It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.1
—JOSIAH CHARLES STAMP
This book has explored a number of detailed examples from the financial world, presenting a long list of challenges. When I step back from the detail, though, I see just three main fissures that run straight through to the bedrock of our systems. Repairing these three will bring us back toward the true nature of investing, toward a connected, beneficial financial ecosystem that is in service to our communities and our planet.
First, we have disconnected investing from the real world. Automating analysis and trading, outsourcing expertise, and adding layers of synthesis and complication have improved efficiencies and created certain new opportunities. But most of these efficiencies are of the shallow sort, focused only on speed and immediate cost. And most of those opportunities have proven to be fleeting, looming large in the short term but fading quickly into losses over the longer term. Reconnecting, in all of its forms, is the first task of an engaged investor.
Second, we have narrowed our perspectives in a false and needless way. We think of investing as only what shows on our brokerage statements, when in reality we are investing with every action, every decision, every dollar. We consider profit and cost to be only what’s shown on financial statements, forgetting that we ourselves invented accounting. Those numbers are tools, not truth. We examine data every day, every second, every microsecond, just because we can, pulling our attention away from the months and years to come, shrinking our field of vision to exclude the most important consequences and most complete views of investment returns. This shrunken focus traps us in a mindset of extraction. Broadening our definitions to include longer term and more multidimensional measures of profit, cost, and investing is the first step to creating a regenerative system, not just for finance but for our entire society and our entire planet.
Finally, we have chosen to create complicated, rigid structures, instead of flexible, adaptive ones. Like the little pigs, afraid of the big bad wolf, we have built more and more defenses against the threats of our world, both real and imagined. But what happens when the threat of a big wind is replaced by a flood? We can never build complete defenses against uncertainty. And yet from investment allocation boxes to complicated regulations to entire firms based on structured investment products, we have chosen the false security of ever-increasing structure, all the while increasing our ultimate fragility. Appreciating the need for adaptation, over all time frames, throughout all circumstances, and at every level of scale is the beginning of creating a more resilient system.
Fortunately, there is plenty of cause for optimism. I must admit, as I dug into the investing examples of ventures gone awry, I was afraid that I’d find a core that was rotten, a system that was entirely lost to anyone seeking to reclaim the true nature of investing. I found just the opposite: time and time again, the kernel of true service, true need, true exchange, and true profit was alive and well. Admittedly, it was sometimes so small or covered up or removed from its original state that it was hard to identify, but still, it was there. At the core, if we peel off enough layers, there is still something solid to be built upon.
Also, we are surrounded by abundance. We have tools and capabilities for sharing knowledge and wisdom that have never existed before. We have the ability to connect not just in superficial ways but in deep and lasting ways across great spans of time and space and culture. We have growing understanding—both technically and emotionally. We have not just tangible resources but also far more important gifts to draw upon: the wisdom of nature as mentor, model, measure, and muse.
Finally, we have ourselves! Throughout this book, I’ve emphasized that humans are a part of nature, and this is a delightful, vital truth. We also are pretty amazing and unique creatures. We have morals and ethics and the capacity for complex thought. We have tremendous capabilities that demand an equivalent level of responsibility and stewardship and engagement and care. We have compassion and empathy along with information and skill. We have the ability to choose to cooperate for the greater good.
With all of these resources, we can engage in a rebirth of creative, independent investment thinking. We can take up our true and full responsibilities—to ourselves, to each other, to our home. We can unbox our decision making. We can reweave our loose threads of investing back into the fabric of the world.
Using nature as the ultimate investing framework isn’t romantic; it’s right. The narrowed, rigid approach we’ve taken served a purpose in its time, but it was a small purpose and a small window of time. This falsely linear view is an intellectually lazy one, unprofitable, and not even very interesting. With all of our resources, all of our gifts, we can do better. We have a responsibility to do better. And here is the greatest secret of all: embracing that messy multidimensional complexity is so much more rewarding. It’s even more fun.
Here are the transformations needed, the steps on our path toward reclaiming the true nature of investing:
- From efficient to effective
- From synthetic to simplified
- From maximized to optimized
- From disconnected to reconnected
- From mechanical to mindful
- From static to dynamic
- From fragile to resilient
- From extractive to regenerative
- From disconnected to reconnected
This is a system that’s worthy of our full engagement, our full attention, our full participation, and it is ours to create, with nature as our most valued guide. This is what “fully invested” really means. This is the true Nature of Investing.
I would like to beg you … to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
—RAINER MARIA RILKE