The Fog of War

By Frank Armstrong

NEW YORK ( Investor Solutions) -- The fog of war. Back in my Air Force days in Vietnam, whenever the aircrews questioned a particularly inane operation, the Brass always accused us of not seeing the big picture. Later at Eastern Airlines, we used to joke that Col. Frank Borman, our astronaut-turned-airline CEO, had seen the big picture but had hidden it from us on the dark side of the moon.

As any former GI knows, a little black humor can keep you from going nuts in the face of seemingly chaotic conditions. But, our hope that there might be a big picture was real. We all knew that action without strategy was pointless. When the fog of war descended on us, we all hoped that somewhere was a leader with a plan that would work. In my heart I still doubt that either side had a big picture. If so, there must have been a powerful conspiracy to keep it from being shared with the troops.

As investors we suffer from our own fog of war. It's easy to get so bogged down in the details of our everyday lives that we lose sight of the big picture. Most of us operate in a state of chronic acute information overload. We are steadily bombarded with a stream of useless trivia, most of which seems to require an instant response of some kind. This type of atmosphere poses twin threats: Either we descend into a mindless knee-jerk action-reaction mode, or we are overwhelmed and just give up. The outlook under either case is not favorable.

The anecdote is for investors to operate under a coherent strategy. With a clear vision, decision making is simplified, and the chances of a successful outcome are multiplied. Investing, like war, requires decision making under conditions of uncertainty. But, uncertainty is not chaos. Investors can develop superior strategies that will extend their control over the outcome, and give them the highest probability of success.

In a recent broadside directed at both investors and the investment industry, John Bogle, Chairman of the Vanguard Funds, questioned "To What Avail? Computer Technology and Mutual Funds?" ( Vanguard.com)

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