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If all goes well, this summer I'll drive 19,000 miles and visit 22 national historic parks, 16 national parks, 6 states, 5 provinces, 2 territories and the Canadian Pingo Landmark in one month. I'll follow the path of the 'Ice Road Truckers' as I visit Yellowknife and Whitehorse, drive up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik and then fly to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT. Then, I'll follow the path of the gold rush as I hike 33 miles on the Chilkoot trail, battle hordes of mosquitoes, struggle with blown tires, and sleep in 24-hour sunlight. To some, I'm not going on a 'vacation' this is an all-out 'expedition'.
Too often we fly from one place to another without understanding how the economy, climate, geography, culture, transportation, and food changes along the way. Many of us might know the name of a 5 star restaurant in Toronto (Truffles), but few of us have watched icebergs in Newfoundland, encountered bears at Waterton Lakes, sought seclusion at Battle Harbor, climbed ice-waterfalls along the shores of Lake Superior, or experienced a true Finnish-140-degree-Celsius sauna. We fly long distances only to sit ourselves in a hotel pool and allow ourselves to be pampered. There is a place in life for all that stuff, but life has a lot more to offer, and part of the journey should include the stuff in between. To quote (dare I say) Leonardo DiCaprio from the movie, The Beach:
We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?
The Ross School of Business teaches 'action-based learning' to describe the education provided not only by 'thought', but by 'action' as well. It's a concept that not only listens to the theory, but applies it to practice. I've also the heard the term 'firsthand experience' from Ken Kam at Marketocracy, and it relates to the specialized firsthand knowledge/experience that great analysts and portfolio managers should have. I'm a quant, I've learned from the 'action based learning' and I believe I have some 'firsthand' experience in the quant world, but there are moments in time where I need to visit some of the sectors, industries and companies.
One day I had a student come up to me and tell me a story. He had spent the summer travelling for an investment bank and was required to visit companies that he thought were undervalued with potential growth. Upon visiting one of these companies, he found that their location had nothing on it. It was a vacant lot owned by the company. Smiling, I said to him, 'well, if it's vacant then there is plenty of growth available there'. In a very simple example, he had demonstrated qualitative research; 'action' orientated learning and 'firsthand' experience.
Life should be full of these experiences, but sometimes it isn't. Too often we are consumed by all sorts of things, and never make it past the confines of the town we live in. The cost of gas is certainly high this summer, and many won't travel further than the state they live in, but I'm going to take my stimulus check and drive - and I'll drive far. Why would I visit Canada? Well, the U.S. economy is becoming much more dependent on foreign oil, it has a deficit, a tremendous amount of money is spent on elections, some politicians want to revisit NAFTA, consumer confidence is much lower, the housing market is doing poorly, and it's had some bad luck with hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. On the other hand, Canada has oil, tar sands, diamonds, gold, and potash; it has a surplus, less money is spent on elections, Canadian politics revolves around sexy dress scandals (Julie Couillard), the housing market is doing better, and the north will probably open up to more transportation and commerce. It's in my thought that Americans should pay closer attention to their friendly neighbors up north. Alberta may have lost Wayne Gretzky to the entertainment driven world of California, but as oil prices rise and Alberta prospers... perhaps Gretzky might want to think of moving back?
So I'll drive, and I'll learn more about the journey between 'point a' and 'point b'. Hopefully along the way, I'll learn more about the economy, climate, geography, culture, transportation, and food. I'll mix in with some locals and ask them, 'what do you think?' The quant in me vows not to turn towards the 'dark side' (qualitative research), but I will certainly keep an open mind on the economy, sectors, industries and stocks that I find. Gas prices will be high, at Eagle Plains on the Dempster highway, gas is over $6.25 a gallon; but, life is short and so I'll hike, drive, fly, and take a boat. I want some of that 'firsthand experience' and 'action-based' learning, so I'm going to take my quant view, mix it with some qualitative views, and drive through the Canadian wilderness to Alaska. Money is everything in business, but money shouldn't be everything in a personal life - if you gain a lot of money, but never see the world, "you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that"?