Posts filed under “Philosophy”

On the Value of Not Knowing

Its Philosophy Phriday, and as such, I want to discuss my ignorance. Or rather, my justifiable pride in my willingness to say “I don’t know.”

I use this phrase frequently, for there are a wealth of subjects I know very, very little about.

Sometimes I am asked things I could not possibly know, particularly about the future. Rather than guess, I believe the best approach is to admit the truth, then plan accordingly. The alternative is to do what too many people do: Make predictions, then marry those forecasts. This usually leads to catastrophic results.

Understanding what it is I do not know is a core part of my approach to the world. Its why I focus so much on investor psychology and cognitive issues. I want to understand what I don’t know, and what my brain is essentially lying to me about. I believe this approach is rewarding.

You may be somewhat surprised to learn that this is not standard operating procedure for most people in many fields. Perhaps we might blame this failure to admit ignorance on an excess of testing children, who are taught to regurgitate some answer regardless of whether they know its correct or not — but (heh heh) I do not know the actual cause.

In the world of investing, recognizing what you do not know and therefor should not be betting on is paramount. It is an important trait for an investor/asset manager to own. Too many people assume they are making decisions based on what they know, but oftentimes their decisions are based on what they think they know but really don’t.

I am not trying to be cagey or contrarian for its own sake — although I will admit to a dollop of mischievous joy when I watch a TV news anchor’s face when I respond appropriately to a foolish question:

Q: “Where is the Dow going to be one year from mow?”

A: “I have no idea.”

Q:   ( *Twitch* )

Everyone who answers that question with anything other than “I don’t know.” is mostly lying. They DO NOT know, and even worse, they are often unaware of their own ignorance (see our prior discussions on Dunning Kruger effect).

Perhaps worst of all, they mislead the viewer into thinking that they, the expert, does know and that you, the home viewer, does not . . . and therefore, you should BUY MY PRODUCT.

That twitch is not why I answer the way I do (tho its a small reward); Rather, it is the proper answer. It is a reflection of accepting a simple reality denied by (IMHO) 4 out of 5 people in my industry.

There are tremendous advantages in recognizing what you do not know. Acknowledging shortcomings in your informational intelligence is a form of situational awareness that prevents you from being blindsided.

There are other benefits as well. It shifts your focus to process over outcome; it assists you in understanding what is the result of skill and what is dumb luck. It prevents you from being fooled by randomness. And as we have learned, repeatable results that are the result of a process are vastly superior to random outcomes.

This is a more valuable trait, a reflection of a more insightful set of perspectives than you might realize. Some branding experts have (more or less) stated that “You have moved into the niche market of Truth ever since the larger firms abandoned it for more lucrative fields.” Alas, no, this is not marketing schtick. It is a simple acknowledgement of reality, which leads to smarter planning and superior outcomes. It might be more challenging to sell to people — it ain’t slick, does not lend itself to glossy brochures, is hard to manifest in a tagline — but it works.

What are you ignorant about?

 

 

Category: Investing, Philosophy, Psychology

The Best (Non-Financial) Financial Books

From time to time people ask me to give them recommendations on good finance books. When I respond, I either get blank stares or laughs… What’s so funny about the Tao Te Ching, Thoreau’s Walden, or Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling On Happiness? Were they expecting something like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, Kiyosaki’s Poor Dad / Rich…Read More

Category: Books, Philosophy

“What’s Your NFP Number?” [Don't have one]

This morning, the single most asked question I hear is “So what’s Your NFP Number?” That’s one of the more interesting side issues about this Maine event/fishing trip/conference. Its overrun with economists and Fed folk, who are the fairly focused on short term data. Regular readers number I have little interest in making bad predictions…Read More

Category: Data Analysis, Employment, Philosophy

Third Dynasty, 2005 B.C. (before crisis)

Tom Keene says some astonishingly nice things about your humble blogger. Its based in part on our prior discussion of “our god-given right to be wrong in picking stocks,” and what that means for investor psychology as well as portfolio decisions:   click for full article   Much more of this and I will become…Read More

Category: Media, Philosophy

Independent Thought: Earning Your Free Will

Ahhh, sleeping in my own bed — such a delight. After a trip to Denver for an FA Mag conference and then onto to Vancouver for the Agora event, I am back home again. It is just for a week, and then I head off to my annual Maine fishing event. Travel is good for…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Psychology, Travel

90% of Everything is Crap

Source: Mental Floss     As someone who has spent his fair share of time debunking nonsense, I love the elegant way Theodore Sturgeon trashed this anti-SciFi trope in the March 1958 issue of Venture: “I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Quantitative, Rules

The Narrative Fails

Its Friday (and a hot summer Friday at that), and as such, I like to wax philosophical about what I see around me as some of the broader issues today. Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capital sets the scene for us: “The economy continues to do okay, the stock market is hitting all-time highs every day,…Read More

Category: Cognitive Foibles, Investing, Philosophy, Psychology

Nikola Tesla: Passing Through

Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla!   “Like a wave in the physical world, in the infinite ocean of the medium which pervades all, so in the world of organisms, in life, an impulse started proceeds onward, at times, may be, with the speed of light, at times, again, so slowly that for ages and ages it…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Weekend

Confidence Crisis

Cassandra Does Tokyo is a former hedge fund manager and ex NY Trader, who is now living abroad. ~~~ I am in a reflective mood, navigating, what one might call say, a crisis of confidence. What is the root of this self-doubt? I am, you see, squarely in my middle years, and as I look…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Psychology, Really, really bad calls, Think Tank

QOTD: “Founding Fathers” edition

Happy Independence Day! On the anniversary of the United States birth — before we became a corrupt plutocracy (back then we were a corrupt slave owning nation) — we did have some leaders who were inspirational. Regular readers know that the quote of the day is often filled with terrific gems from some of the…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Weekend