“A lot of shavings don’t make a good carpenter.”

My carpenter said to me as I watched him work, perched on a stool. He was shaving a wooden panel from my work table. I had been complaining to him for over a week about one of the drawers that creaked as I pull it out. This is really odd for a brand new, custom made table. Usually these issues creep up over years when changing weather and moisture take their turns to age the wood. Now that he was here and identified the problem, he got right to work.

He made me empty the drawer and observed what had gone wrong. To my untrained eye it was all straight lines, but he spotted something and pulled out a tiny wood shaver and shaved a small portion. He said that “the apprentice in my shop who made this drawer shaved some part of the drawer far more than necessary. Maybe he was not confident with the cut.”

I wanted to tell him I did the same thing with my portfolio when I started investing. I was not confident about my ideas and therefore allowed the price movement to control my decision making. I acted more often than necessary and expected better results due to my “nimbleness”. More activity doesn’t always mean better results. Sometimes doing less & being decisive is a better choice.

He bent down to check if the wooden strip on which the drawer rests, fits properly or not. He didn’t even need a torch. He just ran two fingers down the strip and immediately found another problem. The strip that was supposed to be one single piece of wood was two pieces joined together. The seam was cleverly concealed but nevertheless it was not a single strip.

The carpenter told me again that he was sorry but there seems to be another problem. The apprentice also made another basic mistake that he shouldn’t have made in the first place. I was more curious to know what wisdom he was about to offer. He hit me with it, “Sir, he broke the first major rule of woodworking – Measure Twice, Cut Once.”

He pulled out a plain strip of wood made careful measurements & marked it for cutting. He pulled out the previous two strips and nailed the new one in. He put the drawer back in and it slid back in place like it rolled on butter.

I was blown away. I never thought a skill like wood working would have so many teachings for an investor. The table is supposed to last for at least 15 years. The responsibility of the person who makes it to last that long, is enormous. The same for any investor who invests for the long term. We should always investigate the basic premise and act decisively once we have made up our mind. Any other factors like price movements in between shouldn’t shake us from our long path.

“Measure twice, Cut once.”