Monday, July 21, 2014

Knowing What You Don’t Know

From Howard Marks via The Most Important Thing:
We have two classes of forecasters: Those who don’t know— and those who don’t know they don’t know.
It’s frightening to think that you might not know something, but more frightening to think that, by and large, the world is run by people who have faith that they know exactly what’s going on.
There are two kinds of people who lose money: those who know nothing and those who know everything.
I’ve chosen three quotes with which to lead off this chapter, and I have a million more where those came from. Awareness of the limited extent of our foreknowledge is an essential component of my approach to investing. 
I’m firmly convinced that (a) it’s hard to know what the macro future holds and (b) few people possess superior knowledge of these matters that can regularly be turned into an investing advantage. There are two caveats, however: 
• The more we concentrate on smaller-picture things, the more it’s possible to gain a knowledge advantage. With hard work and skill, we can consistently know more than the next person about individual companies and securities, but that’s much less likely with regard to markets and economies. Thus, I suggest people try to “know the knowable.” 
• An exception comes in the form of my suggestion, on which I elaborate in the next chapter, that investors should make an effort to figure out where they stand at a moment in time in terms of cycles and pendulums. That won’t render the future twists and turns knowable, but it can help one prepare for likely developments.