Monday, January 11, 2016

vintage photos...

the Art of Serendipity

Credit Brendan Monroe

DO some people have a special talent for serendipity? And if so, why?

In 2008, an inventor named Steve Hollinger lobbed a digital camera across his studio toward a pile of pillows. “I wasn’t trying to make an invention,” he said. “I was just playing.” As his camera flew, it recorded what most of us would call a bad photo. But when Mr. Hollinger peered at that blurry image, he saw new possibilities. Soon, he was building a throwable videocamera in the shape of a baseball, equipped with gyroscopes and sensors. The Squito (as he named it) could be rolled into a crawlspace or thrown across a river — providing a record of the world from all kinds of “nonhuman” perspectives. Today, Mr. Hollinger holds six patents related to throwable cameras.
A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, X-ray imaging. Many blockbuster drugs of the 20th century emerged because a lab worker picked up on the “wrong” information.
While researching breakthroughs like these, I began to wonder whether we can train ourselves to become more serendipitous. How do we cultivate the art of finding what we’re not seeking?
For decades, a University of Missouri information scientist named Sanda Erdelez has been asking that question. Growing up in Croatia, she developed a passion for losing herself in piles of books and yellowed manuscripts, hoping to be surprised. Dr. Erdelez told me that Croatian has no word to capture the thrill of the unexpected discovery, so she was delighted when — after moving to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in the 1980s — she learned the English word “serendipity.”
Today we think of serendipity as something like dumb luck. But its original meaning was very different.

In 1754, a belle-lettrist named Horace Walpole retreated to a desk in his gaudy castle in Twickenham, in southwest London, and penned a letter. Walpole had been entranced by a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation. In his letter, Walpole suggested that this old tale contained a crucial idea about human genius: “As their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” And he proposed a new word — “serendipity” — to describe this princely talent for detective work. At its birth, serendipity meant a skill rather than a random stroke of good fortune.
Dr. Erdelez agrees with that definition. She sees serendipity as something people do. In the mid-1990s, she began a study of about 100 people to find out how they created their own serendipity, or failed to do so.
Her qualitative data — from surveys and interviews — showed that the subjects fell into three distinct groups. Some she called “non-encounterers”; they saw through a tight focus, a kind of chink hole, and they tended to stick to their to-do lists when searching for information rather than wandering off into the margins. Other people were “occasional encounterers,” who stumbled into moments of serendipity now and then. Most interesting were the “super-encounterers,” who reported that happy surprises popped up wherever they looked. The super-encounterers loved to spend an afternoon hunting through, say, a Victorian journal on cattle breeding, in part, because they counted on finding treasures in the oddest places. In fact, they were so addicted to prospecting that they would find information for friends and colleagues.
You become a super-encounterer, according to Dr. Erdelez, in part because you believe that you are one — it helps to assume that you possess special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas, that will lead you to clues.
A few months ago, I was having a drink in Cambridge, Mass., with a friend, a talented journalist who was piecing together a portrait of a secretive Wall Street wizard. “But I haven’t found the real story yet; I’m still gathering string,” my friend told me, invoking an old newsroom term to describe the first stage of reporting, when you’re looking for something that you can’t yet name. Later that night, as I walked home from the bar, I realized “gathering string” is just another way of talking about super-encountering. After all, “string” is the stuff that accumulates in a journalist’s pocket. It’s the note you jot down in your car after the interview, the knickknack you notice on someone’s shelf, or the anomaly that jumps out at you in Appendix B of an otherwise boring research study.
As I navigated the brick sidewalk, passing under the pinkish glow of a streetlight, I thought about how string was probably hiding all around me. A major story might lurk behind the Harvard zoology museum ahead or in the plane soaring above. String is everywhere for the taking, if you have the talent to take it.
In the 1960s, Gay Talese, then a young reporter, declared that “New York is a city of things unnoticed” and delegated himself to be the one who noticed. Thus, he transformed the Isle of Manhattan into the Isle of Serendip: He traced the perambulations of feral cats, cataloged shoeshine purveyors, tracked down statistics related to the bathrooms at Yankee Stadium and discovered a colony of ants at the top of the Empire State Building. He published his findings in a little book titled “New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey.”

The term “serendipiter” breathed new life into Walpole’s word, turning serendipity into a protagonist and a practitioner. After all, those ants at the top of the Empire State Building didn’t find themselves; Mr. Talese had to notice them, which was no easy matter. Similarly, Dr. Erdelez came up with the term super-encounterer to give us a way to talk about the people rather than just the discoveries. Without such words, we tend to become dazzled by the happy accident itself, to think of it as something that exists independent of an observer.
We can slip into a twisted logic in which we half-believe the penicillin picked Alexander Fleming to be its emissary, or that the moons of Jupiter wanted to be seen by Galileo. But discoveries are products of the human mind.
As people dredge the unknown, they are engaging in a highly creative act. What an inventor “finds” is always an expression of him- or herself. Martin Chalfie, who won a Nobel Prize for his work connected with green fluorescent protein — the stuff that makes jellyfish glow green — told me that he and several other Nobel Prize winners benefited from a chain of accidents and chance encounters on the way to their revelations. Some scientists even embrace a kind of “free jazz” method, he said, improvising as they go along: “I’ve heard of people getting good results after accidentally dropping their experimental preparations on the floor, picking them up, and working on them nonetheless,” he added.

So how many big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs? One survey of patent holders (the PatVal study of European inventors, published in 2005) found that an incredible 50 percent of patents resulted from what could be described as a serendipitous process. Thousands of survey respondents reported that their idea evolved when they were working on an unrelated project — and often when they weren’t even trying to invent anything. This is why we need to know far more about the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough.

IN the late 1980s, Dr. John Eng, an endocrinologist, became curious about certain animal poisons that damaged the pancreas, so he ordered lizard venom through the mail and began to play around with it. As a result of this curious exercise, he discovered a new compound in the saliva of a Gila monster, and that in turn led to a treatment for diabetes. One of Dr. Eng’s associates (quoted in a 2005 newspaper article) remarked that he was capable of seeing “patterns that others don’t see.”
Is this pattern-finding ability similar to the artistic skill of a painter like Georgia O’Keeffe? Is it related to the string-gathering prowess of Gay Talese? We still know so little about creative observation that it’s impossible to answer such questions.
That’s why we need to develop a new, interdisciplinary field — call it serendipity studies — that can help us create a taxonomy of discoveries in the chemistry lab, the newsroom, the forest, the classroom, the particle accelerator and the hospital. By observing and documenting the many different “species” of super-encounterers, we might begin to understand their minds
A number of pioneering scholars have already begun this work, but they seem to be doing so in their own silos and without much cross-talk. In a 2005 paper (“Serendipitous Insights Involving Nonhuman Primates”), two experts from the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle cataloged the chance encounters that yielded new insights from creatures like the pigtail macaque. Meanwhile, the authors of a paper titled “On the Exploitation of Serendipity in Drug Discovery” puzzled over the reasons the 1950s and ’60s saw a bonanza of breakthroughs in psychiatric medication, and why that run of serendipity ended. And in yet another field of study, a few information scientists are trying to understand the effects of being bombarded on social media sites with countless tantalizing pieces of “string.”
What could these researchers discover if they came together for one big conversation?
Of course, even if we do organize the study of serendipity, it will always be a whimsical undertaking, given that the phenomenon is difficult to define, amazingly variable and hard to capture in data. The clues will no doubt emerge where we least expect them, perhaps in the fungi clinging to the walls of parking garages or the mating habits of bird-watchers. The journey will be maddening, but the potential insights could be profound: One day we might be able to stumble upon new and better ways of getting lost.

Review: In Julian Barnes’s ‘Keeping an Eye Open,’ Paintings Worth a Thousand Words

Credit Patricia Wall/The New York Times
Gustave Flaubert — the subject of Julian Barnes’s magical novel-biography-meditation, “Flaubert’s Parrot” — argued that great paintings required no words of explanation. But as Mr. Barnes writes in “Keeping an Eye Open,” an illuminating new collection of essays on art, “we remain incorrigibly verbal creatures who love to explain things” — “put us in front of a picture and we chatter, each in our different way.”
Mr. Barnes, not surprisingly, chatters like the gifted novelist he is, using his eye for the telling detail, his narrative intuition and his understanding of the creative process to help us see familiar artists like Degas, Braque and Magritte afresh, and to appreciate the work of lesser-known masters as well — the beautifully harmonic interiors of Édouard Vuillard; the stylized, psychologically intense portraits of men and women in Félix Vallotton’s Nabi-period canvases, and Howard Hodgkin’s “hot, often scorched” use of color.
Mr. Barnes writes with an easy understanding of the tension between life and art and the strange alchemy of imagination; he also conveys an appreciation of artists’ technique, as it has been learned from predecessors and developed through experimentation and serendipity. He effortlessly situates a masterwork in the context of its creator’s career, and that career within the larger arc of art history — all, with a light but authoritative hand.
“The Anabaptists: Pierre Bonnard” by Édouard Vuillard, from 1935; Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Credit Roger-Viollet/Bridgeman Images
While he warns of the hazards of allowing biographical gossip to affect our interpretation of artworks, he’s also deft at unraveling the ways in which artists’ temperaments can inform vision and style. He contrasts the work of the arrogant, dominating Picasso to the calm, almost Zen-like paintings of Braque; and he suggests a connection between Lucian Freud’s careless, incorrigibly unfaithful life — running through scores of lovers and fathering at least 14 children — and what he describes as a “cold and ruthless” quality to his paintings of women.
The subjects here are chosen somewhat arbitrarily, the result, mostly, of journalistic assignments. But taken together, they tell the story of how artists (mainly, French) moved from Romanticism to Realism to Modernism. He traces the shifting values we place on the sort of transformations — subtle, grand, surreal, satirical — these painters worked on reality, while examining the mysterious dynamic between individual artists’ gifts and an emerging cultural zeitgeist.
Mr. Barnes succinctly evokes the contradictions embodied by Delacroix: a member of that generation of French Romantics who were inspired by Shakespeare and Byron, but who also esteemed Voltaire and Mozart — a “self-defended man who feared passion and valued above all tranquillity,” but whose art spoke of “extravagance, passion, violence, excess.”
He describes the self-promoting Courbet — “a great painter, but also a serious publicity act” — as “an in-your-face Realist,” whose family motto might well have been “Shout loud and walk straight.” And he asserts that much as Manet made Courbet seem part of the tradition, so would Cézanne make Manet feel like a part of the fast receding past.
Julian Barnes Credit Alan Edwards
The speed with which these changes occurred is breathtaking in retrospect: how quickly the Cubists and many who followed “took over, absorbed and cannibalized Cézanne.” “He is where modern art — even Modern Art — begins,” Mr. Barnes writes. Yet today, on the walls of the great museums, he fits smoothly into what has become part of the historical continuum.
These may not exactly be new or revelatory insights, but one appeal of “Keeping an Eye Open” is that Mr. Barnes does not write as a scholar, but as an avid and thoughtful amateur — adept at conveying a tactile sense of a painting and its emotional penumbra, and its philosophical subtext, too. Of Courbet’s “L’Atelier,” Mr. Barnes notes that its depiction of the painter working on a landscape (in a studio, not en plein-air) implies that Courbet is “doing more than merely reproducing the known, established world — he is creating it anew himself.”
In another chapter, he wryly observes that portraits created by Cézanne, who once exhorted a model to be still “like an apple,” were really still lifes, “governed by color and harmony,” not depictions of “human beings who do normal human things like talk, laugh and move.” As for Magritte, Mr. Barnes points out that he tweaked the Surrealist method of opposing completely unrelated objects by juxtaposing (or substituting) related ones (like an egg for a bird).
Mr. Barnes can be blunt, even snarky in articulating his tastes in art; he writes that Warhol “is an artist rather as Fergie is a Royal.” But, at heart, his essays are animated by his keen, appraising eye, and a wellspring of common sense. He dismisses critics who have discerned a misogyny in Degas’s work — based, it seems, on rumors of his own absent love life — when, as Mr. Barnes points out, his radiant studies of dancers and bathers make it clear that he “plainly loved women” in his art. He also turns out to be shrewd in reminding us how Picasso — whose life seemed vulgar and egotistic in comparison to, say, Cézanne’s — now appears high-minded in contrast to “the most ‘successful’ artists of the 21st century, flogging their endless versions of the same idea to know-nothing billionaires.”
Though this volume contains lots of illustrations, one wishes there were even more of the paintings Mr. Barnes discusses. He writes about them so vividly, comments so astutely on small details of light and space and color, that we find ourselves reading the book with an iPad or laptop on hand, Googling images of the works he has so eloquently and ardently described.

Recalling Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez at the podium in 2011. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
In June 1969, the stunning news broke that the New York Philharmonic had appointed Pierre Boulez to succeed Leonard Bernstein as its music director. The decision understandably rattled the classical music establishment: Mr. Boulez was not just an uncompromising Modernist composer, but he had also first come to attention as a polemicist dismissive of those writing music beholden to tonal harmony.
In one fiery 1952 essay, Mr. Boulez, then in his late 20s, declared that any musician who had not felt “the necessity of the dodecaphonic language” — the rigorous 12-tone technique devised by Schoenberg a few decades before — “is of no use.” This was the conductor the Philharmonic had chosen to follow Bernstein? Charismatic Uncle Lenny, Mr. Let’s Find Out?
But Mr. Boulez, who died on Tuesday at 90 in Germany, had mellowed over the years, long before the Philharmonic tapped him. For sure, he arrived in New York determined to bring the orchestra belatedly into the 20th century. But the inventiveness and diversity of his programming proved a surprise. His death comes at a time when the Philharmonic is poised to reveal who will follow Alan Gilbert, like Mr. Boulez an inventive, varied programmer, as music director. Now, when the orchestra seems vague about its post-Gilbert artistic vision, it’s worth remembering the lessons of Mr. Boulez’s tenure.
From left, the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang; Frank Zappa; and Pierre Boulez in Paris in 1984. Mr. Boulez was conducting works by Mr. Zappa. Credit Joel Robine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Boulez championed modern music at the Philharmonic and showed that he was an unmatched conductor of knotty contemporary scores. But that first season he also focused on, of all composers, Liszt. And long before it became fashionable, he demonstrated how to juxtapose new and old music, sometimes very old: He conducted a raft of Baroque pieces. In one 1977 program from his final season as music director, he opened with Haydn’s “London” Symphony and then gave the New York premiere of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s “Arc” for piano and orchestra, with Peter Serkin as soloist. And — talk about a crowd pleaser — he ended with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
He even proved deft at accommodating soloist superstars. In another 1977 program, the violinist Itzhak Perlman was featured in Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G and Ravel’s shamelessly showy “Tzigane.” The concert opened with Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and ended with a pair of scorchers by Varèse: “Ionisation” and “Arcana.”
Mr. Boulez spoke often about finding ways to shake up concert protocols and try alternative approaches. His innovations at the Philharmonic included Rug Concerts, which had the orchestra performing on the floor of the auditorium (its seats removed), and the audience resting on cushions and carpets. The programs boldly mixed composers from different eras: Ligeti and Mahler, Bach and Varèse.
I have vivid memories of Mr. Boulez’s Prospective Encounters programs, including one in 1973 at the Juilliard Theater. It was devoted to Webern’s Five Movements for String Quartet (Op. 5), first played as a quartet, then in its version for string orchestra. In his French-accented English, Mr. Boulez explained the music without jargon, taking all questions graciously. One young man commented that Webern’s music didn’t seem to have “any beats.” Mr. Boulez seemed delighted to address this interesting, and essentially accurate, observation.
Still, though his days as a polemicist were past, Mr. Boulez conveyed a message through his programming and leadership: Complex modern music had come to stay; institutions and audiences were going to have to adjust. The Philharmonic had to remake itself as a vibrant institution that honored its heritage not by abandoning the past, but by integrating it into the present.
If Mr. Boulez did not accomplish all that he might have, it was less because of his vision than because of his lack of commitment. His time in New York overlapped with his tenure as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in England. He was too restless, finally, and too engaged as a composer, to devote himself entirely to remaking established institutions. As years passed, he felt more comfortable, and perhaps had more impact, through guest appearances and residencies.
During celebrations of Mr. Boulez’s 90th birthday last year, audiences had ample opportunities to hear his music. And as you listen to his ingeniously complex, rhythmically breathless and sensual scores, it’s hard to remember why they were once thought so intimidating.
Yes, the early works, steeped in 12-tone technique, are steely and radical, like the first two piano sonatas. But last March at Zankel Hall, the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich gave exhilarating accounts of these pieces on a program presenting all of Boulez’s music for piano. The Sonata No. 1 came across as a work of jarring originality, especially in its rhythmic character, as the music unfolds with nonstop intensity through sweeping bursts and organic gestures. And the staggeringly difficult Sonata No. 2 seemed more than ever a young composer’s modernist retort to Beethoven’s mighty “Hammerklavier.”
In a 1999 interview, Mr. Boulez told me that his landmark work for alto and six instruments, “Le Marteau Sans Maître,” was his declaration of freedom from the “very narrow kind of serialism” that had become “very academic immediately.” For all its intricacy, the music abounds in texture and fantasy. And, in 1998, I found it unexpectedly moving to hear young players from the New Juilliard Ensemble in a commanding account of his 40-minute masterpiece “Sur Incises,” scored for three pianos, three harps and three percussionists. The sheer riot of energy and color was spectacular.
It was astonishing that the Philharmonic selected such a pioneer as its music director. And in 1969! Almost 50 years later, with another conductor choice on the horizon, it’s hard to imagine the orchestra doing something remotely as daring.

Your Money

Your Money

How Should You Manage Your Money? And Keep It Short

Credit Robert Neubecker

Managing your money should be pretty straightforward, but that doesn’t make the task all that easy.

That’s the biggest takeaway from the handful of simple financial instruction lists making the rounds among the New Year’s resolution set.
One list comes in the form of a 4-by-6 notecard that went viral in 2013, now the foundation of a book called “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated.” Another is the 18 steps at the back of Jonathan Clements’s “Money Guide 2016.” An older but beloved (and newly updated for this column) list comes from the Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams.
Even though their lists are fairly short, these experts agree, almost to the letter, on at least four things. You must have an emergency fund. Index funds should make up most of your investment portfolio. Buy a home, but only one that you can afford. And don’t forget life insurance, as much as you might want to. Basic term insurance is the answer for most people.
So this week, I did two things. First, I asked these writers why so many people fail to follow those four commandments, none of which are new. There must be a reason we all have to keep repeating them.
Then, I asked them all to squeeze their best ideas onto an index card. Harold Pollack, whose initial effort inspired “The Index Card,” which he wrote with Helaine Olen, submitted a slightly revised version of his original. Mr. Adams and Mr. Clements took their shots, as did Jane Bryant Quinn, whose retirement guide, “How to Make Your Money Last,” is also out this month. A few of my fellow New York Times money scribes and I made our own cards as well.
Why do we fail? When it comes to the lack of emergency funds, there are millions of Americans with no bank accounts at all, whether because of poor credit or poor access. Many millions more cannot afford to save anything.
As for everyone else, there are at least two big problems. The first is one of will. Mr. Clements, a longtime Wall Street Journal columnist who also did a stint in financial education at Citigroup, pointed to the always increasing availability of shiny consumer goods coupled with stagnant incomes for so many. “But they don’t say no,” he said. “They go ahead and buy, which leaves less for long-term goals, unlike the smaller number of millionaires next door who live frugally and amass lots of money.”

Some of the people who give in might do better with more structure. If you’re one of them, don’t assume you’ll push a button each month or set aside a pile of $20 bills. Instead, set up automatic account transfers. “Unless you automate it, it’s not going to happen,” Ms. Olen said. (A disclosure: I see both Mr. Clements and Ms. Olen every year or two, as the guild of full-time money writers is fairly small.)
Continue reading the main story Slide Show

Index-Card Advice

Carl Richards, New York Times contributor and author of “The One-Page Financial Plan.”
Credit The New York Times

Americans have made real progress with the way they invest in recent years. Ever more money is going into index funds of various sorts that don’t try to pick individual stocks that will do better, on average, than others. At the end of 2014, just over $2 trillion was invested in indexed mutual funds, according to the Investment Company Institute. That amounted to about 15.6 percent of all money in American regulated funds. That’s up from just 8.9 percent of the total 10 years earlier, and it doesn’t count the $1.9 trillion at the end of 2014 that was invested in indexed exchange-traded funds, which are close cousins to mutual funds.
Still, why is most money still chasing the dream of picking investments that will do better than all the others? Ms. Olen points to lingering Peter Lynch-ism — the tendency of older investors who remember the exhortations of the famed Fidelity mutual fund manager to follow their instincts. If the parking lot is full, buy the stock!
But this approach gives people a false sense of superiority. You may be looking at the wrong lot in the wrong suburb at the wrong time in the wrong industry. Even if you aren’t, plenty of professional investors will notice the Costco lot with all the Mercedes in it before you do. This overconfidence leads people to invest only in companies with headquarters near them and buy too much of their employer’s stock, because they assume they have superior knowledge about the company.
Mr. Clements added that many people who bet on individual stocks had never actually compared their portfolio with an index fund. This used to be hard, but online brokerage firms can now do it for you in a few clicks (and you can check your broker’s picks on most any investment website). Most people, if they’re being honest and including the losers that are no longer in their portfolio, will find that an index fund will beat their own basket of stocks over long periods of time.

All of the experts here think buying a home is a perfectly fine idea, but it has to be an affordable one. And many of us are delusional about exactly what that means.
Mr. Pollack, co-author of “The Index Card” and a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, was one of them. When he shopped for a home in the Chicago area 13 years ago, he was newly tenured and had been lured away from the University of Michigan. He and his wife, however, had no savings, and his loan officer was not impressed.
“I was of the mind-set of ‘Don’t you know who I am?’” he recalled. “And now I know that he knew exactly what I was.”

The family borrowed elsewhere, but that first banker’s skepticism tempered their enthusiasm. They borrowed a bit less than they could have and were glad they did. Within a few years, housing prices plummeted. Today, the house would still sell for less than their original purchase price.
People can’t predict their financial future, but they can be cautious in the present. Ms. Olen suggests asking yourself the following question before buying: Couldn’t you just get something a little smaller? “For almost the entirety of human history, most people did not live the way that we do,” she said. “My mother grew up sharing a bedroom with her brother.”

Nobody much likes talking about death, let alone planning for the possibility of dying young. So it’s no big surprise that not enough people sign up for the experience of shopping for life insurance.
But Mr. Adams, who has an M.B.A. and a stint at a bank to go with his ace cartooning skills, wrote his original list after a long effort to simplify things and to do so from the perspective of someone who had no stake in the outcome. “The incentive of financial professionals is to keep people frightened and helpless,” he said in an interview this week. “What they sell is a solution to the problem.”
And so it is with life insurance, where the simplest solution — term insurance — is often the best. You might pay $50 to $100 a month or so for 20 years depending on the results of a medical exam and get $500,000 or $1 million if you die (and nothing if you don’t).
Sales agents, however, are often eager to push other forms of insurance that include complex investments, large and often hidden fees, and complex riders laden with mumbo jumbo. “The complexity is overwhelming, and people know they will be bamboozled because they do not know what they’re doing,” Mr. Adams said. “So it’s just this daunting horrible thing that is not easy to think about.”
But they should. You should. Ask for term insurance by name. Supply a urine sample and submit to a nurse’s exam. Then hand over the money.
To hear Mr. Clements describe it, it’s a moral responsibility for any parent of young children who does not have a big pile of financial assets. “Many of them don’t buy it, and those who do buy it don’t buy enough,” he said. “You have a responsibility to think about how your family would cope if you went under the next bus.”
All of these tasks require some discipline. And one thing I learned writing my own card and sitting around a table as my colleagues wrote theirs is that there is real value in discussing your financial goals with others. So be honest with yourself, consult someone who knows your weaknesses and come up with your own money priorities.

Correction: January 8, 2016
An earlier version of this column misstated the percentage of mutual fund money invested in indexed mutual funds at the end of 2014 and 10 years earlier. It was 15.6 percent at the end of 2014, not 18.5 percent, compared with 8.9 percent — not 9.8 percent — a decade earlier.