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Swimming with Pelicans...

Updated: Dec 14, 2017

Letting nature be the guide…

We live in busy times with the majority of the World’s population residing in an urban reality for the first time, we are increasingly becoming removed from nature beyond the manicured park or if lucky a little ‘stamp’ of a garden. When you live a busy life, a slave to the schedule, it’s all to easy to loose yourself and the ability to see the big picture, to find the truth about who you are and in terms of your projects. As expressed so well by Mr. A. Einstein;

“I think 99 times and I find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.”

Personally I have always found that making time for getting away, putting gaps in your schedule, times to reflect is crucial – take a walk, go for a swim and I always come back refreshed and with new perspectives. My preference is for a combination – walk to and on the beach combined with a long swim – always the sea not a swimming pool – I value the lessons of the ocean more than most other things.

Working in the investment world I find the sea to be a great source of inspiration and understanding. Like the ocean the markets can nourish you, transport you to far away places, force you to learn big lessons about yourself and people around you, allow you to dream about endless possibilities just over the horizon, give you a great ride or kill you…it doesn’t care either way, it’s impersonal and much more powerful than you can even begin to imagine, controlled and directed by millions of constantly changing inputs, it was there before you and it will be there long after you have caught your last wave.

Suffice to say that ‘blue sky’ thinking is best done with a panoramic view of never ending sea in front of you. The best board meetings are in board shorts.

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” - Jacques Cousteau.

Naturally when looking for understanding of how to best and securely harness the powers of the sea/market I look to its most successful inhabitants. At my local beach I have come to know a flock of brown pelicans and day after day I have been watching them, swimming as close as possible to them and thinking about their patterns of behaviours trying to deduct their secrets.

The way of the pelican…

Photo: Baheux.

Pelicans are a great study – At times they choose to do nothing much besides sunning themselves perched on a rock with an advantageous overview of their favoured hunting grounds. At other times they are patiently stalking the waters with an almost bored poise, and only when they see really big opportunities do they deploy their hunting strategies, honed for millennia and literally manifested in their DNA and physical structure, for optimal results.

When they deploy, they go big, scooping it all up until the beak is almost bursting. Once they have secured their harvest from the sea, they retreat to digest and recalibrate and perhaps some light reconnaissance activities with the flock. All but the mating related activities are done mostly in complete silence, inherently channeling Sun Tzu’s Art of war;

“Move Big - Move Quiet”.

Fossil evidence of pelicans date back to at least 30 million years, the name comes from the ancient Greek word ‘pelekan’ which is itself derived from the word ‘pelekys’ meaning “axe”. Early etchings of the mighty pelican can be found in ancient Egyptian temples and their image features extensively in heraldry as a symbol of ‘a caring self-sacrificing parent’. This longevity is a testament to its adaptability and enduring physical attributes perfectly calibrated to harness its highly developed operational system.

Further evidence of their endurance and flexible approach is the fact that pelicans can be found on all continents except Antarctica, in seven different varieties.

Unlike their noisier and less efficient neighbours – the seagulls – the pelican is opportunistic but not a slave to its habitat, where it will cease from its natural hunting regime when faced with temporary easy pickings from human activities such as local fishers cleaning their catch at sea or on the pier and lose it in a frenzied noisy sub-optimal free-for-all.

Although amongst the heaviest of the flying birds, they are light for their apparent bulk because of air pockets in the skeleton and beneath their skin enabling them to float high in the water. The air sacs, when inflated, serve to keep the pelican remarkably buoyant in the water and it also cushion the impact of the pelican’s body on the water surface when they dive from flight into the water to catch their targets. They are strong swimmers and have perfect aerodynamics that enables them to both harness the thermals for soaring to heights of 10,000 ft for that ultimate overview as well as to travel great distances in their squadron ‘V’ formation. Pelicans can also efficiently fly low or “skim” over stretches of water, using a phenomenon known as ‘ground effect’ to reduce drag and increase lift. Through these moves the pelican saves substantial levels of energy while traversing its habitat.

The diet of pelicans usually consists of fish, of all sizes, but amphibians, turtles, crustaceans and occasionally birds are also eaten – a flexible and efficient approach that ensures its viability in different and changing habitats.

What can an investor learn from observing these magnificent birds?

Build your skills around a sustainable, flexible yet disciplined set of behaviours with buoyancy in times of troubled waters into your ‘DNA’, have risk management tools in place to soften the impact of abrupt collisions with reality.

Know your habitat and take your time, conserve energy and remember you do not have to plunge in every time you see something bright shimmer just under the surface, pick your spots, spend time on reconnaissance and when you see opportunity cease it with all you can muster. Remain above the fray.

Don’t be a picky eater, find a wide array of sources of nourishments. Don’t fight the elements, harness them. Move big – Move Quiet. Realise the value of a close community, be a dedicated partner and parent. In the words of R.W. Emerson;

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”

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