be shorter. Signed, Isaac Melin.”

Kretzmann: Well, Isaac, my personal opinion, unfortunately, that leans toward the foolish end of the spectrum…

Gardner: And I think Isaac sensed that himself. Didn’t you, David?

Kretzmann: Yes, he did get a good outcome, but in a case like this you really have to distinguish between process and outcome. Sometimes you can do a very dumb, foolish process and still have a good outcome, and I would put this in that category. But as Foolish investors, the one thing we can control is our process. Short-term market swings are inevitable. We can’t predict where the market will be in a month with any consistency or regularity, but what we can do is control our process of finding quality businesses that we think will become more relevant over time, patiently hold those companies for three-plus years. The Motley Fool’s track record and your track record, David, demonstrates that doing that process, practicing that process, usually leads to a market-beating outcome.

Gardner: And that’s very nice of you to say that that’s The Motley Fool’s process. I do think it is, but I think you’ll agree with me. Just an index fund — just the stock market itself — rises about 10% or so a year over time. I think even if you’re not a Fool — even if you’re just mailing it in with the gentleman’s C of the index fund — you’re going to benefit from what you just said, David, which is that patience.

Kretzmann: Absolutely. For me it really comes down to process, and as an investor your biggest advantage is time. Whatever you’re doing to lengthen your holding period when it comes to stocks will probably improve your long-term outcome but going with margin over a one-month period is really risky and probably won’t work out all that often.

Gardner: You know what I think is Foolish? That Isaac thought it out. He wrote it out for us. He even recognized that maybe this wasn’t the right thing. It worked for him, but that was very Foolish to get started saving, to be investing, to make the changes he’s made in the last year and a half, get the results that he’s gotten.

And even though he strayed briefly, I hope it wasn’t with too much of what he had. What if it had been a very bad next few months? I hope, Isaac, that wouldn’t have daunted you too much. A lot of us are used to losing money our first few years of investing as we learn to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and keep going forward.

Anyway, I love the human story and I love sharing through mailbag each month these kinds of stories because I think a lot of us can empathize with him and remember that we did that.

Kretzmann: And I think there is a lot to be said for testing and learning. In a case like this, Isaac made a relatively small bet and he learned from it. Something I would keep in mind is he mentioned that nothing had really changed with the businesses that he went into this trade with, but even quality and established businesses like Amazon, Apple — just look at Facebook over the past month — can really get dinged in a hard way within three or four weeks. Just because you don’t see anything dramatically has changed with the business, market sentiment can change very quickly.

Gardner: Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag Item No. 6. David, welcome back for this point!

Kretzmann: I’m glad to be back!

Gardner: It’s a delight to have you! Have you picked up any of the traditional Canadian accents that a lot of us Americans deal with, like the “eh?” and those kinds of things?

Kretzmann: Well, sorry David! I don’t have much for ya. That’s about all I’ve got.

Gardner: I enjoyed your Australian accent when you came back from Australia last year. Would you briefly favor us with that?

Kretzmann: Ah, g’day mate. Let’s go get APEC’s forecast for $9.99.

Gardner: I think David’s Australian is better than his Canadian. I think he’s pretty good with the Australian.

Kretzmann: I appreciate that.

Gardner: And your Canadian you’re still working on it.

Kretzmann: Still working on it.

Gardner: Well, this does come from a Canadian Fool, as a I mentioned. This is from Simon. And Simon went through some of the same things we just heard from Isaac as he got started investing. Making some mistakes, but not too costly when he started at the age of 18. He does mention he lives in Ottawa, and Ottawa is the capital of Canada. I’m going to mention something funny about that a little bit latter.

He said, “I’m now 32. I’m debt-free aside from my mortgage, which I have considerable equity in. Even if a 25% downturn occurs here in Ottawa, Canada, I’m not in the housing market considered at risk, but it’s good to know that I do have some safety margins.” He subscribes to Motley Fool Stock Advisor Canada, which we certainly appreciate. Thank you, Simon! He’s read our investment guide book, etc. Here is question No. 1 from him.

He says, “I like to research companies for stocks that I’m interested in. I’ve always been very strong mathematically.” He likes doing this. “I do,” he says, “have a regular full-time job, so I have to do this nights and weekends. Having said that, what would be your recommendation in terms of amounts of diversification? I’ve read that you can get most of the benefits of diversifying with 10 stocks. I was actually looking at an optimal level of 12 to 15 stocks. This would allow me to keep up to date with the companies without taking too much of my time.”

Kretzmann: It’s a good question. The short answer is that it’s going to be different for everyone. Now, the academic research out there will typically say that once you get above 15 or 20 stocks, or so, your portfolio starts to become more like the index returns, so some academics will try to sway people from owning too many stocks. With that said, I personally own probably close to 70 stocks.

As I mentioned earlier, as an investor your biggest advantage is time, so you really want to structure your portfolio in a way that you’re focused more on the long term — a multi-year holding period — rather than getting caught up in the short-term movement. So, if you do have only 10-15 stocks in your portfolio, especially if you’re a new investor, you’re probably going to pay a lot more attention to the inevitable volatility that comes with the market in the short term.

David, I know with Rule Breakers when new members come in, you encourage them to get to at least 15 stocks as quickly as they feasibly can and build their way up from there.

Gardner: That’s great. And David, you just shocked me with the number of stocks that you own. I love it. What was that number again?

Kretzmann: It’s close to 70. I haven’t done an exact count, but it’s a lot.

Gardner: Here’s a new thing. We’re going to debut a new term on this podcast. I don’t know if it will stand the test of time. Will it ever survive just this one podcast? Let’s call it the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum.

Kretzmann: I like it.

Gardner: And, of course, continuum with a capital “C.” This is the Gardner-Kretzmann with two n’s, right?

Kretzmann: Yup.

Gardner: We want to make sure people can spell it. It’s got a hyphen between Gardner and Kretzmann.

Kretzmann: OK.

Gardner: And the continuum posits that you should have roughly the number of stocks equivalent to the number of years you’ve lived on this Earth.

Kretzmann: OK.

Gardner: That’s is the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum. So, I think that I’m a fairly good example of this. I’m 51 and, indeed, I have approximately 51 stocks in my portfolio. Now, even though you’ve attached your name to this framework, David, you have blatantly violated it. You are an odd — you are an idiosyncratic creature.

Kretzmann: I’m just playing ahead, David. That’s all it comes down to.

Gardner: How old are you?

Kretzmann: I am 25.

Gardner: And you have 70 stocks. You are breaking the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum.

Kretzmann: I’m ready for retirement, David. What can I say?

Gardner: That is tremendous.

Kretzmann: Maybe I do need to work on my “GKC” score. I’ll have to pay some attention to that. One thing I’ll also mention is that even if you have a lot of stocks in your portfolio, you can still have a concentrated portfolio, because oftentimes, especially if you subscribe to the Rule Breakers style of investing, you’ll let your winners become a bigger part of your portfolio and even add to those winners over time. Even if you have, say, 50 stocks in your portfolio, there’s probably a good chance, if you’re a Rule Breakers style investor, that your top 10 or 15 positions will make up 50% or more of your total portfolio. Just something to keep in mind.

Gardner: You’re darn tootin’. Well put, David, from one David to another.

Kretzmann: I appreciate that.

Gardner: All right, from the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum we go to his second question, which is basically about Teladoc. Asking if that’s a stock that we like. I’m not going to speak to that, here. I will say that it is in our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service, so it is a company that we consider a Rule Breaker, and thanks for asking about that, Simon.

But the last one is the real Canadian question, David, so here you go. “Since I’m Canadian,” he says, “what are your thoughts about investing in a foreign stock exchange? From my perspective,” Simon writes, “it would be investing in U.S. stocks mostly, but from yours, it could be investing in global stocks outside the U.S. I’m mainly interested in hearing your view on investing outside of an investor’s home country and should there be focus on, let’s say, currency exchange rates before investing? Thanks again and love your RBI podcast.”

Well again, Simon, we love your note, because you enabled us to create an entire new investment concept this podcast. David, what are your thoughts about investing outside one’s country, especially thinking about Canada vis-a-vis USA.

Kretzmann: I think for U.S. investors it’s probably not quite as pivotal as it is for someone in Canada or another country. Using Canada as an example, if you just look at the primary index in Canada, the S&P/TSX Composite, roughly comparable to the S&P 500 here in the U.S., the S&P/TSX Composite is made up primarily of financials, energy, and materials or miners. About 65% of the index is in just those three industries, which tend to be industries that don’t represent a whole lot of our Foolish recommendations.

Gardner: You’re right. They’re also very cyclical and volatile, right? And they’re commodity-dependent.

Kretzmann: Right, so not industries that we generally will find attractive companies that we want to hold for the long term. Oftentimes, the Foolish Universe is made up of healthcare, consumer discretionary, technology, and things like that. So, in the case of Canadian investors, just buying an index fund in Canada, or a Canadian-based index fund isn’t getting you a whole lot of diversification. It’s actually overexposing you to three relatively unattractive industries.

So, if you’re a Canadian investor, I think the idea of investing in the U.S. or potentially outside of the U.S., as well, becomes more important for Canadian investors. And you see a similar story in other countries like Australia where it’s banking and mining that make up more than 50% of their S&P index there.

For U.S. investors, we have the benefit of a lot of foreign companies listing on U.S. exchanges, so we don’t have to go to a lot of trouble to open up a special brokerage account to invest directly on the ASX over in Australia, or the TSX in Canada. Companies like Shopify from Canada, or Atlassian in Australia, or Alibaba from China are all listing on U.S. exchanges.

And for whatever reason, it’s a lot harder to invest through a U.S. brokerage overseas than it is for, say, a Canadian investor to invest on U.S. exchanges. So, if you’re in the U.S., probably stick with companies that are listed on the U.S. You’ll get a lot of diversification as far as geography goes. As far as industries go. But for Canadian investors, in this case I think you’d be wise to look outside your home market.

Gardner: How does Motley Fool Stock Advisor Canada work?

Kretzmann: That service each month will recommend one Canadian company and one U.S. company that’s also been recommended over here in the U.S. in our U.S. services. We’re really trying to push members to move beyond that home-country bias, because we all tend to have that. Canadian investors oftentimes won’t go out of their way to invest outside of Canada.

One site I will mention, here, just to reinforce the importance of looking beyond that market. Over the past five years, the S&P 500 is up 69%. The S&P/TSX Composite is up just 24%. So, really trying to reiterate the importance to our Canadian members that you want to look beyond the Canadian market. We can find some attractive companies in Canada, of course, but we also want to look toward the U.S.

Gardner: All right. David, thanks a lot for joining me!

Kretzmann: Thank you!

Gardner: And thank you for your questions, Simon. And as I watch my friend David Kretzmann walk through the glass door, away from the studio, Anne Henry, one of our co-producers points out — and I agree, Anne, you’re right. She said, the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum should be about having at least the number of stocks in your portfolio as your years on this planet. So, at least. It doesn’t have to be exactly. I possibly misphrased the GKC in its debut. Mmm!

Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag Item No. 7: All right, and here we come to point number seven. This was prompted by a couple of notes. One came from Vikas Patel. Thank you, Vikas! You wrote, “Hi, David. Love your podcasts because they not only cover investing lessons but other insightful topics. The one topic or theme I really like is interviews with different authors and book recommendations.

“I did not grow up in the United States,” says Vikas Patel, “so sometimes I don’t know about these authors. Over the last few years I’ve come to know about great authors like Candice Millard, Kevin Kelly, David Allen, and others.” That’s right — all guests, here, on Rule Breaker Investing. Thanks, Vikas!

You say, “I started checking out their books from the library. The question I would have for you is how do you manage to read so many books? I struggle to finish good books and sometimes it takes months to just finish one. I’m sure I’m as busy as you are. I would appreciate your insight into this. Thank you.”

And I’m going to combo that with this note from Evan Marchetti. Evan has written in before. Evan, as you may remember, if you’re a longtime Rule Breakers listener is a Major League baseball groundskeeper who walks around doing the grounds in his local stadium listening to Rule Breaker Investing. Evan, here’s to you.

You’re asking somewhat of a similar question. “David, I’m a voracious consumer of books and podcasts, including but not exclusively those produced by The Motley Fool. Many podcasts feature an author interview promoting a new book, such as your recent show with Steven Pinker. Sometimes the interviews provide a satisfactory summary of the book, but often I’m intrigued and want to read the entire book in order to more fully assimilate the ideas or story. Of course, this is the aim of such previews, perhaps.

“I’m currently on a reading hot streak, sometimes devoting three or four hours a day” — wow! — “and yet I find the list of books I want to read growing at an exponential rate much faster than I can hope to read them. Your recent anecdote about your daughter surrounding herself with more books than she could possibly read rang very true for me. You mentioned how this activity can help distill what one really wants to focus on, since time is a precious and scarce resource. I know you’re a fan of frameworks and an avid reader.

Do you have a framework for choosing what books to read? I find myself balancing it almost randomly among topics. While there’s value in consuming a motley assortment of books, I’m yearning for a bit more focus. I give continued thanks for your podcast, which educates, amuses, and enriches me every week. Evan Machete, thank you.”

Vikas, thank you and thank you, Evan. Here are a few thoughts.

Thought No. 1 is why are we reading? And that might be my only thought because the rest of it is about that. Why are you reading? Why are you listening to this podcast? Why do you do anything? But let’s go back to reading. Why are you reading?

For me, I thought about it. I started a few buckets of why I read.

The first one that comes to mind is I read in order to know what’s happening. And what’s happening can mean something very local for some of us. It might be something that’s regional, or national, or global. And, in fact, I think the richer your life is, the more you’re able to think on each of those levels. We’re all human, of course.

But to read to know what’s happening — and as we’ve talked about on Rule Breaker Investing — I shifted last summer to no longer following the regular news every day. Not refreshing a browser and seeing what the latest is the last couple of hours. A lot of negativity and really, frankly, a lot of tree gazing when we should get up and look at the forest a little bit more.

For me, I’ve taken to reading The Economist, to know what’s happening. It comes out weekly. It’s a magazine. And now I realize I need to close the loop on something I was talking about with David Kretzmann, because there’s a very amusing Economist article this week. If you’re an Economist reader, you probably can just google it, as well. The title of it is, First family’s fixer-upper, but it’s about a really interesting situation in Canada, in Ottawa, the equivalent in Canada of the Prime Minister’s residence. Here in the U.S. the equivalent of the White House.

In Canada it’s 24 Sussex. It’s a 34-room limestone mansion in Ottawa, and it’s not presently occupied by Prime Minister Trudeau and his family. And the reason is because it’s about 70 years old, and it’s run down. It’s asbestos infested. It’s got leaks. It’s got lots of problems, and Trudeau has been reluctant to ask the Canadian people to fund the upkeep of his personal residence as the Prime Minister. Instead, he’s living in another house as a guest. This is the head of state who doesn’t want to ask the Canadian people for money.

Maybe they wouldn’t give it, but it’s kind of ironic to think that the 34-room mansion at 24 Sussex is unoccupied in Canada. There’s the funny Ottawa story that I meant to mention to David Kretzmann before he left. But back to it. That’s from The Economist. That’s what I read in order to see what’s happening.

Now, bucket No. 2 is I like to read lots of books and, in particular, sometimes magazine articles to figure out where we’re going. That’s a big focus of ours, here, as fellow Rule Breakers. We’re going to do best when we know where the puck is headed, skate to it along with Wayne Gretzky and all our fellow Canadians get there ahead of time with our money. So, it’s awfully helpful for me to read books like The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly or share Steven Pinker and his thoughts with you, so we can think about where the world is going.

Of course, a lot of different things do that. You can pick your source and find whatever you like. For me, longer-form books do a good job with that, and so that’s a second big reason why I read, and I do it for you, too, because I give investment advice. I’m picking stocks every month here at The Motley Fool. I’ve done it for a couple of decades, now, so I feel a responsibility to think about where the world’s headed. I get it wrong a lot, but when we get it right, it can be wildly profitable. So that’s a big reason that I read.

A couple of more reasons I’ll mention to close. Another reason I read is because I’m in a book club. Are you? I’m in a book club and I really enjoy it. I don’t pick the books. The founder of our book club, a friend of mine here in Washington, D.C. named Keith Hennessey, is the one who picks the books for us, and it’s a motley mix of books. For example, I really enjoyed a book last year called Triumph of the City by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser. I might have him on the show at some point this year. It’s a great book about why people historically have moved into cities and why cities triumph. That’s a great book.

Or right now I’m reading a book for the book club next week called The Evangelicals which looks at the history of especially the Protestant Christian church in the U.S. starting with the Great Awakening of Jonathan Edwards right through to this year. And just finding out where all these different splinter groups, and sects, and some crazy, interesting stories over the last couple of centuries. This book won the National Book Award last year for nonfiction. It was written by Francis FitzGerald.

Now I’ll give you a little secret about my book club, and I hope you won’t think I’m bragging, but this is something you can try with yours, too. We always have the author at our book club. We are only going to do a book and read it if we get ahead of time an OK from the author saying, “Yes, I’ll join with you.” We’ll take out a small room in a restaurant somewhere around Washington, D.C. and we’ll get to meet the author and discuss the book with him. There’s a great reason that I read, because I get enriched by books I would never have otherwise read as part of a book club.

And then my final reason for reading is this is something that I’ve done for my 27 years of marriage and actually the five years before that since I married my college sweetheart. I read out loud, and I do it almost every day. As my wife makes dinner — she’s the cook, has talent, and enjoys it — and I enjoy reading out loud. We discovered early on in our relationship that she loved being read out loud to. So, there’s another reason that I read in order to connect with another human being who’s important to me. So you have to ask yourself why you are reading and think about it.

Then I think a lot of the rest is solved for you. For example, the authors that I bring onto this show can give you ideas for books you might want to read. Or if you like my idea about what we do in our book club. Let’s say you’re not in Washington, D.C. but you’re in Seattle, or you’re in Los Angeles, or London. You’ve got a lot of interesting and fascinating authors in your city who probably would enjoy knowing that somebody is reading their book three years later and join in with you for a supper. So there’s an idea you can swipe. But take advantage of your local resources and ask yourself, “Why am I reading?”

Finally, let me mention that you overrate me dramatically if you think that I read a ton of books. The truth is I read very slowly and even worse news for me, my retention of what I read is very poor. I’m probably in the bottom decile of those who retain what they’ve read. I read in order to stay current, and stay interested and engaged, and bring you things that are interesting.

But my own reading comp probably isn’t that great. And do remember that when I’m bringing you authors, I have read their books, but sometimes it’s that I read their book five or 10 years ago. I didn’t have a podcast back then to share them with you, so I’m able to bring them forward, but please don’t think I’m reading that many books a year I just can’t get through. I probably read about 15 books a year. Something like that.

Now, I will mention in closing that the Pew Research Center just last week printed that 24% of Americans did not read a book last year. 24% of us did not pick up a novel or a nonfiction book and finish it. But the good news is 76% of us did finish at least one book, because we all have unprecedented access, whether it’s online digital books, or our local libraries, or the ideas that we get from friends and podcasts and all the rest. I think there’s a lot of reasons to read a book. I hope you’ll read at least one this year. You heard it here first on Rule Breaker Investing.

Finally, next week. About twice a year, I bring forward Motley Fool corporate culture and I share some aspect of it with you. Next week we’re going to introduce the phrase, “What’s Your Motley,” the core value that each of our employees brings to our company. That’s one of our core values. I’m going to explain how that works and invite about five to eight of them on the show to discuss their personal core values. I think it’s going to be really engaging and I hope you enjoy it as much as I’m planning to. In the meantime, Fool on!

As always, people on this program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don’t buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Aaron Bush owns shares of Amazon, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), BofI Holding, Cboe Global Markets, Facebook, Markel, NVIDIA, Shopify, and Square. David Gardner owns shares of Amazon, Apple, BofI Holding, Booking Holdings, Facebook, and Intuitive Surgical. David Kretzmann owns shares of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), BofI Holding, Booking Holdings, Facebook, NVIDIA, Shopify, and Square. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), BofI Holding, Booking Holdings, Facebook, Intuitive Surgical, Markel, NVIDIA, Pandora Media, Shopify, and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Square and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Cboe Global Markets,, and Teladoc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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