Information Questions

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Photo by Oleg Magni on

“People always ask us how we do what we do without talking to management. I say that’s probably made me more money than a single fact of my investing process.” – Jim Chanos

Part-of-the-reason we are the way we are is because of energy conservation. Human tendencies (nee biases) exist so we, unlike a robotic vacuum, get stuck in a never-ending decision loop. We’ve survived this far, so these things work.

However sometimes we need to consider, weigh, or evaluate information. One tactic to do that is to think about the who, what, when, and how of the information.

Who. The person communicating a message offers information and we use that, even when we say we don’t. Doctors face the white coat effect as well as the halo effect. In his book, Messengers, Stephen Martin notes that “the messenger has increasingly become the message.” Why, do you think, businessmen wear suits?

What. A silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is the rising awareness of statistics and their limitations. Average rarely is. The same treatments can have different outcomes because the groups are different in some way. If someone says ‘the average’ we think ‘the red flag’.

When. Ben Hunt spoke with Aaron Watson and noted “I always ask myself, why am I hearing this? It’s not just the what you’re hearing but also the why. it’s not to be conspiratorial, it’s just to ask the question.” We get this when it comes to marketing a movie but forget it in many similar areas.

How. The medium is the message. Audio offers intimacy. Have people read, listen, or watch opposing political messages and the the audio conveyers are “dehumanized less.” The sister effect is why audiobooks are different, not good or bad for learning.

On the Long View podcast, Moshe Milevsky spoke about narrowing the distribution of retirement returns. Just as some jobs are unlikely to make you obscenely rich (or poor), some financial products are unlikely to make you obscenely rich (or poor).

The employee of Enron (or Facebook) had (or has) a much greater chance of banking billions or blowing up, rather than earning an average retirement account return. A teacher who buys an annuity, has a great chance of earning the market average, but avoiding the extremes.

When Milevsky spoke in May 2020, it was a good chance to apply the who, what, when, and how to communication. Milevsky is an academic, speaking about finances during hectic time as people saw portfolios cut in half, but then running up. And it was the Morningstar podcast which has an authority and intimacy in itself.

Information used to be through a few sources and the contrast was easy. Visual or not. Political or not. Mainstream or not. Now, what is mainstream, what is orthodox, what is real? Whatever the answer, it comes from a question.

Want more? Check out this pay-what-you-want placebo prescription pdf.

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