following the herd

Rough Markets: When the Wisdom of the Crowd Becomes Herd Mentality

photo shows a mountain stream

Clients, some of you have reported that some people around you are finding it inexplicable that you haven’t yet sold out of the stock market, given its rough times. One of you even heard the prediction, “You’re going to lose it all!” These conversations are happening at coffee time, out to dinner in a group, at every kind of casual gathering.  

We often think of peer pressure in connection with children. But there are strong forces at work among not only children: it’s also retirees and everyone in between! 

In ambiguous situations, humans tend to copy what other people seem to be doing. If we don’t know what to do, we may assume that others do. So we emulate them. This type of behavior is sometimes referred to as “social proof”: we take our cues from others when we feel unsure what to do. 

In some social groups, people react to rough markets by selling out; in other groups, people cling to the long-held belief that investing is too dangerous for anyone. If everybody in your “group” seemed to be doing the same thing, you’d have lots of social proof to reassure you that, surely, you must be on the right path. 

But this social influence can hold more weight in our choices than it deserves. Yes, someone marching to a different drummer can seen as a rebuke. The contrary behavior—going against the crowd—is full of resistance. Sometimes it takes a big splashy effort to swim upstream! Hence the hectoring and lecturing. 

But we choose our own course, and it does not start or end with what others think about us. 

You can see the core principle at work: “avoid stampedes.” We believe this has kept us out of fads—and pointed us to bargains. We think going against the crowd may be profitable, though no guarantees of course. 

If your friends hassle you about your investing, be kind to them. You can always change the subject if you need to. Maybe in their mind, fear is in the driver’s seat right now. Or maybe they’re in the grips of peer pressure. 

Either way, we know what we’re about. And that’s enough. 

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call. You are among the best clients in the world, a group where you may find all the proof you need that being contrary may be a great thing.


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If All Your Friends Did It…

photo shows a pile of pigeons sitting on top of each other on a telephone wire in a partly cloudy sky

“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” 

Does this line give you any childhood flashbacks? (Rhetorical questions abound in today’s reflection!) We’ve been noticing the number of headlines featuring the word “concern.” 

  • “Is this development a cause for concern?” 
  • “Top officials express ‘concern’” 
  • “Latest numbers raise concern” 

Whether it’s about the latest COVID-19 variant, rising prices for consumers, or bottlenecks in logistics, there seems to be plenty of concern going around. 

We’d like to pause here, though, for an important distinction: “concern” is not the same as “panic.” Life is full of “troubling developments.” We get to choose which stimuli rev us up and which improve our view of reality. Aren’t we better for having a more accurate picture? 

On a recent morning, I noticed lots of action online and in the news that might have startled some investors. I decided to spend a few hours in the office that I hadn’t planned on, just in case there were calls to catch from you, clients. There wasn’t a single ring. 

I should’ve known better. 

“If all your friends jumped into a panic, would you?” Of course not. In fact, there’s that other classic line that makes a lot more sense: “This is no time to panic.” 

Panic rarely helps. Those bursts of energy may have served us when it was time to run from an animal of prey, but these days that’s not exactly a regular demand.

Soothe your system, then let’s get some perspective, gather the facts… and go from there. The leap to panic is a shorter—but way more costly—trip. Clients, want to talk through anything troubling? You know I’m here for that. Write or call, anytime, and we’ll sort it out together.


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