The Morningstar Investor Conference and the Power of Tribal Gatherings

This week I am really looking forward to attending the Morningstar Investor Conference.  Last year was my first trip to this event and I was very impressed.  This year I am really looking forward to the line-up of speakers, learning a lot, and hopefully also meeting some interesting people.  But in the run up to this particular conference I found myself wondering, why do people attend these things?

Why do people go to industry conferences?  Think of the reasons your ancient ancestors would have big tribal gatherings – to strengthen their sense of belonging, to be in the company of the great warriors, and hear tales about and by the legendary elders.  We do essentially the same thing today.


This year’s Morningstar conference is a prime example.  Look at the lineup of keynote speakers:

Jack Bogle – the patriarch of passive investing

Michael Lewis – the investment industry’s premiere storyteller

Larry Fink – one the power chieftains of the industry


Those are just a few of the people I am looking forward to hearing from.  For investment geeks like myself there are many more great speakers to be excited over.  The ‘great warriors’ of our industry – those famed with either excellent investment performance or visible through written contributions to the craft or wise prognostications on CNBC. 


It’s not just the investment world, but take a look at any industry and you will see similar gatherings.  Anyone who has taken the CFA exam in Chicago will be familiar with the ASCO conference (American Society of Clinical Oncology) which takes place the first weekend of June at the same venue of the exam.  I always wanted to wander in and just see what these cancer doctors would discuss.  Who are the big shots in their world?


So why exactly do we go to these conferences?  Why have I been so excited for this event all week?  Well it turns out there are a few powerful forces that lead people to these gatherings.


1) Exchanging of Ideas – Sharing knowledge and insight is the stated goal of these conferences.  Specifically, for Morningstar it is to provide advisors and investors with actionable investment ideas, best business practices, and new trends.  While this is certainly a very important and valuable take away, it’s far from the only reason.


2) Connection – Interacting with other professionals in your field can lead to not only sharing of ideas but also sharing of networks and the making of meaningful connections.  While technology has changed over the years, people have not; and the importance of real human connections are arguably even more important.


3) Motivation – By going to see and meet the “great warriors” of the investment industry, it can be motivating for those of us still working hard to garner our reputation.  We are inspired and awed by wisdom of the “legendary elders”.  Events like this can help light the fires that keep us aspiring for growth.


4) Belonging – Attending an industry conference is confirmation that you belong to a tribe.  We all have some need to belong – to a family, a community, a hobby or interest group, and also in a group of professionals.  Industry conferences, whether it’s the investment industry or the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, serve to connect large groups of people and allow us to feel like we have a place in the world.  Sometimes we need to reaffirm that we are part of a tribe, all facing common challenges and hopefully sharing in common successes.


5) Prestige – For the presenters at the conference, there is an added incentive to participate – Prestige.  By being a panelist at Morningstar, you get to sit on a stage in front of a gathering of your peers and be the expert on your given topic.  In the Neolithic era, that may have been crafting stone spear heads, while at Morningstar it could be crafting a superior international growth fund.  In each case the expert gains in prestige for their wisdom.


So, I hope to see some fellow ambitious investment professionals at the conference, perhaps in a few years contribute on a panel as a respected “warrior”, and then, who knows, perhaps in 20 or 30 years will be a keynote as a “legendary elder”.  Until that time, I look forward to connecting with some fellow tribesmen to share war stories.


Until Next Time….


“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily” – Zig Ziglar