technology, finance, investing and brownian motion

Poorly presented information is all too common in technology, finance and investment writing. In my last post I wrote about Boeing’s so-called force field patent and all the surrounding gee-whiz.

Between preparing the Boeing post and some recent conversations I thought it timely to put down some thoughts on how information is commonly conveyed. It may be in a public article, a commissioned report or a regulatory submission. Any one of these documents may present a random walk through the topic at hand. It is a kind of mental Brownian motion.  The reader is left with unorganized bits of information; bits the reader will have to decipher and string together. In many cases it is not just stringing together or connecting, the reader has to rearrange the information to create something approaching a coherent, linear train of thought.

I am though getting ahead of myself. Like what does it look?

In technology writing, bits of technical information are often laced with jargon.  There is also a penchant for complexity.  The general modus operandi is: it is technology so it must be complicated. It must be difficult to understand.  There may even be references to science fiction instead of an simply explaining concepts.  If a patent is involved it gets worse.  There may be bits of Abstract, Background or Detailed Description spliced together in support of a position.  What is lacking though is an appreciation of what the information in the above sections actually means.  This latter point is critical as the detail presented in a patent is not all novel and does not all reflect the invention.  Again it becomes a random walk through bits of information.  The hard work of deciphering, organizing and simplifying is left to the reader.

In financial or investment writing random walks often present themselves as an overabundance of information. I have experienced this during mutual fund presentations. Each slide is jammed with text, graphs, charts, more graphs and more charts. Any central theme or message becomes difficult to follow and confusion seems nearby.  The oral presentation may then say “Don’t worry about the details.  They should be left to an investment professional.” The take-away message is that one cannot and should not try to understand the rational of investments. In this case one cannot be as charitable.   It certainly appears information is presented in a manner that is meant to confuse.

In contrast to these approaches would be what I might call linear thinking. Linear thinking is the ability to or skill of presenting a flow of information such that ideas or concepts logically build upon one another. Here the reader can see an idea build and develop; allowing them to understand it.

Random walks of information have unfortunately become the norm.  There are little bits of information here and there.  There may even be a few shiny balloons along the way.  The writing is closer to a dog & pony show of anecdotes than a rational explanation of a concept.  It has oft been said that it requires a higher degree of understanding to communicate a message to those not frequent with the topic. It is this understanding that can turn a random walk linear.  It is this understanding that is important when you have to make decisions.