Not all busybodies are employed in media. Taker my neighbor, Haven O. Keddy. He’s always got advice. Even when you don’t ask him for any. Haven figures I know nothing and couldn’t tie my shoes without his guidance. It doesn’t matter I can converse with theologians, senators and titans of industry. He believes the 2,000 books in my possession mean I’m an egghead and not capable of common sense. However that’s defined. He’s got advice on everything from pet care to raising children to shopping.
I’m an early riser. On weekdays it’s 3 o’clock. Haven asks why I get up so early. He frowns when I explain the little elves took the week off and I’ve got to prepare my own show. The nosy neighbor can’t fathom preparation. After all, anyone can shout for a few hours every morning. On weekends I can’t sleep late. I do try. The problem is an overactive kitty in my house. He doesn’t know Saturday from Thursday. Breakfast can’t wait. Haven calls me a dummy and suggests I close the bedroom door. He doesn’t have a cat. Let me explain feline behavior. Closed doors are a serious challenge. Paws reach underneath and scratch. Scratching is noisy. As is a whining cat. I don’t recommend trying to sleep with these sounds keeping you awake much of the night. Leave the door open and resign yourself to being needled by a cat long before sunrise.
Haven O. Keddy also has no kids, and yet he’s always telling me I need to change my approach. Do you have a neighbor, relative or co-worker like him? You know the type. You may sound off about something in your daily life but you don’t leave a question mark at the end of the sentence. Somehow these people with an inability to read social cues believe you’re seeking their advice and are more than willing to set you straight. My late brother was among them. I used to take off a week from work between Christmas and the New Year. The time was for my daughter and niece. My brother was childless and would plan events for us with old high school friends. He would get annoyed when I explained I had taken the vacation time for the kids. I’ll never forget the Christmas he handed each girl a chess set, shook their hands and said, “Merry Christmas!” They were 9 and 12 at the time and he never shared another word with them the rest of the day. I guess he thought they needed a few meals and some water and you could otherwise just let them grow in the sunlight.
How about the people at work always advising you to “buy a new one?” This usually involves some device in your personal life and their solution is always something pricier. I’ve only had a personal cellphone for 10 years. Prior I saw no need for one. When I did buy one I used an old flip device and dropped my land line. No use paying for both. Five years ago a radio consultant I worked with started referencing my “dumb phone.” He and my boss both suggested I get a smartphone. They wanted me doing complex work even when I happened to be at the ballpark, restaurant or beach. I should note they didn’t pay for my upgrade. According to archeologists civilization got its start in places like Jericho and Ur some 12,000 years ago. To think we survived up to 100 years ago without wireless devices of any kind and now we’re integrating them into our bodies.
The people at work with all the fancy tablets strike me as the guys and gals with the largest credit card debt. As I mentioned earlier in this column I’ve a couple of thousand books. I’ve given away hundreds more in an effort to downsize. A landlord some years ago suggested they were a waste and no reasonable person would haul them around the country. I’m not sure he could read in the first place and from his perspective books were a waste of not only space but time and money. Another friend repeats “Kindle” and tells me I need to get with the times. I dumped my expensive DirecTV package not long ago and adopted internet TV at a big savings. One service offers movies for sale. You don’t actually get a hard copy of the DVD. It exists in the ether until some nasty country drops an electromagnetic pulse weapon over Nebraska. Even with a generator your movie library is gone! Books and DVDs have more permanence.
Let me be clear. I’m not seeking any advice about pets, kids or technology. When I do it’ll be in the specific form of a question. Or I’ll go to the library and read Consumer Reports and a few psychology tomes. I like most of you but it doesn’t mean I can’t tie my own shoes. Actually, I recently bought shoes with Velcro straps. The kitty attacks the strings when I try and tie my sneakers. I solved the crisis all by myself.
Recycling is a vital part of keeping our Earth healthy. Humans waste so many things each day, and create so much trash and litter. The landfills are full, in fact, they are overflowing. The trash and litter has now gone into the oceans also. The trash in the oceans is harming the sea life, putting many different species in danger, and even killing some. People should care about this issue because not only is it harming sea life, but it could also be hurting our drinking water. People should also care about how much trash is littering our Earth. Please help this cause by recycling everyday objects. If your town has a recycling program, you can help this cause by getting a recycling bin and putting everyday objects, such as water bottles, plastic jugs, paper, cardboard, glass, and aluminum in it where they can be taken to a recycling facility.
Most Republicans — to be precise, 74 percent, according to a CBS News poll — think it’s very or somewhat likely Donald Trump’s offices were wiretapped, even though the White House has offered no evidence to back up the president’s claim that his predecessor ordered the monitoring.
I just love data points like this. They say so much about humans as a species — how we process information, our inability to look dispassionately at a situation, the ever-present cognitive errors, even the challenges of reaching a simple, rational conclusion based on evidence.
There are lessons here for investors who want to better understand how their own minds operate, and how they can manage their own behavior. Each of these bullet points applies equally to the survey respondents cited above and to almost all investors:
No. 1: We seek information to reinforce our beliefs.
As investors, we suffer from the endowment effect: We place a higher value on holdings we already own. Hey, if we bought it, then it must be good! I suspect this is due to a combination of wishful thinking and self-validation. Most people don’t really want to find evidence that their investments are a dog; they hate to admit error. Instead, they seek proof that the original purchase decision was correct.
No. 2: Selective perception prevents us from becoming fully informed.
Not only do we overvalue what we already own, but we tend to seek out information that confirms the value of that holding. Selective perception and confirmation bias see to it that we overlook evidence to the contrary.
Take the claim above — or any investment thesis, for that matter. It should be considered a simple assertion, waiting to be proven or debunked. If you are objective, you should always be seeking and evaluating evidence that disproves your thesis.
That’s not what typically happens. Instead, we create a filter bubble to reinforce support for our holdings. Rather than having an objective, 360-degree view of our investments, we create huge blind spots. As you might imagine, this can lead to expensive errors.
No. 3: The ability to step out of ourselves to see the world from a different angle or perspective is hard.
It’s more than selective perception and confirmation bias: Every buyer should be able to make a case for why that stock should be sold. Every forecaster who predicts a stock-market top should be able to explain why the rally could go on for years. Every pundit who assures us that economic growth will be robust should be able to spot the immediate recession risks.
For every transaction, there are at least two valid points of view: The buyer’s and the seller’s. Investors should take a page from the lawyers and learn how to argue all sides of any investment. You shouldn’t buy or sell anything unless you fully understand the other side of the trade.
No. 4: Emotions get in the way.
When we become aware that we may be looking at things in a biased manner, we at least have a chance to overcome errors. However much we may seek this sort of self-awareness, emotions can trip us up. The tribal nature of politics works against us; so too do fear and greed when capital is at risk. Seeing the world without letting our own feelings color perceptions is a never-ending battle.
No. 5: Objectively measuring data isn’t our strong suit.
If keeping our emotions under control is difficult, evaluating data is even more challenging. Compelling narratives can easily sway us, even when the facts say otherwise. Sports fans and partisans are so deeply invested in a specific outcome that they simply lose the ability to objectively judge reality.
As an example, when confronted with the lack of evidence for the wiretapping claim above, the pushback was “the lack of evidence does not mean it did not happen.” As physicist Carl Sagan once observed, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
We believe what we want to believe, regardless of the evidence. In the capital markets, the costs of such an approach can be quite expensive.