009: Public Bathroom Wars

Public Bathroom Wars

Color Commentary

Berkshire Hathaway Weekend

I’m honored to be speaking about women getting more and more assets under management at the Variant Perspectives Value Investing Conference on Friday, May 3 at 4:15pm at the Hilton Omaha. Full info about the event is here. There’s a reception immediately after, so come watch and say hi! My dad, Phil Town, will also be there to support and chat.

Our Invested Practice Meetup will be on the same day, Friday, May 3, at 6pm, immediately after the Variant Perspectives reception. If you’ve emailed me already, I will send you an email with more information. Yay Omaha-bound people! See you there!

Table of Contents

1. Showing Up for Myself
2. It’s Not Always a Pretty Practice
3. Showing Up at the Feet of the Master

1. Showing Up for Myself

On Thursday, I experienced such a typically weird investing practice. It made me so excited to go to a public bathroom.

My regular time and space for my practice is:

Time: immediately when I wake up

Space: in my bed

I wake up, get some water, this time of year I take my allergy pill, get some coffee, and get back in bed to read.

This is not effortless.

I am always thinking “oh man, I’d better read my emails,” or “I’m really really tired this morning and don’t want to do this at all,” but I get back in bed, because that’s a place where I’m comfy, and flip through the morning business news.

Sometimes it’s ultra-boring. There are just no interesting news stories. Then, I flip around the various newspapers for a while in the non-business sections. Companies are EVERYWHERE. They are in the Arts pages, the Tech pages, the Opinion pages, the World News pages. There is almost no news story that does not involve something investing-related. My practice is usually one of wandering – to simply read around and hopefully catch on something interesting.

Sometimes there’s just nothing interesting. That’s fine. I stop after 15-20 minutes and that’s it. Time to do everything else in my day.

Showing up is what matters to investing practice. Showing up makes the practice a seamless part of my regular life.

If I don’t read the investing/business news first thing in the morning, I notice that I missed it. It’s a moment of jogging my brain for opportunities to support people doing interesting stuff, and my mind becomes expanded with ideas, inspiration, and pride at the cool things happening in the world. It feels like I get my mind expanded a little bit every day.

And I do miss doing my practice sometimes. Sometimes several days in a row, when things are going on in my life or I’m traveling. My practice is such a lovely part of my life, though, that I miss it when it’s gone because there’s a little hole in my day, like I missed out. When I come back to it, when I show up again, it feels like coming home.

In yoga, it’s the equivalent of getting on my mat. If I unroll my mat, stand or sit or lie down on it, and breathe, I have done my yoga practice. It’s a moment of breathing and paying attention to my body, and I can feel it in my body when I haven’t done it. It doesn’t matter what that practice consisted of, whether I stretched, and it especially does not matter whether I did “better” than the practice before. It’s not a competition. That’s an easy thing to remember when it comes to other people. But we are all ambitious self-improvers here in The Invested Practice, and I am constantly comparing myself today against myself yesterday; myself this month against myself last month; myself this year against myself last year.

This is the paradox of practice: yes, I want to improve, and noticing my own progress is a huge part of the joy of practicing. But it’s not the goal of practicing. The goal of practicing is experiencing the journey and creating ever-more desire to continue to practice, to learn, to grow. The improvement is a lovely side benefit.

Sometimes, there IS something interesting.

I had a whole issue written for this week, and I will send it out to you soon, but then I had such a fun and typical investing practice morning on Thursday and realized – yeah, THIS is what The Invested Practice is about. Taking tiny hints in normal life and expanding them into My Practice, Wherein Paper Towels Become Fascinating.

I love it when tiny things become fascinating! When daily items I DO NOT NOTICE become visible to me. THIS is the joy. This is the fun. Whether Thursday morning’s practice ever turns into any sort of investment, I do not know.

I don’t really care.

Maybe it will. Maybe it will stay background information that informs decisions in the future. But now, the fun part is that when I next walk into a public bathroom, I am going to stand in front of the sinks and look for what kind of hand-drying apparatus is on offer. I’m going to remember everything I learned about the paper towel and hand-dryer bathroom war. And suddenly my public bathroom experience is a lot more interesting.

My PUBLIC BATHROOM experience. What?! Investing made that interesting? What kind of magic is this?

So here’s what I did.

2. It’s Not Always a Pretty Practice

I woke up, got some water, took my allergy pill, stretched, got some coffee, and got back in bed to read.

FOIN, I’ll tell the whole truth. My husband made the coffee while I whined about how I tired I was, and then he made me do some stretching. He’s so energetic in the mornings despite usually getting less sleep than me; it’s impressive and maddening. Last week, I decided and informed him that we would do back stretches in the mornings together, both as a togetherness ritual and to ward off being hunched-over 90-year-olds, but so far I’m the one painfully moaning about how I’m too tired to breathe in and out, while he happily raises his arms to the sky and develops his backbend. SUCH IS MY LIFE.

Then I got back into bed, because that’s where my best investing practice happens. This was not effortless. I was thinking “I’d better edit this week’s Invested Practice issue and record the audio,” which reminded me of a cool audio interview I have planned about Mission-based investing that I need to prepare for and schedule, but I said to myself, “no, girl, do your investing practice, it is TIME.” So I got back into bed, and flipped through the morning business news on the Wall Street Journal.

It was mostly boring. There was one front page article about Tesla reporting a major quarterly earnings loss that made me laugh, because after a long time saying Tesla was going to be profitable, CEO Elon Musk is now saying they may raise more money to keep the company going. I hope Tesla does well, I really do. What that company has done for forcing electric cars into big car companies, and therefore into the world, is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s very hard to be the first mover, though, and the most innovative founders aren’t always the best managers (see, e.g., Steve Jobs), so as an investor I find the whole Tesla experience, with the tweeting and the seesaw earnings and seesaw car pricing and “now we’re selling exclusively online/now we’re keeping stores because leases” to be a bit of a circus sideshow. I do enjoy chuckling about it and not having my money be directly involved.

I skipped a lot of front page articles on the WSJ that didn’t interest me. Maybe if I were feeling more engaged, I would have read the one about Boeing detailing its financial hit from the 737 MAX grounding, or the one about Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn getting bail, or the one about Netflix fighting to keep ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office’ on its network. But I didn’t feel like it. So I didn’t read them.

Here’s what I did read: (I try not to include a lot of paywall links in here because I know it’s annoying if you don’t subscribe, but this is what I really clicked on that morning, so I’ve got to include them.) Judge away! I have no good reasons for why these articles interested me more than the Netflix one. That’s just the way a wandering type of practice goes.

Michael Cohen, in Recorded Phone Call, Walks Back Parts of Guilty Plea – Had to check in on the mess, but quickly checked out again. I get annoyed. I just can’t follow along with all the incompetence.

Warren’s Free College Time Machine – Having gone to school and gotten loans in the peak student loan era that had such good intentions and such bad results for students, I was curious about the WSJ editorial board’s take.

First Class vs. Coach: A Game of Square Inches – Figured this would be about how there is less and less space and amenities in coach, and…yep.

Chipotle Beats Profit, Sales Expectations – Yay!!

What Tops Kraft Heinz’s Menu? Cost Cuts or Mac ‘n’ Cheese? – This is such an interesting company right now, but I can’t decide how much I like it or dislike it. We’ve gotten a lot of requests to do a podcast episode on it, so I’m planning that coming up.

Business Banking Startups Struggle to Catch the Fundraising Wave – I always read stuff about startups, and I’m trying to learn more about financial technology startups, or fintechs.

Whew. I needed a break from such intense news.

THAT feeling was how NOT into this practice I was that morning – that little bit of wandering practice felt mentally intense. I was checked out, and reading about Michael Cohen, depressing airline seats, and Kraft Heinz’s ketchup was enough for me.

I didn’t feel any particular way about that practice experience. No judgment on myself. Every practice is different, and some are painful. As long as I keep showing up, I get to the practices that are joyful – that lead me to something new, different, and potentially fantastically investable. It’s showing up that matters, and not stopping, even if everything I find feels like it should be thrown immediately in the Too Boring or Too Hard boxes.

I didn’t stop then, either. Quick break time. It was a friend’s birthday that day, and I made lemon cupcakes for her and needed to frost them for her party that evening. But thus far in my baking life, when I decorate cupcakes it looks like a five-year-old’s best work. I absorbed how to make them look pretty at The Kitchn.

Then, back to my practice. I had a few more minutes, so I figured I’d try one more source and then call it done. I turned to the Guardian. I could have flipped to Barron’s, I just realized now as I write this, but it didn’t occur to me. I subscribed to Barron’s recently after so many people recommended it and it’s just not really part of my routine yet. So I flipped to the Guardian, which I love and donate to because they’re one of the last freely-available newspapers, and because they always have great articles.

Runaway Saudi sisters call for ‘inhuman’ woman-monitoring app to be pulled – The plight of these women makes me feel ill and I reminded myself not to invest in anything related to Saudi.

Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands – Amazing. This one was amazing.

There is a war between the public bathroom hand towel people and the public bathroom air dryer people. It’s hygiene versus the environment, with both sides arguing it’s actually neither one, and includes such amazing paragraphs as this from writer Samanth Subramanian:

“At its most audacious, the hand dryer is an expression of faith in the mechanical – in the premise that no cubic inch of our day is too trivial to remain unimproved by technology. The wipe of a hand upon a square of natural fibre is an astonishingly ancient action; it is difficult to imagine prehistoric hunter-gatherers getting their hands dry in any other manner. The hand dryer’s essential ambition is to break a human habit tens of thousands of years old, and to persuade us that the few times we dry our hands daily, for a few seconds every time, warrants a machine. It dares us to submit to its idea of modern life.”

I did not know that air dryers were allegedly less hygienic than paper towels. I’d never thought about it. Honestly what grosses me out about paper towels in a public bathroom is touching the dispenser, because everybody touches it and I don’t know if they washed with soap and ewwww. And that’s why some people like contactless air dryers…which apparently blow bacteria around the room and ewwww.

I’m obsessed with this information about the public bathroom towel and dryer fight. It opened up a whole new world to me, one that was previously veiled in mundane everyday usage. Now, I can’t wait to go to a public bathroom and observe what hand drying method(s) it offers me. And then the next and the next. Companies mentioned: Dyson, Kimberly-Clark, Georgia-Pacific, World Dryer, Mitsubishi (a car company also makes hand dryers?!), Excel Dryer, Veltia. There is an entire paper industry I have never noticed, but NOW I will. There is an Association of Makers of Soft Tissue Papers. There is a European Tissue Symposium. There is a WORLD of which I did not know.

I didn’t do anything more in my practice. My time for investing practice was gone. I had to get to work. I didn’t look up any of the companies. Plus, I know Dyson is private, and Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific are massive public companies, and I didn’t really feel inspired to research their products. I did copy the article info into my investing research note-taking app to keep for reference. Then I closed it all down.

One day, maybe soon or maybe far in the future, this towel and dryer competition information will serve my investing. I don’t know how. I don’t know if it’ll be on deep background or directly as an investment in something related to towels or dryers. But it definitely will.

That’s all I needed. That’s showing up.

3. Showing Up at the Feet of the Master

Practice involves going to the feet of the master – at least over the internet, if not in person. Treating investing as a practice of mastery makes it a true calling, and requires appreciating those who came before us and were kind enough to spend time speaking and writing about their own investing practices. Sometimes I have heard a piece of advice five times before, and the sixth time the teacher says it a little differently and I HEAR it.

Our teachers are speaking directly to us next Saturday, May 4, at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. It’s an all-day investing nerdfest of Buffett and Munger answering any and every question. You don’t have to personally make the trek to Omaha, because first of all, I’m going to be there and report on everything behind the scenes, and second of all, it’s livestreamed starting at 8:45am Central Time at https://finance.yahoo.com/brklivestream. Thank you internet. The Q&A period is 9:15am-3:30pm Central Time.

I highly recommend at least watching part of it. If you’ve never watched before, notice how far you’ve come in your investing practice that you’re spending part of your Saturday watching Warren Buffett speak – and you’re probably enjoying it! How extraordinary. And how lovely.

If you’ve attended the meeting or seen it before, consciously take a moment to notice what you’re noticing and understanding this year that is different from previous years. There will be at least one difference that you notice.

For all of us, this gathering of value investors in Omaha, whether we’re there in person or not, is the day to feel gratitude for our practices, for ourselves making the time and space to create them, and to our teachers for showing us the path. It is a day to come together and raise the consciousness of choosing wonderful companies, with wonderful management filled with integrity and candor, with wonderful Missions to make our lives better, with wonderful prospects to grow our own bank accounts along with theirs. I am grateful to my uncles Charlie and Warren. I am incredibly grateful to my teacher, my wonderful father, who has not only helped me but so many others. I am grateful for all of you, our Invested community.

Next issue will feature all things Berkshire, and if any breaking news happens, I’ll send you an extra note or two. No doubt there will be questions about Kraft-Heinz, about Wells Fargo, about succession planning at Berkshire, and at least one question about why they don’t invest in IPOs. I put this video in the last issue, but it’s worth sharing again in case you missed it. Buffett’s just so good at normal-people explanations.


My regular practice time is in the morning when I first wake up. Notice your investing practice routine. When in your day, if you missed doing your practice, do you know you missed it?

For me, missing investing practice feels like a little hole in my day, like I was anticipating something fun and inspiring that didn’t happen. What alerts you to having missed it? What kind of feelings come up? Is it a physical feeling, emotional feeling, or both?

What industry became visible to you for the first time recently, due to your investing practice? What new world do you now see?

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