When our large family gets together for Christmas, one tradition is our Gingerbread house competition. It didn’t start out as a competition years ago, but sort of evolved into one. I know many families build Gingerbread houses but I am not sure how many do so with the intensity of our kids.
The rules of the event are quite simple. The final product must incorporate the basic house included in the kit, and the structure must stand for at least one hour. This year one couple was sadly disqualified after their beautiful Wizard of Oz house collapsed due to a poorly engineered tornado. Of course they insisted it was designed to be a moving project, but the judge’s decision was final. Over the years we have had creations that reproduced the towered “Tangled” house, the “Up” house, “Tarzan’s” treehouse and others. We have seen full scale Inca Temples and the little house of Alice in Wonderland with her arms and legs sticking out.
As the kids have engaged in this activity, Launa and I have noticed some definite patterns that have emerged over the years. Some kids (and their spouses) spend months in advance designing, engineering, and even building test models of their structures. Others show up the day of with no plan whatsoever and let their imagination run wild. Some are meticulous with detail and others are free-flowing with creativity. Some houses struggle to stay standing the required hour, while others with reinforced girders, could survive earthquakes.
In watching the kids build, I formulated what I call the Gingerbread House Theory. It is based on my observation that the way a couple approaches the project and builds their house, largely mimics the way they approach and live their lives. I have so much confidence in my theory that I jokingly told my two unmarried kids that I wouldn’t approve their future spouses until I first watched them build a Gingerbread House together.
All this comes down to a process that I have found very useful in evaluating businesses for investment. I spend significant time focusing on the principal players, learning what I can about their families, hobbies, and lives outside of the company they run. I have learned that what someone does in their spare time, how they approach activities outside of work, will be reflected in how well they succeed inside of work. Character traits and habits do not change from one area of life to another. It is no accident that potential employers often ask questions about hobbies and extracurricular activities. This is not just small talk.
If you want to evaluate a company, beyond studying the financials, use the internet and spend a little time learning about the people running it. In my opinion and personal experience, the character traits and work ethic of the people at the top, and consequently the people they hire, are the most important factors in determining the likely outcome of a business, or Gingerbread House, experience.
Hi, I'm Dan. I'm a CFP® Professional.
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