Saturday, February 15, 2014

Performance Lessons From David Blaine

Very recently, I was standing at a bar with friends waiting for our dinner table when a casually dressed man approached me and fanned a deck of cards.  "Pick a card," he said in a laconic voice.  Behind me, I sensed people gathering.  One gasped and called out, "OMG, it's David Blaine!"

If you check out this video, you'll see a man in a car and his reaction to David's street magic.  That pretty well sums up my reaction as well.  Blaine is truly a master at his craft.  One could observe in his work a level of concentration and timing that would be the envy of any trader.  Only very infrequently do I get the sense of being in the presence of world-class talent.  That night, having David Blaine take the card I selected and have it appear--folded!--underneath someone else's watch while observing his every move, I most definitely had that sense.

Over the course of his time with us, I became less interested in the magic and more interested in Blaine the person.  I spent time with his right hand assistant and asked plenty of questions.  When I asked how much time David spent in practice each day, the assistant looked at me quizzically.  "That is all he does," was the response.  When I then looked puzzled, he explained, "You know what we're going to do after dinner here tonight?  We're going to a bar and David will do it all over again and try out new tricks.  Today he has done some things I've never seen before."

There it was:  the power of intense focused dedication to a craft, extensive deliberate practice, and continual performance-based learning.  The world-class traders I've known have been like David Blaine:  they treat trading as a performance activity and continually hone their craft.  What did you try out last week and what did you learn?  What will you be reviewing and practicing this weekend?  What are you going to be working on next week?  Those are the questions that capture not just a learning curve, but an expertise curve.

But there's more to David Blaine's success than intensive practice and mastery.  He challenges himself with extreme goals and dedicates himself to reaching those.  This is evident in his Ted Talk, where he describes how he prepared himself to hold his breath for 17 minutes.  Watching the video, you get this sense that this is not a person who has goals, but rather a person whose goals have him.  

And that's what I've learned over the years.  Average traders approach trading as a hobby or as a job; good traders tackle trading as a career.  But the great traders?  For them, trading is neither hobby nor career.  It is a mission.  When the trading day is done, like David Blaine they pack up after dinner and begin the quest anew.

Achieving Greatness as a Trader