#VIP4 2020: The Opposite of a Good Idea by Prof. Sanjay Bakshi

Speaker: Prof. Sanjay Bakshi, Adjunct Professor, Management Development Institute
Moderator: Neeraj Marathe, Investor and Visiting Faculty
Contributed by: Vivek Mashrani, CFA, Volunteer, CFA Society India

 

The opposite of good idea can be a good idea and not necessarily a bad idea. To understand this further, read the following key takeaways from Prof. Sanjay Bakshi’s session at Value investing conference of 2020.

 

FOCUS in LIFE

Professor starts the session with the story of Dronacharya teaching Archery lessons to Arjun and other princes. When asked to Arjun “What does he see?” – He says that he just sees blackness within eyes of wooden bird, which he has to shoot with his arrow. This is the POWER OF EXTREME FOCUS.

As Swami Vivekananda rightly showed formula for success – “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea….”

On similar lines, Swami Sarvapriyanda (monk who heads Vedanta Society in NY City) mentions about power of concentration and combines that with flow as well as Yoga. Professor quotes 3 out of 8 yogic practices:

  • Pratyahara: Meaning – withdrawal of senses to move inwards
  • Dharana: Meaning – to hold, maintain, keep – focus on one thing
  • Dhyana: Meaning – reflecting on what was focused during Dharana

We all know that Focus creates wonders in our life and focused attention is a GOOD IDEA, but unfortunately due to various distractions all around (part of the reason being technology), the attention spans have gone down drastically.

As Nassim Taleb rightly gave a profound statement – “The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.”

 

FOCUS in BUSINESSES

The same phenomenon is visible in businesses, some are diversified conglomerates while some very much focused in what they do, and over period, they become excellent in their niche. Market hates conglomerates that does capital misallocation in unrelated businesses and while on other hand markets love focused businesses.

In essence, focus is most important ingredient of success in life, businesses and investing.

 

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

Then professor flips the switch and explain something contradictory, starting with a term SERENDIPITY – which means an aptitude to make desirable discoveries by accident or good fortune, luck

Here professor gives examples of powerful accidental discoveries through distractions (which is opposite of focus)–like vaccine discovered by Louis Pasteur, Serum Institute started by Cyrus Poonawalla, Penicillin, Lasers, Internet, Chemotherapy and many such scientific discoveries in history were made accidentally.

He quotes famous Anglo-American Author Max Gunther – “If you put blinders on yourself so that you can see only straight ahead, you will miss nearly everything.”

The truth is – life is not always straight line for most, it’s probably zig-zag journey.

What if we think about same power of distractions and serendipity involved in business – we can instantly think about Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos who once told, “There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery”.

In addition, what is better example of such businesses better than Amazon itself ? They keep experimenting, as they know that success is the outcome of strings of failed experiments. And that failure is not the opposite of success, but failure is an ingredient of success.

Jeff Bezos mentions – “In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it is important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.”

Thus, just like focus, even distraction looks like a good idea.

If we think about real world and observe things around us, we will see that both sides of ideas may be good ideas. Because real life is not like Physics where opposite of good idea is a bad idea. Real life is not conventional science. When human behavior is involved, we will see outcomes beyond logic and normal rational outcomes.

As famous author Rory Sutherland says in his book Alchemy – the opposite of a good idea can also be a good idea..!

In real world, context is more important in terms of what humans think as well as behave and thereby outcomes around it.

Two equally potent but contradictory ways can both be good idea when there is human psychology involved. For example, social proof and scarcity, if you see business like Amazon they use social proof to drive customer engagement and sales while Ferrari uses scarcity to drive consumer demand. Both are right in their own way. Context matters.

 

USING THESE MENTAL MODELS IN INVESTING WORLD

Like in life and businesses, where human psychology is involved, it’s not like physics, but more like an art.

We should listen carefully to Rory Sutherland – He urges us to try things, which otherwise looks silly based on conventional wisdom. For example, who would have thought to compete with Coca-Cola by suggesting an awful tasting beverage in small can more expensive than coke in a boardroom – but Red Bull did that and has one of the highest market share in energy drinks. Similarly was the case with Monster Beverages.

Same in investing, we would never know what would work. If something became huge success, investing success might not have been the case in another parallel world. Luck and randomness play a big role in investing too.

As in the top table, various value-investing ideologies look opposite but both of them can work in different context.

  • In many situations, concentrated portfolio can give excellent returns and sometimes diversification is great idea.
  • Sometimes buying cyclical stocks with weak balance sheet can work well, while on other hand Strong Balance Sheets might be good idea in other situations
  • The list goes on and on…

Bottom-line: The opposite of good idea can also be a good idea. Being open to learn and acknowledge the power of these different ideologies always helps. Understanding that each of them work well and not so well based on context is what it makes us better investor as well as better human being.



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