Blinding Opportunity Overlooked

Most of us would agree humans have a natural predisposition “to stay close to our crowd.” We tend to want to generally align with what our peers are doing and thinking. If all our friends are moving in this direction, we are pretty likely to lean toward doing so ourselves. I mean, that’s where they’ll all be, right?

At the same time, many of us harbor in the back of our minds recognition that when everyone is moving in one direction, often that means there are at least some things in the other direction being overlooked. At the very least, there is less competition for the things the crowd has turned its attention from. So there might be opportunity there, hidden away among the notions everyone is currently neglecting.

In New York City, at one time property in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was a steal because, among the opinion-makers, it wasn’t seen as “cool” to live outside of Manhattan.  Anyone who bought Williamsburg property at that time has seen remarkable appreciation, because Williamsburg later became very hip. At one time the Yahoo search engine was “the shit” and people were like, “whoOOGLE?” I remember an engineer that worked for me around 1999 or so sharing, “You know, this “Google” thing is actually pretty good.” I was too busy to pay attention. Google is now one of the most valuable companies in the world.

A remarkable illustration is Apple Computer. At one time everyone wanted PCs and Apple Computer was viewed as dead and gone.  The chart below shows Apple stock between 1995 and 1997 (blue-greeen, descending). The purple, rising line is the S&P 500, representing that the crowd was chasing opportunities elsewhere.

Apple Computer stock price compared with S&P500, 1995-1997. (Chart courtesy Yahoo! Finance)

Then Steve Jobs famously advised, “Think different.”

The second chart is Apple stock from 1995 to date.  The reason you can no longer see Apple’s downtrend in 1995 is because it’s all in the tiniest amount of “noise” now, by comparison with the surge Apple has experienced since.  And the reason you cannot see the S&P500 investment that the crowd chased is because it’s the completely flat line at bottom, having barely budged in comparison with how Apple skyrocketed.

Apple Computer stock price compared with S&P500, 1995- 2021. (Chart courtesy Yahoo! Finance)

Often I wonder, in what ways has the crowd consumed itself today, such that it is overlooking opportunity elsewhere?

I do observe that a popular crowd sentiment today — across all ideologies — is that we should dismiss “the other side” and avoid engaging, working, or compromising with them, even if it promises mutual gain, because they are so objectionable.

If there were ever a neglected opportunity ….

Easier said than done?

Google and Apple might tell you that’s exactly the reason it’s an enormous opportunity.

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Partisanship is blocking us from accomplishing “jack.”

Americans’ propensity to quickly leap to negative prejudgements of political opponents poisons our ability to interact with the teammates we need to advance our personal and national goals.

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“You know, I went right at those things — guns, God, and Trump — and I was very moved by what I found there. I hope that people who watch the show will feel the same kind of empathy and respect, and will be able to walk in somebody else’s shoes, or imagine walking in somebody else’s shoes, for a few minutes in the same way that hopefully they do with one of my other shows.”

— Anthony Bourdain, on his “Parts Unknown” segment covering West Virginia