“Just Do X”

May 19th, 2016 by Potato

“Just” can be a dirty little word. Sandi Martin has done that rant a few times, most recently on Twitter, and Chris at Rags to Reasonable incorporated it into his love letter to financial planning.

To put it simply, not everyone has the background and expertise for all problems to be easy, or for short-hand to make sense. “Just open a brokerage account and buy 3-4 ETFs that give you global diversification” is good advice, in that it is something someone could act on and would be in their best interest. But unless they already have a brokerage account and experience buying stocks or funds and the associated skills and knowledge, the “just” is deceptive as to how hard that is to do the first time. Now to toot my own horn, that’s exactly why I wrote The Value of Simple the way I did, because so many other guides take for granted that you already buy and sell stocks or mutual funds and they just have to convince you to shift your focus to a slightly different set of things you already know how to buy. But making the implementation seem like it should be oh-so-simple can make people feel bad for asking how they’re supposed to go about it.

But it’s hard to see that when it’s something you know and know well. So let me give you an example from science: just take a Fourier transform, and solve in frequency domain (or in imaging, k-space). This is rather simple, rather helpful advice that can solve a number of life’s problems (or at least, physics problems). But this advice is probably completely unusable unless you’re about three or four years deep into an undergraduate physics or engineering education. Indeed, it may not even make sense without some background knowledge in the field (are those words?).

For I would wager the majority of Canadians out there, acting on “just buy a few ETFs” is just as difficult to implement as “just take a Fourier transform” without doing some further research. (Fortunately, that further research in the first case will not involve several years of undergraduate math and physics, and can be done with a single book, pulling up a few dozen blog posts, hiring some coaching/educational help, or taking a course or two).

2 Responses to ““Just Do X””

  1. Edward Says:

    Seriously? If I read the word “just” and have no idea what the hell someone (or a group) is talking about I quickly realize, “Yeah, guess I got some book learnin’ ahead of me.” Sandi seems bent on splitting hairs and moaning about a single word. So, it might not be easy for the newbie investor, but they’re actually going to have to put a few hours in and actually learn stuff. Otherwise, probably best to “just” stay out of it.

    “You’re car’s broken. You just need to replace the carburetor.”
    Me: “Guess I’m gonna have to figure out how to do that then. It’s better than having a cry in the corner because I don’t know anything about carburetors and I’m upset because the mechanic used the word ‘just’.”

    What are people supposed to do in their tweets? Write every single thing for the lowest common denominator now?

  2. Potato Says:

    Well, context is important. If the context is someone saying “You don’t need a mechanic, repairing cars is easy! Anyone can do it! Just replace your carburetor,” well, that’s not so helpful for the intended person. The newbie walks away thinking “maybe I do need a mechanic, because these DIY guys have a lot of shit figured out that I don’t have the first clue about.”

    If the context is more the mechanic saying that all that stands between you and having a road-worthy car is to just replace the carburator, then that’s a bit different. Now you have the choice of learning it yourself, or paying the mechanic, and the “just” isn’t nearly the same shock — you may expect that he’s using expert short-hand and you’ll have some stuff to learn first.