The Merits of Meaningful Metaphors

Topic: Human Interest

R. Denys Calvin, CFA

April 4, 2016

Image used with permission: iStock/cenkerdem


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The Merits of Meaningful Metaphors

We all have things we think we’re good at. We know we’re not the best in the world. But we reasonably believe that we’re “better than most”. And that may well be true.

At Nexus, we think we are pretty good at explaining what we do. Providing such an explanation is a component of the service we offer. Furthermore, it’s often important to the success of a client relationship that the client have a decent appreciation of what we do (and don’t do).

Part of any such explanation involves financial concepts that are familiar to some but utterly foreign to others. So in our presentations and written material, we work hard to ensure we convey such concepts so that both the uninitiated and the knowledgeable find them interesting and informative. It often takes a few drafts before we come up with an explanation we’re happy with.

It’s all well and good to believe you’re good at something. Indeed, that belief and the self-confidence that accompanies it are probably important ingredients for success. But when it comes to that “thing”, we’ve all had the experience of coming across someone else who is truly gifted. When that happens, it can be both humbling and awe-inspiring.

That happened to me recently while watching the film The Big Short. It’s based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Michael Lewis, which tells the story of several unusual people who anticipated the 2008 financial crisis and capitalized on it.

To fully appreciate what’s going on in the movie, it helps to have at least a passing familiarity with a few fairly esoteric financial concepts and instruments. Recognizing this, the filmmakers came up with an exceptionally clever technique to explain such esoterica. Perhaps ironically, I can hardly do justice here to their cleverness. Suffice it to say, however, that whoever came up with the idea of having Chef Anthony Bourdain use fish soup to explain CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) is, when it comes to explaining things, gifted beyond compare.

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