Weekend Reads for Finance Pros: Investing, Meditation, and Radiators versus Drains
A long time ago, so long ago, in fact, that I no longer recall the context, I heard a very simple plumbing analogy that relates to people. Bear with me. It goes like this: There are two types of people in life, radiators and drains. When you are around “radiators,” you feel energized, positive, and encouraged. They radiate good energy. But when you are in the company of “drains,” well, you feel drained. Your energy is sapped. You feel depleted.
The phrase “radiators and drains” stuck with me, and over the years I have often invoked it when thinking about the people I am surrounded by as well as the people I choose to surround myself with.
The point hit home again this week when I read the summer homework list assigned by Cesare Catà of Don Bosco High School in Fermo, a small town in northeastern Italy on the Adriatic coast. (The list went viral, so viral that it turned up as the “adapted” summer assignment for a friend’s rising sixth grader in New York City.)
Number 4 on the list: “Avoid things, situations and people who make you feel negative or empty: seek out stimulating situations and the companionship of friends who enrich you, who understand you and appreciate you for who you are.”
We all have a hand in our own happiness — be it in our personal or professional lives.
In his very fast-paced but amusing 2011 TEDxBloomington talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” psychologist Shawn Achor, CEO of GoodThink Inc., notes that only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ while 75% are predicted by “your optimism levels, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”
He believes we can train our brains to become more positive, that is, to scan for the positive, not the negative, first. “Dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive, has two functions,” he says. “Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain, allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.”
Small changes can make a big difference. For example, “random acts of kindness, which are conscious acts of kindness. . . . Exercise [which] teaches your brain that your behavior matters [and] meditation [which] allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand.”
Some, however, think that as a society we are too obsessed with happiness and positivity.
“Nothing depresses me more than reading about happiness,” writes Alison Beard, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, in a recent article, “The Happiness Backlash.” Why? “Because there’s entirely too much advice out there about how to achieve it.”
Beard believes that “where most of the happiness gurus go wrong is insisting that daily if not constant happiness is a means to long-term fulfillment . . . [that] it apparently takes just a few simple tricks . . . It certainly can’t be drawn out of us by employers or other external forces.”
Most often, happiness at work is tied to one’s colleagues.
In “Peter Thiel on What Works at Work,” the tech entrepreneur shares, among other things, lessons he learned as a CEO.
Here’s one bit that stood out to me: “An executive once told me she thought that if you had three good friends at your office then you’d never leave. If you had no good friends, you were a very at-risk employee. It’s a really good question: How do you build a company culture where people have strong friendships with at least a few people at work? That’s healthier than having a super professional approach where there’s this low-level chronic dislike everybody has of everybody else, and it somehow functions but people are unhappy — which I think is true of a lot of law firms or investment banks.”
As we head into the holiday weekend here in the United States, here are a few more interesting reads, in case you missed them:
- “Consuming Financial News without Being Consumed by It” (JasonZweig)
- My colleague Dave Larrabee, CFA, recently hosted a one-day online forum on the future of active management. The distinguished panel included Michael A. Ervolini, CEO at Cabot Research; Carol W. Geremia, co-head of global distribution at MFS Investment Management; Mirtha D. Kastrapeli, vice president and senior research analyst at State Street Center for Applied Research; and Lawrence E. Kochard, CFA, CFA, CEO and CIO at the University of Virginia Investment Management Company. You can catch up on the debate by scrolling through the embedded window at the bottom of the blog post. (Enterprising Investor)
- The ever-thoughtful Ben Carlson writes that watching the drama play out over the last few weeks in Greece ought have cleared up a few things for investors. For starters, “no one really knows what’s going on in the markets.” And yet most everyone tries to find ways to explain why things happen the way they do. In the blog post, “Letting Go of the Why,” Carlson writes, “When you’re constantly looking for a catalyst to explain every single move in the markets you start to see signals and correlations that just don’t exist. Most of the time we won’t know exactly why the markets moved a certain way until much later. Sometimes even with the benefit of perfect hindsight, investors still can’t agree on the specifics of the cause and effect. But to some the ‘why’ in the markets will always seem easy after the fact, so they keep searching for the answers.” (A Wealth of Common Sense)
- Four things that investing has taught Morgan Housel about human behavior. (Wall Street Journal)
- What we can learn from math about luck, skill, and investment returns: “Math Is Different” (Above the Market)
- Here’s a question to ponder: Is math just a ticket to a good job, or is it the key to unlocking a secret world of beauty? If you work in the finance industry, there’s no doubt that math can be very useful. As Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell, puts it in “The Dilemma of Math,” “The jobs of the 21st century rely on a highly quantitative-skilled workforce. If you want to go into high tech, or modern medicine, or finance, you’ll need to know a lot of math.” (The Atlantic)
- Sticking with math:
— Jennifer R. Curry (@JenRCurry) June 27, 2015
- Paul Sullivan, The Wealth Matters columnist for The New York Times, rightly notes in a recent article that computer-generated investment advice has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. He discusses the pluses and minuses among the three main ways to use technology in personal investing: the robo way, the hybrid way, and the techie adviser way. (The New York Times)
- “Brokers and Millennials . . . #Epicfail. Why Robo-Advisers Have an Edge” (TABB Forum)
- “Debunking The Top 5 Brokerage Industry Myths About Fiduciary Duty” (Piaba)
- Inspired by Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto. Michael Kitces asks, “Why Aren’t Checklists a Financial Planning Standard?” (Nerd’s Eye View)
- In “Unconscious Bias and Differentiated Returns,” Tadas Viskanta says, “If the rise of behavioral finance has taught us anything [it’s] that we are all rife with all manner of behavioral biases. Luckily for us men and women have these behavioral biases [in] varying amounts. So whether you view this all through the lens of biology, cognition, or behavior it makes sense to try and assemble, real or virtual, as diversified an investment team as possible.” (Abnormal Returns)
- Liz Dolan, Fox International Channel’s chief marketing officer, says “unconscious bias” forced her to quit Quiksilver’s board. “I learned that even when a woman earns a seat at the table, the men can put you in a soundproof booth.” (Fortune)
- Gender diversity is key to success, says Ellevate’s Sallie Krawcheck. (WealthManagement.com)
And Now for Something Completely Different
- Apparently, with a little bit of training, we can all learn to be a bit more resilient. See: Bounce Back: 11 Ways to Be More Resilient (Positive Prescription)
- One of the tips for building resilience is practicing mindfulness. For more on this, see: “A Guide to Meditation” (Farnam Street).
- Also, Lizzie Widdicombe notes that “meditation” is hard to define because the word can apply to so many things. “In the broadest sense, it is any method used to train the mind or to achieve a special state of consciousness,” she says. (The New Yorker)
- Do you know what “glossophobia” is? I bet you don’t, but I would hazard a guess that you probably have it. Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. Mark Twain is believed to have said that there are only two types of speakers in this world: 1. The nervous and 2. liars. In other words, everyone has some degree of anxiety around public speaking. And yet it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the glossophobes to get away with shirking making a short public presentation or speech. So how to overcome — or if not overcome, if Twain is to be believed, but manage — our nerves? Adam Grant has some great tips in his post, “How I Overcame the Fear of Public Speaking.” I particularly like his advice to lead with a puzzle, question, or story. “Opening with a puzzle places the audience’s attention on the ideas, as opposed to the speaker,” he says. “A question has a similar effect: it gets the audience thinking instead of judging. Malcolm Gladwell has made a similar observation about starting with a story: the audience gets absorbed in the narrative, and ends up focusing on the plot and the characters rather than the storyteller.” (LinkedIn)
- With the summer heat up on us, a handy chart for the runners among you:
— Lauren Foster (@laurenfosternyc) June 17, 2015
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: iStockphoto.com/JLGutierrez