On a Need To Know Basics

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Pencils down.

Eyes forward. Please pay attention. We've got a lot of ground to cover.

First. A lot of you wrote and asked for a feature in Work & Money that defines the basic terms of investing. Good idea. So if you'll kindly turn to Page B2, you'll see The Basics.

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And as you might guess, this is not a column that will define currency swaps, shorting the box, or derivative strategies. We are talking about: "What's a mutual fund? What's a stock, a bond, an aggressive mutual fund, a growth-and-income fund? What's dollar-cost averaging?"

Wall Street traders won't wait with wringing anxiety for each edition, but if you want to know more about making your retirement plan work, it wouldn't hurt to take notes.

And on the subject of investments, we need to chat about the stock market. It is performing tricks that you and I may never see again.

But first, please open your books to Page B5, where our workplace writer, Shelley Donald Coolidge, wanders into the fertile ground of finding creativity in companies. This is important stuff, maybe the most important stuff in the workplace. Creativity can make an average company good and a good one great, and most companies don't have a clue how to draw it out of employees.

Shelley interviewed the co-author of "Corporate Creativity," which provides a terrific blueprint for creative structure. Another compelling recent book, "The Individualized Corporation" by Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett, covers similar territory.

The idea is that if a company wants to compete in what's left of this century and beyond, it needs specific systems that draw new ideas from the people who know the company best: those in the trenches. And then management has to respond by pushing those ideas back down into the company in a way that challenges workers.

The point of both these books is that new ideas have to be nurtured deliberately. It takes a process.

OK, back to the stock market.

The "money" part of Work & Money isn't really about investing in the stock market so much as understanding and applying the ideas behind investing - setting goals, figuring out how to achieve them.

So we try not spend an inordinate amount of space on the ups and downs of the stock market. Because it does go up, and it does go down - often without requiring much attention to your plan.

But this is different. This market is like nothing we've seen, perhaps the greatest bull market in history.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average last week broke record highs every day, breaking those set the week before.

Breathtaking.

The Dow topped 8800 on Thursday, then trampled all over 8900 on Friday.

Even the bears are bulls. On Friday, I watched one of the great sourpusses of Wall Street, a top analyst who has been persistently pessimistic about the market, tell a TV audience that this was a great environment for owning stocks.

And it is. Low interest rates, inflation, oil prices; Asia's problems apparently contained, a new world on the Internet.

But here's my point. The air might get a bit thin up here near the summit of Mt. Dow 9000. Stocks do go down, sometimes as quickly as they go up. So be careful about the urge to jump on the bandwagon.

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