"This is not investment advice"

So there's this disclaimer that I've noticed in a lot of blogs about investing—these are blogs that discuss different companies, their future prospects, potential risks, etc. These blogs will write up all kinds of information about these different companies, then tack this statement on to the start of each post, or on to the end of each post, or will otherwise have it somewhere on their site.

What does that disclaimer say? This is not investment advice.

It's similar to what you might see from a post by a lawyer or a doctor, something saying "this is not legal advice" or "this is not medical advice". And it's kind of an interesting artifact, because it almost feels meaningless as a disclaimer, right? Andrew Walker (a professional investor[1]) will write 8,000 words about ANGI Homeservices across three posts, complete with charts and data and consideration of different risks to the business, but he'll do so on a blog with a site-wide disclaimer that "nothing on this blog should be construed as investment advice". Who the hell wants that much information about a company from a professional investor if they're not looking for investment advice?

The distinction being made is a rather simple one, and it might seem legalistic at first—a difference in parsing words rather than in actual meaning—but it's actually a rather profound thing if you can appreciate it for what it is.

That distinction being made is between someone providing information that might help you, rather than someone telling you something they truly believe will help you, specifically. It's not (entirely) about someone washing their hands of responsibility, it's about someone acknowledging that they don't have all the context for you, your life, and everything that could or should influence your decision-making. Instead of saying "this is what you should do", they're saying "this is what I know and what I think and what makes sense to me, maybe that's something that could help you".

Something that was a real struggle for me growing up was just that I didn't have a lot of people I could turn to for advice that was really tailored to me, specifically. There's always a lot of people who want to tell you how to live your life, but very few people will ever know everything you've got going on in any given moment and be able to mold their advice to fit your actual situation. Something I'm really happy about with the American Leadership Foundation has been the opportunity to provide that kind of dedicated mentoring to our alumni, something I never really had. We even are working out plans to foster a network of mentors among that growing alumni pool that can spread that care out further and help us expand—the potential for growth there is really exciting.

But I also think there's an inescapable part of the human condition tied up in a situation we all find ourselves in from time to time: facing some unspecified set of problems on our own, looking for any advantage we can find against challenges that nobody else knows we're up against. We find ourselves cast as Lamar Allen in The Gambler, with a promising basketball career and a bad knee; we have real problems but they don't fit into predefined lines and there isn't a paint-by-numbers approach that will fix the picture for us. Those are the times I talk about when I say I want to "build the things that are there for us when no one else can be". Because when you're facing down long odds, you need every little thing you can find to improve your chances—even if it's just information from some stranger on the internet.

"This is not investment advice," because I'm not in a position to give you investment advice—I don't know anything about you.

"This is not investment advice," but maybe you'll find it interesting.

"This is not investment advice," but maybe you'll find it helpful anyway.

You can't count on strangers to fight your battles or fix your problems for you. But it's nice when they don't pretend they will or can, and it's even better when they can find something to offer that might just help you anyway.

  1. I should note that, in addition to being a portfolio manager at Rangeley Capital, Andrew Walker is a good writer, an overall cool guy, and his blog (Yet Another Value Blog) is an excellent resource. ↩︎