Mimicking the Herd Invites Regression to the Mean

I read this quote by Charlie Munger in Poor Charlie's Almanack and thought about it a lot. There is a simplified version that has become more popular than the original: "If you do what everyone else does, you're going to get the same results that everyone else gets". But I think this simplification misses the point.

Sometimes we get lucky without thinking differently and without taking extraordinary risks. Someone picks a company to work for that goes through the roof while another person picks one that will eventually go bankrupt - and neither of the two is responsible for the outcome. Every day, someone wins the lottery, gets born rich (which is similar) or makes a lot of money with speculative investments. The important question is: What happens next?

This is where "regression to the mean" makes all the difference.

Without thinking differently from the herd, our next speculative investment will likely fail. We will probably waste our lottery win on stuff we don't care about. Over time, we will move back closer to the average.

And that is ok, because it works both ways: On average, people deal pretty well with setbacks and tragedy. So if something really bad happens to us and we deal with it the way most people do, over time we will probably be fine.

What I'm taking away from Mungers quote is this: Over the long run, everything pulls us towards the average. If we don't want the average, we have to do something about it. And that is a lot easier, if we are able to think differently from the herd.

October 21