Monday, October 6th, 2008
green eyeshade time

Years ago, when one of my co-workers faced a vexing problem, he would retreat to his office to pour over the details, looking for the nugget of information that would solve the puzzle.  Seeing the look on his face as he went, someone would always say, “It’s green eyeshade time.”

According to Wikipedia,Wikipedia | Being an encyclopedia that “anyone can edit,” this site produces some real clunkers, so it’s best to check the “facts” you find.  However, it’s usually great for things like this that don’t require such precision, even though quoting from it is difficult, since the words can change or disappear.  These quotes are as of 10/3/08. green eyeshades were visors worn by those “engaged in vision-intensive, detail-oriented occupations.”  All manner of cultural references (including Scrooge McDuck) perpetuated the general association with the accounting and finance trades, and fed the pejorative use of the words to indicate someone who is “excessively concerned with pecuniary matters or small and insignificant details.”

The analytical interest in detailed due diligence ebbs and flows inversely (with a lag) to the cycles of easy money.  A couple of years ago, those “small and insignificant details” were ignored by almost everyone.the research puzzle | My very first posting, “look at the little things,” dealt with this phenomenon and how important it is in due diligence to focus on those little things. They came back to bite us.  Now we are mesmerized by the unimaginable that plays out before us, with the assumptions of our world being torn apart as we watch, reminding me of another gathering of my compatriots.

It was 1984, and not everyone in those days had a Quotron (that primitive electronic delivery system of prices and news) in his (there were very few hers) office.  The optimism of the blossoming of the age of the PC had changed into the realization that there were already too many competitors, and the bloodbath had started.  As several of us gathered around a Quotron in a common area, someone said, “It’s amazing how many times you can take twenty percent out of these things.”

Even though everyone has access to much fancier machines these days — and the daily percentage moves have been even larger in this latest cleansing — the tendency is still to gawk at the action and wonder about what it means.  Some of that is natural and important, but we need to remind ourselves that our opportunity to add value is to examine the changing detail with the intensity and precision that others will have difficulty mustering in the midst of the commotion.

Put on that green eyeshade, and not just for an ironic fashion statement like that of Hunter S. Thompson.  We have had enough gonzo; it’s time to get back to fundamentals.