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Seagull philosophy – 4

Think like a gull

Like most of us the humble seagull lacks exceptional ability.

Other marine birds are better at doing absolutely everything a seagull does.

The gull is a sea bird. It likes to fish but, unlike a gannet, a petrel, a albatross or any other half-decent oceanic bird, the seagull can’t dive. For a bird that likes to eat fish, you can imagine this is a disadvantage. True, not all seabirds can dive but a seagull can’t scoop fish like a pelican or snatch them like an seaeagle.

The gull is also a shore bird. It likes to forage on the seashore. Unfortunately its legs are too short to wade like a wader, its beak is too short to forage deep in sand and is too weak to open shellfish.

Little wonder the seagull also likes to catch insects but its wings are designed for low energy soaring, and lack the agility required to hunt on the wing.

The gull is disadvantaged against every other bird it competes with.

Given this, why is the gull so extraordinarily successful? Why is their wild population growing while that of their more skilled cousins is under pressure?

Even more surprising, why is the gull a totem of freedom in every region where they live. Why is such a common creature and apparent loser the symbol of something everyone aspires to?

The answer to both questions lies at the heart of our investment philosophy.

The answer is that the gull is keenly aware of its own weakness. Gulls know that more specialized birds always have a better seat at the table.

Instead, gulls look for food that’s easier to get. They hunt where competition is sparse.

Gulls will eat anything.

In doing so, they turn their weakness into strength.

Everything a gull does reveals deep self-awareness; a knowledge of its own vulnerability. This makes a gull humble, willing to eat anything and keen to learn new tricks to ensure its survival. Gulls even plan for failure. They expect their nests will be raided and so build lousy ones that can be re-built quickly. As a consequence, and unlike virtually any other sea bird, gulls can breed multiple times in a season.

Its sense of vulnerability and weakness gives the gull its extraordinary adaptability. When fish stocks plummeted in Argentina, gulls adapted to hunting whales.  In the Arctic, they turned on baby seals.  In North Africa, they learned to live on insects. Everywhere, they have learned to live on the waste of mankind, on worms or whatever else is available.

In the world of finance, the individual investor is like the humble seagull. They are disadvantaged. Insiders, professional investors and brokers always have a better seat at the table. The higher the prospective return, the greater their disadvantage. To be good at investing, the small investor must recognize their weakness. They mustdevelop strategies that turn their weakness into strength. They must seek, not high return, but return that is easy to get. They must learn to think like gulls.

The gull symbolizes freedom because it is humble.

That is to say, the gull is self-aware.

This characteristic adaptability means the gull can thrive no matter how circumstances change. It makes the gull appear carefree, which is why we associate this animal more than any other with freedom.

The gull’s path to freedom path to investment survival is the same path that ancient philosophers saw as the way to wisdom and to freedom. It is all about the wolf you feed.

one must be self-aware. One must recognize one’s weakness.  Once must learn to overcome it. A key part of this as for the gull is to learn about its environment so it can discover new opportunities.  Environmental awareness is the other

None of us likes to be told that we are weak but only when we face this reality can we focus on what must be done to become a better investor.

The elite investor works hard to develop self-awareness; to overcome the tendency to emotional thinking. The elite investor seeks an approach that promotes detached thinking. With an ego swelled by books on mastering the investment game, the novice confidently marches to his doom in the opposite direction.

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