The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. – Michelangelo
I’m into Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” at the moment and in season 1, episode 10 one of the characters, Sloan Sabbith, talks about how the Greater Fool is an economic term for a patsy, someone who buys long and sells short, the person left holding the ball, the hot potato, the asset. She says that “This whole country was made by greater fools.”
And that explained something to me, something I have missed for a while. If you want to be rich you have to be willing to be the greater fool. If you want to achieve your dreams you have to be willing to be the greater fool. If you want to do anything all with your life, well… you get the picture.
Why is this – why do you need to understand and figure out what this means for you? It comes down to this – what kind of person are you? Are you the kind of person that tells others what assets to buy and sell? Are you the kind of person that buys and sells assets for others? Or are you the kind of person that buys and sells assets for others?
Whatever business we’re in we probably can see ourselves in one of these roles. We provide advice, we help with transactions or we build assets. For example, in the business of education you’re in the advice business if you’re a lecturer, you’re in the transaction business if you’re in management and you’re doing research and publishing you’re in the assets business. Sort of.
It’s probably not a clean model but with advice you have knowledge without responsibility or reward. With transactions you have a slice of the pie that may make you rich but you’re always conscious that you make a tiny percentage of the real money. But with the assets business you’ve got a chance of building real value.
That value is not just in money – it’s your ability to control resources that include time. If you know what you’re doing and are recognised as an expert then people value your time. This might be one reason why people go long on a field, spend many years learning and mastering a particular kind of work. This is a long-term investment in their own learning and development, one that they believe that they can sell short.
You know the story of the factory owner who had a problem that no one could figure out. Finally, they called an expert who walked around and then marked an X and asked them to replace that part. The expert sent in a huge bill for $10,000 and the owner exploded – asking how the expert could justify the bill for a walk and a chalk mark. The expert itemised the bill as, “$1: walking around and making an X, $9,999: knowing where to make the X.”
The greater fool is often used as a derisory term – I’ve used it when talking about cryptocurrencies. But what the Newsroom script told me is that we all have to be greater fools if we want to make something of ourselves. It doesn’t matter what you want to do – whether it’s to start a business, learn a trade, develop a skill, start a practice. You’re going to invest many hours, perhaps much money, to make a long-term investment in what you believe in.
And when you do that, in your own way, you’re a part of building the future.