Performance Perspectives Blog

The overwhelm effect

by | Sep 6, 2011

In this past weekend’s WSJ,Jonah Lehrer had an article titled “Learning How to Focus on Focus.” He quotes psychologist Herbert Simon: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Lehrer tell us that a key is to strengthen our “executive function,” which is ” a collection of cognitive skills that allow us to exert control over our thoughts and impulses.”

I couldn’t help but think about the massive amount of data that we sometimes give to our portfolio managers and external clients. When they see pages upon pages of information, is the result an inability to properly focus on the most important things?

One of our neighbors has a front yard that is overrun with plants and shrubs. At one point I’m sure that it looked quite nice, but now it’s difficult just to walk past their house, as the sidewalk is being partially blocked by some of this vegetation. Some trimming is definitely in order. Might the same be true for some of the information we give our clients?

Can we properly focus when we’re bombarded with pages and pages of return, risk, attribution, etc. details? Our effort to, at times, impress others with what we can give them may result in a lack of good and solid information, that they can really find of value. Something to think about.

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