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Latticework of Mental Models: Illusion Of Control

Every day, shortly before nine o’clock in the morning, a man with a red hat stands at a busy traffic light and begins to wave his cap frantically. After five minutes he disappears.

One day, a policeman comes up to him and asks: “Sir! May I ask what you are doing?”

“I’m keeping the giraffes away,” replies the man.

The puzzled policeman looks around and tells him, “But there aren’t any giraffes here.”

“Well, I must be doing a good job, then.” says the man proudly.

You would conclude that the man with the red hat wasn’t in the pink of his mental health. However, is it just a case of misplaced understanding of causation vs correlation? Actually, there is more to it.

The man’s belief, that absence of evidence (giraffes) is a proof of his prowess in controlling giraffe traffic, is the result of a behavioural bias called Illusion of Control. It’s the tendency to believe that we can influence something over which we have absolutely no sway.

So where does this behavioural quirk come from? In millions of years of evolution, Mother Nature has hard-wired this cognitive bias in the human brain to increase the chances of survival in a hunter-gatherer environment. It’s nature’s way to deal with uncertainty.

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Of Falling Stock Markets and Shutting Brains

In one of the old interviews of Mohnish Pabrai of Pabrai Funds, he described the root cause of a common, but difficult to overcome, inefficiency in share prices –

Our brains are in sync with the speed at which the market is moving and totally out of sync with the speed at which a business is moving. You have to learn to dramatically slow your brain, which is very hard for most people. The reality is that you should make decisions based on how the business is changing, and that’s a very slow process.

You wouldn’t know that businesses change slowly from the share price activity in the stock market. Such volatility, of course, can be a boon for the disciplined investor waiting for what Warren Buffett refers to as a “fat pitch.” Most maintain a watch-list of what they consider to be superior companies that they would be happy to buy, but only at the right price. But the problem for most of us lies in deciding what that right price is because most of us find it difficult to understand what that underlying value of the business is, to which we must relate the price. And thus, most of us would rather make our decisions just looking at stock prices – especially when they are moving fast, up or down – than underlying intrinsic values.

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Book Review: Investing Between The Lines

Investing between the lines

Note: This book review was originally published in the May 2016 edition of our premium newsletter Value Investing Almanack. To know more and subscribe, please click here. When an investor starts investigating a business, the first thing he wants to know is if the business is strong and profitable? And he can usually find the […]

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Safal Niveshak Stream – November 26, 2016

Note to Readers: In Stream, we suggest worthwhile reading material on a variety of topics, not all of which are directly related to investing. Some of the articles require you to be paid subscriber of those sites. However, it is often possible to read such articles by going to Google News and searching for the […]

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Latticework of Mental Models: Lucifer Effect

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Let me ask you a disturbing question. “Would you electrocute a stranger?” Most of you would respond with an emphatic no. But perhaps you are underestimating yourself. I am neither doubting your character nor your sense of morality but empirical evidence suggests that human beings underestimate their own vulnerabilities that can turn them into evil. To […]

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Investing and the Art of Metaphorical Thinking

My momma always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Mama always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them. ~ Forrest Gump About a century ago, when the first automobile was introduced on the roads, most people referred to it as “horseless carriages”. Not only […]

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Safal Niveshak Stream – November 19, 2016

Note to Readers: In Stream, we suggest worthwhile reading material on a variety of topics, not all of which are directly related to investing. Some of the articles require you to be paid subscriber of those sites. However, it is often possible to read such articles by going to Google News and searching for the […]

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Latticework of Mental Models: Porter’s Five Forces Analysis

Peter Lynch, who successfully ran Fidelity’s Magellan mutual fund for more than a decade, has often mentioned that investors are well advised to buy a business that’s so good that an idiot can run it because sooner or later an idiot will run it. That’s Lynch’s trademark style of saying that some businesses have structural […]

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