Friday, June 6th, 2008
check your aspect ratio

On the afternoon of the Preakness Stakes, I happened to be in the lobby of a hotel somewhere in the vast expanse of the Great Plains. As post time drew near, a crowd gathered around the television, and no doubt included some people who knew horses well. When Big Brown emerged from the paddock and walked onto the track, someone said, “He sure doesn’t look very sleek to me.”

But he wasn’t seeing the real horse, the one that will run at Belmont Park tomorrow, with the first Triple Crown in thirty years a possibility. No, he was seeing a distorted version of that horse.

For throughout the land, in public places and homes alike, wide screen televisions have been purchased and it seems downright un-American to not fill them up from edge to edge. Of course, doing so all too often means taking content created in the 4:3 aspect ratio (for old-fashioned TVs) and stretching it to 16:9.

Thankfully, in most cases, the aspect ratio can be adjusted, although not in many public places, including that hotel lobby where I found myself. Exciting as it was, I got to see something other than the real race.

A similar phenomenon occurs whenever we look through a frame that is out of whack with the subject matter at hand. The investment markets are full of constant change, and being early by framing an analysis in a manner before its time can be as dangerous as applying a perspective that is out of date, although examples of the latter are more common.

It doesn’t matter if you are a technical trader with the shortest of time horizons or a foundation investment officer thinking of perpetuity — you have a way of viewing the world and it’s hard to change your frame of reference. What processes do you have in place to see that your views are challenged and examined and tested? Changing for the sake of change is not the answer, but being willing and able to do so when the time is right is essential for long-term success.

Today might be the day to check your aspect ratio, before the next race begins.