Michael Lewis Says Outward Bound Good Lesson for Wall Streetby
Outdoor adventure program teaches rewards of risk-taking
‘Hillary would do much better than Trump’ on these trips
Michael Lewis, the author of “Flash Boys" and “The Big Short," once went on an Outward Bound trip, and he took time during the organization’s benefit Tuesday night to consider Wall Streeters in the woods.
The outdoor adventure program taught him that “putting yourself out there in a risky situation is the joy of life,” Lewis said in an interview at Cipriani 25 Broadway in New York as guests in tuxedos and hiking boots swirled around the tie-less author with unmatched jacket and pants. “If you eliminate risk from life it would be a very dull thing.”
This idea is relevant to careers in finance, though maybe less so than when he worked at Salomon Brothers. “There was enormous pleasure working at Salomon Brothers because it was socially risky. There was financial risk. People got stuff out of it because of the risk,” said Lewis, adding that now “the big banks are becoming places where there’s no joy.”
The result, Lewis said, is that people looking for great satisfaction from their Wall Street jobs will look elsewhere.
“IEX is Outward Bound on Wall Street,” Lewis said of the firm he wrote about in “Flash Boys.” “Those guys are striking out in a very uncomfortable way in a small group of people in a hostile environment. The woods happens to be Wall Street. I’ve seen quite a bit of that.”
Some hedge fund managers are due for an Outward-Bound-style reckoning. Lewis said he’d pair them on a trip “with people they think aren’t their equals, like a janitor, and they’d find out, ‘Oh my god, this guy is better than me.’ That’s what you find out, is that my hot stuff is in this little weird world and now I’m in the woods and there are bears.”
Lewis, a columnist for Bloomberg View whose book, “The Undoing Project,” about Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, will be published in December, made his trip the summer after his freshman year at Princeton University.
“I was in a James Bond phase,” said Lewis, who speaks with the New Orleans twang of his upbringing. “I learned to jump out of airplanes, run a marathon.” Then came Outward Bound. “I think I thought, I’m going to learn how to survive in the woods.”
Outward Bound trips started during World War II, with the idea that structured learning experiences in the desert, woods and sea would prepare soldiers by building character, leadership and survival skills. Today Outward Bound trips are offered for youth starting at age 12, as well as adults, with scholarships available (money for which was raised during the event in New York). Some trips are specifically designed for grieving teens and veterans.
Lewis’s trip, which lasted nearly a month, took him on long hikes around the volcanic peaks of the Three Sisters in Oregon. Challenges included a three-day solo trip near a body of water but no food, with a flag to wave for sustenance (Lewis says he didn’t use it), and difficult social dynamics within the group.
While Lewis said he developed leadership and other “internal skills,” he admitted that not everyone is capable of making it through a trip -- particularly Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president.
“Donald Trump on Outward Bound, he’d be reduced to tears,” Lewis said. “He’d last three days, and he’d call the helicopters. He physically wouldn’t be able to manage.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, would “do much better than Trump because she’s tough,” he said. “She’s actually deeply tough. He’d be whining and complaining and wouldn’t get along with anybody.”
Humorist Christopher Buckley summed up Trump in the wilderness rather nicely later in the evening. “That hair would be the first casualty,” he said in an interview just before guests took their seats for dinner.