Sunday, November 09, 2008

Learning to Trade: Viewing Yourself, Reviewing Your Trading

In a recent post, I emphasized that much of the development of trading expertise is a function of pattern recognition and the ability to act upon patterns promptly in real time. A classic example of performance by pattern recognition is the development of competence and expertise among radiologists. Reading an x-ray or other form of imaging means being able to detect normal variations from abnormal ones. In the beginning, to the untrained eye, most medical images will look alike. Only with repeated exposure to images and their variations will medical students learn to make and rule out diagnoses. No amount of book work can substitute for learning at the bedside and reviewing film with experienced physicians.

The trader who video records his or her trading has a powerful tool for accomplishing three learning tasks:

1) Seeing more market patterns and cementing those more firmly in mind;

2) Reviewing performance to assess areas of trading that need more work and to formulate goals for such work;

3) Reviewing performance to assess areas of trading that represent strengths, so that these can be crystallized and recruited during future trading.

When I left my full time work with proprietary traders in Chicago and began working with bank and hedge fund traders, I was surprised by the sophistication of the latter group in terms of portfolio management and equally surprised by that group's utter lack of feel for short-term market movement. Many times, a portfolio manager would describe an excellent idea to me and then execute it at the absolute worst time of day. I realized that, as savvy as the institutional traders were, they lacked the frequency of exposure to short term market patterns and hence had no real "feel" for when buyers or sellers were dominating (or losing their dominance) from minute to minute, hour to hour.

Traders who use video recording in essence double their exposure to market patterns--and to their own patterns as traders. Because pattern learning is a function of the number of repeated exposures to various configurations, the trader who not only views markets, but also reviews them, is more likely to enjoy an accelerated learning (and performance) curve.

The two most common means of recording that I've encountered in my work with traders is desktop video (software that records your screen) and actual video recording with a camcorder pointed at the screen. The former is available through programs such as Camtasia; the latter is best accomplished with a camcorder that includes a large hard drive.

Of course, it doesn't make sense to review the entire trading day, every trading day. In general, the best reviews come from your best trades and your worst: those will cement what you do right and what you need to improve. If traders only reviewed their single best and worst trades each day--what the markets did and what they did--I suspect they would be more likely to achieve competence, and would do so in less time than the trader who packs it in at the market close.

Remember, however, research suggests that it is not just what you review but how that makes all the difference in learning. The most powerful learning takes observations and turns them into concrete goals for future observation. Passive watching of markets (and one's own performance) is much less powerful than active watching and goal setting.