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Latticework of Mental Models: Hot Hand Fallacy

One of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood was the day when my class teacher asked me something about Sachin Tendulkar. I replied, “Who is Sachin Tendulkar?”

I was in 6th standard. The entire class, including the teacher, burst into laughter. That was the day when I started taking an active interest in cricket. Of course, the motivation was to avoid looking like a fool in a cricket crazy nation.

“Dravid is not in form these days.” Claimed one of my friends.

“I hope he comes back in form soon else they will drop him from the national team.” Argued other friend.

I nodded in agreement. I was faking because one thing that still baffled me was the idea of a player being “in-form” or “out-of-form.”

“What’s this in-form and out-of-form business?” I asked my best friend. Typically, looking-like-a-fool fear goes away when you’re with your best buddies, right? He was the only one who I didn’t feel the need to impress with my cricket knowledge.

Well, if a player plays consistently well for many innings, we say he is in good form. Otherwise, he is considered out of form, he explained, “An in-form player is always in demand because he’s expected to continue playing well.”

Why does an in-form player play well? If it’s the past performance that determines the present form then how does it ensure the future performance? Isn’t this form business based on circular logic?

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Latticework of Mental Models: Naive Realism

Let me start by inviting you to have an intellectual and emotional experience. Take a few seconds and stare at the picture below.

Image-1 (Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey)

Observe closely. What do you see?

You’d probably see a woman who is looking away from you. You may notice that she is wearing a necklace. She seems to have high cheekbones, long eyelashes, and a pointy nose.

Now I ask you to take your eyes off her and focus on the second picture below –

Image-2 (Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey)

What do you see now? Another woman? What does she look like? How old do you think she is? What is she wearing? In what kind of roles do you see her?

You probably would describe this second woman as beautiful as the first one. You might guess that she is about 25 years old and fashionable. In fact, the second image looks like a lower resolution version of the first image.

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Latticework of Mental Models: Domain Dependence

Imagine this. You are escorted into a room. On one corner there’s a table with three items on it: a box of board-pins, a matchbox, and a candle. Your task is to attach the candle to the wall, so the wax doesn’t drip onto the table.

A psychologist named Karl Duncker first designed this experiment in 1945.

About seventy-five percent of the participants who take part in this experiment try following solutions.

First, they try to pin the candle onto the wall. It doesn’t work. Then they try to light the candle and use the dripping wax to attach it to the wall, but that’s usually not strong enough to hold the candle. So that doesn’t work either.

What about you? How would you solve this? Take a moment and think about it.

Very few people see the solution at once. Some people find it after only a minute or two of thought. Others see it after stumbling through several unsuccessful attempts. Most fail to solve it without some outside help.

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Latticework of Mental Models: Manufactured Memories

Yesterday when I logged into my Facebook account, it showed a picture I had posted six years back. In the frame, I was having lunch with an old school friend.

It brought a smile on my face.

Interestingly, I had completely forgotten about the lunch. I just couldn’t remember being present when that picture was taken. My brain had conveniently erased that incident from memory.

I am sure it happens to others too. Also, Facebook knows it, so they introduced this feature. Bringing back those lost memories creates a pleasant experience which isn’t much different from the one when you find money in your old pant pockets.

How would it be if we never forgot anything? Why does our brain choose to remember something and spaces out on others? Is there an evolutionary reason behind this behavioural quirk? Let’s explore these questions today.

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Latticework of Mental Models: Fundamental Attribution Error

The first impression is the last impression. I am sure you’ve heard this advice numerous times especially from the communication skill experts. But the more I studied psychology, stronger became my belief that there’s quite a bit of truth in this saying. However, if you’re into the business of working with people, it’s the first impression you shouldn’t trust.

Had I gone with my first impressions about some of the strangers I met in my life, I wouldn’t have found my best friends. If you look back in your life and trace the history of your relationships with your best buddies, you would tend to agree with me on this. In fact, go ahead and ask your old friends about how they thought of you (in the first meeting) as a prospective candidate for a long-term friendship.

Whenever we meet someone for the first time, we have a natural tendency to attribute his behaviour to his personality. If that stranger’s behaviour is cold and unresponsive, we jump to the conclusion that he is either shy or introvert or perhaps arrogant. Whereas an individual who seems warm and lively makes you believe that the guy is an extrovert.

Sometimes you may be right, but often you are falling for what is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. This error is the result of people’s tendency to place an overemphasis on internal characteristics (personality) to explain someone else’s behaviour in a given situation rather than considering the external factors guiding that situation.

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Latticework of Mental Models: Echo Chamber Effect

A few weeks back I was reading a report penned by Amay Hattangadi and Swanand Kelkar from Morgan Stanley. In that report, I came across a very intriguing word called “Echo Chamber”. The authors wrote –

The most telling reaction post Brexit was from a London based friend who apart from lamenting the outcome went on to say that he didn’t know of a single person who was likely to have voted “Leave” and hence felt that the outcome was rigged. This is what we called the “echo chamber” in one of our earlier essays. We tend to be surrounded by people who are like us and share our world view. Social media accentuates this by tailoring our news and opinion feeds to match our pre-set views. To avoid falling into this homogeneity trap, one needs to seek out and dispassionately engage with people whose views differ from your own and that’s true not just for current affairs but your favourite stocks as well.

The word ‘echo chamber’ painted such a vivid picture in my mind that I decided to give it a permanent place in my mental attic. Echo chamber has thus become an important node in my latticework of mental models.

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Small Circles: The Theory of Mastery in the Art of Learning and Investing

One of the best books on the art of learning I’ve read is, well, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin.

Josh is a champion in two distinct sports – chess and martial arts. He is an eight-time US national chess champion, thirteen-time Tai Chi Chuan push hands national champion, and two-time Tai Chi Chuan push hands world champion.

In his book, Josh recounts his experiences and shares his insights and approaches on how you can learn and excel in your own life’s passion, using examples from his personal life. Through stories of martial arts wars and tense chess face-offs, Josh reveals the inner workings of his everyday methods, cultivating the most powerful techniques in any field, and mastering the psychology of peak performance.

One of my favourite chapters from Josh’s book is titled – Making Smaller Circles – which stresses on the fact that it’s rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skillset.

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Latticework of Mental Models: Risk Aversion Vs Loss Aversion

On April 10, 2003, Pepsi announced a contest called “The Pepsi Billion Dollar Sweepstakes”. It was scheduled to run for 5 months starting from May in the same year.

For the contest, Pepsi printed one billion special codes which could be redeemed either on their website or via postal mail. According to Pepsi’s estimate, about 200-300 million of these codes were redeemed. Out of these, 100 codes were chosen in a random draw to appear in a two-hour live gameshow-style television special. Each of these 100 people were assigned a random 6-digit number, and a chimpanzee (to ensure a truly random number and of course to rule out any monkey business) backstage rolled dice to determine the grand prize number. This number was kept secret and the 10 players whose numbers were closest to it were chosen for the final elimination. On the evening of September 14, the final day of the contest, the event, titled Play for a Billion, was aired live. If a player’s number matched the grand prize number, he would win US$ 1 billion.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Given the scenario, it was highly unlikely that anyone would win a billion dollar. The chances were literally 1 in a billion. In spite of that, Pepsi was unwilling to bear the risk of the possible billion-dollar prize. So they arranged for an insurance company to insure the event. They paid US$ 10 million to Berkshire Hathaway to assume the risk. Yes, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The same guy who is famous for his two iron rules –

1. Never lose money
2. Don’t forget rule number 1.

Then why would Buffett expose his company to such a big risk for a relatively paltry premium of US$ 10 million? Isn’t this akin to playing Russian roulette?

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