Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to avoid group think/tunnel vision in your economic understanding

One would associate the title of this post  with a management book rather than this blog! The reason this post exists, is because to have the courage to be contrarian, one should try to avoid group think-or the vice of thinking like everyone else based on what the mass media says.

As the famous fund manager Sir John Templeton had said, the best time to buy is when there is blood on the streets. Like most good advices, that is logically acceptable but hard to implement because of liquidity issues(people may be sitting on unrealized losses and be low on cash) and due to analysis paralysis and other traps. They also may fall prey to mass media induced panic and hysteria. To avoid that, some points which I have found useful are
  • Look beyond the headlines-preferably with data:-Before acting on headlines, try to support/refute it with data. In this age of Google Public Data Explorer and other publicly available data sets, one really has no excuse for avoiding that.
  • Diversify your news sources:- However good the source may be, never stock to just 1 newspaper/magazine/blog. Diversify.
  • Read globally focused magazines: Economist/Forbes are 2 good examples of that, as also their online blogs/archives/editions.
  • Blogs:- Individuals are usually free of any editorial pressures/compulsions to be politically correct. So find a few quality blogs and then
  • Non mainstream media: Tehelka, Al Jazeera are examples of this
  • NGOs:-They often raise issues which blow up later. So be aware of the top of mind NGO issues like Africa farmland grab, China environmental crisis, food security etc. That may help later. 
  • Multilateral Agency Reports/Updates:-While the World Bank/IMF/FAO/WIPO/WTO may have a pro Western slant, the fact remains that they have tons of useful data, and often come out with insightful research reports on various aspects. Some recent examples of it are the ADB report on innovative infrastructure financing in India, FAO study on agricultural farm land etc. As these reports rarely get reported but reflect top quality thinking, one does not lose by reading them, to see if they fill any gaps in understanding. 
Hopefully, all the above will help you refine your own mental models. 

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