Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.
Sean Iddings was on the Five good questions podcast hosted by Jake Taylor. What I like about 5GQ is the conciseness and structure. While long conversations can be delightful, there’s also something to a crisp thirty-minute interview. Taylor does that. So does Aaron Watson.
In this conversation, Iddings and Taylor talk about intelligent fanatics. Iddings paraphrases Charlie Munger and says these are people that “do things ordinary mortals can’t.” It’s the John Patterson and Sam Waltons of the world. “Intelligent fanatics see things others can’t see,” says Iddings. That is, intelligent fanatics have these moments:
Jim O’Shaughnessy had his moment as a kid when he walked past a group of (adult) family members who were discussing stock purchases based on the personality of the managers rather his numbers.
Eric Maddox had his moment when he interrogated prisoners and found out that they told him things that didn’t jive with another story he’d heard.
Investors, interrogators, and intelligent fanatics all pay attention for that’s interesting moments and tug at them like a loose thread on a sweater.
Iddings is an investor and he’d prefer to find intelligent fanatics early but knows that’s not easy. To help he uses a spectrum approach. “I like to think of intelligent fanatics as a spectrum,” says Iddings. Spectrums are relative (rather than absolute) scoring systems. Michael Mauboussin articulated the luck <-> skill spectrum. Andy Weissman thinks of his VC deal flow on an active <-> reactive spectrum. Greg Ip wrote about the spectrum of ecologists <-> engineers.
A spectrum works nicely because you can identify something as here and want it to be there.
Iddings finds intelligent fanatics through pattern recognition (a superpower). He compares it to playing the guitar, study and copy the masters. Jeff Annello compared it to chess. “I think an efficient decision maker is like a chess player that has studied a lot of games, and can very quickly call to mind other moves that have been made and what the best moves are.” Warren Buffett’s inspiration, Ted Williams, played baseball. Each investor has their own metaphor for pattern recognition.
Taylor wonders if the phase of intelligent fanatics has passed. Maybe they had an economic tailwind? We’ve seen that successes like Coca-Cola, Sierra Nevada (Ken Grossman), and McDonald’s (Ray Kroc) all grew in part because of favorable economic ecosystems. Even Steve Jobs got a boost from illegal digital music downloads.
Those tailwinds may be gone, but Iddings is a student of history. He knows that history doesn’t repeat, but it may rhyme. “It’s going to be in a different way but it’s still going to be replicable,” he says.
Thanks for reading,