How many of your co-workers from decades ago are still on your annual holiday greeting card list? Of those, how many are respected colleagues with whom you continue to collaborate – so closely, in fact, that you have a forum named after you? Such is the relationship between University of Chicago Professor (and Nobel Laureate) Eugene F. Fama and Dartmouth Professor Kenneth R. French. This Auld Lang Syne pair is the namesake behind the Fama/French Forum, and dozens of groundbreaking studies on what makes the markets tick.
When Professor French posted a recent homage to Professor Fama, “Things I’ve Learned from Gene,” we were reminded of the value of long-thriving acquaintances like theirs. Here are some inspirational take-aways from French’s post and our own reflections on the same.
“If you are not willing to do something now, don’t agree to do it later.” – Prof. Eugene F. Fama
So true. What do we really think will change? We will suddenly have more time? More energy? More willingness to step out of our comfort zone? Not likely. Acknowledging this from the beginning can prevent future regrets and accumulated excuses.
“You make enough mistakes by mistake, don’t make one on purpose.” – Prof. Eugene F. Fama
Professor French’s additional reflection: “I finally figured out why my life always seems more frenetic than Gene’s. … Whenever it looks like I’ll have some slack in my schedule, I commit to do more and, if things turn out better than expected, I add even more. … [My] approach ensures that if anything goes wrong I am screwed.” Our own take on it (and perhaps a 2015 New Year’s resolution): Stuff happens. Leave some wiggle room in your day.
“When writing papers, [Fama] works hard to make his logical arguments and statistical tests as simple as possible.” – Prof. Kenneth R. French
There is indeed something to be said for simplicity, but the “simple as possible” part is important too. There is a difference between stumbling along in blind ignorance versus advancing with elegant understanding.
“Our job is not to write papers, our job is to get people to read papers.” – Prof. Eugene F. Fama
Professor French elaborates: “Gene tries to be clear, succinct, and precise. He can usually have all three, but when there is a conflict he sacrifices clarity and brevity for precision.” These insights emphasize how important it is to avoid red-herring distractions and stay focused on one’s actual goals.
“[Fama] is blunt occasionally, but that is efficient, not rude. … Gene rejects all ad hominem attacks. He consistently focuses on the idea he is arguing about, not the person he is arguing with.” – Prof. Kenneth R. French
If only more people would appreciate this distinction. Let’s begin with some of the conversations that take place in Washington. And, admittedly, each of us may be guilty as charged more often than we’d care to admit.
“It’s our fault if a smart, careful reader does not understand the paper.” – Prof. Eugene F. Fama
No need to show off. People can tell if you are smart.
Sage Serendipity: Want some additional insights from Professor Fama? Here’s a short clip on what brought him to Economic Sciences. Ironically enough, his first inclination was to study (you guessed it) … French!