Boyles Asset Management – Q2 2017 Letter Excerpt

“In general, survival is the only road to riches. Let me say that again: Survival is the only road to riches.” –Financial historian, economist, and educator Peter L. Bernstein (2004 interview with Jason Zweig)
As he did in his 2007 book, A Demon of Our Own Design, Richard Bookstaber returns to the story of the cockroach with his 2017 book, The End of Theory.  The cockroach has survived and thrived for about 300 million years, thanks in large part to a simple survival mechanism.  As described by Bookstaber:

…the cockroach simply scurries away when little hairs on its legs vibrate from puffs of air, puffs that might signal an approaching predator, like you.  That is all it does.  It doesn’t hear, it doesn’t see, it doesn’t smell.  It ignores a wide set of information about the environment that you would think an optimal system would take into account.  The cockroach would never win the “best designed bug” award in any particular environment, but it does “good enough” and makes it to the finish line in all of them.

This brings to mind the saying that in order to finish first, one must first finish.  But the broader point being made is that it is often simple, coarse rules that lead to survival advantages.  While these rules, or heuristics, may not be the optimal traits for an organism to reach its maximum potential for thriving in an environment, given a specific set of conditions, it allows the flexibility needed to stick around to see the finish line should the conditions change.  The observation credited to Charles Darwin about a surviving species being not the strongest nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change is applicable here.  Uncertainty and change are inherent in nature, as they are in business and life in general, and it is often simple heuristics and ideas that, if pursued with discipline and consistency, can allow one to survive whatever the future may have in store.


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