A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 12, 2008
“Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut” (business proverb)

"Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut” is an old business proverb that has been printed on many gift items, such as T-shirts and bumper stickers. The barber is in the business of cutting hair; he doesn’t make money if you don’t get a haircut. If you ask a sales specialist if you need to buy his particular product, he’ll always say that you do.

Investor Warren Buffett made this one of his investment proverbs. For example, if you go to a municipal bond specialist, you’ll always need to buy municipal bonds. If you go to a mutual funds specialist, you’ll be told to buy mutual funds. Buffett’s investment strategy is wary of tainted advice.

Daniel S. Greenberg wrote “Don’t Ask the Barber Whether You Need a Haircut” for the November 25, 1972 Saturday Review, popularizing the saying. Variations of the saying date to at least 1909.

A similar saying about specialists is “When you go to Midas, you get a muffler.” Another barbershop proverb is “If you hang out in a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.”


Warren Buffett’s Words of Wisdom
“The Tao of Warren Buffett” makes Buffett’s investment strategy extremely accessible, and includes such nuggets as:
. Why Warren Buffett drove an old VW Beetle for so long (it could have been worth $1,000,000).
. The secret stock lesson Buffett uncovered at the age of 11 – he still uses it today.
. How to find companies that are “one wonderful business.”
. What Warren means when he says, “Invest like a Catholic.”
. The real reason Warren won’t even look at business projections that stock analysts put out.
. Warren’s famous baseball analogy and what it means to look for the “perfect pitch.”
. “You don’t have to try to get rich overnight to eventually get rich” using Warren’s sure-fired methods.
. How to follow the business, not the stock price.
. Why Warren Buffett never would have lost money in GM and Ford and his key advice for investing in value stocks.
. Use Buffett’s “Ten to fifteen years’ time” frame when looking to invest in a new business.
. What Buffett means when he says, “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.”

Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research
Daniel S. Greenberg, A.B.
Guest Scholar
The Brookings Institution
Discipline: Journalism
Expertise: Academic Medical Centers; Bioethics; Science Policy
Background:
Daniel S. Greenberg is a journalist who has covered science and health politics in Washington for many years. He is currently a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution, where he is writing a book about academic-corporate relations, to be published by the University of Chicago Press. Greenberg is the author of Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (U. of Chicago Press, 2001) and The Politics of Pure Science (New American Library, 1968; new edition, U. of Chicago Press, 2002).

Greenberg was news editor of Science, and founder, editor and publisher of Science & Government Report from 1971 until 1997, when it was acquired by the John Wiley publishing firm. For over 25 years, his op-ed column on science and health appeared in the Washington Post and other papers. He also wrote a Washington column for the New England Journal of Medicine. He has received grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Science, Medicine, and Technology at Johns Hopkins. His articles have appeared in many popular and professional publications, including Nature, New Scientist, Discover, New York Times, Smithsonian, U.S. News & World Report, The Lancet, and others. He is the creator of the legendary Grant Swinger.

10 February 1909, Lowell (MA) Sun, “Interesting Talk By Charles Burleigh before the Southwick Textile Club,” pg. 8, col. 3:
I will admit it to be poor judgment to ask a barber if you need a haircut, but this is a subject on which you should be qualified to pass judgment without advice, but were I a textile manufacturer, contemplating the equipment of a new mill or an addition to an existing one, I would feel that I was best conserving the interests of my stockholders by selecting the electrical manufacturing concern that had been fortunate enough to have had the broadest experience in this line, and place myself in their hands through my mill engineer.

5 October 1913, Lima (OH) Daily News, pg. 8, col. 2:
Another caution to any man with heart trouble—don’t ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut. He might say no.

11 December 1972, Amarillo (TX) Globe-Times, pg. 2, cols. 1-2:
An Amarillo man took an overnight trip to Fort Worth and the next morning when he started to shave he found he was minus his razor. He went downstairs to the hotel barbershop. He told the barber he wanted a sahve.

“How about a haircut, too?” the barber asked.

The Amarillo man said, “I just had a haircut a couple of days ago. Do you think I need one?”

The barber surveyed the head of his Amarillo customer.

“Well, I could straighten it up a bit,” he said.

Moral—Don’t ever ask a barber if you need a haircut.

27 February 1973, Winnipeg (Manitoba) Free Press, pg. 23, col. 1:
Of course, if you ask a fast-buck appraiser whether you need a specialist to appraise your assets you will get the same sort of unbiased answer as from a barber if you asked him whether you need a haircut.

Google Books
Public Science Policy and Administration
By Albert Harold Rosenthal
Published by University of New Mexico Press
1973
Pg. 275:
Greenberg, Daniel S. “Don’t Ask the Barber Whether You Need a Haircut.” Saturday Review (November 25, 1972), pp. 58-59. 

Google Books
An Introduction to Engineering:
Methods, Concepts, and Issues

By Edward V. Krick
Published by Wiley
1976
Pg. 287:
Daniel Greenberg, “Don’t Ask Your Barber Whether You Need A Haircut,” Saturday Review, November 25, 1972. This article is the kind that makes you stop and think, and even chuckle.

17 February 1979, Ironwood (MI) Daily Globe, Ann Landers column, pg. 5, col. 6:
It would be like asking a barber if you need a haircut.

Google Books
Trials on Trial:
The Pure Theory of Legal Procedure

By Gordon Tullock
New York, NY: Columbia University Press
1980
Pg. 243:
“The First Law of Expert Advice states: Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut”—Daniel S. Greenberg, “When Quackery Dons a Starched White Coat,” Washington Post, August 2, 1977, p. A19.

Google Books
Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society
By OCLC FirstSearch Electronic Collections Online, SAGE Publications Online
Published by Pergamon Press
1982
Pg. 618:
Greenberg, D.S., “Don’t Ask the Barber Whether You Need a Haircut,” Saturday Review of Science, November 25, 1972, p. 58.

Google Books
Corporate Fraud
By Michael J. Comer
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
1985
Pg. 142:
There is an old rule which applies here ‘Never ask a barber if you need a haircut’. Technicians often have a vested interest; it is like asking Dracula to advise on the security of the bloodbank.

Google Books
Don’t Squat with Yer Spurs On!:
A Cowboy’s Guide to Life

By Texas Bix Bender
Published by Gibbs Smith
1992
Pg. 21:
Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.

Google Books
Up Your Productivity
By Kurt Hanks
Crisp Publications
1995
Pg. 107:
Overspecializing on Specialists
. Never ask only a barber if you need a haircut.
. Never ask only a surgeon if it should be removed.
. Never ask only a banker if honesty is a virtue.
. Never ask only an entomologist about termites in your basement.
. Never ask only a comptroller for more petty cash.
. Never ask only a salesperson if you really need it.
. Never ask only a friend how you look.

Google Groups: alt.support.marriage
Newsgroups: alt.support.marriage
From: (Lee)
Date: 1998/01/27
Subject: Re: To anyone in need of a good laugh…

Don’t Squat With Yer Spurs On, A Cowboy’s Guide To Life” by Texas Bix Bender

Never kick a fresh cow chip on a hot day.

There’s two theories to arguin’ with a woman. Neither one works.

Don’t worry about bitin’ off more than you can chew. Your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger’n you think.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

Never ask a man the size of his spread.

After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: when you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

Never smack a man who’s chewin’ tobacco.

It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.

Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut.

Google Books
Warren Buffett: Master of the Market
By Jay Steele
New York, NY: HarperCollins
1999
Pg. 201:
Investors have a habit of checking out their pet theories on friends. And this means that they are instinctively seeking some kind of recommendation from their broker friends. Buffett has a good homespun Nebraska aphorism for that situation:

“Never ask the barber if you need a haircut.”

Buffett has always had a good fix on money managers and professionals who advise investors what stocks and what bonds to invest in.

“Full-time professionals in other fields, let’s say dentists, bring a lot to the layman. but in aggregate, people get nothing for their money from professional money managers.”

Google Books
May I Help You?
Why You Need a Fee-Only Investment Advisor

By Dan Danford
Infinity Publishing
2004
Pg. 70:
Seek genuine, unbiased help—Ever ask a barber if you need a haircut? People don’t need advice as much as they need unbiased advice. That’s why many people query friends and relatives about investments and finance (sadly, these are often biased and uninformed). Find a true fee-based professional and pay to discover solutions, not products.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • Friday, December 12, 2008 • Permalink