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Always Think of Yourself As a Student

March 12, 2010

The intelligent person will start out in any given field–whether music, athletics or academics–as a student of those who are more experienced or talented. Through the course of “10,000 hours of practice” and a lot of guided learning, these same students will likely emerge as “experts” in their field (assuming they have enough talent). In an absolute sense, these people will always be “experts”, and much more likely to succeed or excel at their specific task than a rank amateur—-even in areas that involve luck such as trading or poker. The problem is that in most endeavours, experts participate in a  competitive game against their opponents. There is no question that nearly all NBA players can beat your or I at basketball, or that all MMA fighters could destroy us in the ring, but they don’t have to compete against us in reality. They have to face each other, and the reality is that they have to always try to improve to avoid falling behind. You often see in MMA that previously untouchable fighters start to lose their dominance and all of a sudden seem very ordinary relative to the new pool of players coming into the sport–even though the early generation is still in their prime. The newer pool is often: 1) hungrier–never count out ambition and desire to succeed especially when one is not afraid to lose 2) more talented—often as the rewards to any endeavour increase so does the available talent pool 3) better trained– often because of the barriers to entry into a sport increase over time, the newer players are better shape, have superior coaching, and also have more diverse training.

The same thing applies to trading. Big money managers compete against other money managers, traders compete against other traders. Just when you think you are good, look out because someone better than you is just around the corner. You have to always work hard, and try to be one step ahead–otherwise my friend you are going to fall behind. No carribean island for you and no beach—I don’t see professional athletes these days lounging around and taking it easy while staying at the top of their sport. If you take a deeper look, anyone who has success or fame for the most part puts in an incredible routine or regimen to stay on top—this includes even Hollywood actors who often work out hours every day on top of their work on the set. Michael Jordan was arguably well ahead of everyone in his time, but he still spent more hours practicing free throws and jump shots than anyone else. During practice he played with an incredible intensity–a habit that was often mocked or disliked by his teammates. But guess what? Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan because of all of that–and no one ever hears or talks about the more talented players that never made it because they were lazy.

For this reason, you are never an expert. No matter how good you are, or how good other people say you are, it really doesn’t matter. Always think of yourself as a student–someone who always has something to learn. You must absorb as much as you can from other experts, and even question their root assumptions.  Once you become the expert, you have to learn to question your own root assumptions–because the only people you speak  to most often are looking for answers. Those who never question will not only never find the answers, but they will also fail to truly understand how things work. This framework has been the foundation for all scientific progress. Its not even enough to know everything–you can know everything about fitness and the human body, but still be a fat and out of shape. People with lesser knowledge and skills can easily surpass you through sheer discipline and constant work ethic. You need to know what to do, and you need to actually do it for”10,000 hours” to really absorb the knowledge you have accumulated. If you haven’t done or are unwilling to do that then as a trader you are going to have to mechanize your trading–because no matter how much you know about the markets, you still have to know how to manage yourself just as much to succeed.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2010 4:06 pm

    I think this is key to self-awareness. Seeing yourself and others as walking ecosystems of ideas (memes) is both constraint removing and incredibly scary (and dangerous). Our constraints and “skills” allows us to not question what we SHOULD be. Try and ask anyone: “if you could do anything, what would you do?”. it’s as if you’re pointing a gun at them. (when neo met the architect in the matrix, he said something about humans rejecting the utopian matrix. we need constraints to hide behind).

  2. david varadi permalink*
    March 15, 2010 12:10 pm

    Alex, i really like your point about self-awareness. very deep!
    best
    david

  3. MarketSci permalink
    March 17, 2010 9:41 pm

    A shout out for MMA? I LIKE IT. ms

    • david varadi permalink*
      March 17, 2010 9:48 pm

      yeah im a big fan, i did boxing and karate for a few years.
      cheers
      dv

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