Confidence Game: How Hedge Fund Manager Bill Ackman Called Wall Street's Bluff (Bloomberg)
Christine Richard

Ended: Aug. 3, 2012

He attached the MBIA report and a copy of a speech titled “Charlie Munger on the Psychology of Human Misjudgment.”
Munger, Warren Buffett’s long-time investment partner at Berkshire Hathaway, lectured Harvard students in 1995 on the mental blocks that lead to business mistakes. Munger told the students that an inability to accept new ideas when those ideas require people to displace hard-won conclusions constituted “a superpower in error-causing.” “The human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the human egg has a shut-off device,” Munger told the students. “When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort.” This inability to accept new ideas had stymied even the most brilliant physicists, Munger said. It literally took a new generation of thinkers who were “less brain-blocked by previous conclusions” to move the field forward.
If Rutherfurd had read the speech, then he might have noted some advice in it for Ackman as well: “If you make a public disclosure of your conclusion, you’re pounding it into your own head,” Munger told the Harvard audience. “Many that are screaming at us aren’t convincing us, but they’re forming mental change for themselves, because what they’re shouting out [is] what they’re pounding in.”
Buffett continued: “If you’re willing to do dumb things in insurance, the world will find you. You can be in a rowboat in the middle of the Atlantic; just whisper ‘I’m willing to write this,’ and then name a dumb price. You will have brokers swimming to you—with their fins showing, incidentally,” Buffett said, laughing.
Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis, Peter Lynch’s One Up on Wall Street, Benjamin Graham’s Intelligent Investor, Lawrence Cunningham’s The Essays of Warren Buffett, and Thornton O’glove’s Quality of Earnings.
“I always suspect management is trying to hide something,” O’glove wrote in the introduction to Quality of Earnings, one of the books Ackman sent Oliver White. “What is it they are trying to do cosmetically? I ask. And I start out by assuming the worst.”
Neuroscience tells us it is better to address reactions as they arise rather than let them build up. And in his book High Energy Living, Robert Cooper, Ph.D., offers a method to cool down in any situation. I have adapted his method into what I call the Quick-Calm Plan. Unlike many other techniques for handling stress, it takes only a few minutes and five steps, and you can practice it anywhere. The Quick-Calm Plan 1. Keep breathing. 2. Make your eyes calm and alert. 3. Let go of your tension. 4. Notice uniqueness. 5. Call upon your sage. 1. Keep breathing. When you feel stress, you often hold your breath. If you don’t interrupt this process and start breathing normally, you will be propelled toward anxiety, anger, and frustration. Breathing increases blood flow and oxygen to your brain and muscles, thus reducing tension and increasing your sense of well-being. 2. Make your eyes calm and alert: Practice this at home, in front of a mirror. Change your expression so that you are smiling with a relaxed, alert, focused gaze. Attempt to match the expression of someone who is enjoying listening to music or watching children at play. Say to yourself, “I am alert, and my body is calm.” Following your lead, your neurochemistry will shift to cheer you up. 3. Let go of your tension: Under stress we tend to collapse or tense up. Notice your posture and where your body is holding tension. Are your shoulders tight? Is your tummy upset? Is your jaw clenched? Distribute your weight on both feet. Bounce slightly to make sure you have done this. Now, imagine that someone is gently pulling you up by the top of your head. Grow an inch. Open and lift your chest. Picture a relaxing emerald liquid flowing through your veins, warming and easing away tensions. 4. Notice uniqueness: When we are conscious and alert, we are aware that every situation is different. However, brains like to clump experiences together and then make snap judgments, slapping a prepackaged solution on the problem in an attempt to reduce our anxiety. So instead of immediately organizing an experience into a familiar category—for example, “Oh, my wife is criticizing me again”—take a moment to notice how this situation is unique. “My wife cares about me. Her voice doesn’t sound critical; perhaps she is attempting to help me with her comment.” Now you can respond appropriately to the situation. 5. Call upon your sage: Appeal to your inner sage, the wise part we all have inside ourselves. Acknowledge that you are facing a problem, and let your sage remind you about another time when you handled a similar situation successfully. Recall how you felt and step into that feeling state. It’s like trying on a suit of confidence. The more you rely upon your inner sage, the more you can trust she or he will be there when you are in need. (And remember, if you ignore a problem or deny that it exists, it does not go away and usually gets worse.)
Introverts, on the other hand, constantly evaluate what they have said. They have that active internal voice in the Broca’s area of the brain, which controls speech and understanding language. It is on the pathway with other areas of the brain that assess reactions and compare the past, present, and future. Sometimes this internal voice can become critical. Extroverts can have a critical internal voice, too, but it’s more focused on what they do rather than on what they say. Introverts’ internal voice often focuses on what they say, which can have the unfortunate effect of reducing their speaking out loud. Are you aware of your internal voice? Is it friend or foe? Is it encouraging? Discouraging? Often, if introverts feel bad after venturing out into the extrovert world, it is the voice in their head, not something that actually happened, which is the source of the problem.
Keep a small book of uplifting poems, quotes, or sayings in your bag and read a few as you stand in line or have a break at work.
A study by the British Psychological Society in 1998 regarding Internet addiction found that the most frequent cyber surfers were thirty-something introverts, male or female, and that they were likely to be suffering from depression. So, if you are spending more time on the Internet than in other parts of your life, if friends or relatives complain to you about your Internet use, and you feel depressed, think about seeing a physician for an evaluation.