Our mission, here at 5thcolumnideas, is to avoid what Marshall McLuhan described as the “hardening of the categories.” A large number of the great scientific ideas originated with scientists who had a wide range of knowledge outside of the field where they originally specialized. For example, Thomas Watson and Erwin Schrodinger were both responsible for great insights and discoveries in biology, but their core competence was in physics. Most of the great breakthroughs of medical science came as a result of accidents and not the focused pursuit of a cure for a particular disease. Serendipity shows us that fresh eyes count for more than specialization and in depth knowledge.

Chance favours the connected mind. The same is true for successful investors, whether they be individuals or funds.

The key is to get the big picture right and then to focus on what is changing. As Einstein pointed out: theory dictates what you see. Good scientists and investors look for anomalies, like good 5th Columnists they have a nose for what is subversive and undermines the accepted view.

Anomalies often threaten sector experts because they challenge the knowledge base they built up over years of study. Mobile phone analysts were slow to spot the importance of the Apple iPhone and grasp the importance of the Smart Paradigm and what it would mean for telecommunications, IT and the media. Keith Woolcock, who leads 5thColumnideas, wrote a report in April 2008 called the Mobile Internet Tsunami, which was among the first to identify smartphones has the most important trend in technology. Recently, a note he wrote on Monsanto and the global food industry was described as being brilliant and containing a number of important insights, by Professor Ferdinand E Banks, a noted expert on energy and the author of several economics textbooks.

5thcolumnideas is a specialist research boutique providing investment research for a group of institutional investors looking for a global view on important investment themes. Our flagship product, the 5th Column provides a survey of important global themes and companies each week. In our view, the world is full of problems, such as food shortages or the severe limitations of human conscious bandwidth.We focus on the technologies that can solve these problems, so our principle focus is on companies that are innovators.