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Latticework of Mental Models: The Zero Price Effect

Would you buy something if it were discounted from Rs. 500 to Rs. 200? May be.

What if it was discounted from Rs. 500 to Rs. 10? Possibly.

How about if it were discounted to zero? Absolutely!

Getting something for free feels good. Isn’t it?

But don’t get too excited. Although the ‘cost of free’ is zero, it’s also a source of irrational behaviour. Remember those pile of free key chains, free pencils and notepads lying at some corner of your house? Well that pile may be harmless but there are other situations where this irrational affinity for FREE stuff can cause us to make bad decisions. The Zero Price Effect says that we often pay too much when we pay nothing.

I regularly give in to this zero price effect in my day to day decisions. Amazon offers zero shipping charges if I make a minimum purchase of Rs. 499. Every time I order a book which costs less than 499, I end up buying another book (which I don’t plan to read) just to avail the free shipping offer. I just can’t let go off the free offer.

So what explains our unusual love for FREE! stuff?

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Latticework of Mental Models: Antifragility

As a kid, one of the most fascinating thing I ever witnessed while conducting my own zoology experiments, was to watch a lizard leave it’s tail behind.

I am sure many of you must have found it intriguing that a lizard, if threatened, can voluntarily let go of its tail. It’s common in many lizard species to shed a part of their tails. It’s a survival mechanism. The trick allows these reptiles to escape when captured by the tail by a predator. The detached tail writhes and wiggles, creating a deceptive sense of continued struggle, distracting the predator’s attention from the fleeing prey animal.

It’s a marvellous self-preservation mechanism that evolution has given to lizards. And what’s more fascinating is that the lizard can grow that tail back in a matter of few weeks. What a robust way to deal with loss!

If that sounds cool then you must also know about Hydra. It is a serpent-like creature from Greek mythology. Hydra grows two new heads every time you cut one off. In Indian mythology, there is a similar character called Raktavija. A demon (asura) who who has the magic boon that every drop of blood shed from his body gives rise to another Raktavija (literally the blood borne).

These apocryphal characters are very important metaphors to improve our understanding about fragility and robustness.

What is fragile? Something which breaks or disintegrates easily when subjected to a stress or disorder. Isn’t it?

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5 Lessons on Life & Investing from Guy Spier’s Education of a Value Investor

Once upon a time, there was a young man who got his dream job in the financial services industry, thought he could make it big one day and worked hard at it, then got disillusioned and disgusted by what he saw around, and finally quit to live a life of greater peace and fulfillment, while pursuing his passion in value investing.

If I had not read Guy Spier’s The Education of a Value Investor, and someone told me this story, I would have believed it was mine.

This is truly my story, but Guy has captured this beautifully in his wonderful book, which I completed reading recently.

Of course, Guy gas written about his personal story, but it resonated so much with me that I have kept this book in my must-read book advisory list for any budding value investor.

Of course, there are great differences between me and Guy –

  • He studied at Oxford and Harvard while I studied at obscure colleges;
  • He won a lunch date with Warren Buffett (jointly with Mohnish Pabrai, at a cost of US$ 650,000), while I continue to dream of a visit to Omaha to meet the Oracle some day;
  • He started and ended his career at an investment bank, and I did it with an independent research house.
  • He now manages multi-million dollars, while I barely manage to manage my own little savings. 🙂

Anyways, coming back to Guy’s story and his book, as I mentioned, I could relate to a lot of his experiences, thoughts, and lessons. I have pulled out just five of them that have guided me well.

These thoughts not only hold importance in investing but in life as well. In fact, I find Guy’s book amazing because it talks less about value investing rules and more on a value investor’s character development.

In Guy’s own words…

…this book is also about the inner game of investing, and by extension, the inner game of life. As I’ve come to discover, investing is about much more than money. So as your wealth grows, I hope you will also come to realize that the money is largely irrelevant. And what you will want to do with the bulk of your wealth is give it back to society.

So, here are those five meaningful thoughts that Guy writes about in his book, which I believe serve a great learning for most people aspiring to find a greater meaning in life and become better as value investors.

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