Your knee hurts, so you pay a visit to your favorite orthopedist. He smiles, maybe even gives you a hug, and then tells you: “I feel your pain. Really, I do. But I don’t treat left knees, only right ones. I find I am so much better with the right ones. Last time I worked on a left knee, I didn’t do so well.”
Though many professionals — doctors as well as lawyers, architects and engineers — get to choose their specializations, they rarely get to choose the problems they solve. Problems choose them. Investors enjoy the unique luxury of choosing problems that let them maximize the use of not just their IQ but also their EQ — emotional intelligence.
Let’s start with IQ. Our intellectual capacity to analyze problems will vary with the problem in front of us. Just as we breezed through some subjects in college and struggled with others, our ability to understand the current and future dynamics of various companies and industries will fluctuate as well. This is why we buy stocks that fall within our sphere of competence. We tend to stick with ones where our IQ is the highest.
Though we usually think about our capacity to analyze problems as being dependable and stable over time, it isn’t. It might be if we were characters fromStar Trek, with complete control over our emotions, like Mr. Spock, or who lacked emotions, like Lieutenant Commander Data. This is where our EQ comes in.
I am not a licensed psychologist, but I have huge experience treating a very difficult patient: me. And what I have found is that emotions have two troublesome effects on me. First, they distort probabilities; so even if my intellectual capacity to analyze a problem is not impacted, my brain may be solving a distorted problem. Second, my IQ is not constant, and my ability to process information effectively declines under stress. I either lose the big picture or overlook important details. This dilemma is not unique to me; I’m sure it affects all of us to various degrees.
The higher my EQ with regard to a particular company, the more likely that my IQ will not degrade when things go wrong (or even when they go right). There is a good reason why doctors don’t treat their own children: Their ability to be rational (properly weighing probabilities) may be severely compromised by their emotions.