Audio Blog, 9:53
This weekend, I was surfing the Internet and stumbled across a National Geographic special on the amazing spectacle of the Wildebeest migration, an annual trek of over two million animals across the Serengeti. No one knows why they do it, but all it takes is a couple of the herd to sniff the air, and they all begin the migration. Approximately 200,000 are injured, lost or killed every year, from starvation, disease, over-exertion and predators. The Wildebeest stay in the herd to remain safe from predators, yet the predators always seem to get many of them, primarily because they remain predictable. Simply put, Wildebeest spend their 20-year lives just trying to survive, and following the same old routine. How miserable.
Sometimes I believe that seeking safety in groups, and settling for mediocrity, is not just the Wildebeest way of existing, but also human. Why? I see so many people just following the crowd; they do, say and feel what is popular and accepted.
In financial markets, even highly educated, skilled investors fall into the trap of making decisions that follow consensus thinking. If the market psychology is fearful, most investors sell. If the market psychology is greedy, most investors buy. Very few investors adopt contrarian investment strategies, because it makes them vulnerable to internal and external criticism if they turn out to be wrong. There is safety in numbers, right? This herd mentality is the precise cause for all of history’s financial market bubbles and busts, including the 2008 financial crisis.
Similarly, economists and rating agencies, purportedly objective and non-biased, often make predictions and run models that reach conclusions consistent with their peer group. Why? It is hard to make decisions that go against the grain, and take a road less traveled. For those few brave contrarians that go out on a limb, failure will likely be followed by public ridicule.
However, it is not just the professional class that is dominated by the herd mentality. Most people face pressure to follow the consensus thinking in every facet of their lives. Public education is a good example. Most assume that it is the best way to educate a child (not able to afford a fancy private school). But what if the results for the traditional methods of public education, are producing unacceptable results?
For example, in North Carolina, 100% of graduating students took the ACT exam in 2014. The ACT testing organization uses the results of these exams to publish its own, independent analysis of college readiness.
In Reading, Math & Science, only 30%, 33% and 23% of the students, respectively, met the ACT’s benchmark scores. English was a bit better, but still less than half at 47%. Although I admire and recognize the dedication, talent and drive of our teachers, this is clearly subpar student performance.
So when some parents decide to take creative approaches to this problem, like home schooling, many well-meaning, good people doubt their conviction, and express their disapproval. The interesting fact is that very few of the critics ever consider various alternatives to the current system with an open mind. Home-school families are contrarians, and decide to pursue this path based on what they have learned, and what they expect as results for their children.
Entrepreneurs who start businesses that fail, a natural occurrence in the evolution of a properly functioning economy, are always second-guessed about their optimistic expectations. Artists, who express their creativity in a unique way, can be characterized as “dreamy”. Engineers that seek creative alternative solutions to our energy needs are called unrealistic. The list goes on and on. Often times, these individuals, taking the road less traveled, will experience significant amounts of failure, before they succeed.
However, what we know to be absolutely true is that most major advancements in the history of humanity have come from the contrarians, the forward thinkers, and the new adopters. These people believed in an alternative concept, and were willing to risk it all to achieve their objectives.
Everyone knows the stories of Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Susan B. Anthony, Christopher Columbus and others who changed the world because they were contrarians and “out of the box” thinkers. Many less famous people have also made a difference thinking “outside of the box”, just in their daily lives. The common theme is that they decided to pursue a path that ran contrary to the status quo; regardless of the criticism they would have to endure.
In Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man In The Arena” portion of the “Citizenship In A Republic” speech delivered on the 23rd of April 1910 in Paris France, he said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ”
This excellent quote reflects confidence, self-respect and dignity, and may provide the context and perspective needed for you to seek a life consistent with your true self (2 Qs).
What is a frequent, real life example of young people acting more like Wildebeest?
Junior employees enter into a profession and assume that their path will be similar to the one taken by the older established employees. Often this is incorrect. Wayne Gretzky, the great hockey player, said he scored so many goals because he “skated to where the puck was going, not to where it was”. Junior employees should talk with the experienced employees to learn about the business, both from a historical perspective and most importantly, where the “old bulls” think the business is headed in the future.
Often times, the “old bulls” will identify critical future trends with scorn and negativity. Changes are often hard to make for established employees, and have a detrimental effect on their ability to remain in the position. They have spent many years developing skills and expertise to succeed in the current environment, and it pains them that it may change. Junior employees should capitalize on this knowledge with their flexibility, because that is “where the puck is going”.
For example, it is clear that technology, cyber-security and an enhanced regulatory environment are radically affecting the financial markets. If you were a young person in this field, why would you not develop skills in one of those three areas, to complement the traditional financial skills? Skate to where the puck is going….
There are many people fearful of being a contrarian, but they never ask a very simple question:
If I do what everyone else is doing, how can I expect to get results that are above average?
After all, “average” defines the herd existence, right?
Some would rather exist in the pack, moving through life as a Wildebeest, apparently safe in the company of all the other animals…until the Croc emerges from the water.
The Nile crocodile, unlike the Wildebeest, is an opportunistic apex predator that can wait for hours, days and even weeks for the suitable moment to attack. They are quite agile predators, creative and unpredictable, and wait for the right opportunity to apply their natural strengths to engage their “interests”.
So…I guess there is only one last question: Are you more Wildebeest, or Croc?