James Crimmins on the portfolio approach

by on July 2, 2010 at 11:56 am in Education, Philosophy | Permalink

He writes to me:

While dogmatism seemingly requires balance so do most of life’s activities mental or otherwise. Show me the adventurous eater or traveler and I will show you a stick in the mud reader, investor, dresser. Show me the wide-eyed dreamer in one area and the odds are she or he has an anchor to windward somewhere else, if only what they wear to work or play. Human beings who are wildly adventurous in one area, say sports, tend to dine on hamburgers, but think they are adventurous in all things.  he same applies to free thinkers who are downright sodden when it comes to design. The chance takers forget they also have their safe sides. We tend to huddle with like chance takers, somehow our security blankets are seldom shared.  

I am likely to bring up such points, especially to some of my colleagues who think of themselves as non-conformists.  

Andrew July 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Hanson has a bit on non/conformism

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/06/non-conformists-conform.html

It’s good. I don’t quite buy it though. To mean something, conformism can’t be about a rational desire to impress people. When growing up, I never understood the trench coat crowd. What is the point of expending effort to look different? I always thought it defeated the purpose.

Andy O. July 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I am not sure I ever thought about this too much, but it certainly rings true for me and many others I know. I wonder if there is any discernible pattern to this “riskiness/adventurousness profile” that people exhibit and whether it is innate or learned through reactions to experiences.

It would be neat to design a test to measure this.

Alex Tabarrok July 2, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Highly doubtful from what we know from personality research. It is of course true that no one is likely to be an outlier in all dimensions. Thus, it easy to find examples where an outlier in one dimension is *normal* on another dimension. “He likes rock climbing but eats at McDonalds,” is one example. But the theory, as Tyler presents, it is that outliers on one dimension must be statisticaly more likely to be even more conformists or super-normal on many other dimensions (to maintain portfolio balance.) I havent’ seen any evidence for that proposition.

anonymous July 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm

In a sense, this is just stating the obvious. We are all adventurous, willing to be challenged, and willing to invest time, effort, and thought into things we find especially interesting or stimulating. But for routine things that don’t occupy the center of our mental universe, we just want hassle-free dependability. Different things matter to different people, so one person’s challenge is another person’s hassle.

Some marriages and relationships fall apart on this point. For one person, their career or core hobbies are a source of stimulation and challenge, and they want the marriage to be a rock of stability. A job that’s too easy is boring, so people quit with the express intention of looking for something more challenging. However, for others, it is a relationship that occupies center stage in their life, and if everything is too straightforward and harmonious, they become restless and look for a moody and difficult bad-boy (or girl) who can give them all they can handle. The problem is when the first sort of person marries the second kind of person and is left blinking and wondering what happened, when everything seemed to have been going well.

Cyrus July 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I don’t think either this model or its opposite can be well-defined.

Both ‘trait A is positively correlated with seemingly opposite trait B’ and ‘trait A is negatively correlated with seemingly opposite B’ are hypotheses that depend on the privilege of framing the discussion.

Patrick Molloy July 3, 2010 at 11:12 am

“What often prevents our giving ourselves up to a single vice is that we have several.”

La Rochefoucauld, Maxim 195

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