Friday, March 21, 2014

The Limits of Self Belief

At most places where I have worked as a trading coach, I have been involved in the hiring process.  That has given me a fair amount of experience with interviews and interviewees.

What I can tell you is that the correlation between a candidate's self-professed passion for trading and the actual time/effort they spend understanding markets is close to zero.

The correlation between a candidate's stated confidence in their trading and trading methodology and their actual results is also about zero.

The most confident candidates I've encountered--those who target returns not achieved by even the most successful portfolio managers I work with--almost never can objectively document consistently good returns.

Candidates who come in with their actual, verifiable results, document their risk-adjusted returns, and clearly outline the limits as well as the promise of their methods are very often the ones who excel.

Promising candidates detail their trading processes, not their promise.

As outlined by recent research, it all seems as though confidence doesn't necessarily breed success.  Interestingly, the self-reported writing skills of college freshmen has been going up over decades, while actual writing ability has dropped.  Students rate themselves much higher in drive to succeed now than two or three decades ago, but the average time they spend studying has dropped meaningfully.

Whereas modesty was a common norm decades ago, it is now understood that successful people have to project confidence and tremendous self-belief.  This has led to a kind of ambition inflation, in which--crazily--above 75% of students rate themselves as "above average" in their drive to succeed.  One wonders whether that proportion really exhibits either drive or success.

Genuine confidence comes from hard work and hard experience: putting in the time and effort to achieve mastery and getting knocked down enough times to know--deep in your soul--that you have what it takes to succeed.  It springs from that "grit" factor described by Duckworth.  Stated confidence without the hard work, without the experience, and without the demonstrated grit is self-promotion at best, delusion at worst.

The old pros know: it's when you think you're special that markets are most poised to prove you wrong.

Further Reading:  The Power of Uncertainty