Friday, April 02, 2010

Productivity and Success in Life and Markets

As the saying goes, the difference between "try" and "triumph" is a little "umph". But where does that "umph" come from?

When we read through the research literature on factors that distinguish highly productive and successful people, we find that the capacity to sustain directed effort ranks high on the list. Dean Keith Simonton found that creative geniuses fail (i.e., they produce undistinguished works) as often as their more pedestrian colleagues. What differentiates the geniuses is that they produce so much more than others. If 5% of one's output represents true excellence, the person who generates 100 works will have five memorable successes. The person who generates 10 works may produce nothing memorable.

I find this to be true among very successful traders: they simply generate more ideas than their peers. They come up with more ideas regarding market, they invent more ways of viewing markets, and they arrive at more tweaks to guide their trading. It's not that they run from one promised holy grail to another. Rather, they generate new views of markets and trading that open doors to fresh opportunity.

One trader I worked with came up with a promising idea for a trading signal. He tried it in one market and it failed dismally. He persisted and tried it in another market and it gave random results. He then tried it on a different time scale and found considerable promise. After further refinements, that signal now makes good money for the trader.

Had the trader given up after the first or second attempt, he would have never found a creative solution for his trading. It was persistence--the capacity to sustain a search--that enabled him to succeed.

But it wasn't that he was more motivated to make money than other traders. Rather, he was more motivated by the process of finding solutions. He loved the hunt, the challenge of finding new ways to view and trade markets. What turned him on was the process of discovery, not just the prospect of profits.

What gave the "umph" to his "try" was interest and curiosity. He was as engaged in markets when they were closed as when they were trading. He didn't have more motivation than others; he had the right kind of motivation.