Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Art of Being Wrong

Kathryn Schulz, a self-described ‘wrongologist,’ is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

I can’t say that I have read her book, but I think her interview with Victor Niederhoffer at Slate, Hoodoos, Hedge Funds, and Alibis: Victor Niederhoffer on Being Wrong should be required reading for all investors. One of the most difficult things to do in life is to learn from the mistakes of other people – and while Niederhoffer is famous mostly for his two large blowups, he is also reflective, insightful and a fun read. Perhaps more importantly, outside of those two blowups, Niederhoffer has a superb track record and is highly regarded for his trading skills. Many think that Niederhoffer’s blowups should negate the value of what Niederhoffer says. I think quite the opposite. Here is a trader we can all learn from, including both his successes and his failures.

For instance:

“Unfortunately I was so successful for so many years in that particular field that I began to believe in my own success. I thought that because my method worked in markets that I knew about and had quantified, I could apply the same methods to something I didn't know about.”

And later:

“I didn't have the capital to be strong enough to provide a backup in the case of unforeseen events. I didn't have a proper foundation. I was playing with adversaries who were stronger than me and who actually made the rules. My base of operations was not diversified enough, and I was vulnerable to forces I couldn't withstand. I was too vainglorious. In my opinion, those are recurring errors behind most disasters.”

But don’t stop at these excerpts. Click through to read the full interview at Slate.

If you are interested in Schulz thinking in a broad range of subjects outside of the investment world, Slate has captured a great deal of her content in her column The Wrong Stuff.

Many others have written about Niederhoffer. One of the better pieces I have encountered is John Cassidy’s lengthy feature in The New Yorker from October 2007 (coincidentally, right at the market top), with the title, The Blow-Up Artist: Can Victor Niederhoffer Survive Another Market Crisis? Another interesting article about Niederhoffer comes from James Altucher from February of this year and appeared in the Wall Street Journal as Ten Things I Learned While Trading for Victor Niederhoffer.

Niederhoffer has two books of his own that have quite a few valuable insights:

The prolific Niederhoffer also co-authors the Daily Speculations blog with Laurel Kenner. I am a big fan of that blog, but feel obliged to comment that the steady stream of content can be a little overwhelming at times.

For more on related subjects, readers are encouraged to check out:

Disclosure(s): none

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