Making A Point: Rain or Rainbows?

Do You See Rain or Rainbows?

This column originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of Better Investing. I’ve received a number of letters chastising me for forever altering what people see when they look at the Federal Express logo. I got another scolding email this morning. (Grin)

Do you see it? Do you see the arrow that’s part of the Federal Express logo?

How you answer the question will quite often depend on your age. If you’re 15 years old or younger, the answer most often comes in an instant. “Sure, there it is. Doesn’t everybody see it?”

The vast majority of adults need a little more help. Try focusing less on the purple and orange letters and look at the white space between the “E” and the “x.”

I’ve tried this out on a whole bunch of people for the last couple of months. My findings are nearly unanimous. During a recent trip with a group of young people, I conducted my informal poll. Most of the youngsters took it for granted that all of us can see the arrow. In stark contrast, I have encountered very few adults who reacted the same way. The rare exceptions were usually engaged in some form of artistic expression or vocation. Others had heard or read a story about the arrow within the logo.

Making a Point

A debate usually ensued from there depending on your personal levels of curiosity and skepticism. Is this hidden arrow intentional? Is this a form of subliminal advertising by FedEx?

Mike Pulfer of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes:“Little is left to chance in the world of marketing and advertising and, especially, corporate identity. The arrow, in this case, didn’t just happen to be flying through some highly-paid art director’s studio.”

Jess Bunn, FedEx Corp. spokesperson, says: “The arrow was indeed intentional as a secondary design element. If the viewer sees it, it’s a neat, interesting visual bonus. If the viewer doesn’t see it, that’s OK. It’s still a powerful logo. The arrow is intended to communicate movement, speed and the dynamic nature of our company.”

For me, the more interesting aspect of this is why the children and adults who act like children see it differently. Please know that I use the phrase “adults who act like children” with respect and admiration. By its very nature, investing requires a certain level of optimism.

I believe that some of the best investors find a way to harness and maintain a sort of youthful exuberance in their studies of companies and opportunities. Our community of investors focus efforts on discovering leadership companies that display strong growth characteristics.

Continuing to invest in the best companies while prices sag during corrections and bear markets requires a dose of childlike vision and optimism.

What’s different about age 15 and beyond? It all comes down to how humans are “wired.” In 1990 Congress and President Bush declared the 1990s to be the decade of the brain. Much has been learned about the workings of the brain in the last few years. We now know how the brain grows. At birth, a child’s brain contains a hundred billion neurons,a number greater than the number of stars in the Milky Way. During the first 15 years of a child’s life, connections much like highways are built between these neurons. During this stage of growth, eyes are open and the brain is like a sponge.

Through Younger Eyes

Pop music star Gloria Estefan is undoubtedly sharing her experience with her two children, Nayib and Emily, when she sings about how differently our children see the world in the first verse of “Christmas Through Your Eyes”:

Till I had you I didn’t know
That I was missing out
Had to grow up and see the world
Through different shades of doubt
Give me one more chance to dream again
One more chance to feel again
Through your young heart
If for only one day let me try

A subsequent verse makes the biggest distinction between a child’s and an adult’s vision. “I see the rain, you see the rainbow hiding in the clouds.” Many adults that I’ve quizzed on this now tell me that they’re annoyed. It seems that they find it challenging to see anything other than the arrow now.

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