This is a continuation of the previous two posts about lessons learnt after watching Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie about the famous rock band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie was a free spirited artist who lived recklessly. He brought joy to millions while bringing sorrow to those closest to him. Hence, he have the many life lessons that we can learn here. In this last post, we shall talk about a Chinese idiom - 祸从口出 (huo4 cong2 kou3 chu1).
In Chinese, the famous saying above states that disasters come out from one’s mouth. This is another lesson since time immemorial. Spiteful words are hurtful and could break friendships, bonds and even kinships. Words once spoken cannot be taken back and hence we should always be very mindful of how we speak and choose our words wisely.
Disaster comes from the mouth
It might be worth remembering that we should never say something evil or hurtful even if we meant it. We might mean it at the moment but we are bound to regret it later. Since words once spoken cannot be taken back, the person who hears it remembers it for life. Not for that moment only. So phrases like, “I wished I never had a father like you.” or “You are the most disgraceful child.” Should never, I repeat, never be said.
In one sentence, one’s life could change for the worst. So, never say things with hurtful or bad intent. For Freddie, partly as a result of his free spirited nature, he said things as it comes to his mind and his words pierced like katanas into those closest to him and those who cared about him. He sometimes meant it as joke or he just blurted it out at the spur of the moment. But it was painful to the listener (even for me, as the movie audience). He was mean to everyone, insulting reporters who were just doing their jobs. But for those closest to him, his poison tongue ossified friends, kins, partners. it was a miracle most of them forgave him.
In investing, this is manifested in stock price volatility.
Today, CEOs and leaders do not just say things. They can tweet, they can write and send company emails, they can speak rubbish at quarterly earnings conference calls and all that would be scrutinized by the world. One wrong tweet could bring down billions of dollars in market cap. Surely, Elon Musk comes to mind. His one tweet got him into serious trouble. (The one alluding to the Saudis taking Tesla private.) To upend that, he attended an analyst conference call and addressed it condescendingly which caused his stock to collapse further.
Elon Musk attacks!
Well, if we invest in stocks that had CEOs who are not careful how they speak, or write, then we need to be able to stomach that kind of volatility. Nothing against Elon Musk. He is a genius and a visionary. He just needs to learn the same lesson from Freddie Mercury. Fortunately, most CEOs and Chairmans are polished and learnt not to speak or write like that while climbing the corporate ladder. As investors, we actually have to look out for speakers who are too polished and are hiding things. The good news is: after years of interviewing managers, sometimes we can sense trouble. These skills do come in handy both in investing and in life.
Nectaring our tongues is perhaps more relevant in our family and social lives. We take those closest to us for granted and we simply blurt out hurtful remarks time and again. While some families, close friends and some teams can take lot of hurt and insult, I believe everyone has a limit. Yes, when we are very close, a lot of insults just becomes jokes after time. But I believe this should not be used to gauge that we are close enough. Even as close friends or families, we must remain vigilant. Never say things with evil or hurtful intent.
This is perhaps the most important lesson to me. So, that’s it. To summarise the four lessons from Bohemian Rhapsody:
1. Never betray those closest to you, parents, spouses, cadre friends. Although they will forgive you once or twice, but only so many times. Don’t live like a jerk. In investing, always look out for firms with financial and management integrity. If there is doubt, then move on, there’s not point in further analysing.
2. Never listen to just one advisor, identify the good advisors and listen to them wisely. In investing, beware of CEOs who doesn’t have the right advisors. Lookout for telltale signs like revolving doors of CFO and the other key managers.
3. Four heads are better than one. Teamwork works in creating music, in investing and in life. Don't always think you are right. We all need sparring partners who can make us better.
4. 祸从口出 (huo4 cong2 kou3 chu1)- disasters come from the mouth. Always think carefully before speaking. Words once spoken can never be taken back. Never say things with evil or hurtful intent.
Thanks Freddie Mercury. You are an inspiration but we never want to live like you.