Sunday, December 20, 2015

Back to Basics

Most of the time I feel completely overwhelmed by issues that come up in the public debate. To have a view, it feels like each thing would require years of study. Even then, years of study wouldn't lead to a conclusive answer. You can't even always trust the experts. In the area I have spent most time studying, i.e. risk, financial planning and investments,  there are a lot of people who are experts who I disagree with. Even the people I mostly agree with are normally the people who I could argue with for hours.

I worked at two different investment companies with similarish philosophies. At both, I spent the first few months essentially in full time study of what it was that built the foundation of their approach. That study didn't stop. Between books, reports, discussions and arguments in the pub, there was continual debate about what it was that made someone good at what we did. Continual soul searching. Continual self improvement through reflection.

Then you got a brief discussion with clients. A long meeting would be two hours. One particularly long discussion got to four hours. There is almost no way you are going to be able to convey months or years of study into a short meeting. Someone who decides to commit a lot of energy to understanding will almost certainly not be able to put a full month aside to really study a philosophy and buy into it whole-heartedly.

It is easy to think you are the only one who has a truly difficult branch of the study tree. Engineers notoriously only trust engineers, but think engineers can do anything else. This is not an uncommon view among the Investment Community either. It may take a lot of study to understand investments, but then you believe you have the mental faculties to solve any other problem. We know what we do is hard, we think what others do is easy.

Some problems are really hard. The people who understand them are often so detached from the rest of the world, it is like someone 'discovering' a new land, but dying there. No one understands them. It isn't all that helpful if we are all such uber-specialists that we aren't able to talk to each other any more.

The only solution I can see is bringing a big chunk of what we do back to basics. Learning to be competent at life. Small things like eating properly. Sleeping properly. Spending time with people we care about. Exercising. Being kind. The big issues can sometimes be so big they distract us from the easy things that make a big difference over time.

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