Our society seems more reflexive and reactionary than ever before. In our rush to make our point and take immediate action are we perhaps missing out on full comprehension of what the original message or issue even was? We seem to have developed a rat-a-tat-tat call and response pattern of communication, both in person and online, that is not very conducive to processing information or understanding other points of view, let alone our own.
What may be missing is what Rollo May referred to in his book The Courage to Create as the pause between stimulus and response.
“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”
When even the president of the United States can’t seem to refrain from knee-jerk tweets in reaction to satire or criticism, there’s a temptation to blame this kind of impulsiveness on technology or social media. But the truth is that we see this absence of reflection everywhere—in the media, in business meetings, and in face to face communication with colleagues and loved ones.
In our efforts to express ourselves and to be heard we often hamper our ability to fully listen and discern. In order to see the big picture and respond to stimulus most effectively it’s important to first “let it land.” Letting it land means resisting the impulse to react immediately to new information. Doing so, and embracing the pause, provides us with valuable time to thoughtfully consider a situation for a better, more informed response.
It applies to interpersonal relationships as much as it does to investing. We try to apply this concept in both realms within our culture at Mawer. Our Director of Research, Vijay Viswanathan, describes letting it land as:
“Not getting defensive but searching for clarity and, more importantly, attempting to understand where someone else is coming from. This includes the most personal of conversations with a spouse, difficult conversations with colleagues around a multitude of topics, and most notably around investing—the debate and dissent that happens within our team when making investment decisions. Letting another person’s point of view land, especially when it is counter to your own thinking, is essential to fostering open, candid communication and leads to better investment decisions in my opinion.”
As investors, we receive and process information constantly—some of it signal, some of it noise. Part of the process in differentiating between the two is taking the necessary time to let new ideas and events truly sink in when they’re presented to us, versus a “keeping things moving” approach, where we might inadvertently proceed with incomplete or misconstrued information. Seems obvious, but in our efforts to formulate our next thought or move to the next agenda item, we risk missing the one already on the table by not giving it our full attention.
A few seconds of pause may make all the difference between comprehension and misunderstanding. More important than the length of the pause, however, is the intention behind it. Pausing for the sake of pausing, without investing genuine thought into what is being presented, is a waste of time. Truly letting something land means giving an idea adequate time to unfold and develop in our consciousness.
Within this context, the worst case scenario in investing would be pausing too long to act and missing a solid investment opportunity. The best case scenario would be spending just the right amount of time necessary to gain a clearer understanding of all the variables that will impact a decision to act. The edge always goes to he or she who has the most information. But information is nothing without insight, and insight comes through careful consideration of the information you acquire.