Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Streamline Your Mind

From successful businessmen to politicians and entrepreneurs to investors, a penchant for reading seems to be a common trait existent in many of the world's top leaders.  From President Obama to former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton, many start their days scouring the local and national newspapers and favorite blogs. 

"The Week" published a wonderful article in 2013 describing Warren Buffett's and Charlie Munger's reading habits.  Here's an excerpt:
Warren Buffett says, "I just sit in my office and read all day." 
What does that mean? He estimates that he spends 80 percent of his working day reading and thinking. 
"You could hardly find a partnership in which two people settle on reading more hours of the day than in ours," Charlie Munger commented. 
When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said he "read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge builds up, like compound interest."

The article goes on to describe how possible Buffett successor, Todd Combs, has heeded his bosses advice and reads up to a thousand pages on some days! 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Confirmation Bia$

The recent attacks in Paris, I hope we can all agree, were tragic.  As the friends and relatives of the victims continue to mourn, we turn on the news every morning to updates on the search for the suspected attackers.  And, in the aftermath, social media fills up with opinions on the Syrian refugees immigrating to America in search of a better life and, more importantly, peace.  Fear abounds as to whether potential terrorists will use the opportunity to enter the country and plot further attacks on our own soil. 

Log in to Twitter or Instagram to find yourself inundated with fiery opinions and impassioned debates of commenters either siding for or against the 31 governors who have decided to not welcome Syrian refugees into their states.  58 comment responses later and nothing has been resolved.  The end result:  a lot of mud-slinging, anger-fueled rage, hot tempers, and little resolution.  What we DON'T have is a significant amount of level-headed, clear minded, well reasoned discussion.  How does this happen every time a new hot button issue arises?  How do we not improve our ability to better resolve a discussion and not take the bait some attention seeking poster hangs out there in a Facebook rant?  Why, after so many of these episodes, do we still constantly let our emotions impede our reasoning?

Well, one reason might be that social media provides a platform for this type of conversation - a back-and-forth exchange where one can take time to flesh out his argument, use a thesaurus to find a bigger, more complicated word, and dial up a Wikipedia article or two to find under-scrutinized pieces of information to back his side prior to hitting "reply".  But the root of the problem goes deeper than that.  We are pushed to partake in these disputes because of Confirmation Bias.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Of Wrestling and Life

I am extremely biased, but I strongly believe wrestling is one of the toughest, most challenging, character building, and valuable activities that a person can participate in.  Few other sports pit one competitor against another in an environment that requires as much mental preparation as full-body strength, endurance, and coordination.  MMA may be one of the few exceptions.

I was fortunate enough to have had a semi-successful high school wrestling career - placing 8th my junior year and 3rd my senior year at the Indiana State Wrestling Tournament - before walking on to a Big Ten wrestling team.  On the nurture side, outside of family influence, the sport probably did more to shape my life, my values, and my belief system than maybe any other external factor to this point.  Wrestling involves many intricacies that can be applied to numerous - maybe most - obstacles encountered throughout a lifetime.  With that, I have compiled a list of lessons wrestling can teach that apply to life in general:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Instant Gratification in Poker and Investing

Poker and investing are similar activities.  Each a game of skill, where the end result doesn't necessarily reflect how well the game was played in the short term, but long term results are heavily influenced by constantly playing hands that offer positive expected value.  In the short term, randomness plays an important and unavoidable role; in the long term, those vagaries flesh themselves out.

Poker player, value investor, and Seeking Alpha contributor, Bram de Haas participated in a brief Seeking Alpha Q&A session that highlighted many of the similarities.  de Haas discusses that "one difference is that a hand of poker is settled in a matter of minutes or seconds . . . " while an investment can take years to come to fruition.  Timeframe is a factor that needs to be considered with the investor that the poker shark can ignore.  He further notes that he is less prone to judge his investments by their outcome as opposed to analyzing his application of value investment theories in reaching an investment decision.  His goal, it seems, is mastery of the approach; the results will take care of themselves.  His methods may need some tweaking every now and again, but he won't change course on a whim.  Lessons derived from the RESULTS of an individual poker hand or an investment are meaningless. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

We Are Wimpy!

We, as a society, are wimpy.  We become more and more sensitive to every news article or Twitter post that rubs us even slightly the wrong way. We turn to social media as an outlet and believe it exists only as a means for us to vent our perspective.  If we don't like something, well, instead of doing something productive to change it, we voice our frustration in a Facebook rant.  Seven likes later - there, you feel better.  You DID do something about it.  You just changed the world, didn't you?

I'm not blaming social media for the current state of our culture; it had to be expected as the world grew more connected.  We all have a right to be heard - I'm not denying that - it's just that now we can easily access an audience for our tirades instead of chewing the ear of our significant other or neighbor or co-workers over the water cooler.  In fact, I don't even mind the obsession our society has with "being heard" and "making a point".  I think it even offers an advantage to the "doers" over the "talkers". 

Why do the "talkers" do what they do (or, don't do what they could do?)?  It starts young.  Parents these days (man, I'm sounding old!) do everything in their power to ensure that their kids are comfortable, regardless of how much they are being set up to fail.  Megan McArdle opens her book, "The Upside of Down" with a discussion on how schools are set up to let children fail later in their lives.  Parents side with their kids over teachers, grade averages are increasing - not due to smarter students, but out of convenience, multiple valedictorians are named in the same school - sometimes in the 30's and 40's - because "no one wants to make a distinction between the kids".  In general, everyone gets a trophy for participating.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why Knowing it All Makes you Dumber . . .

A difference exists between confidence and arrogance - between being well-informed and believing you have all the answers.  Why are we so reluctant to say, "I don't know"?  Or, "I'll have to check on that"?  Instead, when pushed into a corner or pressed for more information, we succumb to a recency bias and blurt out anything we can recall on the topic at hand.  Regardless of whether the information we are spouting is correct or not - we only say it because it is the most easily accessible information our brain can provide at the moment - we feel the need to sound informed.  Or, more likely, we have a fear of being regarded as uninformed or, worse yet, unprepared. 

Volunteering the most recent information that comes to mind may get us out of a temporary pickle, but it will catch up eventually.  The problem is, once something comes out of our mouth, we own it; we tend to believe and defend it even more than before the statement was made.  The vicious cycle continues with confirmation bias, where we now begin to search only for information that supports our position, building additional mental support for a stance that we were once not really sure we even agreed with.

Monday, November 2, 2015

"Waiting for the Universe to Respond to What You've Been Manifesting"

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon this picture on Instagram:

It was so ridiculous and pointless - just like most brain-drain social media posts, I suppose - but it was also one of those images that became stuck in my head.  How often do you feel like this?  I mean, REALLY feel like this?  I've felt this way more lately than I can ever remember - and it's tough.  Anxiety has got to be one of the most difficult emotions to suppress.  If you're like me - and I'm assuming if you're reading this then we likely share number of similar characteristics - it is not in your nature to sit back and watch the world go by.  You need to be doing something; you need to be planting some seed or nurturing one that you've previously sown.  Sitting and watching is next to impossible.