When you see people walking on the sidewalk with their earphones in their ears, seemingly oblivious to the world around them, what are your thoughts? To me, I see someone whose thoughts are elsewhere and who is not “in the moment”. Whether they are listening to music or a podcast or having a phone conversation, their attention is not with what is right in front of them, but instead with what is filtering into their ears. They may believe they are multitasking and accomplishing more given the limited hours in a day, but they are also missing out on the beauty that is around them. They are also a physical danger to those around them because their movements are less predictable: Perhaps they will take their next step forward, but perhaps also they may veer left or right, unaware that their veer could put their bodies in jeopardy of a collision with others.
Ideas, including investment ideas or plans, can come to you at any time. You just have to avail yourself to those opportunities, and the best way to do so is always to be aware of where you are and what is in front of you. Be in the moment. An example: my idea for this blog topic came to me while I was on a morning bike ride. I was on a bike path and there was a pedestrian in front of me with earphones in. As a cyclist, your concern in that instant is perhaps the pedestrian doesn’t hear me coming and will inadvertently veer in my path and cause me to crash. It has happened before – not to me, fortunately. While some people do, I purposely do not wear headphones while cycling because I want to hear anything coming from behind. I also want to avail myself to random thoughts that might spark an idea for me. Now, maybe this pedestrian was engrossed in an audiobook with a great story. What he may have thought he was gaining by listening to the audiobook he was losing by not paying attention to the world around him.
One of the late Yogi Berra’s attributed quotes was “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Famed investor Peter Lynch, who ran the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund for many years and who went on to author many books, used Yogi’s maxim to find new investment ideas. Lynch would go to the shopping mall to find which stores were crowded and then perhaps invest with them. In his book, “One Up on Wall Street”, Lynch discusses how you should “invest in what you know about” and that you should acquire “local knowledge”. The only way to acquire “local knowledge” is if you observe things and truly understand them without having earphones in your ears.
There is nothing wrong with listening to your earphones. You can certainly learn a lot by listening to a good audiobook or to an informative podcast. My point is that you should do one thing at a time. Listen to that book or podcast while you are sitting at home or on an airplane, for instance. Don’t listen while walking on a crowded sidewalk and thereby make yourself a danger to others. Be open to the phenomena around you. You never know when you might come up with your next great investment idea. The human brain works in strange ways – let it do its work!