Qualities of the resilient investor

While writing the soon-to-be-bestseller The Resilient Investor, we’ve found ourselves repeatedly leaving one section for later: the part that describes the skills and character traits of our titular ideal investor. Capturing the essence of this ready-for-anything approach to life and investing hasn’t been easy, as words don’t quite touch the core traits. So let us try a different tack …

We know several high level martial artists who physically embody the principles and qualities of resilience. We can see them in our mind’s eye, and perhaps, by painting a picture for you, it will help explicate the essence of resilience. So, imagine this martial artist: standing upright but not stiff or rigid, completely relaxed and at ease. The face is calm and without tension, or anger. The eyes are open and soft, not focused on any one thing, but seeing anything that might be coming—“10,000 direction eyes” in martial arts speak. When attackers approach, our martial artist becomes even more relaxed, moving easily, staying fluid and loose, avoiding strikes and kicks, most of the time. Nobody’s perfect, so when strikes land, our agile artist absorbs them with breath and flexibility, always moving, head loose and rotating and eyes clear but not focused on a single point, seeing the whole room, light on the feet, advancing and retreating in a dance with the attackers. And then there are more attackers and the artist stays calm and collected, breathing faster now but still softly, moving with gentle precision, landing blows in unanticipated places, no forced logic or obvious reason as to where, and all the more devastating for it, weaving and dodging, heading to the ground as needed, rolling to avoid impact. Can you see the visual collage we’ve painted?

Let’s see what lessons we can pull from our martial artist’s physical embodiment that are conceptually relevant for a resilient investor approach to allocating the time, money, and attention in your life. The phrase “10,000 direction eyes” is a reminder to keep the eyes soft and not drawn into over-focus on any one thing, relying on the peripheral vision to pull insight from all angles. Cultivating this ability to maintain several perspectives is a core skill of the resilient investor. To see more means to learn more, which means you can do more, which reduces risk. Within this enhanced scope of vision is also the ability to see the whole picture, to look out at a full, expanded sphere, detecting vectors and changes over time. Buckminster Fuller called it “comprehensive anticipatory design science,” which is quite an intellectualized mouthful, but is still accurate.

We saw our martial artist in constant motion, which suggests our next injunction: don’t get stuck in previous ideas, plans, or theories—keep moving forward. Maintain a passion for constructive engagement, and a fundamental commitment to making the best of whatever situation arises, and to be part of the solution. Don’t get stuck, either in habitual motion or at uncertain rest. This is at the heart of resilience.

For a resilient investor or martial artist, not knowing what’s coming is a central feature of life. Not being rigidly attached to one possible outcome or opportunity, they’re each humble before complexity, thinking comfortably in a more probabilistic and ambiguous manner. Stay flexible and fluid and keep thinking, adapting your thought process and actions with more nuance and subtlety.

One more attribute we notice is what we might call “contextual responsiveness,” where all decisions, solutions and plans are derived from the current context. Everything’s tailored to the people, community, world, and time they find themselves in. On the personal level, this could suggest finding ways to align who you are, what you want, and what you see is possible, into your community’s existing systems and into the larger economic and natural ecosystems around you.

To summarize: our “comprehensive anticipatory resilience artist” stays relaxed and in motion, takes multiple perspectives, sees a larger whole, contextualizes responses, and is flexible with ambiguity and probabilistic thinking. We could, of course, highlight more qualities of embedded resilience, but these are a good starting point for self-reflection and conversation with others.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Natural Investment News

Christopher Peck

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