Minesweeper, Free Cell and the Nature of Life

© Can Stock Photo / paulgrecaud

I recently upgraded my primary computer, a Microsoft Surface tablet. After using only a touchpad and touch screen for a few years, I decided to try using a mouse again. One quick way to acclimate is by playing games in my downtime.

The solitaire card game FreeCell has a fundamental difference from the puzzle game Minesweeper. Any game of FreeCell may be won, with enough thought or trial and error. You may go back to it as many times as you want to solve it. It is possible to win every game, sooner or later.

Minesweeper, on the other hand, forces you to make decisions from a position of uncertainty. You can know many things about the terrain, but not everything. You can learn more by leveraging what you know. But in the final analysis, you must act even though you cannot know everything you want to know. Sometimes you set off a mine, and that game is lost.

If investing were like FreeCell, all we would have to do is study and think enough, and every holding would be a winner. But investing is like Minesweeper—we cannot know everything we would prefer to know, and sometimes things blow up.

Some approaches to investing try to make it look like FreeCell: charts and graphs and computer models, all very scientific. But you know and we know it is like Minesweeper, prone to periodic blowups. There is no point in trying to disguise the nature of the game. The markets go up and down. Some years are down years. Volatility is an inherent part of long-term investing.

In other words, investing is a lot like life itself. We do the best we can with what we have, and deal with the surprises as they come up.

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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.