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Are We More Coherent When We Are Disconnected?

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If you look up the definition of “disconnected,” you will find the word “incoherent” among its synonyms. Being “disconnected” sounds negative and, in fact, people are often ridiculed for not being “connected.”

I’m posting this provoking question.

Are we more coherent when we are disconnected?

I often think so and this is why.

Recently, I participated in the March for the Fallen (MFTF), a 28-mile hike on foothill trails and roads at an Army base in Pennsylvania to honor those who have fallen in service to our country. It was a great cause and a wonderfully rewarding experience in many ways.

One was being disconnected.

I didn’t train enough, but I did go on more than one 8-hour hike before the March. I took my phone in case something went wrong, but I didn’t listen to podcasts or music or even an audiobook. I just walked, listened, pondered and daydreamed. I hadn’t done this for such a long stretch in years and it was just great. The walks connected me much more clearly with what was really important in both my personal and business life.

During the MFTF, I also experienced this beneficial disconnection, but in this case with many others, who like me are normally very connected. The group I was with came together almost exclusively due to connections made on Twitter. It was what some call a FinTwit group of investment professionals who all had some connection to Wes Gray and his great group of top thinkers at Alpha Architects. Believed me when I say that MFTF participants were not a disconnected gang and certainly not an incoherent one.

Among this generally Type A group, what did I hear over and over during the day?

It is such a luxury to just be walking and talking, disconnected.

The day before the MFTF, I did a thought-provoking podcast with some of the people that I ended up walking with for most of our 10 hours on the trail. On the podcast, we banter around several interesting investment topics.  I hope many will take a listen (click the following to hear our conversation – Wharton Business Radio – Behind the Markets).

I found some of our conversations during the walk to be just as interesting and maybe more candid, however.

Did our disconnected state make us not only feel better but also think better?

Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” and more and more studies suggest this is indeed so.

I’ve written about this before in the following post:

To Think Better, Goof Off and Go For a Walk

And, no, I wasn’t being goofy.

As a Stanford psychologist wrote in an article for the Washington Post, Spacing Out and Goofing Off is Good for You:

“By taking that fifteen-minute period for mindlessness or daydreaming, your attention has been broadened and your mind is now able to make more creative connections between ideas. This cannot happen when you stay overly focused on a problem.”

Fundamentally, this conclusion is entirely unsurprising and makes me think about another provoking question.

Related: The Good Story That Came out of This

Related: Why I Don’t Make Market Forecasts

Do we really think most clearly and make the best decisions sitting around conference tables?

Beyond the MFTF and my past posts, a WSJ article titled, How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture, is what made me connect today and start typing about this subject – again.

I don’t think I can improve on these quotes from the How to Disconnect article:

“Modern [wired] culture now acts upon us so constantly that we start reacting to it rather than acting for ourselves.”

“According to a 2016 study by the Academy of Management, employees tally an average of 8 hours a week answering work-related emails after leaving the office. Echoing that, a 2015 Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association found that 30% of men and 23% of women regularly bring work home. Similar percentages admitted to working on vacation and to bringing ‘work materials’ along on social outings (we hope they don’t mean accordion folders). All of this, many experts in psychology agree, causes stress, ruins sleep habits and cripples our ability to stay active and engaged during actual office hours.”

“Many of us… are burdened by FOMO—the fear of missing out, or… the fear of missing opportunity, of being seen as less hardworking and less reliable than co-workers and thus expendable. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, 43% of those surveyed ‘sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are’ and give in to always-on.”

I work in the investment management industry, which is famous, or maybe infamous, for long hours, back-to-back meetings and often frenetic work environments.  I’ve seen many bad decisions made by professionals who don’t take time to step back, disconnect from the emotion of the markets and think dispassionately or independently.

I’m going to disconnect now, but will simply end with this final question. It is my spin on a line from the WSJ article.

Should we work harder to dismantle connections before they dismantle us?

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